The Greatwinter Trilogy by Sean McMullen

IF

Spoilers

When I first had the book Souls in the Great Machine suggested to me by my significant other, I initially had my doubts. It was supposedly a steampunk novel which is a genre that I really don’t take to seriously and my significant other and I usually don’t agree on what books and literary genres we enjoy. When I was halfway through this book though I had come to realize that I was pleasantly surprised.

Before I begin to discuss what I really enjoyed about this trilogy I really should give some info on the plot. All three books take place 2000 years in the future. The first book takes place in Australia (called Australica by the time the books take place), while the second book takes place in North America (called Mounthaven), The third book takes place in both places and beautifully combines the stories of the first two books. This world is very much different from our own. This is because 2000 years before a strange phenomenon known as “The Call” occurred killing a large swath of the world’s population. The Call when it strikes cause people and any animal larger than a cat, sans all birds, to surrender all control of themselves and to slowly walk into the sea and drown themselves. While most inland area are struck by a Call every few days or so all coastal regions are in a permanent Call that never stops. This obviously had ill effects on the human race and nearly destroyed it. However, out of this humans still survived. To make things worse high above the Earth satellites from before The Call destroy anything over a certain size or speed as well as all electrical devices. This has forced human society into an artificial dark age. I won’t give the source of The Call, nor why there are technology damaging satelittes in the upper atmosphere as these plot points are to big to be given away so easily. 😛

Despite all this humanity has still adapted and is largely prosperous. Cities are built and organized in such a way that if a person is caught in a Call there are various barriers along roads to catch them, houses have no windows or doors on sides that face the sea and most people have clockwork call anchors that if not reset occasionally will release a hook or other sort of anchor that will catch hopefully catch on something or lodge itself in the ground to stop people long enough for the Call to pass. Trains are in existence in Australica, but due to religious precedent by all religions cannot be powered by anything but wind or muscle. Mass communication is maintained to a point by a series of beamflash towers that use mirrors and sunlight to deliver coded messages across large distances. In Mounthaven where there is no such religious precedent a rigid class system has developed which is more similar to feudal Japan than anything else. The ruling class is made up of Airlords and their Wardens who fly above the Earth in small personal aircraft. Wars are fought in the air solely by the airlords and their wardens, both to spare the civilian population at large from brutal warfare, but to also conserve resources. Personal duels have also returned to both continents.

This may seem like a lot to take in, but the author does a very good job in slowly orienting the reader to this new world of his. Also the imagination the author obviously put into all of this is quite impressive. He imagines humanity, despite numerous impediments to its advancement still moving forward, both culturally and technologically. It is quite interesting to see how the author finds ways to get past the barriers he has set for himself. This is quite impressive.

I also enjoyed all the characters. There was not one that I hated, nor found disinteresting. All were interesting in their own right. I have never encountered this in a book before. I mean in most books there is at least one character you can’t stand or at the very least would rather skim over the parts they’re in in order to get to more interesting characters. This is not a problem here. Each character also seemed to have a drive behind them. Some purpose that they all felt they needed to carry out. While this may seem cliché and somewhat unbelievable, I found it quite interesting, this was it was intriguing to see how the author tied in various seemingly unconnected plot points together to become something greater in the end.

The writing was also phenomenal. I have never before encountered a work or series of works that so masterfully combined comedy and action so well together. There were so many witty remarks in all the books that each time you picked up the books to read you were guaranteed at least one laugh. This was a good change of pace for me as many of the books I read are quite serious in nature.

The fact that this trilogy is sometimes labeled as steampunk quite annoys me. This is because it quite simply isn’t. Steampunk is largely Victorian in nature and is needlessly showy. It’s also completely unbelievable, technologically speaking. These novels on the other hand have instances of technology that are quite possible. It’s easy to imagine, for instance, a complex network of towers that deliver messages to each other through sunlight. It’s also easy to imagine pedal trains.

Overall these were amazing books. I was genuinely crestfallen to have had to finish them all. I hope you’ll give them a try and fall in love with them the same way I have.

The books in this trilogy are in order:
The Souls in the Great Machine
The Miocene Arrow
Eyes of the Calculor

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Underneath by Dan Dewitt

It is a pleasure to introduce our second Guest Reviewer, Jackie Keller. She is currently a senior at the University of Pittsburgh and her major is Psychology. She hopes to attain her B.S. in said science by the end of the year. When she is not delving into the minds of murderers and lunatics she can be found either either reading horror literature and exploring the underlying emotional processes behind them or sewing the skin from her victims into a human skin suit. We hope to have many more reviews from her in the coming weeks!

Just in time for Halloween, it is my pleasure to present you ravishing readers with my review for the short story collection, Underneath. Underneath is a collection of unique horror tales by author Dan Dewitt. The stories presented are “true” short story length, ranging from 1500 – 4000 words, making it very quick and easy to read. They draw on many themes such as family, marriage, technology, and of course, zombies.

Dewitt switches between first and third person for his different stories, but has an overall realistic style. That is to say, even in third person, the writing style clearly and directly conveys the thoughts and emotions of the characters, even the more “coarse” ones. It’s a good choice for short horror, in my opinion, because it allows the reader to more easily sympathize and empathize with the characters as the tension rises in their respective plots.

That said, the “thought style” presented for nearly all the main characters, as well as many of the supporting ones, tends to be very masculine. I realize that authors tend to write characters more along the lines of their own gender identity, and since Dewitt is male, it is more probable that many of his characters are going to be more masculine. However, this style in which he portrays many of the characters almost makes them blend together – nearly all of them drink and smoke cigars, are tough, even if unsuspecting heroes, protective fathers, etc. Seriously, this guy seems to have a cigar fetish or something, the characters smoke them in at least two or three different stories.
I can’t completely dump on gender representation in Dewitt’s work, though. The only female protagonist in any of the stories is an intriguingly dark character, though here I am mentioning that she is the only female main character. As for the supporting female characters, however, the vast majority of them are smart, strong, definitely capable, and have at least some backstory of their own. One of the only possible exceptions being the character Dahlia in the Father-Daughter Dance story, but let’s just say that she has a… certain physical condition that we can cut her some slack for.

Gender issues aside, I greatly enjoy Dewitt’s style for the way that it plants you right in the character’s heads and hearts. He even still does it well with multiple character perspectives in the book’s final story, Orpheus which is DeWitt’s unique take on the traditional post-zombie-apocalypse tale (and has actually been created into a full-length novel).

Allow me to get back to the Father-Daughter Dance tale for a moment. This story follows one of many emotional trials of a father grieving over his lost daughter. Though Dahlia is arguably presented as a weak female character, the story itself is a strong parable of a parent’s love for a child, and how far a parent can and will go to try to save their child. This story is also one of the only stories that tap into more of a fantasy or “mystical” element. The only other story being How Many Years of Bad Luck Am I Up to, Anyway?. The occult themes in this story are a great style change from many of the more “realist” and contemporary styles of his other stories. It’s also pretty action-packed, and does keep you on the edge of your seat, but in my opinion, the ending falls a little flat. Nonetheless, I wouldn’t skip this one.

Speaking of contemporary style, allow me to finally introduce to you my favorite story in this book, Terror by Text. Yes, it’s a monstrously cheesy title, and the author admits it himself, but don’t let that turn you away! The protagonist of this story is a sort of horror blogger who tells the story of his trip to an abandoned hospital entirely through a series of Tweets. You’re probably thinking, “Oh God, a story out of Tweets? What trend is this guy trying to latch onto?” And hell, even one reviewer on Amazon was reduced to bibliophilic tears, bemoaning what literature has become. Ignore your initial inclinations, and definitely ignore bibliophile snobs. Anyway, our protagonist uses Tweets to document his haunting hospital tour, as well as an encounter with a strange, evil online figure who isn’t exactly a welcome commentator. What is it about the Tweet-style that makes this story the scariest, in my opinion? I’ll be honest, I’m not certain. It probably does have to do with the fact that I am a generation Y kid, and this story is written in a bite-by-bite style that appeals to my attention span-deficit young mind – or so the elders might tell you. I’ll go ahead and tell you that it’s to do with the fact that it creates a “pace” for the reader to follow. We know where the protagonist is going, how he’s feeling, and how fast the story is going, even at only 140 characters at a time. And yet, that text line length creates not only an “out-of-breath” tone that seems to match the trekking on of the protagonist, it leaves us enough mystery as is necessary in a ghost story, for us to wonder what exactly happened in that particular ward…

Underneath is free for the Kindle on Amazon, and the paperback price is also extremely affordable, so if my review hasn’t piqued your interest enough in Dan Dewitt’s work, the price may as well! Obviously, if you aren’t a horror fan, it’s probably not going to be up your alley no matter what. But if you like mystery, a bit of the occult, contemporary drama, or even just zombies, I highly recommend getting this book, especially now that we’re entering the haunting season.

Vampire Nation by Thomas Sipos

Spoilers!

It is said by many Conservatives that Communism is an ideal in which the government lives off the lifeblood of the people. To simplify, the state is a parasite, sucking the blood of its host till there is nothing left. One author took this idea and took it to the next level, both in scope as well as in satire. In Thomas Sipos’s Vampire Nation the Communists are in fact vampires, drinking the blood of the populace to survive. This book is a rich mixture of Ayn Rand, Van Helsing, and documentary on life in a communist country.

The book takes place during the Regan Era just before the fall of the Soviet Union and its satellite countries. It tells the story of an American sent to Communist Romania to scout future locations for a movie about witches he has written. He isn’t in the Romanian capital of Bucharest for long before he discovers that he is not only being constantly watched and bugged, but also that his hosts are more interested in what’s running through his veins rather than helping him make his movie. He falls in with a supposed CIA agent/vampire hunter, who brings him along in her independent mission to kill the king of Romania’s vampires: Nicolae Ceausescu. During their mad dash across the broken and lifeless city of Bucharest they encounter many of the real horrors that were Romanian Communism. They see scores of orphans starving in the streets, numerous attempts by the government to hide the level of poverty the country is experiencing (in one case plants are painted green to look fresh, even though it’s winter), and horrific abuses of power by the upper echelons of the Romanian government.

It should be mentioned that while the vampire aspect of the book is completely false the other aspects and descriptions of starving masses and abuses of power are not. Much of what is described by the Sipos actually happened or, in the case of the orphans, is continuing to happen to this day. Much of the historical facts about Ceausescu and his regime, are taken from the book Red Horizons: The True Story of Nicolae and Elena Ceausescus’ Crimes, Lifestyle, and Corruption by I.M.Pacepa. Pacepa was a foreign intelligence chief for the Romanian government during the fall who defected. His work helped to document many of the abuses of power that took place in the Ceausescu Regime as well as many of the problems that regular people experienced every day. When one looks at Communist Romania it is easy to see a parallel with what is happening in North Korea today.

This books is exceedingly well written and it’s a very easy read. One should take note, however, that many Conservatives views are expressed by the characters. If you like your books politically neutral this book may be a bit of a hard sell for you. As an action and horror story, though, it is quite amazing. It may also appeal to history buffs who enjoy a comical twist on the usual historical events.

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke

It is a privileged to introduce Interesting Book’s first Guest Reviewer, Lydia Stedeford! She is a recent graduate of Chatham University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, her major being Public Relations and Graphic Arts. She is a writer in her own right and pursues it as a hobby, she is also a graphic designer which she also does freelance. If you would like to get into contact with Miss Stedeford you can reach her at her e-mail address: lstedeford@gmail.com or contact her through her blog at http://theinkwriter.blogspot.com/

Spoilers!

Inkheart is the first novel in what would become the Inkworld Trilogy by German author Cornelia Funke. Funke has written several novels but the most notable one published before Inkheart was The Thief Lord. In fact, it was after reading The Thief Lord that I became interested in Funke’s work. Inkheart was published in 2003, and it was the perfect book for a thirteen year-old fantasy genre loving teenager like me. Since then, however, I have read Inkheart and the subsequent sequels more than ten times. It is an addicting story- due to its complete ability to bring innovation into a rarely-explored theme. Inkheart features the story of Mortimer Folchart, a bookbinder, who one night accidentally reads three characters from a book called Inkheart in the novel. The three characters he reads into “our” or the “real world” are two villains, Basta and Capricorn and a fire-eater named Dustfinger, while three characters from “our” world disappear into Inkheart, Resa, Maggie’s mother and two of their cats. The story follows Mortimer or Mo as he is referred, his daughter Maggie, and the Inkheart characters. Inkheart begins one night when Dustfinger shows up out of the blue, to inform that Capricorn and Basta were looking for his copy of Inkheart. Mo takes Maggie to her aunt’s house to evade them, but Dustfinger later on betrays their location, as Capricorn has promised Dustfinger will be able to be read back into the book, something that Mo has denied and proven that he cannot pick and choose who or what comes out of a book and who or what goes into a book.

Mo goes freely with what he believes is his copy of Inkheart, leaving Maggie and her aunt Elinor behind. But Maggie does not accept the kidnapping of her father and realizes that her father took the wrong book, she and Elinor and Dustfinger plan a way into Capricorn’s village to return the book in hopes of getting her father back. Mo soon demonstrates his abilities by reading gold out of Treasure Island and a young boy named Farid out of 1001 night’s version of Aladdin and The Wonderful Lamp. The story really changes however, when Dustfinger sets Mo and Maggie free after Capricorn’s men have burned all the known copies of Inkheart to avoid being read back into the book as Capricorn has found the evil in the “real” world as easy as the Inkworld. Dustfinger helps them escape along with Farid, and they search for the original author of Inkheart, named Fenolio, Mo desperately wanted to keep a copy of Inkheart as he feels it is his only tie to Resa, his only hope or chance of being reunited with her. Maggie finds out that Resa has already been read out of Inkheart by another reader by the name of Darius after she gets captured again by Basta one day while Mo is away. Fenolio was also imprisoned and together, they try an experiment out of curiosity while she waits for Mo to come for her. They discovers that she also has the power to read characters aloud from books. Soon Capricorn tells Maggie that she will be reading another evil character in from Inkheart, the Shadow, a hound that can devour any living thing and only comes when Capricorn calls him. However, with Fenolio’s experimentation, he and Maggie have found that they can change the way things happen, read characters back into their worlds, but all has to be done with the “right words”. Fenolio gives Maggie an alternative script to read and when the Shadow does come- it turns on Capricorn and kills him. The book is very interesting and has many twists and turns.

Inkheart is a very rich story that continues to develop and change in the following books, Inkspell and Inkdeath and provides a new concept of bringing books to life. It is one of those books that gets better every time it is read and invites you in as much as it invites other characters from other worlds into “the real” world. I definitely recommend it as something to read if you like fantasy and love Harry Potter, it will change the way you look at books.