Aurealis Reviews #69

everythingisgraveyard copy

Everything is a Graveyard

by Jason Fischer

Ticonderoga Publications

Review by Alex Stevenson

Jason Fischer's new collection of short stories, Everything is a Graveyard, might perhaps be more accurately titled 'Everything is going to kill you'. Featuring dimension-shifting, soul-sucking witches, a ravening horde of undead camels, and murderous, amputation-happy rednecks—among other things—Everything is a Graveyard is full of messy endings for the few poor souls who inhabit its post- apocalyptic worlds.

The distinct Australian vibe—carnivorous kangaroos, the parched bush, and battered Toranas feature heavily—gives the collection a great sense of theme and character. Fischer’s enthusiasm for Ozploitation is infectious, and it’s hard not to be charmed by his combination of horror and familiar Australian tropes. It is a pleasure to see so many lovingly crafted horror tales in outback settings. Unfortunately, however, in such high volume, they can feel a little repetitive.

Luckily, this is mitigated by the handful of stories that eschew an Australian setting, and are uniformly excellent. Of particular note are the two featuring Raoul Mithras, a minotaur god caught in a fragmented future, and ‘Rolling for Fetch’, a steampunk romance in which street youths trade their feet for wheels.

Tremendously imaginative and a great deal of fun, Everything is a Graveyard makes up for what it lacks in depth with buckets of gore, thrills, and laughs. Zombies, classic Australiana, violence and black humour all abound, and fans of schlock horror should find a lot to enjoy.

thegospelofloki

The Gospel of Loki

by Joanne M. Harris

Gollancz

Review by Alex Stevenson

Bestselling author Joanne M. Harris’s first foray into adult Norse fantasy, The Gospel of Loki, is an enjoyable if frustrating novel. Based heavily on the Prose and Poetic Eddas, Gospel faithfully retells classic Norse mythology from the unconventional perspective of Loki, the outsider and trickster god. Harris’s Loki is sarcastic, modern, and subversive, and makes an engaging and entertaining narrator, especially alongside the boorish rendering of other deities. However, the story as a whole suffers for his pre-eminence.

Obviously inspired by Tom Hiddleston’s popular portrayal of the titular deity in recent Marvel films, Harris has adopted the same sardonic charm for her Loki, and while it doesn’t fail to amuse, it does leave something to be desired. The retrospective nature of the narrative and Harris’s relentlessly glib protagonist rob The Gospel of Loki of much of its potential for moral complexity. Loki struggles to generate much genuine pathos, despite his constant assertions that he is simply misunderstood.

The similarly archetypal portrayals of other characters, Heimdall and Thor particularly, position them more as foils for Loki’s wit than personalities in their own right. Indeed, the novel as a whole seems more focused on accessing Loki’s cultural cachet than presenting an original take on the Eddas. This is not to say that there is not a lot to like about The Gospel of Loki; Harris has invested a great deal into the novel, and her characterisation of Loki, for all its flaws, is as wry and witty as one could hope. While those looking for a more nuanced reimagining of Norse mythology may be disappointed, fans of Loki’s more recent incarnations are certain to love Harris’s new offering.

thebloodshebetrayed

The Blood She Betrayed

by Cheryse Durrant

Heart Hunters Book 1

Clan Destine Press

Review by Deanne Sheldon-Collins

Cheryse Durrant’s The Blood She Betrayed begins as it means to go on—with a burst of action and romance underpinned by wry humour. Shahkara, a warrior princess from another dimension, enters our world via Brisbane and immediately rescues Max, a drunken teenager falling from a balcony. The scene is slightly ridiculous, but self-aware; when Shahkara questions Max about the distance to ‘the nearest tavern’, he assumes that this armoured ‘Goth Angel’ is playing a character, and thus humorous misunderstandings begin.

The story turns darker when a clawed man attacks them, and Max soon discovers that Shahkara is searching for an artefact that will save her people. This premise is hardly unique, but well-paced action and a sense of humour save the novel from cliché. The plot moves quickly, conflict leading into violent conflict without feeling rushed, but not so quickly that it sacrifices character development.

The language grows saccharine during love scenes, but Max and Shahkara nonetheless have chemistry. His interest and her wariness create an interesting dynamic, full of push and pull—but their friendship is heartfelt, in some ways more compelling than their romance.

Shahkara is a likeable protagonist. Although she belongs to the class of sword- wielding anti-damsels who are slashing their way to the top of urban fantasy, she is not a stock character. Some of the novel’s most enjoyable moments come from her interpretations of our world’s culture. These misunderstandings are amusing, but also interesting for the perspective they offer on things we take for granted, such as modern-day slang.

Australian readers will enjoy a story that ranges across Brisbane, Sydney, and the country in between. Although the story itself does nothing truly new, its action and characters make The Blood She Betrayed a fun read with a dash of angst.

thebeckoning

The Beckoning

by Paul Collins

Damnation Books

Review by Deanne Sheldon-Collins

The Beckoning is a well-researched psychological thriller of cults, ghosts, and demons. While Paul Collins shows his knack for atmosphere, the novel’s most gripping feature is its emotional drive.

The Beckoning centres on fourteen-year-old Briony, whose supernatural powers draw her to a sect in regional Victoria— but Briony’s anxious father, Matt, is the emotional core of the book. A skeptic in denial about his wife and daughter’s powers, he struggles to overcome his prejudices and face the demonic threat to his family. He and Clarissa, the woman who helps him, have a compelling relationship. Clarissa is a strong-willed journalist whose spiritualism causes friction between her and Matt. Yet they come to depend on one another, and a complex dynamic grows from their mixture of support and distrust.

Briony’s feelings are harder to determine. She seems to care about her father, yet she runs away without compunction. Her detached independence makes it difficult to see her as a vulnerable teenager. Although the story gives reasons for her behaviour, she comes across as a cold young adult for most of the book.

The moody setting and macabre story convey claustrophobic terror, but omniscience stunts the horror. The novel shows us early whom its antagonist is and how his powers work, and understanding the central threat prevents our imaginations from inflating it. As Matt says, ‘fear of the unknown’ is ‘our oldest and deadliest emotion’—but the readers know what is happening behind the scenes, and so we do not share in this fear.

Yet The Beckoning remains an eerie story, made especially compelling by its high emotional stakes. Collins is best known for his YA fantasy and science fiction, but here he proves that he can also write horror for older readers.

avery

Avery

by Charlotte McConaghy

The Chronicles of Kaya Book 1

Random Romance

Review by Deanne Sheldon-Collins

Charlotte McConaghy debuted at seventeen, and the quality of writing in her fourth release makes it easy to see why. Avery begins a multigenerational series about warring countries Kaya and Pirenti. Kayans share psychic bonds with their mates and die together. The violent Pirenti think bonding is unnatural— yet neither race is entirely good or bad, and the characters grow as they realise this.

Ava, a Kayan who survived her bondmate’s murder, is seeking revenge. Ambrose and Thorne are the sons of the woman she wants to kill. Roselyn is Thorne’s abused wife, whose dreamy sensitivity has led people to ostracise her as a ‘half-wit’. The narrative alternates between the first-person perspectives of these four characters— and all are equally compelling.

Ambrose and Ava learn to love one another, a situation complicated not only by their enmity but also by the fact that Ava still grieves her dead lover, Avery. Running parallel to their story is Thorne and Roselyn’s, in which McConaghy does an excellent job of explaining Thorne’s abuse without justifying it. Violence in Avery is neither romanticised nor righteously condemned. The novel highlights the difficulties of love in many forms, including familial.

Avery initially seems sympathetic to the idea of soulmates, but it gradually becomes clear that the novel is questioning fated love. Ava’s longing for her dead lover is poignant, but its destructive effect on her demonstrates how bonding is as much curse as blessing. Thorne and Roselyn exemplify a different kind of love, hurtful yet genuine. Through these protagonists and their changing relationships, Avery extols love chosen and struggled for, rather than love decided by destiny.

Although belonging to the Random Romance imprint, Avery is as much a well- paced fantasy about war, family, and grief as it is a romance.

2 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Aurealis Magazine review of “Everything is a Graveyard” | jasonfischer.com.au
  2. Saturday SF + F Link Action – “Judge a book by its cover” edition | Aurealis

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