Friday, April 22, 2011

The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart by Jesse Bullington

The Sad Tale of The Brothers Grossbart - Jesse Bullington (Orbit - 2009)

I must admit that I am a sucker for good-covers, though I am aware of that age-old cliche that judging a book solely on its artistic representation can prove to be a waste of time as well as hard-earned money -- and let's face it, in this day and age hard-earned money is definitely something not to waste. However, when a book does come along with such an alluring design what other indicators does one have that such a book might prove interesting? After all, if the publishing company was willing to spend money on not only the book/author but the cover/artist as well -- especially during these trying times for publishing houses -- then perhaps it is alright to judge a book by its cover?

As such, how could one possibly ignore The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart by Jesse Bullington when their (the reader[s]) eyes fall upon this illustrious cover? What appears to be a skull eventually comes into visual clarity as a pseudo-mish-mashing seek-and-find -- the skull is actually two men standing side by side, with satchels and shovels, whereabouts various artifacts are strewn. So yes, I was drawn towards this novel. I studied its cover for awhile before finally flipping it over to the back whereby I was intrigued by the synopsis and the tag-line: "We ain't thieves and we ain't killers, we's just good men been done wrong" (Bullington).

So, without any further inquiry into the matter I purchased the novel by newcomer Jesse Bullington at full retail price, taking a chance that the story wouldn't disappointment -- seeing as the cover didn't. I must say it was a gamble which paid off, but not handsomely so. While I did enjoy the story overall, and absolutely loved the characters (the brothers as it were), I grew rather bored of the novel about three-fourths of the way through. It wasn't as if I trudged through the book, finding it boring or taxing, but rather I found the scenes and themes inane. It was as if the adventure never stopped, but not in a fantastical way (i.e. epic adventures and long journeys), but rather in an overtly redundant way. It's almost as if the book could have ended several chapters earlier, or lasted several chapters longer.

The story was just the same scenario one after another. The brothers travel, the brothers face a foe, the brothers triumph. But for what? What are its morals or themes? There were religious contemplations, as well as pondering philosophically on justice and righteousness, but did such postulations deserve to last as long as they did; or for that matter end so abruptly? In the end, a better conclusion could have been reached one way or the other. Instead, what we're left with is a story a third of the way into the book which doesn't wrap-up until a few hundred pages later, adding nothing new but more dialogue conversing the same moral questions over and over and over and over and over with an overabundance of expletives. However, I am left to wonder if that's not the sad tale of the Grossbart . . . that life is monotonous, no matter what monsters you may face?

Overall, I liked the book and found it an enjoyable read and would recommend it to any fan of fantasy seeking monsters, gruesome battles, medieval history, religious inquires, and a lot of f___ing expletives.

Suffice it to say . . . Good Book, Good Read.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Enterprise of Death by Jesse Bullington

(2011, Orbit Books) Jesse Bullington's The Enterprise of Death is a horrific romp through Medieval Europe during the Inquisition on the verge of the Protestant Reformation. This tale is sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes meaningful, and sometimes all of these things simultaneously. Awa is a young Moor and slave. Her company is captured, and she finds herself under the tutelage of a vicious necromancer. She learns his dark arts and becomes a necromancer, too. Her tutor places a curse on her and wants her for her body in the darkest of ways imaginable. She roams Medieval Europe, finds friends, and seeks out a way to break her curse.

The friends she finds include several historical figures including real-life occultist Peraclesus and the artist Manuel Deutsch (whose art provides quite an evocative cover image). Another friend, Monique, is a foul-mouthed gun-toting blacksmith and pimp who utilizes Awa's skills in communicating with spirits (including the spirits of venereal diseases) to keep the "cleanest" whorehouse in Paris running a profitable business. These friendships form the heart and soul of this novel.

There are massive battles, walking skeletons, monsters, and inquisitors with cellars full of torture devices. The novel is a manic hodge-podge of myth, fantasy, and history blended together into a contemporary pulp narrative. This is both the novel's strength and weakness. The narrative is quickly paced, but sometimes the modern language – especially in dialogue – is a little jarring considering the setting. The language utilized throughout – sometimes sounding medieval while utilizing modern sayings and profanity – can best be described as anachronistic. Also, Bullington tends to have a tendency to change perspectives and settings in his third-person narrative randomly which can be quite jarring at times.

Also, the action taking place in the novel is flat-out disgusting and profane, especially during the initial formative chapters. This may prove problematic for some readers. Fair warning: The novel contains liberal doses of gruesomeness including graphic scenes of necrophilia, cannibalism, and even self-cannibalism. In honesty, at one point during the first part of the novel I seriously considered putting the book down. I wasn't that into it, and it seemed to be disgusting and shocking simply to be disgusting and shocking. During the first half of the narrative, I couldn't quite get my head around the point of the nastiness. It seemed juvenile and, well, gross. And this is coming from someone who spent a large chunk of his formative years reading Clive Barker and devouring Cronenberg films.

But I'm glad I didn't give up. The book was truly worthwhile. The friendships that develop are extremely well-drawn and compassionate. The underlying themes of friendship, faith, and bravery in the face of adversity are nicely explored. The characters – especially that of the protagonist – are quite flawed but manage to be extremely understandable and relatable. In fact, this reader found himself extremely sympathetic towards the characters of Awa and Manuel in particular. The Bastards of the Schwarzwald and the hyena near the end are welcome additions and an interesting take on their folkloric roots. In fact, the final half of the book and the ending are actually quite wonderful. Despite the darkness of the earlier chapters, the book left this reader with a nice warm fuzzy feeling which was, well, unexpected, and quite nice. (But the story remains more than a little twisted – it's not all sunshine and roses in the end. A crazy Bollywood ending complete with big smiles, singing, and happy dancing would have been quite the disappointment, after all.)

Yes, I liked this book very much despite my repulsion during much of the first half. I guess you could say that The Enterprise of Death is a grower not a shower. In fact, I recommend it heartily if you have a strong stomach with a strong tolerance for the profane. My six pack rating: 4 out of 6 mugs of a stout mead accompanied by a nice shredded long pork barbecue sammich.

*Legal Disclosure: Book received as free electronic copy via author and

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Open Your Eyes by Paul Jessup

(2009, APEX PUBLICATIONS) Paul Jessup’s novella Open Your Eyes is a modern space opera with a feel reminiscent of the “New Wave” of science fiction which occurred during the late 60’s and early 70’s as best exemplified by many of the contributors featured in the table of contents of Harlan Ellison’s Dangerous Visions anthology (writers like Delany, Aldiss, Dick, and Ballard come immediately to mind). In Open Your Eyes, we are presented with a world of deep space exploration. Spaceships are organic and very human with consciousness and even sex drives. The reader knows from the first few pages – in which a female protagonist is impregnated by a dying star – that they are entering a science fictional world that is more surreal than scientific. Depending on how you like your science fiction, this may or may not be okay.

For this reader, it was wonderful. I found Open Your Eyes entertaining, thought-provoking, sometimes disturbing in its violence, and even beautiful at times. It was not entirely consistent, however. The author’s tendency to overuse sentence fragments for dramatic effect grew tiresome during some of the action scenes. But this is a minor complaint. Overall, I found it to be an occasionally disorienting (in the best possible way) and excellent read. The story is something different, imaginative, and original. Open Your Eyes is a welcome oasis in the vast world of space opera, a genre that often seems too mired in the Golden Age of its past to contemplate moving forward.

My (modified) six pack rating: 3 out of 4 Steel Reserve tall boys.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Thin Them Out by Kim Paffenroth, R.J. Sevin, & Julia Sevin

I've been a Kim Paffenroth fan for a few years now, so when I saw the Thin Them Out, a novellete written with R.J. & Julia Sevin available for $.99 on Kindle, I snapped it up.

The story follows a group of zombie apocalypse survivors as things go from bad to worse intercut with scenes from a zombie's POV--and the zombie is starting to remember pieces of its life. The survivors must make unpleasant choices about who should live and who should die given their predicament and limited food supply. At one point I wanted to slap some sense into one of the characters, but they all acted within their constraints, displaying very real human weaknesses.

I don't know what is scarier: fearing your fellow humans when faced with limited resources or thinking from a zombie's perspective on what it must be to realize you've become a monster.

The ebook edition contains an extra story by R.J. Sevin. It's a brief read, but well worth the buck.

Buy Thin Them Out for Kindle.