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Books To Look For
No Dominion, by Charlie Huston,
I WAS QUITE taken with Charlie Huston's fresh approach to vampires in Already Dead (2005). I wasn't happy with his authorial tic of using em-dashes instead of quotation marks to indicate dialogue (which he still does here), and it was a little bit like reinventing the wheel when he filled in the background of his vampires (they're basically stand-ins for street gangs and the Mob), but it read like film noir on paper, and his vampire P.I., Joe Pitt, made a fascinating point-of-view character.
This new book carries on from the last. Pitt is still the outsider vampire, but now his life has become that much harder because he made so many enemies in the first book. While looking for work—any kind of work—he gets involved in the investigation of a new drug that's recently hit the streets. It's a drug that affects vampires, which shouldn't be possible because the virus in their blood makes short work of any drugs or alcohol the vampire might have ingested.
So, the plot is different, of course, and Huston adds the subplot of Pitt's human girlfriend suffering from HIV, but mostly it's not so different from the first book.
Which isn't necessarily a bad thing. After all, readers devour mystery series where the protagonists solve crimes, book after book, and we look forward to and anticipate the sleuths using their own individual methods of doing so.
But I was nevertheless a little disappointed in this book because the first was so fresh and different, but now we're familiar with the strange underground of vampires with which Huston has peopled Manhattan. It feels a bit like business as usual, with the ante upped a little, to top the events of the first book.
Much more interesting to me is Huston's take on a revamp of Marvel's Moon Knight that has all the freshness of Already Dead, though it's a different story and world, naturally enough, told in a different medium.
But with No Dominion, while I enjoyed Pitt's second outing here, I'm not sure I'll go on to read a third.
Brother Odd, by Dean Koontz,
On the other hand, Dean Koontz has got the series trick down just pat—if we ignore the fact that it's been something like seven years and he still hasn't given us the third and final book to finish the story he began with Fear Nothing (1998) and Seize the Night (1999). But we will ignore that fact (after having conveniently brought it up; are you listening, Mr. Koontz? We want to know how that story ends) and talk about the book in hand, the third, and I doubt final, entry into the ongoing story of one Odd Thomas, a young diner cook from Pico Mundo, CA, who can see the dead.
He can feel them as well, but they can't communicate with him other than by touch, which makes it difficult for him to help them move on from this world, where they are trapped, to whatever waits for us in the next.
At the end of last year's Forever Odd, Odd retreated to a monastery where he hoped to make a new life for himself away from the busy turmoil of the world at large. But while Koontz could no doubt find a way to hold our interest in simply relating Odd's day-to-day life in St. Bartholomew's Abbey, with its picturesque setting (the High Sierra of California) and motley collection of monks and nuns, he's too much the storyteller to leave Odd content for long.
Having grown up in the desert, Odd has no experience with snow. So with a storm forecast, he stays up late, sitting by his window, to watch it unfold. Unfortunately, there is more out there in the night than simple wind and snow, and all too soon Odd is plunged back into the sort of misadventures he was trying to avoid by coming to St. Bartholomew's.
I've mentioned before in this column how Koontz's books have gotten leaner over the past few years. In Brother Odd, he stretches the prose out a little bit once more, but rather than slowing the action down, it enhances Odd's first person narrative. The story is told with warmth, and just a touch of humor, both of which echo Odd's character while also alleviating some of the grim elements that he has to tell us as the events of this long day and night unfold.
One of the reasons readers enjoy first person narratives so much is that, when they're done properly, it feels as though the character is telling them the story, one on one. There's a personal connection, and when the character is as engaging as Odd Thomas, we want to stay in his company—not just to find out what happens next, but because we are captivated by his voice.
And that's why I'm happy to say that, although this book wraps up the story begun in its pages, just as did the other two volumes in the series, the final scene of Brother Odd appears to set the stage for at least one more outing.
Fables: 1000 Nights of Snowfall, by Bill Willingham & various artists,
I've mentioned the monthly comic book series Fables in this column before. It follows the various adventures and exploits of the characters we know from fairy tales and classics (the Big Bad Wolf, Snow White, Mowgli, etc.) as they live their lives hidden in Fabletown, somewhere in New York City.
They came here from their homeland, fleeing the armies of the Adversary, and now try to make do in our mundane world. What's fun about the series (which is up to issue fifty-six as I write this) is that the various characters retain their traits and magical abilities, but have adapted and changed—as we all do over time.
This new book uses prose and comic scripts to tell a variation on Scheherazade's Arabian Nights. This time it's Snow White telling the stories. She arrived in the land of the Arabian Fables as an ambassador from her own community, but soon finds herself in Scheherazade's predicament and ends up telling the Sultan stories to save her life (which apparently is what inspired Scheherazade herself to do so as well when Snow White leaves).
Snow White's stories deal with many characters familiar from fairy tales (Snow White herself, the Frog Prince, the witch from Hansel & Gretel, Old King Cole) and are set in the Homelands when the Adversary's armies are just beginning to invade. But just as with the contemporary New York stories in the monthly series, in Fables: 1000 Nights of Snowfall, we're given fascinating new insights and differing points of view from what we thought we knew about these characters.
The art ranges from quirky to wonderful, with my favorites being a rare collaboration between Charles Vess and Michael Wm. Kaluta, illustrating the prose sections with gorgeous full- and half-pages of art more reminiscent of story book illustration from the turn of the last century than modern comic book art.
If you like the monthly series, you'll love this book. And if you're unfamiliar with Willingham's strange take on fairy tales, this is an excellent place to come on board and see what the fuss is all about.
Suicide Girls in the Afterlife, by Gina Ranalli,
No, this slim volume isn't about those tattooed and pierced Goths and punks of Internet fame, but rather a look at the afterlife that awaits young women who end their own lives. It's a serious subject, and while the characters seem a little lighter of heart than you might expect, and there are some very funny—and sacrilegious—moments, the author has serious things to say. But that doesn't stop a lot of it from being irreverent and tongue-in-cheek.
We meet both the devil (he's a Goth) and Jesus (he's a hippie) in this book, as well as a number of other unusual characters as we journey with a young woman named Pogue to a strange hotel in the afterlife—a holding tank of sorts while Heaven and Hell are undergoing renovations.
How much you'll enjoy Pogue's story—with its Worm Ouroboros twist—will depend on how much you like nontraditional storytelling, but it's certainly a fascinating—and for this reader, successful—experiment.
Material to be considered for review in this column should be sent to Charles de Lint, P.O. Box 9480, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1G 3V2.
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