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Certain Dark ThingsCertain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


If you're looking for some remarkable worldbuilding in a fast-paced vampire adventure, this might be your next summer read.

Certain Dark Things has a vaguely YA flavor, but with a harder edge and a refreshing swap of the usual roles. In this one, the sympathetic human caught up in a dangerous alliance with a powerful-yet-wounded vampire is a young male, and the P-Y-W is female, the last survivor of a clan of indigenous Mexican vampires dating back to pre-Columbian times.

Moreno-Garcia makes the grittier aspects of Mexico City vibrantly clear, and the plot is a well-crafted chase-and-vengeance item with drug cartels that might be lurking in the back pages of tomorrow's paper. What made this a rewarding read for me, however, was the depth and international diversity of its vampire subculture. Make that subcultures: there are nearly a dozen subspecies, and a glossary worth the price of admission all by itself.

I for one am hoping to read more in this carefully constructed world.










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The Nightmare Stacks (Laundry Files, #7)The Nightmare Stacks by Charles Stross

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Charles Stross just keeps ringing new changes on his popular Laundry Files. This time around, he's added urban fantasy. Or rather, the Secret History behind it. As newly minted Laundry employee -- and PHANG -- Dr. Alex Schwartz discovers, elves are not only quite real, but remarkably unpleasant. At least, most of them are . . .

The Laundry, Leeds, and possibly the planet are all under attack in this one, as CASE NIGHTMARE RED (alien invasion) picks an otherwise ordinary weekend to manifest. The result is a bizarre but satisfying blend of military thriller, occult adventure, & just a touch of very strange romance.

Regular readers of this series won't be disappointed, though some may find Stross's worldbuilding into the fey realm a bit of a stretch. (I did not.)





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I’m falling behind on my podcast listening this summer, so this notice is a week-plus late – but I wouldn’t want any Lovecraftians who read this LJ to miss StarShipSofa 390.

The whole episode is excellent, with dark SF by Allen M. Steele & an extensive interview with leading horror editor Ellen Datlow. However, the draw for devotees of the Bard of Providence is this month’s Looking Back in Genre History segment. Dr. Amy H. Sturgis[livejournal.com profile] eldritchhobbit discusses the history lurking behind Lovecraft’s “The Shunned House,” with glimpses into New England’s own brand of vampire mythology. I consider myself fairly knowledgeable about HPL, but I learned a lot from this segment.

Find the episode here. As always, you can download it from the web site, listen online, or find it on iTunes. However you choose to listen, I wouldn’t miss this one.
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Sustenance (Saint-Germain, #27)Sustenance by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Number 27 in the blessedly long-lived Saint-Germain series finds the Count in post-WW II Paris, acting as publisher and friend (and, in one case, much more) to a group of American academics driven into exile by the House Un-American Activities Committee. When their lives become entangled with a shadowy CIA operation organized by a corrupt agent, no good can come of it -- and, pretty much, it doesn’t.

Yarbro’s take on the anti-Communist witch-hunt is detailed and fascinating. As usual, she provides a preface of historical information – always worth the time when starting out on one of her novels. Regular readers of this series will also find much information about how vampirism “works” in Yarbro’s world (some of this was new to me, & I’ve read the majority of these books) and discover the fates of several characters from previous novels.

That said, this still wasn’t one of my favorites. Although I enjoyed the postwar atmosphere and probably learned a great deal, I had trouble seeing how all the plot threads wove together. Perhaps this is due to my own unfamiliarity with the history, but the CIA operation and the misadventures of the Ex-Pats’ Coven never quite meshed -- and there were a few too many members of the Coven to keep track of. Though Saint-Germain proved to have some particularly lethal enemies, their motives remained obscure. Given the level of espionage and paranoia, though, perhaps this isn’t surprising.

I’m uncertain whether to make this a three-star or a four-star review, but I’m afraid I’ll have to go with three this time. This is no reflection on Yarbro’s writing, or indeed on the series as a whole. I’ll be preordering the Count’s next adventure, but his brush with the Cold War left me a little cold.





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Love & Other PoisonsLove & Other Poisons by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This is an remarkably varied collection of dark fantasy tales – some darker than others – likely to appeal to those who prefer their terrors subtle. Many reflect the author’s Mexican heritage, adding a unique flavor to everything from the Lovecraftian “Collect Call” to the nearly SF “Distant Deeps Or Skies.” Another particularly successful tale in this collection is “A Puddle of Blood,” which introduces Aztec mythology into the world of the undead. The world-building in this one is intriguing, and leaves the reader hoping for more about these characters.



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The Rhesus Chart (Laundry Files, #5)The Rhesus Chart by Charles Stross

My rating: 3 of 5 stars



If you’re a Laundry loyalist – and I am – you’ll want to read this one no matter what. The Rhesus Chart is absolutely essential to the ongoing eldritch history of Bob Howard and the approach of CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN (aka When the Stars Turn Right), & the ending is heartbreaking. The arcane history of the Laundry (who knew it went back to Elizabethan times?) is also fleshed out in some detail, as is the very complicated relationship between Bob & his boss Angleton. Full points for world-building here.

That said, however, this was far from my favorite Laundry File. No matter how well-justified in Lovecraftian terms, vampires – sorry, PHANGS – just do not fit well into this dark SF universe. Or at least, they didn’t for me. I have no problem whatsoever with urban fantasy, & regard it as a favorite guilty pleasure – but I wasn’t prepared for elder vampire duels in Laundry London.

I’m really sorry not to be able to rate this one higher. Stross’s style is as darkly witty as ever, and Bob’s relationship with his wife Mo (and her sanguinary violin) gets some much-needed attention. PHANGS or no PHANGS, I’ll be preordering the next File.




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Kiss of the ButterflyKiss of the Butterfly by James Lyon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


My rating on this one is actually the average of two ratings: one for writing style, one for concept / research / fresh ideas. Kiss of the Butterfly, so far as I know, is a first novel -- and from time to time, it read like one. In writing style, and even in some of the overall characterization & plotting, it seemed like an average thriller on the horrific side. Lyon definitely kept the pages turning - or, in my case, the screen-swipes & page-clicks going -- but the style was nothing out of the ordinary. Three stars.

Plus five stars for the most meticulously researched take on vampires I've read in a very long time. So meticulous, in fact, that it includes an entire Historical Note section at the end -- in which one can learn that almost every moldering tome, secret vampire-hunting society, & appalling slaughter mentioned in this book is actually real. Names, dates, & titles are provided for anyone interested in researching further.

Authentic Balkan vampire folklore, with a heavy side order of recent history & reasonably compelling characters, make this book a treat for vampire fans jaded by a few too many urban fantasies.













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The Twelve (The Passage, #2)The Twelve by Justin Cronin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


As with The Passage, I'm not sure what to call this novel. Thriller horror? Post-apocalypse SF with a side order of mysticism? Literary/genre hybrid? Whatever it is, the series is still working for me. The weaponized vampire virus idea has something to do with it -- as does the discovery that, for once, the Savior of Civilization is a girl person. Cronin's prose style is also a couple of cuts above what I've found in most thrillers, though that's strictly personal taste.

Anyone who lives or ever has lived in the Rocky Mountain West -- particularly Colorado -- is in for some morbid fun with this one. There's nothing quite like seeing the city you're living in (or at least near) made into Ground Zero for the vampire apocalypse, and my college town didn't fare too well either.

This is, as several other reviewers have mentioned, a very long book. At times, I wasn't sure every bit of it was necessary, but Cronin still does an excellent job of keeping the reader interested in each & every character. There are a lot of characters, though, & I found the X-Ray feature on the Kindle edition very useful for keeping them straight.

I'm reluctant to say much about the plot of this one, to avoid spoiling it for others. There's a more satisfying conclusion this time around than there was for The Passage, which was a big relief. I found the narrative to be well-constructed despite its length, with very few really slow spots. Violence toward women was more of a plot point than it might have needed to be, though the violence made sense in context.











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Fang fans with a literary bent won't want to miss episode No. 159 of StarShipSofa's Aural Delights, which includes [livejournal.com profile] eldritchhobbit 's monthly Looking Back At Science Fiction feature. 

In honor of the season, this segment discusses Varney the Vampire; or, The Feast of Blood (1845–47).  Currently attributed to James Malcolm Rymer, this epic-length tale of Gothic horror first appeared as a series of "penny dreadful" pamphlets before being published as a novel in 1847.  In the process, it apparently introduced many of the standard features of vampirism as we know & love it.

As usual, [livejournal.com profile] eldritchhobbit does an excellent job of providing the maximum amount of entertaining information in minimal time.  I particularly enjoyed the way she fitted Varney into the "blood canon" of other early vampire tales -- including Stoker's -- before moving on to the moderns: Dark Shadows,  Buffy, Twilight, & Charlaine Harris.

You can find this podcast on iTunes or at the Web site.   With regular content like this, StarShipSofa's recent Hugo Award is no surprise. 
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