Review of the Silver Sickle

So, a bit more than a year ago I reviewedRebel Heart coverBlood Red Road Cover  a sensational debut fantasy novel titled Blood Red Road by Moira Young.  Fantastic read.  I learned later that it had been movie-optioned by Blade Runner/Alien/Gladiator director Ridley Scott  (can’t wait!!) and then she followed it with an equally pleasing sequel, Rebel HeartNow, you’ve got to understand, I’m a lifelong lover of the fantasy genre – all the way back to the LOTR/Hobbit books and George MacDonald, then Shannara, Thomas Covenant, Pern, Guy Gavriel Kay, and on and on.  Blood Red Road pushed all my best fantasy buttons.

Well, over the past year or so I’ve also been enthusiastically captivated by the off-the-wall humorous and weirdly creative literary style of fellow author Ellie Ann Soderstrom.  (Here’s her blog, which will also give you links to her solo and collaborative works.)  I subjectively 5-star reviewed (woot! woot!) her co-authored pulp crime thriller Breaking Steele back in January, and bottom line, this girl can wield a pen.

So, when Ellie Ann sent me an advance PDF copy of the dystopian fantasy novel she’d been working on for a few years and was finally excited to publish, I regrettably set it aside to read later.  You see, my crazy-busy life just then welcomed zero interruptions for pleasure reading — Boo, Glenn!!  Bad bad decision! – and I missed out for weeks on enjoying what turned out to be a sucked-in, couldn’t-put-it-down, two-day whirl-read of a literary gem.  The Silver Sickle is fantastic!

You’ll find a bunch of 5-star reviews on Amazon.com and Ellie Ann notes many other raves on her website, and believe me, each and every approbation hits the nail on the head.  Anything I say will simply echo everyone else, but I do wish to take a second to tell you what I loved about this book.

Imagine a world . . . Those of us who write contemporary fiction shudder at the thought of creating a brand new place.  Environment, terrain, weather, inhabitants, politics, buildings, municipal infrastructure, cuisine, and on and on.  Hell, I’ve literally lived my life in my books’ Seattle setting for more than 40 years.  If I want to describe a building, I drive down the street and look at it!  Ellie Ann has masterfully crafted her own imaginary land of Dyn, an intricately complicated world, roughly medieval Middle Eastern in flavor, but with a steampunk edge and a couple of wickedly cool and horrific alien races thrown into the mix.  I got a fun Aliens meets Stargate meets Aladdin meets Falling Skies kinda vibe.  (Hey, in my world that’s awesome!)  And the whole Traveler thing totally creeped me out.  Brilliant.

I need somebody to love . . . Talk to people about the last Oh Wow! book/movie/tv show/graphic novel/owner’s manual they experienced and at the root of their pleasure will be the characters.  We want to escape with someone worthy of our heart-and-soul investment, and oh my, Silver Sickle has a bunch of ‘em. 

• Our young heroine Farissa, unwillfully recruited into the “consecrated” ranks of King Koru’s concubines, but with a sassy bravery that just might set her free.  (Think Jasmine à la Lara Croft.)Jasmine à la Lara Croft

• Her childhood friend and devoted admirer Zel, a clever apprentice cogmaster who holds the key to that freedom by an impossible invention capable of destroying the godlike Amar. (Think Aladdin à la Sheldon Cooper.)Alladin Sheldon Cooper

• Gira, the evil bitch queen leader of the Amar, whose centuries-planned scheme to destroy the human race provides the ticking clock that pushes this story forward at breakneck pace. (Think Cruella de Vil à la praying mantis.)Cruella de Vil Praying Mantis

• My favorite Silver Sickle characters, though, were the cogsmen, a mysterious race of heroic cyberpunk androids with clockwork mechanisms, near-human brain chips, and a frustrating ethics code that will inevitably save or ruin everything.  Love these guys.  (Think Aragorn à la C3PO.)Aragorn C3PO

Once upon a time . . . And finally there’s the story itself.  It goes a little like this: A mid-millennial culture is descended upon by a persuasively manipulative insectoid alien race called the Amar that convinces the kingdom’s handsome and gullible monarch to put the future of his people (and unknowingly the entire human race) in its exoskeletoned hands.  A wicked bitch queen Gira heads up those Amar and she’s a total wicked bitch.  Kinda like the head wicked bitch queen Aliens critteralien in Aliens.  And she’s supposedly invincible.  Well, except maybe by the robotic steel-armored cogsmen who’ve kept the kingdom functioning for centuries, but can’t truly protect its people because they’re bound to the will of their numb-nut ruler by brain chips that will trigger immediate self-explosion should they defy him by traitorous acts such as harming the Amar.   Yeah, now you’re starting to get the picture.  Luckily, the young consecrat Farissa and her lover wannabe and genius-with-the-cogs Zel stumble upon what’s really going on and make other plans.  Until those plans are thwarted.  Crap!  So they make other plans.  Oh, wait . . . TMI, right?  I’m ruining the story.  Okay, let me just say this: an adorable root-for couple with combined brains and clever brawn, god-awful hate ’em hate ’em hate ’em creepy bad guys, a mysterious mechanical army of potential save-the-dayers, a gargantuan basement-dwelling life-sucking amorphous worm thing called Traveler (yeah, the same name as Robert E. Lee’s valiant white steed – how twisted is that?!!), and a story that dances every which way and teases you along and keeps you guessing and smiling and sighing and hand-wringing and almost wetting your pants maybe one night late ‘cuz you probably shouldn’t have started that next chapter, but you couldn’t put it down.  Just sayin’.

And the end is good, by the way, for those who worry about anticlimactic unfulfillment.

If you’re a fan of the genre, this one’s a fantasy winner.  Can’t wait for what’s next up your sleeve, Ellie Ann.

Just a thought.

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Review of Breaking Steele: Trust Me, You Gotta Read This!

So, a friend I’ve never met writes a blog that consistently busts my gut and amuses me to no end, and when I learned she’d collaborated with a popular thriller writer on a new pulp crime series featuring a reluctant Assistant D. A. heroine named Sarah Steele, I simply had to bite and Amazoned it in paperback, then read it on a return flight from Chicago just before Christmas.  Took me four hours to power through it.  Couldn’t put it down.  Buckle your seat belts for take off — READ — Buckle your seat belts for landing.  Done.  Wow.  What just happened?

Oh, Ellie Ann, this girl can write!  I have no way of knowing which parts and pieces of Breaking Steele were her contribution and which poured from the pen of collaborator Aaron Patterson, but I heard her voice woven throughout the narrative.  She’s a funny gal and there’s a subtle wry humor that springs up on occasion that’s clearly hers. Bottom line, though, it doesn’t really matter.  Ellie and Aaron, Aaron and Ellie — it just flat out works.

But I’ve got to warn you, this is pulp crime.  As in pulp fiction.  As in raw and wicked and in your face and without a lot of poetry.  James Lee Burke they ain’t.  Characters die big and wrong and bloody and at times your stomach will turn and your skin might crawl.  But in oh such a please-no-but-give-me-more kind of way.  And you’re in the midst of it from paragraph one.  Innocent young woman kidnapped, bound with duct tape in a crate reeking of rotten corn, rat droppings, and urine, then abused offstage in
every manner possible and electrocuted in a bathtub.  But there’s a witness and an arrest and tons of evidence and an open-and-shut case.  ADA Sarah Steele is riding high and sensibly confident in conviction and justice served.  Then everything goes to hell.

And for Sarah Steele, it becomes personal.  Especially when the profession she’s committed her life and soul to is compromised and she begins to question if justice truly can be served without crossing into that dark place where vigilantes accomplish what the legal system can’t.  The co-authors do such a fine job delving into her struggle, but without slowing the story’s breakneck pace, and by five chapters in you’ll be totally hooked on both the story AND on Sarah Steele. (Who’s also a bit of a hottie, IMHO.  Which never really hurts.)

Back in the day, pulp crime writers would pump out these bare bones magazine serials with fresh chapters on newsstands each week; short and sweet episodes with enough visceral grab to keep your attention until next Tuesday.  Pack a few dozen of those together, slap a cover on, and you’d have a pulp novel.  Then it’d start all over again with the next one.  Consider some of the film work of Quentin Tarantino or Robert Rodriquez and you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about: they do pulp crime on the big screen.

I love this stuff.  And Breaking Steele does the genres justice: pulp, crime, thriller, page-turner, recommended read.  I know I have to wait until March (and not next Tuesday), but I’m squirming in my seat for Twisting Steele, the next Sarah Steele Thriller.