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33AD: A Vampire Novel By David McAfee – Reviewed

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 24, 2013 by stanleyriiks

I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a book that has so many problems. But I did rather enjoy this.

The Romans have taken control of Jerusalem, but the Jewish population aren’t happy about it. A young rabbi named Jesus is causing problems. And a vampire assassin is loose in the city…

Romans, vampires and Jesus. What more could you ask for?

The story begins as a kind of murder mystery as Roman Legionary Taras sets out in search of the murderer of two city guards. He comes across a Vampire Gatehouse, although he doesn’t know what it is, when he follows a man suspected of the murders. That man isn’t a man at all, but a vampire assassin, sent out by the Council of Thirteen to rid the world of any that know about their secret.

What follows is conspiracy, betrayal, murder, lies, more conspiracy, bloodshed, torture, another conspiracy, and treachery.

McAfee doesn’t lack ambitious, the plot involves various nefarious doings and plots by the main characters, and he manages to imbue this ancient world with a realism that holds. The action is plentiful and keeps the pace of the story going along fast enough to take your mind from the various small problems the book has.

And now we come to those problems… As a small-press book you don’t expect the sheen and polish you would expect from a major publisher, so the many typos can be forgiven. The stupidity of some of the characters and their actions becomes a little tedious as it continues throughout the book. The predictability of many of the plot “twists” and ease with which everything falls into place, calling into question the presence of an editor’s firm hand, become sigh-worthy by the end of the book.

There are times when this book will make you groan, as the writer writes himself into a corner and then must abuse his plot to find his way out; there are times when you will sigh with frustration, knowing what is going to happen before the hapless characters falls into the obvious trap or plot twist; and there are times when you will want to scream at the writer to not repeat himself, again, and just get on with telling the story.

And yet these are minor foibles that do take away from the book, but don’t ruin it. This is still an enjoyable romp. With the steading hand of a good editor and a bit of rewriting, this could be a bloody excellent book.

Action, violence, vampire conspiracies, Roman soldiers, lust, murder and Jesus. Surely you can’t want more than that? Shows great promise, and it’s not too difficult to look past the problems and enjoy this lusty, bloodthirsty tale.

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CHASM By Stephen Laws – Reviewed

Posted in Reviews, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 30, 2009 by stanleyriiks

Apocalypse and post-apocalypse novels really float by boat. Armageddon is often a beautiful mix of sf and horror, superbly blended to create novels and stories that are at once horrifyingly realistic, and just a stretch of the imagination away. The end of the world scenario allows a freedom that plain horror just doesn’t.

So as I started reading Chasm, I was getting excited. Laws is one of British’s best horror writers, he started out in the nineties, when I was still young and discovering horror novels for the first time. He brought a Britishness that was sadly lacking from the majority of the novels I read by the likes of King, Laymon, Koontz, etc. Laws was setting a trend, along with Steve Harris, for the British horror novel that has not yet been matched.

Edmonville is a small town which is ripped apart by a massive earthquake that leaves the town in ruins, chasms on all sides. A rag-tag group of survivors band together, hoping that there’s safety in numbers. But then something strange happens. A man in an off-license explodes in a mess of black fluid that chases a couple down to the local survivor centre, and most of the remains of the town’s population are blown to pieces.

Jay, a school cleaner; a lesbian couple who ran the hardware store; a married couple whose son has died; two teenagers from the local school; a young man with a stutter; and a young boy who lost his parents; are all that’s left of the town and must make their way in the new world, trapped as they are on a small piece of ruined town, surrounded by nothing but mile-deep chasms.

So far so good, but Laws tries to do too much. His over-ambition just piles on the horror, and then some more horror, and towards the end, a whole new set of horror in the form of lawless Mad Max/Doomsday type gangs.

Some of its good, but some of this just feels like Laws has been told apocalyptic novels have to be 600 pages long and he’s struggling to get there until inspiration sets in two thirds of the way through. The book just feels too long, it drags through the middle when a nice bit of rewriting would have cut out a couple of hundred pages, shifted the final third of the book forward to the middle and made everything hunky dory!

I’m not saying this is a bad book, Laws is a good writer, the plot is mostly good, and it’s a decent idea. But the end falls a little flat and the “happy ending” is a bit forced. And the biggest problem is the lack of characters. Ok, so this is an ensemble piece, but Jay (our protagonist) has his own diary every few chapters to give us an insight into his character, and even if he died I couldn’t have cared less. The lack of decent and significant characters in a book which is over five hundred pages long just screams rewrite. The characters are fairly clearly defined, they all have backgrounds, albeit brief ones, but none of the characters is more than a cardboard cut-out.

I can’t remember facing this problem with any of Laws’ other novels, and although I’ve only read about four of them, Something South of Midnight was only read just over a year ago.

I wish I could say that Chasm was good, but it’s not. It’s not bad. And it’s certainly got good bits, but with weak characters and being over-long at neatly five hundred and fifty tightly packed pages, Chasm is a wasted opportunity. Such a shame.