Read Recently — June 2015 — Darkness incarnate

Night Terrors: a Shadow Watch novel by Tim Waggoner

Waggoner was the author of the Nekropolis series (here and here ). This is the start of his new series, and it seems likely to be similar to the previous. Which is good if you liked the Nekropolis series, but bad if you didn’t. I did, but this one has some issues.

Audra Hawthorne is an Ideator; someone who has brought a nightmare to life (an Incubus). Audra’s new life companion is Jinx, a scary demon nightmare clown (yes, I realise those are all just the same word). Audra and Jinx work for the Shadow Watch, an organization based out of the other-dimensional city of Nod, which is mostly inhabited by Incubi. The Watch maintains the doorways between Nod and Earth and, from its HQ in Nod (the Rookery) polices the Incubi. At the time we first meet them, Audra and Jinx are chasing down an Incubus named Quietus, an master assassin who throws blades made of his own substance. They do manage to catch him, but not before he kills someone (at first they think it was a bystander, but Audra soon realises that Quietus never misses so that guy must have been the target after all) and filled Jinx full of blades (Incubi are hard to kill and heal really quickly, so it’s more of an inconvenience to Jinx than a threat. Keep this in mind for later). Then an Incursion of Maelstrom energy (the kind of energy that helps create and power Incubi–basically, magic) causes local landmarks to come to life and they have to fight that off (this is a rare event, but not unheard of. The Shadow Watch maintains a core of M-gineers (the M probably stands for Maelstrom) to fix the after effects of Maelstrom and Incubus incursions and maintain the Masquerade).

However, as they take Quietus back to Nod they are attacked by a criminal Incubus whose power should be controlled by specialized bindings but who is now mysteriously free, and by a mercenary Ideator and his Incubus (resepctively, a masked pirate-type and a demon dog), who rescue the assassin and leave our heroes in a heap on the ground. Of course, they are taken off the case, and of course they keep working on it anyway, and of course they save the day.

Basically, it’s a buddy cop story, with Jinx as the psycho (evil clown)-bad cop and Audra as the straight-laced cop (though at least she’s not a few days from retirement). It isn’t a bad dark-urban fantasy cop story, but there is one thing that stops me from recommending it unconditionally: excessive gore. The Incubi are hard to kill and heal quickly from just about any injury, so their interactions (and their entertainment) tend to reflect that. And, well, some of that I don’t think we really need to see. Mildly not recommended.

Prador Moon: a novel of the Polity by Neal Asher

Prador Moon is sort of a prequel to the rest of the series, going back, as it does, to the first encounter between the Polity and the Prador second kingdom (and the war that followed). The Prador, if you recall, are giant insectoid aliens that use enslaved and mind-controlled beings as their servants (well, given the degree of mind control, they’re more like telefactors than slaves. Slaves can rebel). They discover quite quickly in this volume that they consider humans tasty.

Essentially, the Prador are invited to meet humanity’s ambassador on a space station near to Prador space. Upon arrival, they start killing everyone in sight and capturing the rest. Jebel Krong survives the first encounter (he was on the Ambassador’s protection service), but his lover is captured by the Prador and killed, ironically, as he tries to rescue her. Jebel becomes a fighter, a guerilla known by the nickname “U-Cap” (Up Close And Personal, after the methods he uses to get kills) but for all his successes the Polity is losing the war because they just don’t have enough battleships and those that they do have are inferior to the Prador ships. The AIs are working on that, but the question remains: how much will they lose before they can turn things around?

Meanwhile, Runcible Engineer Moria Salem is working on a Runcible (teleportation gate) big enough to send a starship through. To handle the math, she gets a computer-link implant that turns out to be black market with capabilities she’s not supposed to have . . . but which may come in handy as the Prador advance on her system and something has to be done with the gates before the Prador can seize them. To make things worse, Separatist terrorists in the system have made a deal with the Prador and one of them, a sadistic former hitman, is going to do something unexpected and almost unthinkable. For the most part, the Separatists haven’t anticipated Jebel being in the system, but . . .

Also, we at one point get a brief look at a certain familiar scorpion-shaped battle-drone . . .

So yeah, some of the same problems in this one as in Night Terrors; the Prador can be as sadistic as any Incubus. Also, since it’s a prequel to the Cormac novels and the “Skinner” series, we already know how the war is going to turn out. And there’s the question of whether Jebel’s lover was fridged or not (not every death for the purpose of motivating a character is necessarily a fridging). On the other hand, I’m a big Neal Asher fanboy, and this is a typical Neal Asher book, so I’m going to call it recommended.

Once Upon A Time In Hell: book two of the Heaven’s Gate Trilogy by Guy Adams

One thing we need to make clear right off the bat is that this has no relationship to that Heaven’s Gate. Second thing, this is the second book of a trilogy, the first of which I do not seem to have written up. So, a bit of backstory: there is a town called Wormwood that appears somewhere in the world every year for one day. If you’re there when it appears, you can walk into the afterlife through it. This is the sort of thing that appeals to some people, so of course those who’ve heard of Wormwood try to track it down so they can go yell at God or whatever.

We follow several people who are, in the first book, making their way to where they believe Wormwood is going to appear this year (1889). The group we follow includes an English lord, his daughter, and the engineer of his landwagon, which is a train that runs overland, rather than on rails (the lord, Lord Forset, is a steampunk inventor). With them is Patrick Irish, a writer and drinker who has been telling the adventures of one Roderick Quartershaft, adventurer, all of whose adventures Irish made up. But the belief that he was Quartershaft got him his seat on the landwagon. Also along for the ride are the Order of Ruth, a brotherhood of monks seeking Wormwood for their own purposes.

Approaching Wormwood from another direction is the blind-from-birth gunman Henry Jones. Years of working a sideshow act have embittered Jones, and in the first book he loses the only thing he loved: his wife Harmonium.

There’s also Hope Lane, a young nurse who has been caring for the stigmatic soldier known as “Soldier Joe”, who has been lost to PTSD since the American Civil War. He has been used since then as a messiah-figure by a huckster/priest.

Most of these people were steered to Wormwood by a seemingly random encounter with a man named Alonzo. Elwyn Wallace, the young man we spend most of the series’ time with so far, however, was simply making his way to a new job when he fell in with an elderly gunslinger who rescued him from danger and sort of brought him along. Early in their relationship we learn that the old man is something not exactly human; whether more or less and exactly what is the question.

This volume starts with the town appearing in front of the crowd who have been waiting for it. While most people are held off by invisible walls (they’re not just for videogames anymore!), a few people are brought into town by teleportation. Elwyn and the old man get in by the simple expedient of going around the back and sneaking (okay, there is a slightly esoteric bit of preparation first). They end up in the Dominion of the Circles (aka Hell) where no one can detect the old man at all. This gets Elwyn into a lot of trouble trying to accomplish the old man’s goal without having the slightest idea what he’s doing.

We learn that Alonzo has plans for those he brought to him, but what do those plans involve? It’s possible to figure them out before they’re revealed but that’s almost at the end of the book.

There is a cute easter egg as Elwyn and his elderly friend accumulate followers in Hell. The old man complains and blames Elwyn, who replies, ‘”More the merrier! With [character name] there’s seven of us!” “Magnificent,” he replied, with limited sincerity.’

The Hell stuff is dark and sometimes kinda gross, but overall this story is more interesting than Night Terrors and I’m gonna recommend it, albeit you should start with the first book in the series, The Good, The Bad and the Infernal.

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