Review of Inkarna by Nerine Dorman

Inkarna by Nerine DormanTitle: Inkarna
 Nerine Dorman
Published: 15 June 2012
 Dark Continents Publishing
Genre: dark fantasy, urban fantasy romance
Source: eARC from the publisher via NetGalley
Rating: 6/10

In 1966 in Cape Town, Lizzie is about to die for the first time. She is an old woman, and one of only two members of House Adamastor, a secret society based on ancient Egyptian mythology. Lizzie is an Inkarna and will be resurrected in a new body after a few decades spent in Per Ankh, the House of Life in the underworld.

But when Lizzie is reincarnated it is 2012 – 5 years later than expected – and she is reeling from the trauma of being stuck in the Sea of Nun, the ancient Egyptian version of limbo. And instead of reincarnating into the body of a 3-year old girl, she ends up in the body of Ashton Kennedy a 21-year old goth rocker with tattoos, piercings and the kind of long hair she considers “slovenly”. Ashton was in a coma after being run over by an SUV, and Lizzie soon discovers that he is the kind of person who deserved it. She’s also unnerved by the fact that Ashton has a devoted girlfriend – Marlise – who stuck by him throughout the coma and expects to continue their relationship.

While struggling to cope with contemporary technology, having a male body, and trying to build a better life from the ruins of Ashton’s, Lizzie/Ash tries to contact House Adamastor only to find that it has all but disappeared. Something has gone very wrong, and the fact that Lizzie ended up Ashton’s body was the first sign of a sinister influence. Further investigations reveal a conspiracy, the beginnings of a war between the Houses, and the hunt for a deadly artefact. To make things worse, Marlise and Ash find themselves haunted by Ashton’s ghost, who is enraged that Lizzie has taken his body and his life.

The major drawcard of this novel is gender game Dorman plays with Lizzie/Ash. It’s a big shock for Lizzie – a straight, prim and proper little old lady who dies in the 60s – to suddenly be transformed into a hulking bastard of a man who she frequently describes as a “thug”. She is relieved though, that Ashton’s size stops people from harassing her when she takes dodgy trains at odd hours (Cape Town doesn’t have the safest railway service, to put it mildly). Everyone who knows Ashton is also baffled when the man they thought they knew stops swearing, starts drinking tea, and generally tries to behave like a decent human being for a change. As a character, Marlise’s presence brings Lizzie’s gender troubles into sharp relief and offers excellent opportunities for her to face some of the more intimate aspects of the transformation. Initially, Lizzie tries to avoid Marlise, but eventually has no choice but to ask her for help. Ashton wasn’t exactly the kind of person who made loyal friends, and begins the story without money, a job, or a home. They stay together in a granny flat outside Marlise’s parents’ house, and Lizzie is uncomfortably aware of being a man sleeping in bed with an unmarried woman who wants to have sex with her/him/Lizzie/Ashton. The question of sex and sexuality is one that will have to be addressed – Lizzie was straight, but doesn’t want to have sex with men as a man. The thought of having sex with Marlise horrifies her, but if she’s going to stick with the heterosexual norm then that means having sex with women.

I’ve been speaking about “Lizzie” and using the pronouns “she” and “her”, but it’s not long before you realise that such a simple way of referring to this character is completely inadequate. At first it feels right to think of “her”, but the gender of the body can’t be ignored, raising the question of whether it’s the body or the mind that defines gender. Soon, the body (or kha, as it’s known in the mythology) starts to impart its previous inhabitant’s habits on Lizzie, and she begins to swear and behave more aggressively. She is no longer Lizzie, but she’s not Ashton either – she/he is “Ash” a compromise between the two that unfortunately has no suitable pronoun in English. Over and above this, she/he is Nefretkheperi, which is the Ren or true name of this being, which has its own Ba (loosely translated as ‘personality’) no matter what body it’s in, or whether it’s dead and in the underworld.

Another interesting aspect of the novel is the use of Egyptian mythology, particularly the mythology concerning the afterlife and reincarnation. With the modern South African setting, there are no mummies, pyramids, or organs in jars; the followers of this faith mostly study and practise ancient Egyptian magic. There are secret Egyptian societies – Houses – all over the world although it seems that these Houses are self-contained and don’t communicate much with each other. House members are regularly reincarnated, and while they’re dead they socialise in Per Ankh – the House of Life. The Inkarna – those who are reincarnated – are the leaders of each House, and the most powerful in the use of ancient magic. One amusing detail about Lizzie/Ash, is that Lizzie, despite being a little old lady, was so skilled that she could do far more with her magic than Ash could ever hope to do with his muscles. She could have kicked his ass, and in Ashton’s body Ash feels weak until he is able to regain the powers that Lizzie had mastered, including telepathy, telekinesis and an ability to unlock doors.

The novel uses a lot of jargon, and I was glad that I’d studied a bit of Egyptian mythology at varsity, so that I was at least vaguely familiar with some of the words and concepts. I think that someone unacquainted with the mythology might be a bit lost, although the frequency with which Lizzie/Ash repeats most words and phrases means you can eventually pick up their meanings on your own. There’s plenty of time to get yourself acquainted with the mythology, as most of the story is quite relaxed – Lizzie transitions into Ash, gets a job, tries to define his relationship with Marlise, and goes looking for Leonora, the last living member of House Adamastor. Things heat up once Ashton starts making his ghostly appearances and Ash learns more about the conspiracy that put Lizzie in the wrong body. His relationship with Marlise slowly evolves, and although Marlise clearly wants it to be sexual, she is at least happy that Ash is a friendlier, more considerate person than Ashton, who cheated on her and dumped her repeatedly.

It’s a good story, but there were some things that bugged me about it. Ashton’s parents are around in the beginning of the novel, and Lizzie notes sadly that these poor people sold their house to pay Ashton’s medical bills. Because Lizzie/Ash tries to make amends for the terrible things Ashton did, I thought this would include an apology to his parents at the very least. But once he leaves to live with Marlise, his parents disappear from the plot without so much as a phone call to check up on their son, who just woke up from a months-long coma. I felt that an emotional connection was left dangling.

Then Lizzie/Ash adapts a little too quickly to life in 2012, I thought. Besides an inability to drive and difficulty using the internet, jumping 46 years into the future doesn’t seem to be too much of an issue. Cape Town is still familiar enough for her/him to get around easily. Ash mentions the SUVs our politicians drive and at one point voices a concern about security cameras; I wondered if the character would really be thinking like that so soon.

Some plot details were too clichéd or predictable. Marlise is a bit of a damsel and when she’s in distress, Ash comes in like a goth knight wielding Egyptian magic to save her. There are some rather flat ‘minion’ characters. It was no surprise that Ash eventually overcame his sexuality issues and started sleeping with Marlise. The romance builds slowly, but Ash’s reluctance and the sexualised or attractive ways in which he is sometimes described make a sexual relationship inevitable as far as literary tradition is concerned. Admittedly, I wanted this to happen, and I if I were the author I would never have passed up the opportunity to make Ash confront this issue. The sex scenes were a bit too melodramatic for me (much like Ash’s angsty narration in general), but for the most part the romance was ok; I was just hoping that, with the gender play going on, Ash’s sexual awakening would involve something more interesting than him suddenly enjoying having a cock. I predicted a few other things as well, but they’re spoiler-ish so I won’t say more.

Finally, I didn’t quite like the way the book ended. I won’t get into the details, but it had a jocular tone that felt completely wrong under the circumstances. Something creepier would have been much better. The final scene paves the way for a great sequel but laughing about it seems dismissive, while a sense of horror would have been more intriguing.

But, flaws aside, it was a quick easy read and I enjoyed it. I was hoping Ash would cut his long hair (I don’t share the author’s taste for long-haired men) but I liked him and Marlise well enough. Since the book is half dedicated to a dead musician named Peter, and Peter Steele matches the description of Ash, I had a very clear picture of the character in my head throughout the book.

I loved the fact that the novel was set in Cape Town and I knew many of the locations very well. The Maitland Cemetery where the first scene is set is very close to my parents’ home. Ash gets a job at a bar in Long Street, where I’ve spent a lot of time eating out, shopping, having drinks with friends or just walking around. The route he takes to the train station through the dingy Golden Acre Mall is the same path I’ve taken many times to get a bus home from work or when travelling to and from the city centre.

My little shelf of SA genre fiction is slowly growing, and I was glad to add Inkarna to it.

Review of Painting by Numbers by Tom Gillespie

Title: Painting by Numbers
Author: Tom Gillespie
Published: 06 September 2012
Publisher: Crooked Cat Publishing
Genre: mystery, thriller
Source: eARC from the author
Rating: 5/10

Jacob Boyce is obsessed with a painting, an obscure piece of Spanish Baroque art entitled ‘The Loss of Innocence’. The artist is unknown, although some believe it to be a lesser work by the famous Spanish painter Diego Velázquez. Jacob’s theory is that it was painted by an almost unknown artist named Manuel Piñero a student and understudy of Velázquez. Every day, Jacob goes to the museum, finds his ideal spot on the bench in front of the painting, and studies it in minute detail. He assigns numbers to the different pigments, measures the distance between objects in the picture, and analyses the meaning of the imagery, jotting everything down in his notebook. Jacob believes the painting “may contain or demonstrate a unique mathematical formula” that could be used to predict uncertainties, like the tectonic plate movements that create earthquakes.

In pursuing this bizarre hypothesis, Jacob neglects both his job as an Earth Sciences professor at the university, and his wife Ella, who is still grieving after her father’s suicide. Nothing can deter him from his daily museum visits, until he comes home one day to find that Ella has disappeared. Unsure if she’s left him or if something more sinister has happened, he chases after her to her mother’s villa in Spain, and from there goes to Barcelona and Madrid. Jacob’s search for his wife soon becomes entangled with his obsession with ‘The Loss of Innocence’, the artist Manuel Piñero, and a mysterious young woman named Jude who has her own obsession with paintings.

Painting by Numbers gets off to quite a slow, detailed start, but I liked it in a nerdy kind of way. Jacob’s studies meant that I got to learn a bit about art and drawing, such as the use of shape, perspective, colour and symbol. There are also obscure theories about art and science, like the notion that a painting, if designed according to a specific formula, will react to being observed and begin to move in minute ways. This is something that actually starts happening to Jacob’s painting, although he’s the only one who’s studied it closely enough to notice.

Gillespie uses infodumps for all this academic stuff, but they feel natural enough. When it comes to details like character traits however, he employs more elegant methods, weaving information into the narrative when it’s appropriate to do so. I really appreciated this; I hate when authors just dump a clunky paragraph of character profile into the story the moment someone enters a scene. Overall, Gillespie’s writing is pretty good. I know readers are often worried about the writing in indie novels, and there is some misplaced punctuation and a few minor mistakes, but nothing to cause a fuss about.

The novel could use a bit of work in terms of pace and plot though. The mystery/thriller aspect of the story kicks off when Ella disappears, but for me the plot starts to unravel here, and it becomes rather dull. Jacob goes running after his wife, who has been spotted in the company of a mysterious man, but at some point he starts chasing paintings. It’s implied that his studies have somehow gotten him in danger but n. His short-term goals don’t always make sense, and most of the time he seems kind of loopy and daft. Overall, his character is a bit deadpan, and the mystery he finds himself involved in lacks tension.

There are also a lot of odd occurrences that baffled rather than intrigued me. For example, Jacob finds a beautiful but unfamiliar letter opener in his fireplace, then drops it into what looks like a pool of blood on his kitchen floor. The blood turns out to be candle wax, but when he tries to get the letter opener out of the wax, it’s disappeared. In Madrid, he goes to an art gallery and gets some kind of spasm in his foot that makes it difficult for him to walk or even put his foot on the floor. He also experiences sudden bursts of pain in his head, or sees inexplicable flashes of light. You have no idea why these things happen, but what’s even stranger is that Jacob acts like nothing’s amiss. He doesn’t ask what a pool of blood-red wax is doing in his kitchen or why it seems almost as if his foot is being repelled by the surface of the floor. At the very least I’d like him to frown and wonder what the hell is going on at that moment.

Another oddity is the way Jacob keeps having long, meaningful conversations with strangers. They eagerly discuss their personal philosophies about life and frequently give him lot of useful information or provide some kind of assistance, usually in the form of free stuff. I have to admit that Gillespie is very good at writing these conversations. They’re generally quite engaging, and although Jacob always seems a bit deadpan, the people he talks to are lively and passionate. The problem is that you’re left to wonder why all they all open up to Jacob in this way, and why they’re so eager to help him. One such encounter is fortuitous, but multiple encounters don’t feel natural and I wondered if Gillespie was just writing these conversations simply because he enjoyed doing it.

In the author’s defence, there is a twist in the ending that excuses all peculiarities, but I raised the issues anyway because the ending doesn’t offer sufficient explanation. It’s the kind of twist that should change the way you view the rest of the book, but for me the effect was simply to confirm that the story really was as just as unhinged as I’d thought. I think I can see what the author was trying to achieve, part of which is to create a parallel between Jacob’s life and the painting he’s fixated with. The ideas are great but the execution is vague and ultimately unsatisfying. There’s too much running around, too much confusion. And that’s a shame, because it had a lot of potential.


Buy a copy of Painting by Numbers:
Crooked Cat Books

Up for Review: Painting by Numbers

It’s been a while since I reviewed indie fiction. I’m starting again with this novel.

Painting by Numbers by Tom Gillespie (Crooked Cat Publishing)

Blurb from the publisher’s website:

Day after day, Jacob Boyce – faltering academic and failing husband – visits a 17th century allegorical painting which hangs in a Glasgow art gallery. By using a series of measurements and calculations, he attempts to create a mathematical theory that will decipher the code locked into its canvas.

As more of the painting’s hidden secrets are revealed, and he meets a mysterious young woman, Jacob’s life spirals into chaos.

The object of his obsession has begun to move.

Painting by Numbers is a dark, surreal thriller that follows one man’s relentless pursuit into an old truth buried deep within.

Painting by Numbers was published as an eBook on 6 September 2012 by Crooked Cat Publishing. A print version is set to follow shortly.

Add it on Goodreads
Tom Gillespie’s website

Buy a copy:
Crooked Cat Books




An interview with Terra Whiteman

Terra Whiteman is a scientist by profession, a philosopher by hobby, and author of The Antithesis series. After graduating with a degree in biochemistry, Terra now works as a clinical toxicologist while continuing her writing endeavors on the side. Whiteman’s genres include science fiction and gritty dark fantasy, sewing together intricate plots and philosophical themes.

The Antithesis is my favourite indie series, and one of very few series that I follow compulsively. I seldom make it past book two, even if I like a series, but Terra’s characters and ideas have kept me hooked through four books and I’m eagerly awaiting the final novel, due to be published later this year. In the meantime, I asked her to tell me a bit about her life as a writer and her thoughts on The Antithesis.

Tell us a bit about your journey as a writer.

Not much to say, really. I’d never actually considered writing professionally until I was approached by 1889 Labs. I ran a web serial as a hobby and it ended up attracting a lot more attention that I’d anticipated. I think The Antithesis had over three thousand regular readers that showed up each week to read each chapter (at the time called ‘episodes’) before I signed a contract with 1889 Labs. The Antithesis itself was sort of an escape from my real life as a broke, overworked and sleep-deprived student. Before The Antithesis I’d only ever written short stories which I’ve never published or even let anyone read.

As an indie author, you’re responsible for so much more than just writing the book. What has your experience been with the publication of The Antithesis series?

Actually it’s not that much different than traditional publishing. I don’t self-publish (self-published and independent published authors seem to be blocked together nowadays; before that wasn’t really the case). I have two editors, one for content and grammar and the other for contininuity and flow. I write the books, send it to one, then the other, and then it gets published after hours of arguments and tantrums and negotiations over what I should and shouldn’t change.

I think the real difference is the fact that I do have more control. Though my book covers are designed for me, I get to tell them what I want. I also get a say in how I want to price books and promote books. 1889 Labs is an independent publishing company, and albeit small, they’re very efficient in giving the author as many resources as possible. They even gave me my own publicist.

The Antithesis takes a sci fi approach to the war between Heaven and Hell. Nothing is as you’d expect it to be, and there aren’t even any gods in the traditional sense. What inspired this story?The Antithesis was actually a scientific project in a literary sense. I’m a biochemistry major with a serious passion for philosophy. That being said, The Antithesis (which will be called TA from this moment on) isn’t actually about the war between Heaven and Hell. At its core, it’s about relationships and a complete rejection of duality. The entire point of this story is the fallacy of good and evil and there was no better way to set the stage than to use the two most renowned symbols for these polarizing ideals: angels and demons. TA explores a very messy shades of gray character cast, set within an idea of how Heaven and Hell might exist, could it actually be explained in a scientific sense.

How has your background as a biochemist influenced the series? 

I’ve been obsessed with the biochemical sciences since early high school. It’s one of my passions, and it was only natural for me to incorporate it into the series. I feel the hard science in TA gives it a very realistic component to the otherwise fantastical premise of the story. Basing the Vel’Haru race off of the biological behavior of ants, for example, allows readers to quell the disbelief of certain elements revolving around them. Providing a world with a gaseous, oceanic core while its land masses are actually suspended above it in layered islands because of the alterations in gravity allows a more realistic approach to how the Nehel (or the angels and demons for that matter) could have evolved into winged beings.

And, well, the only obvious representation of God would be a genetic engineer. Clearly. Though giving him OCD and making him a teenage prodigy was a nice touch, don’t you think?

I do 🙂 

Your main character, Qaira Eltruan, is one the most temperamental, reckless bastards I’ve ever come across in a book. He’s killed so many people and is even responsible for the collapse of his own society. How did you come to create such an unlikeable character, and yet still allow the reader to empathise with him, even like him (I like him; I can’t explain it).

Qaira is an enigma. He took a lot of planning. And although he’s an arrogant self-righteous bastard, he’s necessary. You can’t explain why you like him because we’re taught throughout our entire lives that some actions are good while others are, well, not good. In our functioning society this might be true. However for a project that deals with an underlining theory that good and evil doesn’t actually exist, Qaira is the supporting evidence. He’s neither evil nor good; he’s a moral nihilist. He does what suits him and isn’t necessarily restricted to any forms of moral principles. But his goals aren’t usually sinister, and he does have the capacity to love and care for others. Actually, his love for Leid is proof enough that he does in fact have a heart. He would do anything for her.

He and Yahweh also have a very interesting friendship. Despite being complete opposites – one a benevolent leader who is bound to his moral principles, the other a reckless temperamental ex-Regent who frequently walks the line between villain and hero – they respect each other and understand that their existences are necessary.

TA purposely places readers into uncomfortable and sometimes appalling situations in order to make them question how they themselves would react. We have plenty of ethical guidelines–one specifically being that ‘killing is intrinsically wrong’ (thanks Kant), but in some situations is it actually wrong? Could we honestly say we wouldn’t fall apart or lose our sense of morality in moments of grief, despair or fury? We can’t truly hate Qaira because despite all of the horrible shit he does throughout the series, there’s always a reason for it.

The next book – Three Beta – will be the last in the series. Do you have any plans for future projects?

I already have two books of a new trilogy completed, which will be out sometime in 2013-2014. It takes place in the TA multiverse and explores all of the things TA fails to explain (much because Qaira knows nothing about them). This is a prelude to The Antithesis, and the title of the series is called The Sanctuary.

I am also currently working on a stand-alone science fiction novel titled The Key of Ascension. It’s a clash of steampunk and dystopian/apocalyptic with a strong emphasis on genetics/eugenics. Very violent and not for children.

Very violent and not for children? Awesome 🙂 I can’t wait to check out the new books. Thanks for taking the time out to chat on Violin in a Void!

Looking for Terra?
Email: terra[AT]1889[DOT]ca


Links to my reviews of the books in The Antithesis series

Book One
Book Two Alpha
Book Two Beta
Book Three Alpha

March Round-Up

Overall, March was a decent reading month for me. I would have liked to read a bit more, but at least it was a big improvement on February. I’ve managed to shake my Skyrim addiction, at least for now, so I can give my books the attention they deserve.

The Pillars of Hercules by David Constantine is actually a leftover from February, but since I didn’t really include in that round-up, I’m putting it in now. I must warn you – it’s terrible. I hated reading it, but at least that means you can avoid the mistake of reading it too.

Luckily, that disaster was followed by the rather good Edge of Dark Water by Joe R. Lansdale – a thriller/adventure set in the old American South. I loved the Southern wit in the writing, and the sense of horror that permeated the story.

Next up was The Antithesis: Book 3α by Terra Whiteman, the fourth book in her series about the war between heaven and hell. I usually lose interest in series, even when I like them, but this one has managed to keep me hooked. Look out for an interview with the author and a giveaway some time soon!

I found some comic relief in Emperor Mollusk versus The Sinister Brain by A. Lee Martinez. It’s an utterly ludicrous mystery adventure featuring an super-intelligent octopus from Neptune who was once an interstellar warlord but has now settled down as Emperor of Earth. Now there’s a sinister disembodied brain trying to kill him… Good light fun for sci fi fans 🙂

My leisure read for the month was another sf comedy –  Blonde Bombshell by Tom Holt. In the early days of this blog I wrote a short post about how we’re always saying how we want to read something by this or that author, but we never get around to it. I wrote that after reading the first few chapters of Blonde Bombshell in a bookshop and finding it both hilarious and engrossing. At the time, Tom Holt was one of those authors I’d been meaning to read for ages, but I didn’t buy the book because it was too expensive. I later found a copy at a sale. I’ve read a few of his books since – they’re good reads, if not great. Blonde Bombshell was the same. Not as good as I expected, based on those first few chapters, and there were some huge plot holes, but it was still a nice break from reviewing.

Falling Man by Don DeLillo was a review book I received from Pan Macmillan last year. I’d enjoyed DeLillo’s White Noise at varsity, so I thought I might like more. Unfortunately, I didn’t like this one at all, although I appreciated some of the subtlety of the writing.

The Habitation of the Blessed by Catherynne M. Valente is the kind of book I always dream of reading. It was just unbelievably beautiful. I’d hoped to post the review last week already, but I haven’t finished it, thanks to a combination of laziness and finding it difficult to write reviews of the books I really love. It also meant I broke the Tuesday/Thursday review schedule I’d managed to stick to for the rest of the month 😦 There’s so much I want to talk about, so many passages I want to quote, that the review is way too long. I’ll post it once it’s refined and slimmed down. For now, just know that it’s an exquisite piece of mythical fiction.

Nevermore by William Hjortsberg is a 1994 publication that’s been re-published as an eBook this year. It’s a historical murder mystery based, in part, on an actual friendship between Harry Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Doyle is on a USA tour, lecturing on spiritualism and psychic abilities. During that time, a New York murderer is killing people in an imitation of Edgar Allen Poe’s stories. The victims are all linked to Houdini in some way, and Poe’s ghost starts appearing to Doyle. An interesting idea for a literary thriller, but sadly it’s not a very good book.This, and one or two other books, have made me think that maybe I should avoid books that are being re-published, because there may be a good reason they fell into obscurity. Review to follow soon.

April needs to be a really productive reading and reviewing month, as I’ll be going away for two weeks in May and won’t be blogging much then, if at all. I’ve just finished Germline by T.C. McCarthy, which I hope to review next week. On top of my tbr pile is Westlake Soul by Rio Youers, some weird fiction about a superhero in a coma, and Faustus Resurrectus by Thomas Morrissey, an urban occult thriller.

Now, time to get to work…

Review of The Antithesis: Book 3α by Terra Whiteman

Title: The Antithesis: Book 3α
Author: Terra Whiteman
Published: 16 February 2012
Publisher: 1889 Labs
Genre: science fiction, mythology
Source: eARC from the author
Rating: 7/10

There have been some major developments in the short time since Alezair Czynri stormed off to the Nexus to reclaim his memories as Qaira Eltruan, at the end of Book One. Lucifer has decided to declare all-out hot war on Heaven and go to battle. He loves Yahweh like a son, but he can no longer stand to see his people suffer and he hopes that a full-scale war will force the conflict to finally be resolved.

Into this volatile situation comes an enraged Qaira Eltruan. He knows now that he was once ruler of Sanctum and a race known as the Nehelians, of which he is now the only survivor. For decades he’d waged war against the angels, an alien race who took refuge on his planet and then refused to leave. Qaira loathed their then-commander, Lucifer Raith, so much that he slaughtered thousands of his own people in an attempt to assassinate the angel. He finally learns why Alezair was so captivated by Leid – Qaira met her 900 years ago, fallen deeply love with her, and spent a blissful decade as her husband. Then it all ended when Qaira’s act of mass murder pushed Leid into chaotic, destructive state. She slaughtered the Nehelians and reduced Sanctum to rubble.

Leid appeared to be on the verge of another such rampage at the end of Book One, but she appears to have recovered for now, and just in time too. She has to deal with the husband who she has deceived for over a century, and with the war that’s about to be fought. Hell’s forces greatly outnumber Heaven’s, so to even the odds the Vel’Haru Judges decide to fight for Yahweh and the angels.

That’s not the only battle everyone needs to worry about. Leid is still expiring, and needs to be killed or she’ll start slaughtering people by the thousands. Unknown to most, she’s also at risk of being infected by the Scarlet Queen – the same infection that caused her to wipe out most of the Vel’Haru, and all the Nehelians centuries before. Qaira doesn’t care about the war, but he does care about Leid, and he asks Yahweh to create find a cure for her before it’s too late.

The Antithesis: Book 3α reads like an explosion, and not just because Qaira is back, angrier and more powerful than ever. Fighter jets take to the skies, guns start firing and deadly war machines are unleashed. Angels and demons alike become cannon fodder, and when the Vel’Haru Judges descend to the battlefields they reduce the demons to blood and gore.

But it’s not all action. There are some very interesting character dynamics in this book. Leid and Qaira have to deal with their very odd relationship. For over a century Leid has worked closely with the man who was once her husband, but remained cold and business-like around him, never revealing his true identity. She also wiped out his entire species, but then again Qaira was responsible for the act of mass murder that caused Leid to be possessed by the Scarlet Queen. It doesn’t take long for Qaira and Leid to forgive each other and get back to the bedroom to start screwing each other’s brains out, especially now that Qaira is a Vel’Haru too and can keep up with his wife. The pair still love each other very much and Qaira is desperately trying to prevent Leid’s imminent expiration, even though she has accepted her fate. He only lived with her for a decade before losing her for nine centuries and he can’t stand how unfair that is.

Qaira hasn’t changed all that much, although he’s trying to. Sort of. He still has a temper like a tornado on a bad day, but he makes a few attempts at impulse control. Leid remarks that he’s no longer Qaira Eltruan or Alezair Czynri, but some sort of fusion. That seemed true at first, but in my opinion it didn’t take him very long to rediscover his old self. I think the real test of his personality will come when he encounters Lucifer, which unfortunately doesn’t happen in this book. However, I have to admit that Qaira has better reasons to be so angry this time around:

For the last nine hundred years I’d been trudging through existence without my memories; a century of which I’d been serving as a Judge in Purgatory, working for Leid Koseling… beneath Yahweh Telei and Lucifer Raith. Truly, I’d been played the fucking fool.

The Archaeans had once feared me, and now I was working for them. I was helping them in their societal and political struggles. I was fucking aiding in their perseverance, within a world that had once belonged to me.

I was now a Vel’Haru. Leid had turned me into the very filth that I so dearly hated; that she hated.

And then I remembered that she slept with Samael Soran. My wife, while I was even there!

But trust Qaira to be unreasonable anyway:

I was standing within a crowd of whites disguised as Nehelians, living in considerable comfort, within a world that was once mine. These phonies deserved death. No, they deserved worse than that.

Yes Qaira, because it’s all just about you. And of course he’s still insanely obsessed with Leid, willing to risk the deaths of thousands, perhaps millions, as long as she lives and he can be with her.

I have to say that I’m getting just a tad annoyed with Leid. In Book One, she was an extremely cold character and I didn’t care much about her. She was more lively in books two alpha and beta, and I now know why she became so sombre, allowing me to empathise with her a bit. However, this is a woman who single-handedly committed two acts of genocide, one of which led to extinction of an entire race, save one member. And now she’s at risk of doing it again. Leid, in my opinion, is way more trouble than she’s worth. On the other hand, I’ve always hated conventional love stories, but I’m ok with this really fucked up one.

As in the previous books, most of the story is told from Qaira’s POV, but occasionally switches to other POVs. Thus, we get to see a bit of Yahweh, one of my favourites. Like Qaira, I tend to see him as the little boy genius from the previous two books, but he’s more like a twenty-something now. He’s far less vibrant, because he carries the weight of the war on his shoulders. He was the one who turned angels into demons, and although he did so to save their lives, the physical changes that he caused led to the current conflict.

There are some chapters from Lucifer’s POV as well. He’s in torment, having expected that Yahweh would soon have to surrender to Hell’s greater forces. Instead, the Vel’Haru’s assistance caused many more deaths than Lucifer expected. Afraid that Yahweh might be killed, Lucifer keeps holding back from a full onslaught.

An interesting new major character is the demon playwright Belial Vakkar. Belial had been working for the Vel’Haru in book one, and he came running to them after Lucificer’s new General, Samnea, tried to kill him. Belial escaped thanks to his pyrokinetic powers, a secret that he’s keeping from everyone. He reveals himself to be a talented marksman though, and becomes a surprising asset to the angel forces. Belial, for whatever reason, is very English and quite amusingly so. It’d be nice to see more of him – and his powers – in the next book.

I do have a few issues with the book. Lucifer goes to war claiming that his people have suffered for long enough, but aside from a cold climate they really don’t seem to be doing too badly, it’s just that the angels have a better deal. The Vel’Haru seem to think that helping the angels is a good idea, but instead it just leads to a longer, bloodier war. I also don’t know why the other Vel’Haru don’t kill Leid, knowing what a threat she is. It’s tradition to kill Vel’Haru before they expire and go insane, so why hold back this time, when Leid is even more dangerous than most? It’s really just Qaira standing in their way, and the senior Vel’Haru could overpower him [my apologies to readers and the author: it was pointed out to me that Leid’s infection by the Scarlet Queen makes her significantly more powerful, and therefore able to defeat the Vel’Haru who do in fact make an attempt to kill her. I’d forgotten about this. Oops…].

As with the previous books, I have some issues with the writing, and as I read I keep wanting to slim down sentences or choose a different word. A common phrase in this novel is “a frown thinned my lips” and this one in particular kept nagging at me. And as before, this doesn’t bother quite as much as I expect it to. I tore through this series, which is weird for me, because I seldom read series, and why I try, I seldom get past book two, even if I like it. I don’t know what exactly makes The Antithesis different for me, so I’ll just have to let my enjoyment speak for itself.

Buy a copy of The Antithesis: Book 3α at Smashwords

February Round-Up

It’s been a pretty slow reading and reviewing month. As I mentioned in my (very late) January round-up, a friend came to stay with us for a week, and we did a lot of sight-seeing, giving me little time for reading. What I didn’t add was that he also brought me a copy of Skyrim…

So in between fighting dragons and going on treasure-hunting quests, I didn’t exactly manage to catch up. The first book for the month was a leisure read, which is what I now call pretty much any book I don’t have to take notes on. I picked Use of Weapons, one of Iain M. Banks’s Culture novels. I’d read a library copy a few years ago, but a friend bought me my own copy as a gift and I figured it was time for a re-read. Use of Weapons has the kind of story that you really need to read at least twice, because its full of subtle details that you can’t appreciate the first time around. Plus, Banks’s sci fi novels are beautifully elegant, complex and entertaining space operas.

I got back to reviewing with The Troupe by Robert Jackson Bennett, a mythical American novel set in the Vaudeville era. A 16-year old boy goes looking for his father, the leader of a particularly strange troupe. He doesn’t find the father figure he was looking for though, and ends joining the troupe in a battle to save the world from the darkness trying to devour it.

Then I finally finished God is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens, which I’ve been reading chapter by chapter for the past few months. I found a hardcover edition at an Exclusive Books sale about a year and a half ago, and I’ve been keen to see what the late ‘Hitch Bitch’ had to say. I also used it for a reading challenge task, where you have to read a book with a shocking title 🙂 On the whole, a decent read; I posted a short review on Goodreads.

I only read one other review book in February – The Fourth Wall by Walter Jon Williams. It tells the story of a washed-up actor in Hollywood, who finds a means of returning to wealth and fame when he gets the starring role in a revolutionary new type of movie. The novel is primarily a character drama, combined with a murder mystery and a touch of sci fi. I found it very interesting; review coming soon.

With only two review books under my belt, I posted reviews of books I read in January and December:
This Devil’s Dice by Jackson Spence
(a truly dreadful attempt at a murder mystery)
Lu and I reviewed a Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (oh so disappointing)
Carpathia by Matt Forbeck (another lame book. In this one, vampires prey on the victims of the Titanic)
The Rook by Daniel O’Malley (the only good book in this list, but it was REALLY good)

For March, I have the very good intention of cutting down on the Skyrim and doing much more reading. Lets hope I have the willpower to stick to it… Either way though, I will almost certainly be reviewing the following:

The Pillars of Hercules by David Constantine, a novel combining steampunk, mythology, and the conquests of Alexander the Great. Almost done reading this one. Quite a few people were envious when I received the eARC, but sadly, it’s actually quite crap.
Edge of Dark Water by Joe R. Lansdale. Haven’t heard of this horror author, but I see he’s won quite a few awards, so I’m looking forward to this one.
The Antithesis: Book Three Alpha by Terra Whiteman. My favourite indie series! Book Three Alpha is the beginning of the end…

I will not play Skyrim, I will not play Skyrim…