Review: 809 Jacob Street (Marty Young)

It’s taken me longer than I wanted to get around to reading 809 Jacob Street – for no other reason than time. I read my books in order of purchase, and Marty’s book was a little ways down on my ‘To Read’ pile. And yes, I just called him Marty, so this review will come with a disclaimer: while I was not at all involved in the production of 809 Jacob Street, Marty Young is one of my mates and all ‘round good guy. Oh, and to top it all off, 809 Jacob Street (Black Beacon Books) won the Australian Shadows Award in the Novel category a few weeks back.

Righto. Let’s get started, shall we?

And we will begin with the act of a spoiler declaration…so…umm… SPOILER DECLARATION! READ ON AT OWN SPOILERY RISK!

809

809 Jacob Street follows the stories of Byron and Joey Blue (and to a lesser extent, Iain and Hamish), and their interactions with the town of Parkton, or more specifically, the house on Jacob Street. I was first introduced to Joey Blue via a short story Young wrote for ASIM #48 (Joey Blue and the Gutterbreed), so I was very much looking forward to reading more about him. Joey Blue is a down-and-out blue’s singer who now spends most of his time at the bottom of a bottle — so much so, his past is almost a mystery to him. But Joey is aware there’s another part of Parkton, a much darker side that hides in the shadows. And it’s coming for him.

It’s Joey Blue with whom we start the story, and Joey’s in a bad place. His friend Gremlin is dead, but that doesn’t stop him stalking Joey and begging for his help. Joey can see those stuck in the veil between worlds, and they can see him, too. They’re aware, and Joey knows better than anyone that once the Gutterbreed are aware, there’s no end to the torment. Joey must make the trek to 809 Jacob Street.

Next we meet 14-year-old Byron who has just moved from Australia to Parkton. And hates it. His only friends are two outcasts, Iain and Hamish. Right from the beginning, there’s something off about Iain, and as the story progresses, the reader’s given glimpses into a psyche that is truly damaged. Hamish, is more an unwilling participant in his ‘friendship’ with Iain, and like Byron, seems to be carried along on the tidal wave that is Iain’s quest for answers at the house on Jacob Street.

The house has a history of blood and violence known to all in the town, and Young has made 809 almost its own character within the story. Iain taunts Byron with legends surrounding the house, and the pragmatic Byron refuses to believe the hype, which sets him on a path that can only lead to one place.

Both Joey Blue and Byron are on a collision course with the house on Jacob Street, and there’s no doubting it’s not going to end well for them. Young ramps up the tension the further into the book you read, and while I knew we were heading for a blood-soaked ending, I couldn’t wait for all the players to step over the threshold of number 809.

There’s quite a bit of backstory given, especially where the boys—Byron, Iain and Hamish—are concerned. At times the pacing was a little slow, but that could be more to do with Young’s build-up of the house through Byron’s eyes. Still..

We’re given a few chapters from Iain’s point of view, and this furthers the reader’s understanding that nothing good can come of the boy’s entering the house, but you know it’s inevitable – Iain will damn well make it so.

While Joey and Byron live in entirely different worlds, they do cross paths, albeit briefly, but this has weighty consequences toward the end of the book. There’s one particular scene—Joey’s walk up Jacob Street—that still resonates with me. Young outdid himself with this scene – it’s so perfectly and vividly described.

I’m not going to spoil the end of this book for readers, but once in that house… things don’t go well for anyone. But it’s in the house where Young really brings his storytelling finesse to the fore. Tension, action, fear, monsters, inner-demons, the dark… it’s all here, and I wasn’t disappointed.

When I turned the last page of the book, I was unsure of how I felt about it as a whole. It was a good read with great characters, and some damn fine imagery but there seemed somewhat of a disconnect between Joey Blue and the other players in the story… almost as though they were two stories spliced together that didn’t quite gel, and I think that’s more to do with the structure of the book – once Joey enters the house (about a quarter of the way into the book) he’s almost forgotten until the end.

There were a few more grammar and spelling issues than I’d have liked to have seen in the book, but that could well be the editor in me. Some of those issues, though, should have been picked up.

809 Jacob Street is on the smaller side of the novel-spectrum, and there’s little doubt in my mind that the story could well have supported a higher word count, where we could have delved a little more into Joey’s story and strengthened that connection between Joey and Byron. I’d have gladly read more, and that alone speaks to Young’s work.

I can’t finish without mentioning the illustrations provided in the book. David Schembri, who also created the cover-art, has given the book that extra dimension with internal illustrations throughout. I very much liked them, and it’s always great to see an artist’s rendering of both characters and monsters.

Overall, 809 Jacob Street is a solid first novel for Marty Young, and showcases the author’s ability to create great characters (or in Joey Blue’s case – fantastic ones), and there’s little doubt Young is storyteller who’s well on the rise (some of his phrasing is just beautiful). I’m looking forward to reading more, and if that last chapter is anything to go by, then more there will be.

4 stars

 

The Creative Proce$$

The difference between the almost right word and the right word is … the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”
—Mark Twain

Aah, words. How I love thee! They hold a power, a magic all their own. And Mr Twain speaks the truth – for a writer, there’s nothing like finding that right word, the right turn of phrase that will paint a world, a character, a scene with such vivid detail. It’s what has us rewriting and reworking until we hit that perfection.

Words are the life-blood of a writer. We love weaving them together to create wonder and enchantment. We want to take you places, leave you there for a while if we must, and have you take a little piece of it away with you.

We invest in our work, invest in ourselves to create that work. Time and learning our craft is the biggest investment a writer makes, but there are also times where dollars are invested. I’ve done it, and it was money well spent. Five years ago I joined the Australian Horror Writers Association crit group – the crit group was free, but a yearly membership of $20 was paid and worth every cent. Not only did I find a bunch of writers who helped me see where I was going wrong, and who supported and bolstered me and my writing, but more than that, they were (and are) some of the best people I know.

AHWA_logo

When the opportunity arose for a mentorship, I jackpotted again and was mentored by the extraordinarily talented and extraordinarily lovely Kaaron Warren (read her work, it’ll take you to some very spooky places). What I learned from Kaaron was invaluable, and the $165 I paid for the mentorship was a pittance compared to the experience and knowledge she passed along to me.

My writing improved a thousand-fold after working with Kaaron. Even my first drafts were not quite the crap they were previously (and we all know first drafts are crap), but the skeleton was stronger on which to build. It still meant rewriting and reworking that first draft, of course. It’s the investment of time. Time.

So when I came across a “book” professing a foolproof way to write your own book in less than a week, I was more than a little sceptical. More promises followed: six figure income in twelve months; will turn you into an expert in your field. Yada, yada, yada, blah, blah, blah. And let’s not forget the “seminars” and “master-classes” (for more money, of course). Oh, and before you ask, qualifications? Pfft! Who needs those!

Now I have a healthy dose of cynicism, and could see right through this rot (note: I will not provide links to this so-called book, as… well, it’s a load of bollocks), but it’s not aimed at someone like me, someone who can call bullshit on their claims. It’s aimed at the most vulnerable of our writing community: the newbie. (Or as the book proclaims: “for the budding writer”)

bullshit

We were all newbies once; caught up in the romanticism of writing, of creating, of being published. And we still are. Those of us who have been writing for a while now understand the amount of work, the struggle, the yearning and the passion to create. There are no shortcuts. You can’t wave a magic wand over a first draft to turn it into literary gold. It takes rewrites and redrafts, rereads and reworking.

It takes time. Time to make those words that will resonate with a reader; time to learn your craft; time to make your story the best it can be. Can it be done alone? I haven’t come across any story (be it flash, short, novella, novel) that’s stuck with me that hasn’t been passed past another’s eyes, a professional, before publication. When I see someone professing to hold the golden goose out to new writers, I get mad. Duping up-and-coming writers to make a quick buck is unconscionable. These parasites make a mockery of my profession, of my passion, and do so with little regard to those they target. There’s a special kind of hell waiting for those who cash in on the dreams of a new writer, I’m sure of it.

When challenged on the veracity of the content and title of that scam-book, the “author” bid a hasty retreat. Another took up their cause, which ended in an interesting discussion on the creative process, and this person’s flat-out refusal to ever engage beta readers or a professional editor or proofreader – their work didn’t require it.

facepalm

As a professional (qualified) editor, I know this is not the case. All work, regardless of the author, needs another set of eyes passed over it (more than one set if you can manage it). It doesn’t need to cost a fortune, it doesn’t need to cost anything but time: reciprocity is a great foundation for beta readers, and also builds relationships with other writers (who are really quite astute readers).

Can a book be written in under a week? 10,000 words a day for six days gets you 60,000 words – the basis of a novel. Would you send it out in the world? Please don’t. Please, please don’t. You owe your potential reader more than that, you owe yourself more than that.

Can you make a six-figure income within twelve months on said book? Realistically? No. And promising a budding writer such is not only fraudulent, but downright despicable.

The creative process does cost, but most of those “costs”—time, sweat, and yes, sometimes tears—a writer is willing to invest. But those costs shouldn’t line the pockets of scammers trying to bilk money from those who are just starting out.

There are organisations—reputable writing centres, writing associations, writing groups etc—that are found easily enough on the ‘net. Invest the time to search for a group or association that fits your needs. There are a lot of genre associations who would be happy to point you in the right direction. Don’t be taken in by “books” that promise the world. Remember, if something’s too good to be true, it probably is.

Review: The Last Argument of Kings (Joe Abercrombie)

The final book in The First Law trilogy is the longest of the three and the one I read the quickest. Abercrombie had used book two (Before They Are Hanged) very well to set up the mess you knew was coming in The Last Argument of Kings.

When I say ‘mess’, I do so in a positive way. Abercrombie has worked his main characters into corners they may well not survive.

So before you read any further, I best add a spoiler warning:

INCOMING SPOILERY SPOILERS THAT SPOIL

Last Argument of Kings

We begin with the five intrepid questers (Ninefingers, Ferro, Bayaz, Luthar and Longfellow) returning to the Union from their failed journey to the old world. It’s here the decisions Ninefingers, Ferro and Luthar make as they disembark have grave consequences. Abercrombie does well to make what appear to be inconsequential decisions, life-changing ones.

The Union is still fighting for its survival, and with the death of the last royal, those of aristocracy conspire, coerce, cross and double-cross in a bid for the throne. Political machinations have never been so messy (and at times, tiresome), especially amid a war that could see the Union eradicated in its entirety.

Bayaz is his ever-scheming self, and Ferro’s quest for vengeance has tied her to the Magi more than she’d like or care to admit — a lot of which has to do with the mixed emotions she has for Ninefingers. The two had gone their separate ways despite both wanting (internally) to remain together, and for Ninefingers this will come back to haunt him in so many ways.

trilogy

There’s much that needs to be tied up in this book, and as with books one and two, it was Ninefingers, Dogman and his crew, and West who held my attention. They’re in the thick of war. With some Northerners fighting on the side of the Union, loyalties are tested on all sides… or more a blurring of those sides against a common enemy. But even within these ranks, there’s no end of problems – past rivals and scores that must be settled.

As in the previous two books, Abercrombie doesn’t shy from the horror or war. This is especially evident when Ninefingers and his old crew join up with some hill-people to fight Bethod. This is a nasty, bloody battle, and it’s here we really see just how out of control The Bloody Nine is, and what toll that takes on Ninefingers.

The Ghurkish are still knocking on the door of the incompetent Union, and West is still being stymied at every turn by regulations that make little to no sense under the circumstances. Life really did screw West over.

There’s a lot to like and a lot to… meh, about in this book. The character development didn’t quite… well, develop. I wonder if this was intentional on Abercrombie’s part – sometimes leopards don’t change their spots.

There are no happy endings here – not for anyone. I suppose some might argue that Bayaz, the master manipulator, was the only “successful” player here – player being the operative word here. When it’s all revealed in the end, Bayaz just toyed with those around him, motivated solely, it seemed out of boredom (he’s lived a while, this magi). Being as powerful as he is, a god amongst men, he manoeuvres Jezal into Kingship by such roundabout means, it seemed like a waste of countless pages of political manipulation that could well have been spent on the likes of Glotka.

Ninefingers has been my favourite character from the start, but his ending (and that’s still up in the air – pardon the pun) felt like a cop out. Glotka, however, is the stand-out character come the end of this trilogy. Despite the character’s penchant for running his tongue over his gums, I found it was him I was sort of rooting for in the end.

The dreams/aspirations each of the characters began with are shattered, all through actions (and sometimes inaction) and decisions (or indecision) on their own part. They all had crappy lives to begin with, now they’re just in slightly different crappy lives. I guess the moral is: life sux.

Jezal gets far more than he ever wished for in his life, but guess what? When you get all you desire, it never really lives up to its expectation. Same goes for Ferro. Driven by her need for vengeance, it wasn’t much of a surprise that this came back to bite her on the arse.

It does make you think (as Ninefingers and Ferro often ponder) what their lives would have been like had they made different decisions upon their return to the Union. Crappy, sure, as that’s the way life is in these books. For everyone.

When I got to the end of this trilogy, I wasn’t sure how I felt. Book two is definitely the stand out for me. Book one was a painful read until the last 150-odd pages. Book three? Great battle scenes (all of Abercrombie’s battle scenes are beautifully and ghastly choreographed), deaths of some likeable characters (always a plus if an author’s prepared to do that), and an ending that I saw coming earlier than I’d have liked.

Overall, it’s a good trilogy. Not a great one. And I wanted a great one. The dark stuff was dark, and I think that helped get me through some of the more lacklustre parts of plot. Abercrombie’s characters run the gamut of ordinary to wonderful, but I was left with the feeling that this could have been so much more.

Abercrombie writes well, and there are times when his words are pure poetry, but when you’re looking at close to 1800 pages of story… I expected more, but it wouldn’t stop me from picking up another of his stories just to see what tale he can spin.

stars

Supanova: You Be Crazy!

Yesterday, I broke my “convention cherry” (it’s a thing, it really is) at Supanova Sydney. Now before your mind starts taking you places it really shouldn’t, Supanova, for the uninitiated, is a pop-culture spectacular that covers all things geekdom: comics, books, anime, cartoons, gaming, cosplay… the awesome list goes on.

SNova 3

It was my first trip to a convention of this kind, but it certainly won’t be the last. There was much excitement in my household when I told the kids we were heading to Supanova (or Nerdvana, as my daughter happily called it), so much so they were dressed and ready without my usual cry of: “shoes, dammit, shoes!”

After gathering one of my son’s friends, we made the half-hour trek to the Sydney Showgrounds at Homebush. Much excitement ensued as we played ‘follow the cosplayer’ to the arena, but that was just a taste of what was to come. The outfits and costumes donned by some of those in attendance were brilliant, inspired, and the attention to detail in some was amazing.

SNova 1

Everywhere we looked there was something to nab your attention (there’s a bad ADHD joke in here somewhere). There were stalls upon stalls upon stalls of publishers hawking their books; stalls upon stalls upon stalls of comic and graphic novels; clothing of all kinds (including a ghillie-suit that had me do a double-take), collectables, two amazing sword and dagger stalls I tried not to salivate over; and did I mention books?

Two of my writerly mates and Sydney SHADOWS compatriots, Alan Baxter and Andrew McKiernan were there hawking their new releases. I picked up (and demanded) signed copies of Alan’s ‘BOUND’ (Harper Voyager), and Andrew’s ‘last year, when we were young’ (Satalyte Publishing). I also grabbed ‘Assassin’s Aprentice’ by the lovely Robin Hobb, who happily signed my copy then chatted graciously with me.

Books!

My kids (and my spare) were in their element, running from comic stall to comic stall looking for that something special that elicits a smile that lights them up from the inside – it was beautiful to see. And their pure delight at the costumes is something I know will stay with them forever.

I’ve read too much about the elitist and misogynistic crap that sometimes goes on at cons such as this, but I saw none of that, my kids saw none of that. They were happily caught up in the wonder of a community of people who had a love of all things fantastique. And a shout out to all those who happily posed with and for the kids – not once were they turned down; not once were they made to feel as though they were intruding. My daughter, who can sometimes be painfully shy, was hovering near Batman, when she was spotted by the Penguin (now there’s a sentence I never thought I’d write), who smiled and beckoned her over, making her feel at ease as they posed. It’s acts such as this that make things right with her world, makes things right with mine.

Cloe and friends

So with my convention cherry well and truly broken, and with tired feet, a tonne of fantastic photos and armloads of books for us all, we bid Supanova Sydney adieu, for we will be back next year, and maybe, just maybe, I’ll have two cosplayers with me.

Ramblings of a Serial Killer

I’ve killed off short stories in the hundreds; stuffed their rotting carcasses into dark nooks with nary a backward glance. I’ve hacked and slashed words with the impunity of a serial killer, and razed worlds like an unforgiving god. Cast them into the abyss and never looked back. Easy.

But the novel, aah, what a different beast it is! It fights dirty. The two main characters—Wren and Cy—make me pay for the wrongs I’ve done them: taking them on needless journeys; giving them pointless back-stories; creating traits that downright didn’t suit. They mocked my attempts to reason with them – they knew best. But I’m stubborn, and as they traded conspiratorial whispers at the back of mind, poking and nudging me toward the right path, I ploughed on.

Each time I gutted a draft, they sighed with relief; each time I severed a chapter or two or six, they goaded me to be harsher (they can be mean). And after the murder and evisceration of four drafts, I’m finally at a place where Cy is happy to move forward; Wren, reluctantly so.

blood spatter

“You had to work for it,” Cy told me, “it was the only way you were going to get us right.” His smile, as always, is never fully realised. “Experience is a brutal teacher.”

Wren snorted and gave us both the finger; her trust issues run deep.

With time in the Black Friday Wager very quickly winding down, I made the decision (although it was blindingly obvious) that I wasn’t going to win the bet with my mate Marty Young (read his stuff – it rocks!) to get this first draft finished. It’s a bitch; I don’t like losing bets, but it’s been far from a waste.

When I break it down all autopsy-like, I’ve written a total of 149,496 words; two in-depth character sheets (four pages each—longhand); chapter summary/outline (six pages—longhand), and one page filled with a stream of curse words (possibly my best work). The two words I’ve failed to write, however, are: The End. But that’s okay, I know where Cy and Wren have come from, I know where they’ve been and where they’re going. They don’t quite know all that’s in store, but if they’ve taught me anything, it’s that they won’t make it easy.

Novel writing is new to me, and the learning curve has been incredibly steep, and at times seemingly insurmountable. I hated and loved it in equal measure; I raged and cursed, floundered and despaired, but the stubbornness that drives me forward (and drives my husband to incoherency) meant I could butcher my drafts then pick through the remains and rebuild.

bloody pen

Not all of those 149,496 words were crap. There’s some great stuff in there, bits and pieces that I’ll use in later chapters; other sections I’ll rework to fit this new incarnation; parts that are quintessentially Cy and Wren.

Don’t get me wrong, this killing spree hasn’t been easy – at the time, each slaughter of the next draft has felt like a massive failure on my part. But one of my writing pals, Devin Madson, (read her work – she paints with words), told me I was lucky I could see it wasn’t working and could cut my losses and begin again; that I didn’t drag it out and waste both time and words. In my head that makes sense, in my heart, it’s like a dagger.

It wasn’t just my characters and their voices that had me struggle with my novel; work cut into my writing time, but I don’t begrudge that. I love being an editor; I love helping others with their work, their stories and their characters – it’s why I chose to get my qualifications so I could provide the best advice and expertise I could to those who love to write as I do.

As an editor, I’m trained to see where others’ novels require work: pacing, clarity, cohesion et al. This doesn’t, however, transfer to my own work – like I tell my clients: you can’t have objectivity with your babies. It’s insane to think you can.

And when the time comes, when I finally type: The End, (then do at least two rewrites – I’m a perfectionist, sue me), I will engage beta readers, then rewrite…and rewrite, and possibly rewrite again, before finally passing it on to an editor – someone who has the objectivity I no longer have.

It’s taken six months for me to fully comprehend the scale and heartache involved with writing a novel, but it’s been six months well spent. Do I wish I’d been able to get this “first” draft done? Hell yes. Do I wish I could have typed: The End? No doubt! Do I wish it was Marty buying me books instead of me buying him scotch? Yes (but I love Marty, so it ain’t all that bad). But the big question is: have I grown as a writer? And the answer to that is a big fat YES. And that, I reckon, is worth more than a bottle of scotch.

gone-writing

Running Scared

How did you spend your Friday night? I spent mine being lurched at by zombies and chased by clowns. S’true. My buddy Jason and I were crazy enough to take on Running Scared, an 8km horror-based obstacle course. That’s right, 8kms. At night.

The course was set up at the Sydney International Regatta Centre at Penrith, and trust me when I say the foot of the Blue Mountains is cold once the sun goes down, but Jase and I were ready to get our run on. Mustered around the start line were zombies shuffling about competitors, a bunch of dancing zombies (yep, it was Thriller time), and all interspersed with some iconic horror stars: Freddie Kruger, Jason Voorhees, and Pennywise, to name a few.

Me and Jase

After registering and signing two waivers (that kinda gave me pause), we were given a race number, headlamps, and directed toward the start line. At 8pm we began, first tackling a maze. I’d have to say, that was probably one of the best parts of the ‘run’. We made our way from freaky room to freaky room: a bathroom reminiscent of SAW, another that had overtones of Deliverance, and a harlequin room whose strobe lights messed with my head, but once through, it was time to run.

Now, 8kms isn’t that far really, especially on a straight course with flat ground, but that wasn’t what we faced. Scaling a pyramid of haybales (much higher than it sounds) started us off before it was time to drag ourselves across a river via a line of life-buoys (dignity and elegance be damned). We were wet now, and we were cold. It was also where I discovered the tights I’d worn weren’t really conducive to running when wet. Ah, well, it was only water.

Did I mention it was cold? But on we jogged. Now, I understand the idea of the run was to introduce a fear factor, but neither Jason nor I quite got that. At one stage, we were chatting as we walked (I can’t run 8kms non-stop, sue me) and we were suddenly distracted by two camera flashes to our left. Immediately to our right, a chorus of groans rose from a pile of zombies hidden near the track. We paused a moment then continued our chat, much to their disappointment.

zombies

Our next obstacle… well, it was more super-slide. “Keep your feet up,” one man told us. Confused, Jase and I began to slowly walk down the plastic wondering about the warning when our feet went out beneath us and in almost perfect synchronicity we fell backwards and slammed our heads against the ground. Head-lamps went flying as we sped down the hill and into a nasty looking pit of sludge. Feet up!

It was gelatine-based slime and it sucked at your sneakers as you tried to walk out of it. You couldn’t shake it free. It clung to us in all the wrong places and it felt like we’d shit our pants. We commando-crawled back up the hill (and we were filthy) before tackling our next obstacle. We had to traverse rope netting suspended between two shipping containers. Best way? Barrel-roll. Now, I don’t know what went wrong but I somehow managed to hurt my nose; on the plus side, Jason said it showed him how not to do it. Laugh we did, long and loud.

And on we ran. It was dark, the only light we had was from our headlamps. Zombies lurched from copses of trees, clowns jumped out as us, but the fear was more from what the next step would feel like in our crappy-pants than what went bump (or groan or scream) in the night.

Now, we could hear the squeals of others as they were surprised and scared, but it never really got to either of us. Were we inured to it because we’re horror writers? Nah. I think it was more exhaustion that got to me, and we really could see them coming. The obstacles did test your co-ordination and staying ability, and the 8kms (in those pants) felt like 80kms.

We waded through more slime, crawled under blood-covered obstacles and manoeuvred through a twisting canal filled with tyres. It was here that a zombie grabbed my ankle. Normally, this would have made me jump, but I was cold and tired and too busy laughing at our ungainliness.

Two and bit hours later we crossed the finish line. Tired, filthy, and still enjoying a laugh.

Overall, we had a great time and a great laugh. Not quite the fear factor we’d imagined, but that doesn’t matter. The amount of effort and attention to detail put into the event by the organisers was brilliant. The actors did an amazing job portraying their characters, and the general vibe of the whole thing was fantastic. I had a blast, and I know Jason did too.

Finish line

Things I learned:

  • Sliding down hills should be done on your arse, not your feet;
  • When barrel-rolling over rope-netting, duck your chin into your chest (no, really, this is a must);
  • Slime in your pants… just no; (and why my kids walked funny when they crapped their pants as toddlers);
  • Laughter can get you through anything, especially synchronised head-slamming;
  • Clowns are scarier when they’re alone. And silent. Just staring;
  • When the zombie apocalypse hits, I can outrun those buggers (bring it on! Ahem);
  • Muck and slime can get into places it has no right to be;
  • Nothing beats a hot shower.

My Friday night was awesome. How was yours?

002

Review: Topsiders (Scott Tyson)

I very much enjoyed this read but I’m going to begin this review with a disclaimer.

It’s fair to say quite a few of my reviews will have a disclaimer of sorts; as a writer, I have a lot of writerly friends and colleagues who pen the genre I love reading, so there’s bound to be cross-overs from time to time. Scott Tyson falls into the cross-over category. While I’ve worked with Scott on another project, I was not involved with either the pre or post-production of Topsiders. Yes, that is me mentioned in the acknowledgements, but that was for providing general advice of a writing/editorial nature. My only knowledge of the Topsiders story was based solely on the back-cover blurb. I did not receive a free copy of the book – I buy the books that fill (overfill?) my shelves, and do so gladly.

topsiders

Okay, now that we have the disclaimer out of the way, let’s get on with this review. Oh, and big-arse spoiler alert here: I’ll be talking about the end of this story so if you don’t want to be tainted look away now…now I said! Stop peeking through your fingers!

Topsiders is a tale of twos: two worlds, two families, two journeys and two protags. Told through the eyes of father (Bill) and son (Mathew), we follow each as they embark on separate (though intertwined) quests into an abandoned house by the river. You know this isn’t going to end well.

The story started a little slowly for me; the small glimpses I had of the goings-on in the house made me want to be there, not reading of the dynamics between the adult-couples, or the jostling hierarchy of 14-year-old Mathew, his just-older brother Guy, and love-interest Claire. Don’t get me wrong, the characters are well-drawn and believable, I just wanted to get into that house… or rather, beneath it.

As we’re told this story from two points of view, we know that overly-cautious Bill isn’t so keen on investigating the house, but provoked into doing so by his estranged wife Judy, and lured by his lust for family friend Helen (despite Helen’s husband Phil), Bill plunges into the darkness of the house. When the parents go missing, Mathew, Guy and Claire (Helen and Phil’s daughter) head up their own search party.

Tyson does well to flip between the two parties. Access to the world below is through a tunnel hidden behind a picture in the bathroom – our first glimpse of this is done remarkably well, which only heightened my belief that we needed to get to this point sooner. The tunnel is creepy, and you know they shouldn’t enter, but they do (as we’ve all done things we know we really shouldn’t), and here we really see Bill’s cowardice come to the fore.

Mathew and Claire soon follow suit, determined to find their parents and the now-missing Guy. Tyson creates tension here, and his use of monsters-hiding-in-darkness fear is done very well (sometimes what is unseen is more frightening that what is). Bill, now alone, is at a crossroads – he’s seen (kinda) what lies below and he wants out, but Mathew’s arrival forces Bill’s hand.

Once both arrive at the heart of the monster’s home, the horror of what really lies beneath is shown in its total brutality. There are parts of this story that aren’t for the feint-of-heart, but I liked that Tyson didn’t shy away from brutality – this is a horror story and horror happens.

Once in the cavern, we’re shown the true heart of all involved: the monsters, Bill, Mathew and Judy. Tyson shows us that sometimes there’s not a lot of difference between those that live below and the ‘topsiders’. It’s a hard ending, but there’s a truthfulness to it that made the story all the more enjoyable. There’s a Laymon-esque quality to Tyson’s story – a collision of worlds that is honest in its brutality. I don’t want to spoil the ending of this story, but let me say that Tyson doesn’t soften that blow but delivers it how it must be delivered.

My main issue with the story was its slow beginning, and I think part of that goes to the world Tyson’s created beneath that house – this is where the true story lies, and I think the relationships explored at the beginning could well have been given to the reader while the topsiders were underground. I believe it would have amplified their dynamic. I wanted more of that world, and those trying to survive in it (monster and topsider alike), especially when you take into account that last chapter.

Tyson has left this open for a sequel, and given the point of view of that protag, I would gladly read it.

On a Goodreads scale, I give this a 4 out of 5 stars.

 

 

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