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Review: Bloody Waters by Jason Franks

I’m a wee bit behind on my reviews as I read like a fiend through January… then life laughed and laughed and laughed at me (I also believe it gave me the finger) when I wanted to keep the pace through February.  Sooo, without further ado…

*taps microphone* Check, one, two… One, two.

Welcome to the stage… Bloody Waters!    *crowd goes wild as Clarice Marnier strides on stage with Motherfucker*

Bloody Waters is Jason Franks’ debut novel released through Possible Press, and a damn fine debut it is. This is the first of Franks’ work I’ve read, and as with any book, you go into it with excitement and a little trepidation: ‘please be good, please be good…’

Well it wasn’t good – it was fan-freakin’-tastic.  Now before we go any further, I’d better put the requisite spoiler warning in…

SPOILER WARNING! THAT’S RIGHT. SPOILERS. LIKELY LOTS OF THEM.  SPOILERS I MEAN. SO READ AHEAD AT YOUR OWN RISK, ‘CAUSE, YOU KNOW, SPOILERS.

Bloody Waters

The story begins with the a chat between an old bluesman and the devil at a crossroads (think Robert Johnson folklore) and the horny dude’s warning of ‘rock and roll badness’ on the horizon. The devil is worried, you see, and the bluesman tells him ‘rock and roll boys ain’t nothin’ to concern himself with.’ The devil agrees, ‘but this one’s a girl.’

It’s the … quirk in the supernatural I really found enjoyable. Satan? He’s a character who holds his own here, and the interactions between him, Clarice, and Clarice’s boyfriend, Johnny, were some of the highlights of the book for me. Kudos to Franks on the great dialogue. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Bloody Waters follows the life and times of guitar virtuoso, Clarice Marnier.  There’s nothing Clarice wants more than to be a rock guitarist, and when Clarice sets her mind to something, nothing (and I mean nothing) will stand in her way.  She’s focused, forthright, stubborn and proud – she’s a pretty kick-arse character who can actually kick your arse. And seriously, anyone who names one of their guitars ‘Motherfucker’ is alright by me.

You see, no one knows guitars like Clarice, and no plays guitar like Clarice. She has a single-mindedness that sometimes comes across as arrogant, but it didn’t take me long to realise that her no-nonsense attitude is what makes her… Clarice. Oh, and keep an eye out for her one-liners and terrifically and sometimes groan-worthy puns – they’ll put a smile on your face.

After being blacklisted by the music industry, Clarice seeks out band members to form ‘Bloody Waters’, a band she knows is the best out there, but no one will touch them. So Clarice, with the help of boyfriend and frontman, Johnny Chernow, make a deal with the devil for a second chance at taking the world by storm.

And storm the world they do. No band is bigger; no guitarist is better, and no one wants to bring them down more than the music industry that spurned her.  Ensuing battles with demons, wraiths, witches and all other manner of supernatural nasties, then throw in some gangsters, other rock bands, crazy fans and you’ve got one hell of tale taking place on the pages. Most of the supernatural takes place toward the second-half of the book, but there’s no end to the magic that rips through the story.

While Clarice is the star of the book (and the band), frontman Johnny Chernow really does hold his own in this book, and holds his own against the force of nature that is Clarice. He’s also one of the most easy-going warlocks about – nothing much rattles his cage. Without Johnny, a lot of what Clarice can achieve on the supernatural level would be impossible, and while I would have liked to have seen some more…tenderness toward Johnny on Clarice’s part, the final revelation makes you understand why she is the way she is.

pentagram

There’s a lot at play in the novel, but Franks’ works well to not only keep the reader hooked but also guessing as to what’s really going on. The interactions with the Devil always hint at some ulterior motive (no real surprise there, he’s the Devil, Father of Lies and Deceit), and he has an almost soft spot for Clarice, but always at the back of my mind was the crossroads talk with the bluesman at the beginning of the book.

But it’s the revelation at the end of the book I didn’t see coming, and one that was so brilliantly thought out and delivered, it had me reflecting on it for quite a long time afterward.

The only negative I found with my copy of the book was that it could have been edited and proofread with a more expert eye. There were more than a few typos and grammar issues that should not have slipped through. However, the standard of the story and the storytelling itself made this (almost) easy to overlook.

Franks takes the reader on a fast-paced ride filled with black-humour, bloody battles, and a look at ideology from an altogether different standpoint.  His characters are well-fleshed out, engaging, and were perfectly suited to the parts they played. I flew through this book, so engaged was I with the story and the characters. I sat up ‘til 3am to finish it, and if that isn’t the sign of a good book, I don’t know what is.

On a Goodreads scale, I give it five stars. And no, the devil didn’t make me do it.

five stars

 PS. Check out Jason’s comics/graphic novels — they’re well worth the look.

Review: Carnies by Martin Livings

After the controversy of my last post (yeah, I poked that bear), it’s review time again! And yes, that sentence deserved a ‘screamer’. I’ve read eight novels so far this year, and while that might not be a lot for others, compared to last year, I’m killing it. As an editor, I read a lot — flash fiction, shorts, novellas, novels (in all genres) — but that’s a different kind of reading; approached in an entirely different way. Reading for pleasure, where I can disengage the editor in me and just immerse myself in a story and sidle up to characters, is something I’ve really missed.

So I’ve dived back into my mammoth ‘to read’ pile, and Carnies by Martin Livings (published through Cohesion Press) was at the top of said pile. As with the last couple of reviews, this one also comes with a disclaimer. The Australian spec-fic community is a small and close-knit one – if you don’t know someone, you know of them. Martin is a friend of mine (and all ‘round nice guy – he loves cats), and we’ve also had short stories appear in the same publications. I soon became a fan of his short works, so I was very much looking forward to reading a longer piece. But before we go any further, it’s spoiler alert time:

 

HERE A SPOILER, THERE A SPOILER, EVERYWHERE A SPOILER, SPOILER!

carnies

 

The title alone tells you we’re heading into carnival territory, and I was hoping this was going to be an old-school carnival with all its oddities and ‘freaks’ that had a more… otherworldly feel to it than the almost antiseptic feel of what passes as a carnival today. I wasn’t disappointed.

Carnies follows the story of brothers David and Paul Hampden. David, a journalist in a spiralling career, has gotten wind of a creepy carnival in country Australia that might just revitalise his career. He enlists younger brother Paul, a sometimes photographer, to join him. David and Paul are somewhat estranged; it’s not just the large age gap, but the ultra-religious (read: fire and brimstone) upbringing at their father’s hand after their mother’s disappearance. Both men want to bridge the gap that’s developed between them over the years.

The minute the brothers drive into Tillbrook, they know (as does the reader) that something’s not quite right. It doesn’t take long for that ‘not quite right’ to show itself. A close-call that almost results in a car accident reignites the animosity between the brothers, but it’s put aside when the men head to the carnival that night.

This is the start of the brothers taking different path to the somewhat same destination. The carnies have been in Tillbrook for … well, forever, really, and the townsfolk grudgingly live alongside them. Later in the book we discover that this is due to a pact made a hundred years ago with the town and the carnies’ forebears. The arrival of David, and more specifically Paul, tears the final threads of that fraying pact apart.

At its heart, this is a story of familial bonds, of blood ties that are, in essence, impossible to deny but also as tenuous as a spider’s web. Both Paul and David sit at opposite sides of this blood – both drawn from the same vial but poles apart.

The carnies are werewolves, and while Paul is enamoured with the Alpha female, Rachel, he comes into his own via a bite from a ‘bitch’ further down the totem pole. His fate (destiny?) is sealed, and he finds a sense of belonging he’s been wanting.

werewolf 1

When Paul goes missing, David goes in search, and with the help of a secretive town “council” hell bent on destroying the carnies, manages to step in so much dog doo-doo, you know it’s not going to end well.

After an attempted extraction that fails in spectacular fashion, Paul, giving into his animal instincts, bites his brother in the throat, believing he’s killed him. He doesn’t, of course, and this sets up a finale that pits brother against brother.

It’s during David’s turning we discover the bloodline runs through both men via their mother. David doesn’t turn well; he hears the fundamentalist voice of his father, directing him to his own personal jihad. He does this well, pretty much taking out the Alpha male, Amos, in a very bloody fashion, but his plans unravel in the final confrontation with Paul.

I’m not going to spoil the ending of the book – read it, it’s a hell of a finale.

This is a great read, and it’s been a long time since I’ve read a werewolf story (and the turn from human to wolf is done remarkably well by Livings), let alone one that engaged me so well. It’s a well-written story, with threads tangling all the players – none of which is ever really as it seems.

It’s not a perfect story (what story ever really is?). When David is bitten, his body isn’t collected with all the others in the clean-up – makes no sense. But my main gripe would be what I call the ‘missing scene’. When David kidnaps the Alpha male, Amos, we only see the aftermath of that confrontation. Amos has been tortured and maimed – it would have been a great to see the dichotomy between the two enemies. What information did David get from Amos? Did he get any at all? It was an opportunity missed, in my mind.

Overall, Carnies is great read, and I was happily immersed in the world Livings had created, and I’d have happily spent more time there. There are no happy endings with this story, but it is open for a sequel (which I would definitely read), but I’m told this won’t be happening. It’s a shame, as it’s a very cool world Livings has created.

Four and half stars