Talisman of El by Alecia Stone
Talisman of El is Alecia Stone’s first novel and the first book published by Centrinian Press. I received a review copy through Netgalley. It’s marketed as YA, but the protagonists are on the younger side for YA (14 years old), so I expect a younger reader would enjoy it more than a 16-18 year old.
Blurb nabbed from Goodreads:
WHAT IF YOUR WHOLE LIFE WAS A LIE?
Population: Human … 7 billion.
Others … unknown.
When 14-year-old Charlie Blake wakes up sweating and gasping for air in the middle of the night, he knows it is happening again. This time he witnesses a brutal murder. He’s afraid to tell anyone. No one would believe him … because it was a dream. Just like the one he had four years ago - the day before his dad died.
Charlie doesn’t know why this is happening. He would give anything to have an ordinary life. The problem: he doesn’t belong in the world he knows as home.
He belongs with the others.
Plot-wise, I was hoping for a fun read with some adventure thrown in. It started promisingly with Charlie, an orphan, living with his new foster-father. At the start he’s mostly concerned with fitting in at school and the adoption going well. That is until the social worker’s back is turned and his new guardian abruptly turns nasty. Then confusing dreams and mysterious strangers lead Charlie and his friends on a quest to find a mysterious world hidden inside the Earth (a la Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne but with more magic).
The writing is clunky and unpolished. At times there were completely wrong word choices (more than just typos, I mean), but the main thing was the lack of flow in the prose, sometimes within individual sentences. Also, the dialogue was unnatural and at times awkward. In the middle, large chunks of dialogue were info-dumps. A stronger editorial hand might have improved the writing, but on the other hand, a crit group might also have helped. As it was, I wanted to get a red pen and start scribbling on my Kobo. Your mileage and sensitivity to language may vary.
The plot started out all right, and I liked Charlie’s grungy friend Alex. She added contrast to both the school bullies and the other girls who liked Charlie (but of whom he was oblivious).
Once the weird things started happening, I didn’t feel that the story hung together as well, most notably the section set in the other world. I liked the way in which Charlie’s abandonment issues are explored in relation to Derkein, an adult that gets involved in the magic quest.
Overall, the book started all right, flagged in the middle and the ending was nice. It had potential but didn’t quite reach it.
2.5 / 5 stars
Bloodshot by Cherie Priest
Bloodshot by Cherie Priest is not the first book of Priest’s that I’ve read. If it had been, I don’t know that I’d be convinced to pick up another of her books in the future. (I read Boneshaker when it was on the AussieCon Hugo ballot and enjoyed it.) It’s the kind of book that makes me glad I didn’t pay full price for it and assuages some of my “buying all the discount books when Borders was dying” guilt.
Raylene is a vampire for hire. Usually she’s hired to steal things — art, archaeological artifacts, home made porn… — and this time is no different. A mysterious vampire client (where her usual clients are human) hires her to steal some paperwork from a classified military operation. It’s a fairly simple story in which she sneaks around, trying to avoid the people suddenly out to kill her and completes the mission in a more roundabout way than they all initially suspected. Fine. It wasn’t a plot made of deep but it was the part I didn’t have a problem with. If it sounds like the kind of urban fantasy you might enjoy, then by all means, don’t let me ruin it for you by reading what I disliked in the rest of the review.
First, Raylene is fairly unlikeable. She’s somewhere between kickarse and paranoid and she talks too much. Some of the talking too much can be attributed to her personality/character development, but some of it was just poor writing. Many statements are rehashed or irrelevant details are harped upon in painstaking detail. There was so much justifying of her comments it felt as though the author was working too hard to point out the blindingly obvious to the reader. It very much could have done with more subtlety. Here is a random example from near the start:
I’m white as a compact fluorescent bulb, which you might expect from a woman who avoids the sun to the best of her ability, and my teeth… well, I try not to show them when I smile.
They’re not all incriminatingly pointy, don’t get me wrong. When I yawn I’m not flashing a row of shark’s choppers, but my canines are decidedly pokey. Thank God they don’t hang down as long as they once did. (I know a guy. He filed them or me.) These days they may be short, but they’re still sharp enough to puncture an oilcan, and that’s how I like it.
My hair is more or less the same as it always was, a shade of black that doesn’t require any further descriptors.
And so on. Bolding mine. It’s all overwritten in a similar vein. That particular sentence at the end made me angry when I read it because if it doesn’t require descriptors why put the descriptor in?
At times the characters talk in a stilted way, which would have bothered me more if I hadn’t given up and started skimming at that point. To be fair, not all the conversations were stilted, but enough to bother me. Too often the action scenes (which were numerous, it’s that kind of book and that isn’t a bad thing) were broken up by gratuitous description which made the situations less tense and caused me to skim down the page.
The final thing that bothered me relates back to Raylene being unlikeable. She’s a bit everything-ist, which is OK except once you stop and think just how much worse it would sound if she was male. Yeah. And then there was a drag queen character who I didn’t think was handled very well. There were some cringe-worthy aspects. (I’d be more specific, but they do actually involve spoilers.)
So yeah. I wouldn’t recommend this book. I won’t be reading the sequel. I might read Cherie Priest’s steampunk books — on the assumption that they’re more like Boneshaker than Bloodshot — and I have Four and Twenty Blackbirds (which is apparently southern gothic, though I’m not sure what that means) which I’ll still get to eventually. I’ve read worse books and I’ve read worse writing, but I couldn’t enjoy Bloodshot.
2.5 / 5 stars