Review of A Time and a Place by Joe Mahoney

I promised Joe I’d get the review out before the end of the year. I know, I’m cutting it close.

What the publisher says:

Barnabus’ nephew is behaving oddly.

Calling upon Doctor Humphrey for assistance has not been particularly helpful, because the good doctor’s diagnosis of demonic possession is clearly preposterous. Even the demon currently ensconced on the front room couch agrees it’s preposterous. But then, how else to explain the portal to another world through which his nephew and Humphrey have just now disappeared? Barnabus knows their only chance of rescue is for Barnabus J. Wildebear himself to step up and go through that portal.

Thus begins an existential romp across space and time, trampling on Barnabus’ assumptions about causality, freewill, identity, good, and evil. Can Barnabus save his nephew—and incidentally, all of humanity?

My thoughts:

I liked A Time and a Place and there’s a lot to like in Mahoney’s novel. I loved the T’Klee, the race of alien cats (distantly related to felis catus) with opposable thumbs. At one point in his journey, Barnabus inhabits other animals (including a T’Klee) as part of his education and it reminded me of Merlin teaching Wart about the responsibilities of power in T.H. White’s The Sword in the Stone.

At another point, Barbabus uses his new ability to time travel in an attempt to save his wife before she died. Replaying the events of the night again and again, Barnabus fails, no matter what he attempts to change. This trope alludes to Groundhog Day and serves to reinforce the hypothesis that the past protects itself from interference. But then, Barnabus discovers that others have successfully messed with the timeline, throwing him and that hypothesis under the bus.

Unfortunately, Barnabus seems pulled through the events of the story by external forces and lacks the level of agency I like to see in a protagonist. Much of the time he comes across as bewildered. I actually thought B. Wildebear a clever bit of wordplay until the author disabused me of the notion.

A Time and a Place is a complex story and an ambitious novel, but I found that the execution wasn’t quite up to the premise. It’s still an entertaining and worthwhile story and I hope you consider giving this Canadian speculative novel a read over the holidays.

My rating:

Three out of five stars.

ATimeandaPlace

Review of D.G. Valdron’s The Mermaid’s Tale

About the book:

themermaidstaleIn a city of majesty and brutality, of warring races and fragile alliances, a sacred mermaid has been brutally murdered. An abomination, a soulless Arukh is summoned to hunt the killer. As the world around the Arukh drifts into war and madness, her search for justice leads her on a journey to discover redemption and even beauty in the midst of chaos.

Published by Five Rivers Publishing.

My thoughts:

The Mermaid’s Tale is a fable of personhood wrapped in a murder mystery framed by a fantasy setting, peopled by familiar races that are presented in subtly original ways.

Valdron’s protagonist has no name. Most Arukh (orcs) don’t. The few that have been so graced have earned their names by distinguishing themselves from their mad and murderous brethren. Each race has its own name for the Arukh, but all of them translate to either abomination, or abortion.

The Arukh are the sterile offspring of vampires and goblins and considered to be soulless. They are housed in lodges and governed by trolls, dwarves, or vampires and are largely used as expendable troops in warfare, which the various races engage in frequently with one another.

Something horrible has happened, though. A mermaid, one of a race considered sacred, has been brutally murdered. The selk call upon the Arukh to investigate and find the killer. It is implied that this particular Arukh is known for her skill in this area, but not why.

As she investigates, the trail of the killer leads the Arukh to each of the races in turn and the world is eventually fleshed out very cleverly in the form of told tales and legends. The mystery is what first draws readers in, but the world and its stories are what compel readers to continue turning pages.

Valdron’s world is a young one of unmitigated violence and the Arukh’s life is one of degradation. She fails repeatedly in her quest and makes many wrong assumptions, but for all that, the story itself is one of hope and redemption and the climax and denouement are both satisfying and bittersweet.

Readers will be left wanting more (moar!) of Valdron’s world and more of his surprisingly complex protagonist.

I lurved The Mermaid’s Tale.

My rating:

Five out of five stars. I did say lurve, didn’t I?

About the author:DGValdron

Den Valdron, is a reclusive writer, originally from New Brunswick, currently living in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Over the years, he has published in print and online a variety of short stories of speculative fiction, and articles on obscure pop culture topics.

Like many writers, his previous occupations have included mechanic, carpenter, schoolteacher, journalist and ditch-digger. He is currently an aboriginal rights lawyer.

He loves B-movies and tries to be nice to people. The Mermaid’s Tale is his first published novel.

You can connect with Den on Facebook.

CanCon 2015 day 1: How to pitch

Panellists: Hayden Trenholm, Gabrielle Harbowy, Robert Runte, Elizabeth Hirst, Marie Bilodeau

PitchPanel

Q: What do you want to see/hear in a pitch?

EH: Enthusiasm. If the author loves their book and believes in it, that’s a good sign. Make sure the book you pitch is finished.

HT: Don’t lie. If the book isn’t finished, be up front about it. If the finished book comes in nine months later, that ship has sailed, though.

GH: First impressions count. Don’t ignore the guidelines. One guy wiped his nose before he shook my hand. It didn’t matter what he did after that.

EH: Presentation is key.

HT: I have to know I can send you to a high-end book store. Publishers don’t buy books. We buy authors.

RR: Different editors look for different things. You want to get rejected as quickly as possible. If you’re not a fit for the editor, you have to feel good about that and move on. You’ll find the editor who’s as passionate about your work as you are. I polled my SF Canada colleagues and asked them, ‘what’s the longest you’ve waited for a response?’ Eight years was the longest. That’s a huge chunk of your life.

HT: Pitching is like a job interview. Treat it like that.

EH: I wish the authors well. If it’s not for me, I might suggest someone else.

GH: Don’t argue. All decisions are final.

HT: Some people try to tell me why I’m wrong. It’s like asking for a second date after a failed first one.

EH: You should ask as many questions as they ask you.

HT: You have to make sure it’s the right fit.

EH: I might recommend self-publishing to some pitchers.

GH: But I can’t take a book that’s already been published.

RR: You have to make sure you match your capabilities. Don’t promise anything you can’t deliver.

HT: We don’t know everything. We all do what we can. Self-published books are a tough sell. 55% of Americans won’t read an ebook. Think about what you want. Your expectations should be clear. A bestseller in Canada is about 5000 books. When you choose a small publisher, you have a personal relationship. Our goal is to make the best book we can. If that’s what you want, pitch to a small press.

GH: Bigger presses look at Dragon Moon’s catalogue. We’re happy to send authors on to bigger and better things.

RR: If you’re asked for a synopsis, it’s a blow by blow of everything that happens in the novel, including the end. I need to know the ending. You have to tell me what your book is about.

EH: The ending is not as important to me as the main conflict. What’s interesting about the book? What’s the intrigue? That’s the reason people read.

GH: Premise and plot are not the same thing, though.

HT: People think the book has to be perfect. No. The book has to be interesting. If the book is a shambles in terms of spelling and grammar, we can fix it.

RR: I have to love your book to put the four- to five hundred comments on it that I do on most books. I’ve been giving these talks forever, but I finished my first book and went to pitch it . . . and blew it.

HT: The last person who knows what the book is about is the author.

Q&A ensued.

And that’s the end of day 1. Between Nina’s workshop and this panel, the opening ceremonies took place and after this panel, I went to the Bundoran Press book launch and SF Canada party, where I got to hear GoH Ed Willett read from his latest novel and network with my writerly peeps.

So that was all I did on Friday.

Next week: Asteroids.

Note: I’m not sure if I’ll be able to post on Saturday or if it will have to be pushed to Sunday. Family shenanigans. You know the holiday drill 🙂