“Birth of Blackheart” by Shant Karadijan

It took me quite a while to finish Birth of Blackheart by Shant Karadijan and then some time to finally set down my thoughts in a review. Originally, the synopsis on the Amazon page sounded intriguing enough: Shushana Godwill (Godwill – get it?) is chosen by higher powers to bring about destruction of the selfish and all-consuming mortal world. We all like anti-heroes in fantasy now don’t we? It sounds like a good read.

Birth of Blackheart

Unfortunately though, the story is all over the place. If there’s a fantasy trope you can think of then it’s probably included in here. Shushana is nothing but a simple country girl with feelings for the farmer boy who live down the road but her romantic feelings are frowned upon by her parents. I mean really frowned upon too – both her parents seem to hold some irrational hatred for her, particularly her father. No need to worry about it too much though, impending tragedy soon strikes and no-one is left alive from the live she once knew but her.

Then our young heroine ends up enslaved, working as handmaid to one of her evil captors, is possessed, gains magical powers, uncovers conspiracies, picks up companions who then disappear never to be heard of again, rules a pirate ship and finally battles her nemesis. Shushana even has a rapport her own wholly unique pet, a white zane—something akin to a komodo dragon—and the only one colored like that she’s ever seen. Why do all these fantasy protagonists have these snow white pets and familiars? Is there ever going to be someone who just has a mangy tabby cat missing half its tail with a pussy, weeping eye?

What does this animal say about our protagonist?

What does this animal say about our protagonist?

There is a lot going on here, an awful lot. That isn’t always a bad thing. Just look at epics like The Wheel of Time and The Belgariad to see how brilliant and engaging a long and eventful journey can be. The problem is that Birth of Blackheart is all over the place. New locales and storylines are introduced only to be discarded a couple of chapters later with no further reference made. The same with the ever-revolving cast of characters; it’s hard to gauge who is actually of any importance out of them all (Spoiler: hardly any of them).

Shushana as a character is also incredibly confusing and contradictory. Shy and bashful one moment and an extrovert the next. The host of male characters she meets throughout the story she is invariably hostile towards to begin with, only to quickly turn into feelings of sexual desire in the space of a couple of pages. Near the start of the novel she is enslaved, bemoaning her fate in the world and trading barbs with a fellow male prisoner, and later that night is soon making passes at him, getting drunk and completely forgetting any woes she may have. That male prisoner is never mentioned again once Shushana is freed. She suffers these mild wood swings near constantly, lurching between scorn and affection, and you never get a real insight or understanding of Shushana’s mind-set.

A totally inconsistent and volatile woman prone to unpredictable mood shifts? Poor characterization or the perfect description of a woman?

A totally inconsistent and volatile woman prone to unpredictable mood shifts? Poor characterization, or the perfect description of a woman?

Much of the dialogue, especially in the first half of the novel, is particularly stilted and unnatural too. My first impression on hearing Shushana and Oliev, her childhood sweetheart, speak as events began was that their conversation was nigh on Shakespearean. Bizarrely enough though, the clunky Austen-esque discourse is offset by fairly frequent outbursts of cursing which just seem odd and out-of-place in comparison.

To start drawing this review to a close, Birth of Blackheart is a story in an identity crisis. I’m not sure that Karadijan quite knew what exactly he wanted with his debut novel and thus was created a schizophrenic amalgamation of a host of different ideas and concepts. There’s a lack of focus throughout and it made me hard to focus on the story itself.

Each of the books that I’ve reviewed so far for Creepy Or Cool? I’ve begun reading with a fully open mind—that goes without saying when you’re reading self-published science fiction and fantasy books—but Birth of Blackheart was one that I didn’t enjoy. That said, this is just the opinion of one reviewer, and whilst I would like to think that my reviews to date have been informative, if you do think the novel sounds interesting then read a sample yourself.

Many people daydream about writing the book which has been knocking around their head for years, but few actually have the willpower or dedication to put pen to paper—or fingers to keyboard—and actually do it. I commend Shant Karadijan for doing so but really can’t recommend this book to anyone.

“Paradise” by Jason K Lewis

It was finally time for Creepy Or Cool? to make its first foray into the realm of science fiction, but the question is whether it was paradise reading Jason K. Lewis’s debut short story or not?

It starts off with family man, John, and his darling daughter, Jemina, queuing; that’s right, queuing. It’s for a pretty good reason though: they’re about to be whisked away from the depleted and dying planet Earth to man’s idyllic new colony across the stars.

We will master interstellar transportation in the future, but will still be plagued by interminably long lines.

We will master interstellar transportation in the future, but will still be plagued by interminably long lines.

Earth’s resources have been drained and overpopulation (24 billion worldwide) has led to a single-child cap being put into effect in “The Country.” A pretty depressing outlook for the future, eh? If only we could keep it in our pants.

Be safe, prevent future dystopian societies.

Be safe, prevent future dystopian societies.

There is a spark of hope, a lottery where the winners earn a one-way ticket to Paradise (it wasn’t mentioned but I do hope this song was playing overheard while everyone waited in line). A lush and resplendent new world, untapped, it offers a chance of salvation to the lucky few. John and his family are some of those making the trip and hoping to start a new life free from the mistakes of Earth’s past. John sees only the potential this new world has to offer and his daughter Jemina is bewitched by the images which have filtered back from Paradise of tropical creatures and gorgeous vistas. Of course though, someone has to have some reservations and John’s wife Sarah is that person, “Why aren’t there any predators, John?” Good question… What exactly is this place they’re travelling to?

If only!

Now this is a short story, only 34 pages–which explains the $0.99 price tag–so I won’t delve too much further into the plot, other to say that some other characters are introduced into affairs aside from John and his family. Similar to Stephen King’s short story, “The Jaunt,” you can sense the trepidation slowly starting to build as the family draws closer to their scheduled departure. Surely this pioneering solution to the overpopulation on Earth can’t be so simple? This is science fiction;  it rarely is.

A short tale and so a short review from Creepy Or Cool? this time. It’s a well-written, albeit brief, story and for a self-published novella the quality of the editing and proofreading has been the best of all that I have reviewed to date. The conclusion leaves things open for a follow-up but I don’t feel that a sequel is entirely necessary; having said that though, I would probably be intrigued enough to read it.

A promising debut from a young author whose first full-length novel, Hope, is scheduled to be released later this year, and which I now have high hopes for.

Creepy or Cool? - Paradise

“The Soul Forge” by Andrew Lashway

A humble stable boy discovers powers that he was never aware of and suddenly he is swept up in an epic journey of swords and sorcery, friendship and betrayal, good and evil. It’s a familiar story to any of us, particularly fantasy aficionados, but it’s a tried-and-tested formula which successful authors can breathe life into and reinvigorate. Was Andrew Lashway able to do that with his debut novel, The Soul Forge, though?

The stable boy protagonist is your typical country bumpkin with a heart of gold. He lives on a farm, taken in by his farmer neighbors, and helps around the property and with the raising of Master Kimpchik’s daughter, the precocious eight-year old Ms. Anna (precocious is probably too generous. The brat singularly refers to Thomas as “stupid Stable Boy!” and kicks him repeatedly, even after rescuing her and her parents from near-certain death. It’s not cute, just obnoxious). This idyllic slice-of-pie  life soon falls apart when Thomas discovers he has a knack for magic and is swept up in the fate of all living beings.

Ms. Anna wishes she was this adorable.

Ms. Anna wishes she was this adorable.

Thomas learns to channel his magical abilities and eventually takes up the sword, finding a mentor to train him, and picks up a bevy of companions along the way. He makes friends fast, particularly the ladies. I was surprised whenever one of these beauties was able to go a whole paragraph without winking at him. For a shy kid from the (supposed) backwater, he sure loves calling every woman he meets “sweetheart.” That said, we never really get to know any of these comrades past name, appearance and their subservience to Thomas.

So much winking!

So much winking!

I don’t want to wade too far into the plot but Thomas ends up travelling to the Elven and Dwarven Kingdoms in his efforts to understand just what is happening in the world and who exactly is behind it all. Now there are a few things which rubbed me the wrong way with this novel, although maybe that comes across a little harsher than I mean to be. You be the judge.

A stripling of a lad, fresh off the farm, with just a few hours of training under his belt, should not be able to hold his own in a swordfight against an experienced and skilful career soldier. Even if he is the Hero of Legend or some prophesied hero, it’s ridiculous. If you want to make it believable, then have him use some unexpected, underhanded tricks (sand in the eyes, kick to the groin, etc.) to avoid defeat, not simply by drawing upon memories of his friends or the little girl back home. I’m rolling my eyes back here!

Seriously, bro.

Seriously, bro.

Even worse, when escaping on horseback from some enemies at one point in the book, Thomas, who I remind you is a stable boy, is described as an “inexperienced” rider. How is that even possible? He looks after horses for a living! What else could he have been doing with those horses?

“You hurt…” Thomas choked out, a rage he had so rarely felt pouring through his blood, “one hair on that horse…”

Thomas, I find this magazine under your bed along with all these used tissues?

Thomas, I found this magazine under your bed along with all these old tissues?

Something else which riled me: why does this why this small farm which Thomas works upon need a stable at all? They’re not in the business of horse-breeding, and with only one other person on the farm who actually works, the size of the place wouldn’t demand a great number of horses either. Another thing, this farm is under an hour on horseback from The Capital too. There’s abundant farmland that close to the nation’s largest city? Where is the overflow from the city; the sprawl and the slums?

“When he reached the Capital, it became quite clear that they had no idea was going on in the countryside.”

Obviously danger intrudes upon the farm, as it always does, and yet somehow no guards from the centre of this kingdom, which is so nearby, are aware of the razing and pillaging taking place? I can understand the author requiring a suspension of belief for the reader, particularly in the realm of fantasy, but really?

One last thing (honest) which truly flabbergasted me came near the end at the titular Soul Forge–it’s not as exciting as it sounds–where some magical weapons are crafted for battle, including a bow. If you have a material specifically created to defeat certain enemies, you do not craft a bow with it, you craft the arrowheads with it! Come on!

Phew… Sorry if that all seemed really pedantic and pernickety. The novel is endearing in some ways; Thomas is more or less the hero most of us imagined ourselves as in our daydreams were we to be transported to such a world. It’s hard not to root for him in that respect. The final showdown between Thomas and his nemesis is a satisfying bout too, even if the tale does conclude afterwards a little too abruptly.

Andrew Lashway treads a path which we’re all familiar with in The Soul Forge but he never quite makes it his own. The supporting characters are never really fleshed out, especially the women, and knowing more of the history and mythology of the world in peril would have me care a great deal more.

It’s hard to dislike the plucky hero who comes from nothing, but I didn’t like him that much either this time. While every fantasy protagonist doesn’t need to be an embittered anti-hero–as seems to be the current trend–Thomas and his universe lack those extra layers of complexity and subtlety which were needed. While $0.99 is a steal for a fantasy novel of over 200 pages, I can’t recommend it for anyone apart from those who really have already gone through most other fantasy adventures already.

Creepy or Cool? - The Soul Forge

“Broker of the Damned” by E. Nathan Sisk

First off, I should make clear that this is a short story set in the universe of the author’s first full-length novel, “Sorcerer Rising.” Why didn’t I take the more sensible option of reviewing that instead? Well, I came across “Broker of the Damned” first whilst perusing that day’s published titles, and it was under a dollar.

"Please send your self-published fantasy and sci-fi Kindle titles. Will review for free,"

“Please send your self-published fantasy and sci-fi Kindle titles. Will review for free.”

Having established that I may not have appreciated certain nods and references to his previous title set in the same world due to my miserly nature, let’s get on with the show!

Surprisingly decent cover art for a self-published book

Surprisingly decent cover art for a self-published book

Set in a parallel version of our Earth, Deputy Magistrate Matt Ewing is a Witch licensed by the U.S. government to track and police rogue Wizards and Sorcerers using their powers for nefarious means. First of all, let me just say that I always get a funny little kick out of male characters being referred to as witches. I’ve come across it a couple of times in video games and literature and it just always makes me grin. I don’t know why.

Hee hee.

Hee hee.

The short story begins with out hard-boiled protagonist (“I’ve heard the sizzle, give me the steak”) taking over the interrogation of a possessed low-life apprehended by the regular/Muggle? police. Someone in the city has been illicitly selling souls and the onus is on Ewing to track this supernatural criminal down.

Dealing with angels and demons and all other manner of supernatural foe requires some sort of magic or power–when doesn’t it?–and The Craft used in the book is interesting. This magic system is one of sacrifice and power (it reminded me of a fantasy book I read years ago about a magician who awakes at a monastery but I can’t remember the name of it) and to that end Ewing has a demonic familiar, Eleazar, entwined around his soul. Eleazar is a demonic, black cat. I’ll be honest, I was hoping for a slightly more original form.

All magic cats live in Salem's glorious shadow!

All magic cats live in Salem’s glorious shadow!

One aspect which did rub me a little the wrong way was the statement that the pieces of his soul Ewing sacrifices, he can grow back. Makes the whole process seem pretty trite, doesn’t it? I’d always imagined the human soul to be a finite thing. If it’s that easy for someone to sell half their soul and then have it grow back in the week, we’d all have demon butlers, wouldn’t we?

"Your brandy, sir."

“Your brandy, sir.”

I did find the breadth of the story a shame though considering the magical diversity touched upon in this universe. Ewing’s colleagues at the Magistrate’s office use entirely different magical means and service is paid to the differing mythical traditions throughout Europe and Africa: Shamanism, Druidism and Ifrit magic, etc. It certainly was a breath of fresh air considering the typically homogeneous magic systems you typically find in the fantasy genre.

Now, to briefly be a pedant, Mr. Sisk did twice commit a grammatical sin which seriously grates on me. It is: “We’d have,” not “We’d of.” Grrrrrr. There are a few typos here and there as you might expect from a self-published title–I imagine most self-published authors proofread their own work–but nothing major.

All in all, an enjoyable urban fantasy which doesn’t feel the need to be too gritty or comical as so many do. This short story is short, only a little over 40 pages, but for just under a dollar it’s worth the price of entry. It’s a shame I hadn’t read “Sorcerer Rising” beforehand but I now may do so in the near future.

I suck at Photoshop, OK?

I suck at Photoshop, OK?

“Bigfoot And Santa Get Trashed In Vegas” by Raven Blackbird

Having decided to embark upon this noble course of discovering the secret treasures nestled amongst the hordes of self-published fantasy and sci-fi books in the Kindle store, I had a general idea of what to expect. The typical clichés we’ve come to expect of your run-of-the-mill elves and dwarves; the humble blacksmith’s son/suburban teenager destined for far greater things; and even the odd vampire or two.

Scrolling through the most recently published books in the Kindle store, I soon came across half-a-dozen titles which conformed to my expectations. I needed to be selective though. The story I chose would have to serve as a measure for what is to come from Creepy or Cool? This would let readers know what to expect in the future. I needed to find a title that would ensnare your average blog-surfer, make him ask, “What is that book all about?”

Then my eyes alighted upon one title and I knew that I had found what I was looking for: Bigfoot And Santa Get Trashed In Vegas.

Could this be the kind of bizarre and brilliant oddity for which this blog was created for? Below is the synopsis found on the Amazon page:

When the Easter Bunny finally decides to settle down with a Playboy bunny, his best buds Bigfoot, Santa Claus, and the Tooth Fairy decide to throw him a bachelor party in Vegas. They get a swank hotel suite on the strip and proceed to party like there’s no tomorrow. Just before they’re about to go hit the clubs and casinos, the four friends decide to try the new cocktail the Tooth Fairy has just concocted. And that’s the last thing Bigfoot and Santa remember before they wake up in their demolished hotel room the next morning, covered in their own vomit.

What do you think?

At the time it sounded horrendously brilliant, like car-crash literature. You shouldn’t be reading it, you know it’s wrong, but you just can’t bring yourself to look away. I immediately purchased it.

Penned by Raven Blackbird*, the author of such classics as “Big Bad Booty Bitch Whoops Some Ass (The World’s First Pornstar Superhero)” and “I Banged A Vampire And He Didn’t Sparkle Like The Bitches In Twilight”, he even mentions in the disclaimer that: “No one is going to write a review about this shit.” Au contraire!

Orgazmo might disagree with you over who the whole World’s First Pornstar Superhero is, Mr. Blackbird...

Orgazmo might disagree with you over who the whole World’s First Pornstar Superhero is, Mr. Blackbird…

You’d imagine that a story involving Bigfoot, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy–The Fairytale Gang–going on a hedonistic and wild road trip to be fairly unique. How couldn’t it? Unfortunately though, a lot of the time it just feels like a poor derivative of the Hangover films.

  • A gang of best friends wake up in a trashed Vegas hotel room with no memory of the night before? Check
  • Their soon-to-be-married friend has gone missing and a villainous mobster demands a large cash payment for his return? Check
  • Idiot friend uses his card-counting skills to win the money they need? Check
  • The sensible and uptight friends gets hitched to a stripper? Check

There should be no way that these characters, who are soon joined by a fat chick-obsessed Bill Clinton, should be able to have an adventure that resembles pretty much anything else out there. Sadly, despite the utterly bizarre premise, that is pretty much the extent of imagination used.

The vast majority of the novel is taken up by Bigfoot, a bleeding heart liberal, and Santa, a racist and homophobic conservative, bickering about politics with one another (I smell a sitcom!), every main character receiving repeated and extended physical beatings, penis references, gay “jokes” and copious amounts of drugs and alcohol being consumed. Less is more, a pinch of these illicit and perverse activities placed here and there could elicit a wry chuckle but the story is simply oversaturated with them.

That’s not to say the book doesn’t have its moments. Some of the banter between Santa and Bigfoot is amusing at times, even if their crude political caricatures can get grating at points, as are Santa’s reflections on his marriage to Mrs. Claus, and the Tooth Fairy’s attempt to break into a pawn store had me laughing out loud.

As for the quality of writing, it’s certainly not the worst thing I’ve read. (There are quite a lot of parentheses) Blackbird keeps the action ticking along at least, even if identical phrases and descriptions pop up time and time again, even in the same paragraph. (The most parentheses I’ve ever seen in a book) While Santa does experience some measure of personal growth towards the end, that’s about it; what do you expect though? (Seriously, it’s like the parentheses never end) In fairness, you get to know each of the characters well, even if they may not be written in that elegant of a manner:

“The Tooth Fairy is a short, fat, vulgar old man who bears an uncanny resemblance to Danny DeVito… The Tooth Fairy suddenly pulls out a crack pipe and, speaking in his raspy, Danny DeVito-esque voice…”

You can almost imagine him in the room with you...

You can almost imagine him in the room with you…

At just $0.99 and clocking in at just over 100 pages, it’s a modest commitment that you can finish within a couple of hours. Unfortunately though, the book cannot live up to the lofty potential of its utterly ludicrous premise. A strange re-hashing of ideas which have already been done better, the characters deserve a far more outlandish adventure to sink their teeth (and crack pipes) into.

Creepy or Cool? scale

*His novels are attributed to JK Jackson on Goodreads so I think it’s safe to say that Raven Blackbird is a pen name. Either that or he’s a Native American pornstar/ornithologist.