The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist

Dorrit Weger has reached her 50th birthday and is about to embark on a new life.  She’s moving to a place where she’ll have her own apartment in a beautiful community with every recreational opportunity you could imagine, beautiful gardens, great restaurants and trendy boutiques all at her fingertips.  The best part is that none of it will cost her a dime.  It’s all being taken care of by the government.  There’s just one catch.  There are surveillance cameras everywhere, even in the bathroom, and once you become a resident of  “the unit” you never leave.  Your world is literally under a huge glass dome where even the dew on the grass is artificial and the seasons never change.

“The unit” is the Second Reserve Bank Unit for biological material.  Women who reach the age of 50, or men who reach the age of 60, and are single and childless with jobs in areas that don’t support economic growth become classified as quite literally “dispensable” and are sent to the unit.  Once there, they participate in various scientific experiments and become walking organ donors, providing a kidney, cornea, or whatever else is required to keep the “needed” citizens healthy.  Most last 4 or 5 years before making their “final donation”. 

The creepy thing (well one of the creepy things) about the unit is the way people, even dispensable people, accept it as a normal part of society.  In fact, the unit was established after a referendum was voted on and passed by the citizens.  Everything is done in such a humane and downright cheerful manner.   Dorrit arrives feeling slightly nervous, but the lavish welcome party thrown by the staff soon has her making new friends, dancing and feeling a part of the community.  It’s not long before Dorrit finds something that eluded her in the outside world — love.  As the experiments and organ donations continue,  obedience and compliance  turn to helpless horror at the inevitable ending.

Holmqvist draws you in from the first page and keeps you moving  forward with short chapters that make it impossible not to want to read just one more (or two or three)  before you put it down.  Creepy good read.

My Rating:


Twilight of Avalon: A Novel of Trystan and Isolde by Anna Elliott

If you pick up this novel expecting a story along the lines of the 2006 film Tristan and Isolde, or the Wagner opera by the same name, you may be surprised to find that this one is nothing like a courtly medieval romance despite the cover blurb that mentions friendship turning to love.  Elliott returns to the earliest versions of the Arthurian legends and weaves a story that is part legend and part original fiction.  Isolde is mourning the death of her husband, King Constantine, who was King Arthur’s heir to the throne of Britain.  The petty kings are scrambling for position, eager to fill the empty throne of the High King.  Isolde suspects that Con was murdered by Lord Marche, a character so obviously the “bad guy”  that he might as well be wearing a black hat.  Isolde, known for her healing skills, meets up with  wounded mercenary Trystan in the prison cells of  castle Tintagel and they team up to try and save Britain from both the evil Marche and the invading Saxons.

I appreciate the research that went into the writing of this novel and the fact that Elliott put a new twist on an old story.  Where it fell down for me was in the writing and editing.  In this world “tightness around the mouth” represents every emotion from anger to pain to alarm.  Faces are “tight with weariness”.  Isolde must tend to the wounds of literally every character in this book with mind numbing repetitiveness.  Castle walls “stand out black and jagged as broken teeth against the black of the sky.”  Huh?  Black stands out against black?  Where was the editor when the word “trail” was used for “trial” twice in the space of two pages?  There were quite a few of these mistakes throughout the book and once I started noticing them it was hard not to start actually looking for them.  Unfortunately they weren’t that hard to find.

This is the first in a planned trilogy of books, the next being Dark Moon of Avalon due out in the spring of 2010.

My Rating: 

Burn Me Deadly by Alex Bledsoe

Burn Me Deadly HC

The Dragon was so enthralled by The Sword-Edged Blonde, she couldn’t resist another trip to Neceda, and it was a journey well worth taking.

So come with me, my Wild Things, for here there be dragons.

Eddie LaCrosse is a sword jockey for hire. For a fee he investigates missing persons, domestic indiscretions, and murder most foul. A good thing, because the case Eddie takes on in Burn Me Deadly is personal.

Eddie is returning from a routine job late one night when a beautiful woman begs him to help her. Against his better judgment, he agrees to escort her safely to Neceda, but before they reach the city, they are waylaid by unknown assailants. Eddie is left for dead beside the girl’s mutilated body in a secluded ravine.

Of course, Eddie isn’t going to let this slide. With no other clue than the intricate dragon design on his assailant’s boots, Eddie is soon searching Neceda’s wild streets to find the girl’s killers. Legends are involved, tales of dragons that burned through the skies and were worshipped as gods, but this is Neceda where nothing is ever as it seems.

Alex Bledsoe treats us to another adventure where he blends hardboiled detective fiction with heroic fantasy and somehow makes it all come together. Here there be dragons and their worshippers, gangsters, and murder for hire, yet Bledsoe infuses his world with a sense of realism through Eddie’s pragmatic observations.

Bledsoe ups the ante by bringing much needed adult observations and maturity to the fantasy genre. Yet Burn Me Deadly is neither stodgy nor plodding; this novel is a breathless run through the violent streets of Neceda. Younger readers will enjoy the fast-paced action while enthusiasts such as the Dragon will pleasure in Bledsoe’s nuanced story-telling.

With a deserved starred review from Publishers Weekly, Burn Me Deadly will be released on November 10, 2009. While you’re waiting, Alex Bledsoe shares what he learned about dragons and dragon cults with his research At the Fiery Altar: The Dragon Cult of Burn Me Deadly.

Go on, my Wild Things, go back to Neceda. You can tell them the Dragon sent you.

My rating:

The Sword-Edged Blonde by Alex Bledsoe

Sword Edged Blonde Oh my dear, Wild Things, this novel made the old Dragon dance for joy. Yes indeedy, that was a sight. Long has she loved the mystery and fantasy genres, so she salutes Alex Bledsoe, who has combined two great genres and entertains us with a story that is simultaneously wicked funny and dark as a devil’s soul.

Gather close . . .

Eddie LaCrosse is a sword jockey, a sword for hire, who understands the need for discretion. A routine case becomes extraordinary when Eddie is summoned by the King of Arentia to solve the murder of the royal heir. Queen Rhiannon has been accused of an unspeakable crime, and King Philip wants Eddie to find the truth, but the truth follows a winding path into an underworld of gangsters and corruption.

This is Philip Marlowe meets Thieves World, and Alex Bledsoe mixes the mystery/fantasy genres with savage grace. Bledsoe segues from Eddie’s past to his present so two tales intertwine with style, and while the plot is labyrinthine, Bledsoe’s clear prose and dynamic pacing keeps the story moving.

The characters are real with heartbreaking betrayals, and the dialogue snaps. While there were light moments that made me laugh out loud, there is nothing frivolous about this dark tale. Eddie’s encounter with the goddess, Epona, was written with a nightmare quality worthy of any horror novel, and a macabre limerick that forms a clue never leaves your mind. Bledsoe ties his clues together neatly at the end without being trite, treating the reader to one ah-ha moment after another.

Finally, I am delighted to find a fantasy for adults who seek substance over fluff! I’ll be watching for more of Alex Bledsoe and so should you.

My rating:

Martyrs & Monsters by Robert Dunbar

Martyrs & Monsters Come close, Wild Things – not too close, the Dragon has been known to bite – but do venture in, because she has a treat for you today. The Dragon never would have found this exquisite collection of Robert Dunbar’s short stories had this book not been recommended to her. Now the Dragon recommends it to you, because we all love to be frightened and we all love to love.

Robert Dunbar gives you the best of both worlds by bringing together fourteen stories with the unified themes of love and loss intertwined with the macabre. Relationships have many realities, and Dunbar manipulates those realities with skill to explore the darkest regions of love. The result is a collection of stories that you will want to savor again and again.

Reviewing any anthology is difficult, because I have to pick and choose which stories to highlight. If I had to choose my favorite example of Dunbar’s talent for distorting reality, I would tell you to read “Like a Story.” Young Kurt and his hero-worshipping follower, Max, are off to kill a monster. This is Bradbury gone terribly, terribly wrong. Dunbar’s prose pulled me so deep into these boys’ adventure that my heart was pounding by the end.

“Gray Soil” is vampires done right, gritty and dark, as a mother protects and nourishes her children even unto death. “Red Soil” continues the theme of familial love with the story of a young man who valiantly tries to save his sister’s life. Yet the crown jewel in this collection (for the Dragon, anyway) was “Mal de Mer.” Here is the tale of a woman slowly becoming unraveled, helpless before the loneliness ravaging her life.

Yet in all this Lovecraftian madness, Dunbar never loses sight of his characters’ humanity. This is dark fiction with a soul that will make you think about the characters and their moral dilemmas long after you put these tales aside.  Sometimes funny, more often poignant, and ever haunting, the Dragon found the stories in Martyrs & Monsters are worth reading again and again.

And so shall you.

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