“The Devil’s Backbone” is a crazy, delightful blend of science fiction, action adventure, psycho-thriller, and epic Western fantasy with some of the best dialogue I’ve read in a while from an indie author. Holy cow, did I enjoy myself on this wild ride! We follow Sadie Bishop, who is recovering from a massive trauma, as she embarks on a dangerous jaunt through the Badlands of a futuristic America. In this world, only Citizens (basically people who pay off all their debts and remain good little worker bees) can reap the benefits of society—good food, medicine, and the best technology the world can offer. Gaskill has crafted a world that felt so natural to where our current society might be headed, and I LOVED the social commentary that was tied to that. He does a great job of presenting it “as is” rather than beating the reader over the head with a message that is best left as a tumultuous undertone to this futuristic land. Anyhoo, Sadie is plagued by something deep in her urging her to forgo the comforts of Citizen life and head out into the treacherous no-man’s land, where those dangerous men and women who lost their Citizenship now scrape by in a new Wild, Wild, West. Why does Sadie feel such a compulsion to go out there? She doesn’t know, but she can’t ignore the call, either. While that point got a little murky as the story progressed, I really can’t say enough good things about Gaskill’s novel!
Growing up, I loved hearing stories and reading books about dragons. I love good dragons (like those in the Dragonriders of Pern series) and I love greedy evil dragons, (think Smaug). So obviously I enjoyed that this book has both kinds of dragons inhabiting a fantasy world under siege in need of a prophesized one to come in and save the day. This book follows the same formula you find in most adventure/fantasy novels, where a young person (who is living their normal boring life, ignorant of magic or anything fantastic) is met by a person from another realm, begging for help. Saying, essentially, “help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope.” That’s pretty much what you get with this book, but with more flavors of Snow White then Star Wars (sorry?).
You want an epic fantasy of Tolkien proportions? What am I saying, of course you do! Which makes “Seeds of Hatred” PERFECT for that itch! I mean at almost 500 pages (I’m not including the glossary of characters or places, though that became a serious lifeline—I’ll explain later), “Seeds of Hatred” follows three main characters as they struggle against mysterious forces that have turned their beliefs and morals upside down, and constantly threaten their lives through a prophecy-esque fantasy tale (it even has a prophecy poem which should be familiar to lovers of The Lord of the Rings stories). Now, I say three main characters, but there are a lot more than just that in the book… Nadeau has fleshed out all of supporting characters personalities and provided them with complex goals so they not only feel substantial (which is awesome) but they also connect the main characters plot-lines together (which got confusing).
“Beyond The Vale” is the tale of Logan Leonard’s afterlife. Yup, our main character is dead, though he doesn’t remember how, or why, or much else really. All he knows is that in order to “earn his passage”—aka, get out of this in-between place—he needs to remember what happened, what led him to this place, and find a way to bring salvation to the other tortured souls in this land. If Logan fails, then everyone fails, everyone goes to Hell. So, you know, no pressure. This book reminded me a lot of “What Dreams May Come” mixed with “A Christmas Carrol” (tis the season after all), with a few animal guides for good measure. It was a fun ride, with a really powerful message that caught me completely off guard!
“Hiding In Third Person” is, on the surface, about an orderly in a mental institution gaining the trust of a patient in order to learn the truth behind his fantastic story about runaways and murder, and keep the troubled man from going to another facility. But things are not as simple as they appear, and the patient, Mr. Rivers, has a story that many think is false, but Ricky, the orderly, knows otherwise. It’s a storyline that should be thrilling, with an intriguing mystery as to what’s real, and who is responsible for Mr. Rivers’ ultimate fate, but the story didn’t really achieve that for me by the books’ conclusion.
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