“Zone 23” is, quite frankly, unlike any other dystopian novel I have ever read. Written as a satirical version of utopia, this novel follows two, well, mostly two, people who are having their eyes opened, their thoughts expanded, and are seeing the world for what it truly is—maybe—for the first time in their lives, or at least a very long time. We follow Taylor who lives out in the Zone, outcast from society as he is deemed undesirable (more on that in a minute) and Valentina, who just so desperately wants to be Normal and to have a Normal baby and to live her Normal life—there is a reason for the caps. The narrative voice of this novel is just wonderful and, really, that’s what you’d read this book for: Hopkins satirical narration. Because otherwise the plot of this book is pretty simplistic and wouldn’t necessitate the 500 pages it takes to complete this story. However, this is an EXTREMELY good read, albeit a difficult one.
Reading “Beyond the Amarathine Veil” often had me believing I was reading a fan fiction of The Witcher video game series—which isn’t a bad thing, I love those games—mixed in with some classic sword & sorcery and Dungeons and Dragons. Our main character, Tristan, is a former Templar, once bound to protect a brilliant sorceress. Now, he’s a monster/bounty hunter sporting two swords—silver for monsters and steel for people—and keeps company with a charming bard, smart tongued rogue, and a gruff knight. Seriously, it has all the makings of some of my favorite types of games. Tristan, who commands a small amount of magic himself, has now been tasked to bring peace to his kingdom by marrying a noblewoman from its rival kingdom. An uncertain arranged marriage soon blossoms into more as Tristan does his best to keep his bride-to-be safe, and ensure peace between their nations. With stakes that high, you just know it’s a recipe for disaster. Which I normally love! But this wasn’t as fast paced as I generally like for these kinds of stories.
The title of this book, coupled with the vaguely angelic looking, tribal painted model would have you think this book is some introspective art piece, I mean, the title is essentially a messenger’s speech/monologue, which, it actually is. The monologue I mean, not the art piece. Messenger, the 16 year old main character, is telling the story of what happened to him, his family’s tequila farm, and his entire family plus his love interest, to a therapist of sorts while he recovers in a hospital. The entire book, with very few exceptions, is told through this dialogue, recounting the recent past. Basically, on one rather normal day, Messenger’s farm is destroyed by three alien ships as they land and then begin hunting for something on the property. What follows is the main characters tale of how they ran, what they found, and how everything changed from that moment on.
“Furthermore” feels like a mesh between The Secret Garden and an Alice in Wonderland retelling, something only compounded by the main character being named Alice, as well. In the land of Ferenwood, everyone is blessed with an abundance of bright colors, from their eyes, to their hair, to their skin, and the more color they have, the more magic they can command. Alice is almost completely white, except for a bit of brown around her eyes. She has always hated this; hated that she wasn’t as colorful as everyone else. And when her father vanishes (three years ago from the story's start) she hates her lack of color and her talents even more. With a mother who ignores her and seems to not like her, and with a town that rejects the talent she offers them, Alice runs away with her “friend” Oliver to bring the only person who ever understood her and loved her just as she was back: Father.
“The Streets of Nottingham” is a quick little fantasy adventure novella that follows the story of a young boy as he races to bring his childhood sweetheart back from the dead. Along the way, he meets the paranormal god-like figures that have given shape to his village/world, and struggles to get to the place that is foretold in all the ancient scrolls, and yet no one has ever been to in order to save his friend… It’s a titillating premise and Simwinga has a lovely talent for being able to craft a story that feels like an ancient folk tale mixed with some wonderful fantasy elements. But, as is sometimes the case with novellas, I found the length of this story to be the biggest detriment to it, for the author can tell a fun, almost lyrical story, but I always found myself wanting a bit more.
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