Vallista – Ever Upwards

vallista-finalcover-740x1106So back in July I did a series check in for Vlad Taltos, by Steven Brust, for the first 10 books of the series. If you missed it, you can read it here, but long story short: this series is great and you should read it. Now since I had read 10 out of the 15 books currently available this year, I thought I would take a break from the series and read some other stuff – until the lovely people at Tor sent me a review copy of Vallista, the most recent book to come out. So screw it, we are back to snarky assassins and jhereg. I read through the four books I needed to for Vallista, and am now ready to talk about it. This review will have some minor spoilers for the series, so turn back if you want to remain pure.

One of my favorite things in stories is theme, and as I mentioned in my check in Brust is a master of finding new themes for his books. Vallista is no exception to this trend and follows t Vlad as he is trapped in a magical haunted house that breaks the rules of reality. Devera, our favorite time traveling niece, has found herself trapped in this weird house with doors that lead to weird places, times, and people. Vlad must figure out what is going on to free himself and Devera from this twisted location.

Vallista is an interesting mix of murder mystery and surreal philosophy that stands out as one of the most unique of the Vlad Taltos series. It takes place just before the events of Hawk, the previous book, and explains a few of the loose ends from that story. I was initially a little disappointed we were back tracking chronologically again, as we are running out of books in the series surprisingly fast and I feel like there is still so much I want to see. However, Vallista quickly broke through my grumpy mood and delivered one of the strongest Vlad Taltos stories ever. The mystery of what is happening is very well written, keeping me interested and on the edge of my seat from start to finish. Whenever a book involves Devera, the passage of time gets wonky, and things can get a little confusing – but I was able to grasp what was going on all the way through Vallista which made me happy.

Additionally, Vallista is one of the rarer Taltos books (Orca and Iorich being the other two that stand out) where we get to meet a lot of smaller Dragaerans and learn about their lives. This does a lot to add a sense of depth to the Dragaeran empire as we spend most of our time with the elite in the series. Learning about the daily struggle of a dancer or a butler is both wonderful in its own right and adds perspective that makes me appreciate the empresses and gods more. On top of this, Vallista continues Brust’s trend of what I think of as “hindsight explanation”. At the start of the series, Brust simply didn’t explain a lot of the quirky things about his world, such as the long life span of Dragaerans and how death works – and the writing was so fun that I just accepted them as is and suspended disbelief. However, as we get to the later books like Vallista, Brust is revealing hidden secrets about how his world works that make sense and it gives the series this pervasive feeling that it has all been planned out meticulously.

My only complaint about Vallista is that its completion means we are one book closer to the end of this fantastic series – and I am not quite ready for it to be over. Brust continues to show with each new book that he is only getting better and the quality of the Vlad Taltos series is ever climbing upwards. If you like the series and haven’t picked up Vallista yet I encourage you to do so. If you haven’t read the series yet, why are you reading this I told you there were spoilers – but while you are here, go do yourself a favor and go pick up Jhereg.

Rating: Vallista – 9.0/10

-Andrew

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Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn – The Paragon Of Growth Part 1

51dbdh9vm0l-_sy344_bo1204203200_Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn is a classic fantasy trilogy by Tad Williams that I have only heard amazing things about. The first novel, The Dragonbone Chair, was published in 1988 and since then it has been the inspiration for any number of authors. I personally missed this classic series, but found it rising to the top of my to do list as Tad has released the first book in a follow up trilogy, The Witchwood Crown, this year and it is the only thing a few reviewers I know are talking about. This piece will cover the first two books, The Dragonbone Chair and The Stone of Farewell, but the final book will have its own piece soon as it is quite literally the longest fantasy book ever written and I don’t have enough space here to cover it.

Building off that last sentence, these books are huge. They have an extremely high page count, are very dense, and go into an enormous amount of detail. If you are looking for some light reading, you are going to have a hard time with Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn. However, for those who are willing to take the time with it, you soon begin to see why this series is so highly regarded. The plot of The Dragonbone Chair is not incredibly complicated, in fact one of my first annoyances with the series is that the blurb on the back pretty much perfectly sums up the events of the entire book:

“A war fueled by the powers of dark sorcery is about to engulf the peaceful land of Osten Ard—for Prester John, the High King, lies dying. And with his death, the Storm King, the undead ruler of the elf-like Sithi, seizes the chance to regain his lost realm through a pact with the newly ascended king. Knowing the consequences of this bargain, the king’s younger brother joins with a small, scattered group of scholars, the League of the Scroll, to confront the true danger threatening Osten Ard.

Simon, a kitchen boy from the royal castle unknowingly apprenticed to a member of this League, will be sent on a quest that offers the only hope of salvation, a deadly riddle concerning long-lost swords of power. Compelled by fate and perilous magics, he must leave the only home he’s ever known and face enemies more terrifying than Osten Ard has ever seen, even as the land itself begins to die.”

This is pretty much it, a young boy sets out on a classic hero’s journey and is shaped by his experiences. The thing is, while the plot of the book is not exactly revolutionary – the growth of Simon as a character is. Simon’s story is probably the single greatest example of good character development I have ever read in my life. I will not lie to you, the first part of book one was rough for me. Simon starts as a irreverent, self-centered child (though only as much as you would expect of an actual child) and slowly grows into a hero. The beauty of the book is that this doesn’t happen due to some traumatic events resulting in him realizing he should be a better person. Instead, he grows due to the thousands of small interactions with people across the country that help him grow up and become a better person. It is the single most organic growth I have ever seen in a character and the change is truly stunning to watch, although, as mentioned it takes patience and investment on the part of the reader.

61uxop2akxlWhile The Dragonbone Chair focuses primarily on Simon, the second book (The Stone of Farewell) sees a large diversification of character screen time. Dragonbone is all about introducing you to Simon and building his foundation as a person – often through his interactions with a wonderful support cast around him. Once you get to Stone though, Simon has built up enough momentum that we do not need to spend every moment with him and it allows Tad to flesh out and grow his incredible support characters and make them closer to secondary protagonists. While Dragonbone took some time to get into, I absolutely flew through Stone.

The first two books show how a seemingly useless young man can change and grow in convincing ways that don’t feel like reader wish fulfillment. Simon’s origin story made me feel like I could be the person I wanted to be with hard work and determination, and that only you can decide who you are. The first two books have earned their place as two of the most powerful pieces of fantasy or fiction I have ever read, but you will have to come back for part two to hear about the finale: To Green Angel Tower (because it is frankly absurdly large and reading it is seriously messing up my review schedule).

Rating:

The Dragonbone Chair – 8.5/10

The Stone of Farewell – 9.0/10

-Andrew

Ruin of Angels – At The Edge Of Imagination And Fantasy

ruin_of_angels_authortop4Max Gladstone’s sixth Craft Sequence book, Ruin of Angels, is out and Will and I finally got a chance to finish it up over the weekend. If you are following this blog, you will know we are very partial to the Craft series around here and think everyone should pick it up. Ruin of Angels marked a new chapter in the world’s story as we (hopefully) move to a more linear chronological storytelling style. Has Gladstone found a way to keep things fresh and interesting, or has…actually I will just give you the answer now, Ruin is incredible.

Ruin follows Kai this time, our protagonist from Full Fathom Five. While not my top craft protagonist, she is an interesting character with a lot of depth that champions the idea of “we are who we decide to be, not what other people tell us we are”. Kai is in the city of Agdel Lex for work, and like all of Gladstone’s cities, it is weird and awesome. The city is home to Kai’s sister, Ley, and a large part of the plot revolves around Ley coming to Kai for help while she is in the city and their complicated family relationship. In addition, Agdel Lex exists on the site of one of the major cataclysms of the god wars, the city of Alikand, and as a result the city was turned basically into an explosion trapped in time. To deal with this, the Iskari (squid priests we have heard of in previous novels) altered reality and built a second city (Agdel Lex) on the site – sealing in the dying city (Alikand) under layers of reality. It sounds more confusing in brief than it is in the novel. Now the second city exists on top of Alikand, but it is possible to “fall’ into Alikand which is extremely dangerous due to the fact that it’s basically continuously exploding all the time. In direct defiance of this, Agdel Lex is home to many illegal “delvers” or people who dive into the old city for extremely short periods of time and try to bring artifacts back for profit. The reason this is illegal, aside from it being potentially lethal, is that the two cities are constantly in competition for existence. The more people who believe/acknowledge one of the cities, the stronger its grasp on reality is. This leads to some literal Iskari thought police who need to make sure believers don’t pull the exploding city back into existence and kill everyone. Sounds like a great place to live right?

As with many reviews of incredible books, let’s start with the bad and get it out of the way. The beginning of this book is slow. Kai was a bit frustrating when we last read about her, as she is prone to a lot of introspection which can feel like it hurts pacing and she made some questionable choices that made it harder to like her. While the Kai of Ruin still has her introspective nature, and doesn’t have her life completely together, she is a lot more fun and her story is better paced than previously. On the other hand, her sister Ley constantly tries to be a mysterious figure who projects an air of control, but often instead comes across as selfish and childish. I found Ley difficult to root for at the start of the book, but I did eventually come around. The start of the book as a whole suffers a little from pacing as Gladstone has to flesh out his worldbuilding a lot more than usual at the start of Ruin. This pays off in spades though, as the second half of Ruin is truly one of the most wondrous things I have read in a long time.

Max Gladstone entered the writing scene as a debut author with a lot of spirit, great ideas, and a modern look at fantasy that I loved every moment of. However, while his imagination has always been a powerhouse, I would not have pegged him as a master of prose or pacing back at Three Parts Dead. Since the first craft book, Max’s skill as an author has only risen and his books keep showing that he is only getting better. The prose in Ruin of Angels is absolutely phenomenal, with several passages leaving me emotionally moved, breathless, and fully immersed in his world. For example this line from Ruin is now one of my favorite love quotes ever: “I do not understand you. But neither do I understand fire, or starlight, or storms, and I love them” – and that is just the tip of the iceberg.

On top of all of this, Gladstone’s greatest strength – his imagination – has only grown as well. I have rewritten this paragraph seven times trying to convey into words what I experienced reading the back half of Ruin of Angels. The events in the climax of the book truly pulled me out of this world and into his. I found myself walking outside just to look up at the sky, clear my mind, and think on what I had just experienced and relive it. It was a one-of-a-kind experience that I recommend to everyone. I apologize for being so vague, but to tell you more is a major spoiler and I would not want to take this from you. In addition, Max Gladstone found the edge of what I would consider fantasy and stepped over it. I found myself thinking of the explorer, scientist, and philosophers throughout history as his book gave me rush of seeing something completely new and having no idea what it was – but wanting to learn more.

The start of Ruin of Angels is a bit slow, but builds into one of the most revolutionary fantasy books I have ever read. Max Gladstone’s skill as a writer is only growing and I suspect he has a long and extremely successful career ahead of him. I can’t wait to find out where craft will go next because I have no idea, and love it.

Rating: Ruin of Angels – 10/10

-Andrew and Will

This Book is Full of Spiders: Seriously, Dude, Don’t Touch It – I Spent Longer Reading The Title Than I Did Reading The Book. No, Seriously, This Was An Unnecessarily Long Book Title

51hnqg0ylal-_sx331_bo1204203200_To you catchers of creeps, you hunters of haunts, you finders of frights, I bid you welcome to the Spooky Corner on the spookiest day of the year! Happy Halloween from those of us at The Quill to Live, and we hope you’re having a delightfully dreadful time. Now that the pleasantries are out of the way, let’s get to what you came for.

We’re back with the second installment in the John Dies at the End series: This Book is Full of Spiders: Seriously, Dude, Don’t Touch It (henceforth referred to as Spiders, since that title is half a dictionary long). For those of you who don’t remember or didn’t read my review of the first book in the series from a week or two ago (shame on you), you can find it here. As a brief summary, I absolutely loved its take on horror and the human understanding of the universe, but thought that the childish humor and despicable characters may, understandably, impede enjoyment for some.

Shockingly, Spiders continues with much of the same. David and John are still despicable and relatively worthless human beings other than the whole “saving the world” thing they did in book one. A year has passed, and the town of Undisclosed hasn’t changed much over that time. It’s still a shithole, weird stuff still happens, and the “junkie scooby gang” is still deeply involved in the aforementioned weird stuff. The book opens with David and John getting drunk on a water tower as a military style convoy passes under them and violently crashes. They take a macguffin from the crashed vehicle, bury it in their backyard, and go back to daily life (as you do). Well, they try to, but David is attacked by a terrifying spider-monster that he barely fends off before it escapes and takes over the body of a police officer who was trying to arrest him at the time. This mishap leads to a few others and suddenly the town is overrun by spider-zombies, go figure. The remainder of the book mostly follows the split-up John, David, and Amy as they try to find each other in the quarantined town and, as a secondary goal, try to save the world (again).

If the plot sounds rather neat and tidy in that fantastic synopsis, that’s because it is. I thought there were some forgivable but frustrating issues with pacing and narrative flow in JDatE, Spiders felt much more cohesive throughout and really felt like one self-contained story. The order of the chapters and fondness of the author for pausing the action to go back to another character’s perspective from a few hours before could have led to some serious issues, but I actually think that it was well done and added to both the suspense and humor of the book positively.

On the topic of “things that could have really ruined this book but turned out ok in the end”, I thought that the zombie apocalypse in the town of Undisclosed was handled very well and avoided a lot of the traps that zombie books tend to fall into. As something of a zombie fiction fanboy (Link to my recommendations here for those who are interested), there are a lot of ways to do zombies wrong and, while that wouldn’t have bothered me much as I just really love zombies, Spiders avoids a lot of the major ones. The zombies are scary, gross, unique, and fit within this universe’s flavor of horror and monsters extremely well. I’m rarely spooked by zombie books at this point, but there were a couple of moments that really got to me. When you get to the garage you’ll know what I mean.

A possible major sticking point for readers of the first book, and one that anyone reading the review of its sequel likely didn’t have an issue with (or found a way to move past it), was the fact that the main characters are…sort of the worst. John is a flaky, crazy, meth-smoking junkie, David is an overweight and horrifically depressed manager of a movie store, and Amy is basically their conscience and one ray of hope for the two of them to not be so fucking terrible all the time. The dynamic trio is split up for the majority of the book for reasons I refuse to get into as I don’t want to spoil them, and seeing them interact with the variety of new side characters was a treat. While I love their dynamic together, seeing other people react to just how bad they are at being heroes was great and led to some alternatively hilarious and horrifying moments.

I’d like to take a moment, quickly, to appreciate one of the side characters featured in this book: Detective Lance Falconer. I am being intentionally vague here, as to go into any more detail than I do in this paragraph could spoil what is possibly my favorite aspect of this book. I thought the way his character was handled was fantastic and really elevated a lot of elements in the book. From his first introduction to his final scene with David, he was a constant positive addition. He really stood above the rest of the characters introduced in Spiders, and I hope he makes a return in the future, preferably jumping over a truck of some kind in his bitchin’ Porsche.

On the topic of bitchin’ cars and jumping over things, Spiders maintains the adolescent level of humor that was found throughout the first novel. Toilet humor, excessive swearing, sex jokes, and what would be sight gags if this was a movie are plentiful and unapologetic. If you made it through book one just tolerating the humor, you won’t see much of an improvement here. A lot of it was still pretty hit or miss for me, but like in the first one when the humor did hit, it had me in stitches. There were a few moments where I drew looks on the subway because I was crying from laughing so hard.

In contrast to the humor, the horror was on point for the entire book. Not only did we get a much better understanding than in book one of why people do or don’t see the various creatures, but the creatures that were added and how the main characters interact with them in various situations were absolutely fantastic. There’s a scene with a teddy bear that I am still shuddering about weeks after finishing. The mix of body horror and oppressive atmosphere, the tension reminiscent of watching someone walk down into a dark basement in the theater, and the creeping sense of wrongness that pervades Undisclosed were all handled excellently. I am even more impressed with how scary this book is when you consider how much of it is dedicated to being funny at the same time. I will be having nightmares featuring certain scenes of this book for years to come. That may not sound like a glowing recommendation, but it really is.

John Dies at the End had been on my to-do list for years before I finally got to it. I read This Book is Full of Spiders: Seriously, Dude, Don’t Touch It in one sitting the day after I finished the first book. It ups the quality of the first book in every way and is a must-read for anyone who enjoys cosmic horror, zombies, or creepy parasites. The humor is sometimes a little off-color and tone deaf but that is easily forgiven when considering the quality of the horror and how much fun the ride is the entire time. The Spooky Corner of The Quill to Live enthusiastically recommends This Book is Full of Spiders: Seriously, Dude, Don’t Touch It.

Rating: This Book is Full of Spider: Seriously, Dude, Don’t Touch It – 9.5/10

-Will

Saga – Never Stop Hurting

812bsf2bbnqulSpeaking of comics. On Tuesday I spoke about my second favorite comic book series, Atomic Robo by Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener, a science fiction series about a sentient robot. While on the subject I thought I might as well also talk about the best comic I have read, Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples. You have likely heard about Saga if you have put even a toe into the comic world – it has a massive following at this point and has pulled a plethora of people into the world of Image comics, its semi-indie publisher. Often when something is as popular as Saga, my inner hipster can be dubious – but this is one of those instances where something is popular because it’s just that good.

When I was at NYCC I attended a panel called “The Future of Fantasy” by Image Comics, which you can read a nice blog post about here. The unspoken premise of the panel seemed to be, “Saga has rocked the fantasy world because comics are the new evolution of fantasy storytelling, check out the next generation of fantasy comics”. While all the panels looked cool, I found that I was not sure that I bought their argument (I use argument loosely, I could have been reading too deeply into this) that comics are the evolution of fantasy, demonstrated by Saga. I noticed a reoccurring trend as I listened to the panelists talk about their work; all the comics looked really cool but seemed not to be that deep. Saga is not wildly popular because it has stunning visuals, which it does, but because it also manages to have the depth and feeling of a 700 page fantasy/science fiction novel in just 60 pages of art.

So for those of you unfamiliar with Saga, it is a science fiction/fantasy mash up that tells the story of two planetary races (Landfall and Wreath) locked in a conflict that spans the universe. These two races have slowly drawn every existing person and place in existence into their psychotic conflict, and reality has become a huge game of us vs. them. Which is why when a Landfallian and a Wreathin accidentally fall in love and have a hybrid child – the universe sets out to destroy them and what they represent. The plot follows this family of three as they run around the universe trying to escape the legions of people after them. The fact that the cast are constantly on the run gives Vaughan and Staples an organic worldbuilding method that allows them to stretch the bounds of imagination constantly. The number of places and things you will see in a single issue of Saga is astounding, and every panel feels like a new discovery. It makes reading the comic a visual delight, and that’s not even the best part of the series.

Saga’s characters are incredible. They are diverse, interesting, relatable, flawed, and unpredictable. The people that this family meets on their journey, friend and foe, will captivate and entrance you with their stories and struggles – and there are a lot of struggles. One thing I will stress is that Saga is not a happy story. This is not the tale of three plucky people traveling the universe and making friends with no consequences. The comic definitely argues that human (or alien) nature is, at the deepest level, to do good – but this is juxtaposed with the idea that sometimes terrible things happen to good people and that life is never fair. I read the comics in their collected format (one comes out about once or twice a year) and the end of the most recent collection (volume 7) left me emotionally catatonic to the point where I almost didn’t go to work the next day. Still thinking about it now I have this horrible sinking feeling in my chest when I think about the most recent events.

So why do I love it so much? Because Saga for its incredible and brutal sadness is a beautiful tale of how while life can be terrible, people are good in the end and it will work out on some level (or at least I hope that’s the moral, the comic isn’t finished yet). Saga has gotten me to feel a wider range of things (love, happiness, depression, friendship, etc.), with greater intensity, than a multitude of 700 page fantasy books, and it does it in the space of a chapter. This series makes me appreciate life and what I have, something each of us could always do more often. The Quill to Live’s entire staff unanimously and unequivocally recommends Saga to everyone, do yourself a favor and check it out if you haven’t.

Rating: Saga – 10/10

-Andrew

Atomic Robo – Stop And Smell The Ions

51z7tnnthel-_sx325_bo1204203200_New York Comic con happened a short while ago, and as always I went to go meet up with all the various publishers and meet some of my favorite authors. As I have said in previous years, and will keep saying, Comic cons are meet ups for every fandom on the planet, and I firmly believe that it is difficult to not have a good time at one. If you haven’t been, you should check your local con out. You never know what you are going to see or who you are going to meet. For example, while I was wandering around NYCC I happen to bump into the author and artist of one of my favorite comics, reminding me of its existence and how much I love it.

I am not a huge comic fan myself (mostly because I could never afford them as a child) but I have really enjoyed a few over the years, In particular, I have one science fiction comic I absolutely adore: Atomic Robo. Robo tells the story of a conscious robot build by Tesla in the 1920s as he works as a sort of weird science ghost buster. He assembles a team of marines/scientists around him and travels the world solving various scientific and magical issues that crop up. The first thing you should know about Atomic Robo, is it is all online for free because it was so popular that the physical copies (which are out of print) are hard to find. I feel that sentence is telling both on how good the comic is and how great its creators, Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener, are.

Atomic Robo’s story is told mostly in vignettes and monster-of-the-week style encounters. The comic is hilarious, which is honestly a stand out quality in a sea of comics that are trying to be funny and failing. The humor revolves around scientific jokes (like a team of scientists arguing that giant ants are a physical impossibility and can’t exist while almost getting killed by giant ants), really bad puns, and Robo’s snarky and sarcastic attitude:

image

This kind of humor might not be for everyone, but I am willing to bet that a ton of you will love it. On top of being funny, Atomic Robo has that rare balance of juxtaposing humor and heartache that makes both stronger. Stories tackle things like how Robo doesn’t age and slowly has to watch his friends and colleagues grow old. These sections are very well written and really pull you into the comic.

However, while some of the vignettes can be very touching I do think that the comic can lack a little bit of depth. There is a somewhat central plot that runs through the various comics, but it doesn’t quite have enough substance to keep me anchored and invested in the comic at all times. One of the cool things about running into the creators of Atomic Robo was that I was reminded of its existence. While I adore the comic in the moment, I often forget about it once I finish the most recent issue. The lack of a continuous plot can leave me without a sense of urgency to keep up with it, which is a shame for all the reasons I listed above.

I really enjoy Atomic Robo, and I think you might as well. You should give it a look. If it did a better job of creating a sense of urgency it would be my top recommended comic – but second place is not bad. If you are looking for a lovable sarcastic crew who have a penchant for dad jokes and science, give Atomic Robo a whirl.

Rating: Atomic Robo – 8.0/10

-Andrew

John Dies at the End – No, He Doesn’t.

john-dies-at-the-endThe days are getting shorter, the temperature is fluctuating 30 degrees a day, and everything is slowly turning brown. This can only mean one thing: We’re most of the way through October and Halloween is fast approaching. Regular readers of this blog know that with Halloween comes…a SPOOKY CORNER POST.

Yes, that’s right. I’m back in all my cobwebby, dusty, half-seen-in-the-dark-of-a-new-moon glory. With me, I bring a review of a book that was released over a decade ago, John Dies at the End, by David Wong (pen name of Jason Pargin, executive editor of Cracked.com). Now, you may be asking yourself (or me), “Why review a book that’s been out for a decade, one popular enough at that time to have spawned a cult-favorite motion picture?” Well, kind readers, because I’ve made a note to read it, and subsequently forgotten to, more times than I can count. Also the third book in the series released this month, jogging my memory. Without further bullshit meant to inflate my word count and pay (that’s a joke, Andrew refuses to pay me), let’s find out what I think about what will henceforth be known as JDatE (note that I am not reviewing Jewish dating services though).

John Dies at the End is a weird book, for a variety of reasons. I can describe it as: scary, funny, clever, dumb, enthralling, confusing, and unique each in their turn. It is essentially the story of a couple young delinquents who take a drug and start seeing shit. This drug, named Soy Sauce by the characters, does something to them that peels back the layer of normalcy from the world and allows them to see things as they really are. Based on the fact that this is at least partially classified as a horror book, you can probably guess that “things as they really are” means “HOLY FUCK WHAT IS THAT”. After taking the sauce and having the veil lifted, they go on an adventure or two and save the world…sorta.

Now, I’m a huge fan of cosmic horror. The idea of the universe as a dark and terrifying place occupied by vast, unknowable entities is one that appeals to me. In this, JDatE is extremely up my alley. The specific explanations given for how the human mind reacts to seeing things it has no ability to fully comprehend was, if not completely unique, certainly spelled out more explicitly in this novel than in many I’ve read. The idea that paranormal sightings (ghosts, aliens, demons, etc.) are really just your brain trying to wrap itself around something that’s impossible for a human to have a frame of reference for is really cool. Now, explaining why people are seeing certain things isn’t enough, by itself, to make a good horror book. Luckily, Wong/Pargin does a great job in thinking up some actually horrific stuff. There’s a decent mix of atmospheric, shock, and body horror, and I feel like when you consider how childish a lot of the humor is, the fact that the horror wasn’t exclusively gross-out body horror is something to be applauded. I was as creeped out at various points in this book as I ever have been by Barron, Lovecraft, or Chambers, and that earns this book major points from me.

The humor was somewhat more hit or miss for me. Before I get into any criticism, it must be said that this book did have me laughing so hard I cried a couple times, so when it hits it really hits. However, a lot of the humor would find itself comfortable in a Reddit.com comments thread, and while that’s all fine and dandy, it’s really not something I’m looking for in a long-form novel. The shock humor and childishness of it can wear thin at points, even with the understanding that this is keeping in character with the novel’s two leads, David and John.

On that note, if you’re someone who needs likable protagonists, or just protagonists that aren’t lowlife shitheads you may want to look elsewhere. John and David are not successful or mature adults. They do not become successful or mature adults by the end of the book. They are very much a pair of college dropout fuckups just trying to get by day-to-day, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that by itself was enough for people to drop the book. Personally, I was alright with it, but it is something of a trope in cosmic horror/weird fiction for the protagonists to be…well…shitheads. The alcoholic and once-great detective, the journalist out of a job and needing a big story to afford his morphine addiction, the obsessive and immoral scientist: these are all standard themes in horror, and lovers of the genre will likely have grown a somewhat thick skin for bad behavior in leads. Readers coming for the humor, or simply trying out something new may not be as forgiving, and I would have a hard time holding that against them.

The one thing I’ve really struggled to form an opinion on was the pacing. It felt incredibly off in some aspects and incredibly on in others. The book really felt like three separate stories to me due to a few time jumps and narrative changes. It’s not bad to have the different “adventures” each feel relatively self-contained, but I think the transitions could have been handled a little better. They felt abrupt, and while I think that was intentional, they were still a little more jarring than I think they should have been.

When looked at as an entire package objectively, I think John Dies at the End is a solid book. It will be very hit or miss for people based on the style of the humor and some of the descriptions of various…things in the book, but I definitely recommend at least giving it a try. However, when looked at as an entire package personally, this book was an absolute blast that I read in one sitting. I absolutely loved it and cannot recommend it highly enough to people that share my love of cosmic horror and sardonic humor experienced through the perspective of characters that have no business being the heroes in any story, especially their own.

Rating: John Dies at the End – 7.0 (objective rating) 9.0 (personal rating)/10

-Will