Spoiler Free Book Review: No Hero by Jonathan Wood

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Title: No Hero

Author: Jonathan Wood

Publisher: Titan

Publication Date: 2014

Pages: 384

 

The Basics:

No Hero by Jonathan Wood is the first book in his ‘Arthur Wallace’ series of urban fantasy/horror/weird fiction novels. The basic plot of No Hero is that Arthur Wallace is a top detective investigating a case that involves strange murders that occur at construction sites. During the investigation, Wallace is grievously injured by an attack from an unknown assailant.  When he awakes in the hospital he’s approached by a mysterious woman who offers him a job with the covert government agency MI12 which is responsible for protecting England and the rest of the world from supernatural and other worldly threats.  Arthur Wallace soon finds himself caught up in a mission to prevent a threat that would result in our very reality from being wiped out.

The Good:

Wood writes the novel No Hero in the first person perspective, which I am usually not a fan of since you only get their side of the story.  Plus, there’s nothing quite as bad being stuck with an annoying or boring character for a couple hundred pages or more.

That being said, Wood manages to create a clever and dry-witted narrative that makes for an entertaining read. Arthur Wallace has a knack for clever one liners that Wood manages to sprinkle into the narrative at the right moments without becoming too heavy handed or annoying.

Arthur Wallace is pretty much your typical ‘every man’ which helps immerse the reader into the narrative. He’s not some expert detective a la Sherlock Homes or a killing machine like Jason Bourne. But he is smart and his reaction to the bizarre encounters he has are believable. His struggles to develop relationships with his new coworkers and find his role on the team  should be relatable to anyone who has ever taken a new job or enrolled at a new school.

Jonathan Wood also has a knack for creating quirky characters that fill the world of Arthur Wallace. They run the gamut from pre-teen girls that live in a giant pool filled with squids and octopusses to a sword-wielding woman who posses uncanny speed and agility.  All the supporting characters in the novel are memorable in some way, whether they are one page for a chapter or the entire novel. I found Wood’s ficitional world to be an entertaining blend of contemporary reality mixed with the bizarre and fantastical.

The main conflict in No Hero is a bit of a homage of H.P. Lovecraft along with a splash of Mass Effect and every other sci-fi/horror plot line. It’s not the most original conflict, but it does fit the world Wood created, and it is entertaing. It also gives the characters clear motivation and direction.

The plot of the novel is fairly brisk without much time spent on exposition or back story or subplots. I felt that this is a good and bad thing, but in terms of conflict/plot it worked well to have a brisk pace. The way Wood writes his chapters, each one ends at a point where I literally didn’t want to put it down.  Wood tends to write his chapters so that they’re fairly short, but they all help move the plot forward. I never read one that I felt was merely ‘filler’.

The Bad

Wood is a pretty solid writer when it comes to the technical side of writing. I rarely, if ever, came across a passage where his word choice or grammar irritated me enough to break the immersion in the story.   But he did have tendacy to give certain characters the annoying habit of speaking in incomplete sentences and short choppy sentences.   I understand he was trying to convey the character’s social awkwardness, but after awhile I began to dread reading certain scenes.

Early in the novel, once Arthur Wallace has been recruited, I felt that there was a bit too much of exposition told through the proverbial ‘talking heads’. It made for a horribly dry read and was rather repetitive.

Wood is quite adept at writing action scenes in No Hero. They’re brisk, suspenseful and most importantly coherent. Unlike some writers’ action scenes, I was never confused as to who was doing what, or what was happening overall.  The first three quarters of No Hero, Wood demonstrates some marvelous action scenes, yet it doesn’t last.  Near the end of the novel there’s some major fights that simply drag on way way too long and become completely unbelievable. Characters that should be either comatose in a vegetative state were somehow able to function with just some minor pain and bloodshed. That coupled with the fact that it all seemed gratuitous toward the end really hampered my enjoyment of No Hero. It felt like Wood should have had an editor or beta reader tapping him on the shoulder during the later portion of the book when it comes to these action scenes.

The other thing that kept No Hero from being a great read was the utter lack of emotional connection I had as a reader with any of the characters in No Hero. I think that in part it has to do with the fact that the  novel is written in first person perspective so Wood does not have the opportunity to really develop his characters as deeply as he could if  he had written No Hero in third person perspective. If some time had been spent on giving insight into how the other characters felt and thought or what their personal lives were like, it woud’ve made them much more relatable to me as a reader. But since Wood did not do this his supporting characters seem rather flat and bland.  They’re more like plot devices rather than characters. Toward the end of the book there’s a major plot twist which shoud’ve been hugely impactful on me as a reader, but due to the lack of character development I really didn’t feel anything for it.  When certain characters die or come close to it, I really didn’t care.

The Ugly

The biggest problem I have with No Hero is the main character Arthur Wallace. Despite having some funny one-liners, albeit in the typical dry British humor that some readers may not get, and having the reptuation of being a brilliant detective, Arthur is the odd man out in No Hero.  By that I mean he literally sits back and lets his team mates doing all the work, be it fighting or doing research or even leadership. Arthur rarely does anything in the book to help his team. In fact it feels like he’s merely along for the ride. Early on in the book I thought he would bring his investigative skills to the team, but that never really happens. Even during the final showdown in No Hero, Arthur hangs back and seems to let everyone else do the fighting.

I get it that he’s not supposed to be an American style action hero cop, but his complete lack of action and passiveness irritated me as a reader. I was hoping that the death of a character midway through the novel would be the catalyst of his character developing in a different direction, but Wood never took advantage of the situation.

Another problem I have with Arthur Wallace is that I never learned anything about him during the novel. There’s no attempt by Wood to give him any type of backstory or personal life other than a very minor subplot involving his old partner  that ends abruptly  and has no long term effect on Arthur.  Like the other characters in No Hero, Arthur Wallace ends up feeling like a wooden piece of plot device. Even when Wood tags on a random sexual/romantic connection between Arthur and another character, it is lack luster and feels shallow.

It may be that the brisk plot keeps Wood from developing his characters more so, but I think a few subplots that are developed along the way that are unrelated to the main conflict would have done wonders for No Hero.

Conclusion:

No Hero is over all a fun read, that stalls out toward the later half. It works as a plot driven novel, but the lack of character development and a plot that’s not the most original leaves me as a reader wanting more. The character Arthur Wallace is a fan boy for Kurt Russel’s sci-fi/horror films and in a lot of ways No Hero is the equivalent of a ‘pop corn’ blockbuster, a fun diversion but easily forgettable.

No Hero is the first book in a series, so perhaps Wood will develop Arthur and the rest of the characters in more depth, although I’m doubtful that I’ll read another book in the series. There’s nothing about the characters or plot that make the series a ‘must’ for me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Happy Halloween from ‘Eldritch Farms’

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Happy Halloween, to those of you who celebrate it like me. I finished up this drawing yesterday. It came about after my family and I went to a local garden center and bought some pumpkins for making Jack-o-Lanterns. A few days later a local squirrel got the notion that gnawing on them was a good idea. We ended up putting them inside, until Halloween night. But that incident got my imagination going and during my lunch break at work one day I did a sketch which turned into this pen and brush ink drawing.

However you celebrate Halloween this year, be wary of strange farms …

The Waiting Game…

I finally got some definte good news from a small press publisher about one of my drawings earlier this week. They want to use a drawing for a future issue of their magazine.

It’s defintely exciting to get such good news, especially since they’re a paying market and a publisher who puts out a quality publication. I can’t say too much more right now, but once the issue comes out later this year I will give you the details.

I’m not about to quit my day job, but it’s nice to get an acceptance letter and a payment rather than another rejection slip or even worse no response back at all.  I think not hearing anything back from a publisher is the worst, because it takes a lot of effort and time to create something and a certain amount of courage and self-confidence to submit it.  Rejection letters defintely suck, but at least I’m completely aware that they  looked at my submission and made a decision. No response at all is a let down and feels like I wasted my time.

Rather than dwell on the perpetual waiting game of hearing back from publishers, I prefer to keep busy with new projects. The worst thing to do, in my opinion, is to keep my email open in my browser and obssesively checking it.

The same can be said when it comes to getting work accepted. I’ll defintely take time to celebrate, but I know I need to  keep creating, keep improving/learing, and keep submitting work.

 

 

New Fantasy Art: Vengeance

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Vengeance, gouache and ink on bristol 2017 copyright Kevin Hurtack

 

 

Book Review: Darkness on the Edge of Town

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Darkness on the Edge of Town by Brian Keene

2010, Leisure Books

Premise: One day the citizens of Walden wake up to find their town in perpetual darkness and with no way to communicate with the outside world. The darkness not only poses a physical threat if anyone attempts to leave town, it also has a strange and dangerous effect on the minds of the citizens of Walden.

This is the first book I’ve ever read by Brian Keene. What drew me into the story was the personality of the narrator, Robbie. He’s an average guy, delivery boy I think, who’s simply trying to get through life with his girlfriend much like every other 20-something. He has loyalty to his lfriends and to a greater extent the town of Walden.  He’s an ‘every man’ for the most part, albeit a bit of a stoner, who’s thrust into extradordinary situation when the darkness arrives in  town. The fact that he’s not some over the top action hero or natural born leader or jackass makes the narration made him a likeable character as well as a believable one.

The main plot of the novel focuses on Robbie, his friends, and an assortment of fellow citizens, trying to find a way past the darkness. They also attempt to find out the cause/origin of the darkness and whether the rest of the world exists beyond it. Their attempts have varying degrees of failure and minor sucesses.

Unlike most novels, there is no tangiable villian in the novel. Instead it is an ambigous presence in the form of the darkness. However, that doesn’t lessen the threat that it posses to Robbie and the rest of Walden.

In one early scene when Robbie and his friends approach the edge of town, the darkness shows them apparent hallucinations or illuisions that take the form of each characters loved ones that have passed away.

Later on in the novel, it is suggested that sudden outbursts of anger between Robbie and his girlfriend along with all the chaos and violence throughout the town is the result of the darkness’ pressence in their minds.

Whether the darkness is corrupting and tempting them into violence  and anger or whether it’s the banal consequence of being trapped within the town’s limits is never fully explained.   But it is interesting to see how it effects the relationships that Robbie has as the story progresses.

The characters, in particular Robbie, really drive the story. Robbie takes it upon himself early in the novel to ‘save’ people, but over the course of the story his outlook on things shift to a more self preservation attitude. It’s an interesting twist on the trope of a reluctant hero, a character starting off self-centered and developing into a ‘hero’ that saves the day. Instead Keene presents in the reverse of what we’re used to, and I think its much more believable and a refreshing take on the idea that the main character is the ‘hero’.

Midway through the novel, Robbie and his friends along with some other towns folks attempt breach the darkness. Without giving too much away, things don’t go well and Robbie and his friends find themselves the targets of a lynch mob that gathers outside their apartment building.

All of this made for a great read, however Keene drops the proverbial ball toward the end of the novel. He wrote a chapter where Robbie attempts to find answers by meeting with the local crazy homeless guy. It turns out he has some knowledge about what’ s going on but it comes across as a scatter brained mashup of bad theology and HP Lovecraft. No real answers are given and as a reader I felt it dragged on much too long.

Afterwards, Keen manages to give an ending that feels more like he ran out of steam or was simply writing to reach a predetermined word count, rather than wanting to tell a full story. Nothing is resolved by the final page. I had no idea what the fate of  Robbie and his friends was, what happened to the lynch mob outside the apartment complex, or whether the world still existed outside the darkness or not.

The ending left me feeling dissatisifed, especially after reading over 200 pages and developing a connection with the characters and their plight. I don’t mind ambigous endings when it comes to short fiction or filling in some minor unanswered questions but when an author fails to conclude major plot lines,  I get annoyed.

Brian Keene has a reputation for being a stellar novelist in the horror genre. I enjoyed his literary voice, and his character development. Although I’m not happy about the ending of the novel, I would check out his other work and hope that this weak ending is a fluke and not a staple of Keene’s novels.

New Fantasy Art: Battle At Broken Arch

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This is the latest fantasy piece I finished up the other day. It’s done with ink and pen along with ink wash with brush on bristol plate.

I went into this drawing with the plan of conveying the sense of action/motion in it. A lot of my previous work is rather static, a character posing/standing still. I wanted to challenge myself as well as engage the viewer in a different way rather than repeatedly do the same composition. I’m happy with the way that it turned out in terms of composition and having a sense of action to it.

I used strictly my hawk nib pen for this one, mainly to see how diverse it could be. It is much stiffer and perhaps not quite as super fine as the  more popular crow quill nib, but I found it to handle well and I like the stiffness of it. I didn’t feel like it was too flexiable or fragile like sometimes do when using the crow quill nib.  After using it solely for this drawing I came away confindant that its diverse enough to be used on a regular basis and perhaps become my dip pen of choice.

I also used ink wash, rather than black gouache, in this drawing as an experiment. Overall, I’m happy with the range of values the Speedball Super Black Ink gave me, but the paper did warp a bit too much for my liking due to the excessive watery nature of the wash. Gouache tends to be a bit thicker and doesn’t warp the paper at all, or not nearly as much as the ink wash.  The jet black gouache tends to be a deeper black as well, which I prefer.

For the white energy/lightning in the background around the woman warrior, I used Dr. Ph Martin’s Bleedproof White. It’s a white ink that’s about as thick as white out, but can be thinned down with water. It worked well with a brush, and it was interesting to see how well it worked. Although I may not use in every drawing, I can defintely see the benefits of using it in the future.

Thanks for stopping by and checking it out and don’t forget you can check out my other artwork by going to my home page by clicking on the link up top.

Eden’s Doom

Ancient temples
alabaster spires
gleaming golden domes
crumbled to dust
& blown asunder by a tempest
that howls like the damned.

A land once Heaven touched
teeming with bounty for the sons of man
now cowers under an ashen sky
Paradise violated.

Mechanical angels ravaged by rust
tossed aside like neglected toys
the promise of greatness corrupted
into a sermon of destruction
scribed in blindness by hatred & greed.

 

 

 

New Art: Witch Bane

Witch Bane

I finished this one up the other weekend, but I decided to let it sit for a week or so before scanning it. I am happy with the way it turned out. It’s a slight departure for me, doing something more in the fantasy, albeit dark fantasy, genre. It also combines pen and ink drawing with more of a painterly style in the background with gouache.

The cracked moon in the background is something that seems familiar to me, but I cannot quite place it. Perhaps its derived from Dungeons & Dragons game campaign or setting or something I saw on Netflix. Or maybe it’s just the creation of my own imagination. Either way I like the idea of a broken moon and the ruins.

I have some ideas for the world that Witch Bane inhabits, and hope to develop them over time through various media – visual and written. Not sure what’ll become of it all, but I’m having fun with and that’s the most important part for me.

You can view Witch Bane, along with my other work in my horror, and fantasy portfolios by going to my Home page and clicking on either thumbnail.

Thanks for stopping by and checking it out.

 

Review: The Void

 

The Void begins with Carter, a local deputy, encountering a young man stumbling out of the woods and onto the road. At first he assumes the man has simply had too much to drink,  until he discovers the man’s covered in blood.  Carter races to the closest hospital  in an attempt to get him help. It turns out the hospital is short staffed, due to an impending closure due to a recent fire. An examination of the man reveals that the blood on him is not his own.

Things only get weirder from that point onward. The hospital is soon surrounded by a group of strangers all wearing hooded robes that have a triangular design. The strangers quickly make it clear that they’re not friendly when they prove to be knife weilding maniacs. But the strangest thing  is that they aren’t trying to get into the hospital, rather they seem to be determined to keep everyone inside it.

From that point on things just get stranger and weirder, in an entertaining way. Throw in some hellish beast that look like a Clive Barker and HP Lovecraft love-child, gun-toting nutjobs, and a desperate attempt to save Carter’s wife (She’s a nurse at the hospital) from the cult’s bat shit crazy leader, and you gotta lot of action and drama going on.

The Void excels is the practical special effects. The majority of the creatures and gore are done in an old school fasion that’s straight out of the ’80s. If you enjoyed movies like The Thing, Aliens, Fright Night, etc. you’ll love the visceral nature of it.

Enivornment and atmosphere are also strong elements of The Void. Being stuck in a remote location with no way out and a lethal threat inside and not knowing who you can trust or believe is a great way to build a tense atmosphere. The Void manages to use these all in an entertaining way, never letting the characters or audience feel safe or at ease.

The supernatural/occult theme of The Void is something that I love to watch or read when it is well done, and this movie doesn’t disappoint in that category. Too many movies rely on cheap scare tatics and cliched psycho killers brutalizing horny teen agers. Instead The Void delves into the disturbing idea of cheating death, and opening forbiden portals. As a fan of Lovecraft and Clive Barker, I appreciated and genuinely enjoyed the ideas that The Void took on.

For all the good things that The Void had going for it, I did feel it was weak when it came to its characters. I never developed any opinion about any of them, and did not really care about their fates. I think part of the reason this is is because there’s very little to no back story for most of them. The only exception is the reltionship between Carter and Alice, who are apparently either still married or exes – it’s never made clear. The film makers attempt to make them sympathetic to their audience but the whole thing feels contrived and fored. The rest of the characters are mere plot furniture, and other than being annoying or having some cool action scenes – they don’t stand out as strong well developed characters. I realize that in movies like this there are characters that are mere cannon fodder, but unlike other movies that do this, I didn’t find myself cheering for their on screen deaths or survival.

I think that there could’ve been a bit more backstory/development with Alice and Carter earlier in the movie to help establish their relationship and draw the viewers to the characters without bogging down the plot. It would’ve made Carter’s search for Alice later in the movie far more impactful as well as the conclusion of it.

The Void is the kind of movie that doesn’t answer all the questions that it raises which can make for a bit of confusion early on. But it does manage to leave a trail of proverbial bread crumbs along the way that help clear things up for the most part, but it still leaves somethings to your own imagination. I think The Void is the kind of movie that makes more sense after watching it a second time. If you’re the kind of person that needs everything spelled out for you and to  have the movie hold your hand and explain every detail then this isn’t the movie for you. On the other hand if you like having your imagination engaged and contemplating what you just watched, then by all means give The Void a shot.

I enjoyed watching The Void, a lot. It’s been a long time that a  new movie has captured my attention and imagination like this one. In fact I’ve kept it on my Netflix list to watch it again, something I hardly ever do. I won’t say that it’s the greatest horror movie I’ve seen but it’s a fun movie, and I can overlook the flaws it has.

If you enjoyed the supernatural-esque movies of John Carpenter, and Clive Barker from the ’80’s then I think you’ll enjoy this one. Fans of weird fiction, and in particular HP Lovecraft will enjoy it as well. A lot has been made of The Void being a homage to the 80’s horror movies, in particular John Carpenter’s work – Prince of Darkness, but I think it stands on its own as a solid movie.

Grade: B+

WIP: WitchBane

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I started working on this one Saturday morning. It’s based on an old sketch I did in my sketch book earlier in the year as well as some more recent ones. This is the pencil work for the final piece that I’ll probably start inking later on this weekend. It’s more of a fantasy, albeit dark fantasy, idea. I figured it’d be a good idea to expand the genre of my work.  The head that WitchBane is holding is a Medusa. When I was kid I loved the movie ‘The Clash of the Titans’. I think I had the original on VHS back in the day, and it left a big impact on me.  I think they remade it not too long ago, but I don’t think I’ve bothered to watch it, there’s something more pleasing/entertaining about the original with the stop animation and such.

Lately, I’ve been submiting my work to various fantasy/horror/scifi/weird fiction publications in an attemp to get some paying illustration work. Hopefully, something good will come out of it. I figured doing some fantasy orientated drawings will be good for my portfolio and be a fun change of pace. You can view my portfolio simply be clicking on the ‘Home’ page up on top.

Thanks for stopping by and checking it out.