Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Review: The White Devil

Justin Evans hopefully had a much more enjoyable experience as an American student abroad than he gives Andrew in his latest novel, The White Devil.  As a former student, the author provides the story with a level of authenticity of living conditions only he could share.

However, the school is not as interesting nor as well-examined, as I would have hoped — though that's because his characters did not leave room for a dank, damp, drafty old school.

Andrew is sent overseas to straighten out his life at Harrow, an an English boarding school his father declares is his son's "last chance" at — redemption, regret, attitude adjustment, maybe all of the above.  Alas, his uncanny resemblance to a famous, beautiful alumnus draws the attention from an unlikely source: the school ghost.

This is not just any old ghost.  Rather, this one is linked to a larger-than-life Harrow alumnus steeped in lore and mystery — and, most importantly, romance.

Being inside the head of a teenage boy for a few hundred pages was truly educational.  Additionally, this beautiful boy had no shortage of suitors, including young women with bad reputations and hormone-focused agendas.  And yet there was still time for research, essay-writing, reading poetry, rehearsing a play and getting, ahem, to know other people (not least of which is a promiscuous, lonely and pitiful teenage girl surrounded by boys).

The story was fraught with emotion, hormones, fear (imagined and real) and chance.  It required staid characters to climb out of their comfort zones, which can be exciting.  I liked the characters, staid and unhinged.  Some were drawn with very bold, thick strokes, but sometimes finding the familiar in a character makes the story easier to follow.

After finishing the book, I needed to think about it.  I was a little disappointed with the ending, which at first seemed too obvious, having been telegraphed from one of the (too obvious) clues in the novel.  However, in retrospect, it makes sense — and carries the terribly, terribly romantic story to a nearly Wagnerian ending.

In the end, it was an interesting treatment of a ghost story, unique enough to keep the die-hard ghosty interested and familiar enough to satisfy traditionalists.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Review: The Summer of Night

I am a fan of Dan Simmons.  I loved the shocking rollercoaster that was Drood and enjoyed greatly the complex Native American lore of Black Hills.  I didn't mind too much when he took his time getting to where he was getting because I figured it would be interesting.

When Summer of Night took its sweet time, I thought it was par for the course.  I also had a flashback to The Terror, a book that gave me nightmares and took too long to even start.  I nearly stopped reading once or twice: once because it involved a situation with an animal (which was telegraphed from the beginning) and once because it was boring.  Only an early tease prompted me to keep going.

In the end, I found it a long trip on a short road.  It wasn't bad, but it could have been tighter, which would have made it more intense.

A school in a small midwestern town is closing due to low enrollment.  However, a child goes missing on the last day of school, and administrators seem unconcerned because his family is not reputable.  A group of rising sixth graders become suspicious and begin investigating as only youngsters can: under the radar, noticed only by the driver of the redering truck.

The clues are funky: unusual but a little too far out to be plausible, even under the most extreme of circumstances.  Adults ignore the children at the right times under the right circumstances so they can discover clues.  People die under the most implausible cirstances, covered over by the slimiest of bad guys.

In the end, it's not a bad "junk food" book, but it's shouldn't be your first choice of junk food books.  You can do better for shlocky horror.