Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Jakkattu Vector by P K Tyler

Jakkattu Series gets off to a fantastic start with this blistering action-packed alien contact story set in a dystopian earth featuring two remarkably gutsy female leads, rebelling against the ruling tyrants.



I confess I haven’t read the prequel stories, Avendui 5ive set in the same world or the earlier works of PK Tyler. But when I got a review copy, my interest was piqued by the “Margaret Atwood of the indie scene” comparison. And after having rushed through this one, I am definitely looking to reading anything else from her. A year, when xenophobia has been termed as the word of the year by Dictionary.com, this book truly brings out a different dimension to that word. A startlingly original novel, The Jakkattu Vector is the first in a series that chronicles a disturbing contact story of aliens arriving on a ravaged earth destroyed by environmental disasters, but with veiled intentions and genetic experiments that go horribly wrong.

The story begins on an exuberant high – Sabaal, a Jakkattu (An alien species remarkably similar to humans, from another galaxy and a planet called Perithia) imprisoned by Mezna (this new species of aliens who arrived on earth decades ago, offering their superior technology to save the ecological disaster that has engulfed earth and has destroyed the planet and humans alike) escapes her captors and gets away from the ‘terraformed’ city that is the capital of their rule here on Earth. The scene sets the tone for the book, fast-paced to the point of frenetic and we never look back. Now Jakkattu are a warrior species, violence being an essential part of their lives – as is evident by the physiological structure of the Jakkattus. Sabaal is taller than most human women, her body denser and in better shape to endure physical stress. Pavarti ensures that through Sabaal’s thinking and actions right up at the beginning of the book, the readers are made aware that Mezna have some hidden intentions in their ‘visit’ to this new planet called Earth. The brooding sense of tension only escalates as we are taken on a wild ride, with Sabaal who escapes into the ‘wild’ beyond the city; an area apparently off-limits to the residents (‘rez’); humans or hybrids alike. The city houses ‘miscegenates’ hybrid experimental results of the Mezna, trying to fuse their DNA into the humans. Characterized by their bright blue eyes and their utter devotion to their faith as spread by Mezna, where a Divine Lord Mother is the guardian deity.

The other POV comes in from Julia Thorpe, who lives on one of the last few ‘pure’ human settlements beyond the big Mezna city. A feisty girl who question the rules and limits set in place by the council of leaders (strangely enough a matriarchal society ruled by women, taking tough decisions to ensure safety of the last few pockets of humanity, huddled together against the marauding dangers like toxstorms and the ‘feral’, cannibalistic roaming wildlings) Julia isn’t content with the deadbeat rhythm that her leaders have the society dancing to. Her brother, Norwood – himself a rebel in his thinking, refuses to be just a ‘cattle’ who is fit only for physical labor or being paraded for marriage proposals from ‘brides’ who arrive from different cities. In fact, I really liked his character and I wish there was a POV for woody. A brave man who actually acts on his thoughts and is in fact, the catalyst for Julia’s character evolution.

The diseased Earth – with left-over pockets of humanity cringing together for survival against an enemy that is the crippled environment or nature around them itself, comes alive beautifully in Pavarti’s punchy prose. Deft world-building that will bring a lump to your throat as you imagine the dangers of the scathing tox-storms that sweep through the settlements or the monsters out in the ocean. Or the detailed cultures of the different species including the epics and Gods of a new faith as being popularized by the ruling class. The societal hierarchy and the far-reaching consequences of rules set down by the tyrants in power. It forms a haunting background to the intriguing power-play and the evolution that our lead characters go through.

Pavarti mixes science fiction and genetic experiments, throwing up some burning questions about the human nature itself and writes up a storm as Sabaal and Julia’s worlds collide and explode. Jakkattu Vector is a book that takes you on a harrowing adventure, streaking past issues of human identity, xenophobia, environmental disasters and a stagnating culture with an emotional heft that will slam you with a left hook you never saw coming. This one deserves to be on your reading list. Solid four stars. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

2017 Movies - King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.

Guy Ritchie. Guy Ritchie. Guy Ritchie. This one's going to be EPIC.

Yup - New movie out in 2017 and the trailer released sometime back at Comic-Con looks like a motherload of a shit-kicker! It's got Charlie Hunnam( Pacific Rim), dark humor, bare-knuckled fights, Jude Law, fire-balls, black magic and hell, it's a Guy Ritchie movie. Do you seriously need any other reason?

This one's way up on my Most Awaited Movies of the Next Year - The King Arthur, Legend of the Sword. In his own inimitable fashion, Guy Ritchie stamps his masterclass and his own distinct stylish visual flair on this legend, gritty, pulsating with a very high level of energy that never lets down through this whole trailer.

Would you be interested in a Guy Ritchie take - on the Arthurian legend ? Let's find out, March 24 2017 as the movie opens. For now, feast on this action-packed exhilarating trailer that definitely ups the expectations to beyond star-trek.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Release Day Blitz: The Jakkattu Vector by P.K. Tyler

14449056_1089252701158153_2738096865314914239_n

Welcome to another Novel Publicity tour! We're so excited for the release of The Jakkattu Vector by P.K. Tyler ! I am halfway through with the book and it's mind-blowing stuff. Imaginative worldbuilding, posing some really tough questions in the guise of a well-packaged post-apocalyptic story of alien contact, poignant and disturbing at the same time. Look out for a review coming up soon!

About the Book

tjv-ebook-cover

They came as saviors to a deteriorating Earth Julip Thorne questions whether there is more to life beyond the barren dirt, acidic seas, and toxstorms her people work and die in. Living in poverty on the withering Greenland Human Reservation, she wonders if the alien Mezna goddesses are truly as holy as the temple preaches. Julip begins to dig deeper into the history of the planet and her leaders’ rise to power. But nothing can prepare her for the atrocities she uncovers. Meanwhile, Jakkattu prisoner Sabaal suffers constant torture and heinous medical experiments as her Mezna-priest captors seek to unlock the key to her genetic makeup. Escaping from captivity, she finds herself suddenly alone on the hostile alien planet of Earth. To survive, she’s forced to work with the same Mezna-human hybrids she’s loathed her entire life, but the more they work together, the more they realize that their enemy is the same. When humans and Mezna collide, will Sabaal turn out to be the genetic vector the Mezna have been searching for all along, or will she spark the flame that sets a revolution ablaze?

About the Author

pavartiktyler

P.K. Tyler is the author of Speculative Fiction and other Genre Bending novels. She’s also published works as Pavarti K. Tyler and had projects appear on the USA TODAY Bestseller’s List. “Tyler is essentially the indie scene’s Margaret Atwood; she incorporates sci-fi elements into her novels, which deal with topics such as spirituality, gender, sexuality and power dynamics.” – IndieReader Pav attended Smith College and graduated with a degree in Theatre. She lived in New York, where she worked as a Dramaturge, Assistant Director and Production Manager on productions both on and off-Broadway. Later, Pavarti went to work in the finance industry for several international law firms. Now located in Baltimore Maryland, she lives with her husband, two daughters and two terrible dogs. When not penning science fiction books and other speculative fiction novels, she twists her mind by writing horror and erotica. You can follow PK Tyler on Facebook, Twitter, and sign up for her newsletter, or visit her website here.


Exclusive Author Interview & Excerpt from the Jakkattu Vector:



You’re the head of marketing for Novel Publicity, a business woman, and an award winning author. What does a typical day work day look like for you?


How do you find balance between working life, your family and everything else?
P.K.: Have a forgiving spouse?  I don’t do everything, I can’t. It’s just not possible.  Thank god for a man who loves to cook and clean!  My kids are getting older now so they need less of my focus and more of my driving skills, so I do a lot of reading in the car waiting for them.  I don’t know how to organize it, I kind of just do it.  I’m really walking talking chaos so I’m the wrong person to give advice on this.  

Have any tips for those of us that work from home?

P.K.: I’d say the most important thing is to accept that you can’t do it all and not only is that okay, it’s normal and good.

The Feral

IT STARTED TO RAIN AS they walked, but Norwood kept an impossible pace. Julip slipped and fell more than once, but he just kept going. She guessed he was right to hurry; they had to get back before nightfall so they didn’t get caught. Ma would be furious as it was, what with them gone missing for so much of the day.
The sky darkened despite it still being midday, and clouds rolled in behind them. Back home it would be a mess. Rain put everyone in a sour mood. The sea was too volatile to risk going out when it stormed, and while the rainwater was clean and safe, the ocean steeped in chemicals that could peel a person’s skin before too long. Their father had burning water scars up and down his arms and speckled across his face from working as a jellyfisher for so long. By comparison to other men who worked the sea, he had remained pretty intact.
The Cotillion was probably having a great time. Rain meant clean air and fresh water, for a little while at least. Sometimes if the rain came at the same time as a toxstorm, it would bring the fumes down to Earth, keeping everyone inside for days, sometimes weeks. The last time that happened, Julip had been nine and was forced to stay in her parents’ dwell with no one but her brother for nineteen straight days. The damage the fumes caused still marred the walls of the bedroom they shared.
The siblings had complained, begged to be allowed outside, but nothing they said or did would convince the adults to let them go. Only her father ventured out to pick up a daily ration of food and water from the Center-of-It-All. He would bundle up, covered from head to toe in fabric and plastic. Even his head was wrapped in one of her mother’s scarves, and his eyes hid behind goggles he’d made out of extra window plastic.
Thirteen people died during that storm, and two more were blinded. For months after, there was a rash of stillbirths on the reservation. The Daughters all agreed that the fumes had come down and poisoned the babes. It’d been five years since the last bad toxstorm whipped through Greenland, so one was due to come soon. Julip loved the cool rain as it soaked through her scarf. She uncovered her head and felt the water trickle down her face and saturate her hair. Parents would take the littlest kids on the rez outside, strip them, and scrub them red. Clean rain meant a real washing, not a quick, timed wipe-down with the gray water from the sinks.
Norwood pulled a canteen from his trouser pocket and caught drips of water from the oversized leaves surrounding them. The trees weren’t much taller than him, but the forest canopy closed in as they walked. Soon they walked on dry earth, and the only remaining evidence of the rain was the heaviness of her hair and the sound of water dripping on leaves high above.
“I’ve never been deep in the Wilds,” she said.
“Ya’ve never been shallow in the Wilds.”
“True, but there ain’t even words for this back home. It smells different, dirty, but my nose ain’t pained by it.”
“‘Cause it’s real. This dirt is from the Earth, not the toxes.”
“Why do we have so much tox on the rez if this is right here?”
“I dunno, but I reckon it’s ‘cause we’re human. People made the toxes. In some way, I guess it’s only right we live in ‘em.”
A howl rose from deep in the forest, and Julip yelped and bent down, trying to blend in, hide in the underbrush. Her legs wanted to give out, but she squeezed her eyes shut and demanded her body not betray her

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Facefaker's Game by Chandler J Birch

Billed as being perfect for fans of Scott Lynch and Patrick Rothfuss, Chandler J Birch's debut novel, The Facefaker's Game is indeed a pretty exciting prospect for us fantasy lovers - a story about an earnest beggar boy who sets out to right some wrongs in his grimy ramshackle-rundown neighborhood with the help of his newly learned 'magic' skills, this premise should definitely strum your heart-strings as a reader looking for the next big thing after Locke Lamora. Add to the entertaining mix, an elegantly detailed magical system, some charming roguish protagonists, a grim-dark world full of danger and mysteries galore, all in the backdrop of a Charles Dickensian society; quite the potent mix for a good fantasy story. So while not quite in the league of a Locke Lamora or even Kvothe, the charming fourteen year-old Ashes, the main 'hero' of the narrative will definitely win hearts - for his intensely good-nature that leads him into all sorts of trouble, trying to set things right by his narrow conscience. He is clever but not terribly cunning, he is resourceful but not entirely talented when it comes to sticky situations. And of course, there is this secret about his past-life & capabilities that forms, sort of the hook into probably what is the rest of the series, wherein hopefully we get to see more character-development for sure. 



Chandler builds out the neighborhood of Burroughside set in a corner of the large city of Temaris, as this tiny but nasty hovel full of gangs of thieves and no-gooders, where the price of life is cheap and the night-fall and shadows brings with it, dangers galore - blood-thirsty creatures akin to the undead or zombies called 'Ravagers'  that lurk in the dark and have a penchant for a taste of the human flesh. There is competition between gangs and thus, a lot of tension - and right up from the first chapter, Chandler beautifully brings out this conflict and the knife-edge that Ashes has to walk in this tough neighborhood. Great hook, I knew I was going to love this story! 

The social hierarchy within Temaris is a bit confusing - with different levels of 'privileged' classes like the Denizens and the Ivorish - and of course, the bottom of the pile with hapless have-nots like Ashes and others. So an interesting tidbit served up that piqued my curiosity was that folks like Ashes are called 'rasas' - kids found in the streets without any prior memory of their birth or past life. Hopefully a mystery for the longer-run, this.

Ashes, the fourteen-year old boy is isn't too strong nor is he part of any powerful gangs in his district. But he is clever and a whiz at thinking on his feet, saving himself many a purple bruise purely by virtue of his silver tongue more than once. And to top it off, ever since he's broken off his affiliation from any of the 'bruiser' gangs that roam the neighborhood, he's taken on the additional responsibility of providing for this younger boy, Blimey - whom he's taken on as his local ward. The only complication being, the local governor of this district, Mr. Ragged - a sort of Beggar-Lord whom everybody else pays their 'tithes' to - wants Blimey dead. 

With his penchant for gambling and fast hands, Ashes heads to the streets outside of Burroughside - and takes to cheating the 'Denizens' with his card skills. But one chance encounter puts him under the lens of Candlestick Jack, an Artificer or magician who can manipulate light - who takes a fancy to Ashes and takes him under his own tutelage - as an apprentice. Jack - and his company of "artificers" however, are in the game for something much more valuable. Ashes soon discovers that his master's company are in fact, training and preparing for some grand heists - against their 'Ivorish' lords and counterparts in the shining cities. 

While the preparations for this grand heist and Ashes's training takes up much of the narrative, a parallel one details how Ashes, a morally upright boy whose conscience doesn't allow to him standby and let the bullies rule the street or the crooked rule the oppressed, wants to take revenge against the evil beggar-lord. It's pretty evenly paced - but I did feel that after the initial world is set, characters all introduced and when we get snared deeper into the "magical" training and the heist/revenge-drama, the initial fire and excitement slowly ebbed away. The Dickensian feel to the world was very subtly done - in terms of the dresses, the language nuances between the 'cultured' high-class Ivorish and the have-nots, brought up in poverty. A nice nod to this world building is Blimey's fascination for 'books' and how he tries to teach Ashes, a new word or two everyday from his books. There is this urgent "anything-can-happen" feel to the story as it progresses - but unfortunately, when we get to the parts of the training, there are a lot of details about the extensive and delightful magical system that slows things down. Just like Brandon Sanderson, Chandler lets his readers dive deep unto the roots of his well-thought-out magic - about light manipulation and the different types of 'artifice' that one can perform with the light, making it feel authentic and an integral part of the story itself. 

Ashes himself is a lovable charming boy. A tad bit stubborn and even foolish in his choices but Ashes has got his heart in his right place. He is loyal to a fault, exceedingly cautious having to live out his days in fear inside Burroughside, he is still resourceful and there is that sort of zingy Joie de verve about him that makes his chapters, a pleasure to read. An uncanny sense of scope and surprise colors his escapades - be it the fear-filled flight from ravagers or the heady, naive and bungling efforts to scare up the bigger bullies with the use of Artifice. The side characters as well, are all nicely fleshed out and extremely relatable. I personally loved Jack, Ashes' mentor. Jack and Ashes' banter is delightful, funny and felt natural - and while Jack has his own set of secrets, his fascination with Ashes leads them both into many tricky and 'hair-rising' situations. Someone that I just couldn't get enough of, was of course Blimey - the boy whose life Ashes saved, his obsession with books, chess and who himself, is a rasa. Being the over-protective big-brother figure to Blimey, Ashes doesn't want to let Blimey out on the streets but I think, as the series proceeds, we will get to hear more about him. There are quite a few more interesting characters in this book like Synder, the genius-apprentice of Jack, or the mysterious Lady who rules the other crime-lords in Temaris with an iron hand. 

My only complaint about the book, would perhaps be the lack of pay-offs at the end of book-one. There are quite a few unanswered questions the readers are left with - and also, in the grand scheme of things, while the original plot-line around Ashes' revenge against Mr. Ragged is interesting, it by itself seemed pretty restrictive and limiting in its scope. There are hints thrown about - for some larger mystery at stake with the political drama and intrigue of the guild of Artificers and Ivorish Lords but we don't get to see where that leads.

But all in all, an extremely delightful debut for fantasy lovers, Facefaker's Game gives us a zany protagonist whose quicksilver tongue and deft hands may not just be his greatest assets - and a well fleshed out magic system readers can sink their teeth into and an intriguing world, that I suspect, is only partially revealed in this first outing, the shining lights of the Temaris city has a lot to hide. Lovers of fantasy and adventure, this new book by Chandler J Birch should be high up on your reading list.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Movie Review : Acham Enbathu Madayamaida (2016, Tamil)

I usually am selective about the movies that I watch, in the theaters. I'm usually more a fan of the DVD-genre, sleeper hits and the like. And so this, Watching Acham Yenbathu Madayamaida, has been one of the few epic mistakes that I'm going to look back on and rue.



This movie, Acham Yenbathu Madayamaida (Roughly translated to Fear is Foolishness) was something that a few of us had pretty high hopes about. Director Gautham Vasudev Menon, AR Rehman and Simbu coming back together - especially when the songs were released a while back, (just mind-blowing! Pure bliss, Rehman back in blistering form and touch.) So naturally, the hype and expectations went sky-rocketing stratospheric and we dutifully got our tickets for a late-night show yesterday, the first week of the release of AYM.

The first half of the movie, soars. Literally - a self-indulgent exercise in vanity, a beautiful love-story unfolding over the course of that one hour. We even see the faint beginnings of a well-crafted road movie, an attempt that hasn't really succeeded well in Tamil movies in a long while I think. The whole build up of love between the two main protagonists, the boy played by Simbu and Leela, the girl (Played by Manjima Mohan, the mallu girl from the super-hit Nivin Pauly-starrer, Orru Vadakkan  Selfie) who comes to live in his house while doing a project with his sister, is naturally done. The late night conversations, the hesitant leg-pulling and the raging confusions in their minds. Classic Gautham Menon. The lead characters get along like a house on fire and eventually, decide to set out on a south India bike tour. And this is probably where GVM gets into his top elements - picturesque locations, bewitchingly beautiful background score, the wonderful songs and the hero-heroine slowly settling into their comfort zones. (Meaning, steadily falling more in love!)

(A word about the setting and timing for the song, Thalli Pogathey - It's fuckin' brilliant! It's novel and punchy and I haven't seen something like this, ever. Period. )

Simbu plays a character, we are overly familiar with - from his Vinnaithandi...days, but this time, his character is less angsty, more relaxed and sure of himself and his feelings. He is mature and easily slips under the skin of his character. Manjima, probably in just her second outing, is in great nick. I did love her characterization and GVM's definitely worked his magic in making this pairing work, so effortlessly well.

And then we hit the second half. Oh did I walk into the wrong theater after the interval, was the first feeling.

And GVM loses the plot, oh so spectacularly. The movie just spirals down the gutter of mediocrity, stuck between mindless, thoughtless violence and a confused narrative bored full of holes, the size of rings of Saturn. It's just plain mind-fuckery of the highest order and I felt so bad, spitting out the terrible flavored popcorn and the world's worst machine-brewed coffee. I felt bad about having spent that money on not just the damn movie but this over-priced shit. Having wasted the night being stuck in this multiplex. Oh so many things to rue. We were just laughing out loud at almost the ridiculous turn of events that comes after all that. I don't even want to talk about the plot. The main characters land up on the Karnataka-Maharashtra border in a very FUBAR-ed situation, an ugly mix of politics and personal vendetta gone sour, with some vile cops who chase them around ( Baba Sehgal playing this retarded bald baddie who spouts funny English dialogues in between his broken Marathi and Hindi while being jealous of English-speaking Chennai people like Simbu)

GVM, we agree when you say, this was an experiment. Yes and it just blew up in all our faces. I mean, who did the casting for you? The electrifying super tense situations like shoot-outs inside a locked house or the nerve-jangling highway car-chase actually melts down to laughable scenes strung together - because of the actors or extras trying to scream and shout hysterically. There are trite dialogues, "Macha, I love you da!" [ Simbu's best friend Mahesh, who turns up at this run-down hospital in the middle of nowhere tracking Simbu's character. He must have been Jason Bourne in his previous life!] "Shall I shoot him, Shall I? Shall I shoot him? I can shoot him..Shall I?" [ This is Leela, holding a shaking gun in both her hands, pointed down at her own two feet, sobbing hysterically while Simbu and a baddie are locked together rolling in the ground, exchanging blows ]
"You killed him in my house! I am a doctor, damned. I save lives! I am your father, damned!" [ This is a random character, a doctor whose son is in cahoots with the gundas and whose house, the good guys take refuge in. This guy is screaming like a girl on an ice-cream high ranting at his son while there are bullets spraying all around. ]

Well, I really don't want to go on. It just felt like two or three movie strung together. The first half is good and so it just feels so bad that the second half was a derailed, tangled up train-wreck of a movie. Rent the DVD, watch the first half, enjoy the songs ( Thank God all four of them are in the first half!) and then trash that DVD as soon as the word, "interval" pops up on the screen. 

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Burning Isle by Will Panzo

Another debut hailed by the marketing engines to be the contender for the Best of 2016-lists, but this time, I do believe that Will Panzo's excellent grim-dark debut, The Burning isle might just stand against the ravages of time and more.



A solid, entertaining first book, soaked in grime and blood that details a tale steeped in magic, mysticism and dark intrigue about this mysterious young mage who arrives on this island-state of Scipio - at the arse-end of the republic, neglected by all except for the blood-thirsty, merciless ganglords at each others' throats for supremacy. Why is he here, a land forgotten by one and all, forms the crux of the bloody narrative that leaps and skittles forward, in gory skirmishes and numerous fights between spell-casters and wizards ending in smoked up charred ruins. It's by all means, a memorable debut with Will staking his blood-drenched authoritative claim to the crown of the grim-dark fantasy fiction ( Which of course today, is hotly contested for!)

Having said all that, as soon as I finished this frenetically charged book, I found myself a bit lost and underwhelmed. I think the chief reason would be my lack of empathy for all the characters - especially Cassius, the young mage central to the storyline who holds the nuts and bolts of the narrative together, driving it forward with his intense focus on a goal that nobody really understands, until the end of the book. So there are only three reasons for a man being anywhere: to right a wrong, to earn a coin, or because he is lost. We know Cassius isn't lost - his initial conversation with Lucian, the bar-tender immediately draws in the reader and sets the tone for the mystery to unfold over the course of the violent and turbulent story. (Oh and the book is full of some wonderful memorable quotes, be it war, violence or just the minds of men! Loved them)

Cassius takes up the job of a mercenary spell-caster but ends up in trouble soon enough in his first bout, having killed a prime spell-caster or killer for one of the top bosses in town. Which naturally brings him to the attention of the second gang-lord who presses him into his own gang, for some nasty work. Things take on a feverish pace as Cassius works towards his own secret agenda and the trail of bloodied, charred bodies starts to pile up sky-high.

Cassius, fascinated by the legend of Attus, something of a hero-cult-figure in his mind based on the stories he has heard from his childhood, soon is troubled by the 'loss of innocence" as he tries to set out on this "rightful" work of cleansing evil in this brutal land. The life of a spell-caster is cast in violence and death and it doesn't escape him either. His own true identity gets revealed late in the book and by then, if you are not fatigued by the dead bodies and the guilt that piles on heavy on his young mind, then well congratulations. In many ways, its a heavy undertaking. Not to say, I didn't enjoy the spectacular world building or the uniquely designed magic system steeped in antiquity. The world itself is sort of a secondary world fashioned on Ancient Rome, with it's dresses, people and culture strongly based on such. There are gods, then there are the native versions of such and the stories of heroes from past times. Makes for an interesting mishmash that grows on you as you read on.

There are tons of characters in the book - each grimmer and scarier than the other. Piso and Cinna, the rival ganglords, Quintus the General who lives inside the jungle and is said to control the whole of the city from there, Vorenicus the idealistic honest commander of the legionnaires stationed in the city to maintain peace, Sulla the mercenary out to look after her own interests in this war and lots more. Piso and Cinna are typical brutes, grimdark fantasy tropes, akin to murderous ganglords with their own interests at stake, not too likable or with any speck of honor about them. But Will goes to extra pains to paint up the picture of Vorenicus, the General's upright son who loves peace and is willing to go to any extent to maintain the same. The only man unsullied by the filth and grim of the island-city, still with a semblance of honor and respect for human life.
Quintus himself remains a legendary figure, hidden away from the squabbles of the city, who had once led a fearsome uprising and cleansed the city of the natives, a genocide of horrific proportions - till the last quarter of the book. Sulla was one of my favorite characters, out to look after her own interests, a mercenary with some sort of a heart.

There are some sweeping battle-scenes, action bloody and feverish borne on magic ( Some real cool mind-bending scenes of badassery as spell-casters or killers go about fighting each other, some wild imagination on boosters!) spread through the book. And the magic itself, unexplained to a certain extent is an important ingredient of the whole narrative. Given that Cassius himself is a mage ( and one of the greatest, having been trained on this mysterious Isle of Twelve, a wizard boot-camp bordering on Hell itself!) The timelines overlap and intertwine, giving a very interesting 'graphic-novel' vibe to the reading itself.

Overall, it's a rather enjoyable romp giving us an anti-hero reveling in mystery and ambiguity and a memorable world of astounding magic and killer-mages and dirty battle-fields in it's slum-laden alleyways and dark jungles - A wild read like a kinetic cinematic experience that will leave your heart thrumming for more. 

Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Ferryman Institute by Colin Gigl

I got The Ferryman Institute a while back and have just been stewing on it - The book came out on Sept 27th, from Gallery (Simon & Schuster) books and if you like your urban fantasy a little offbeat layered on with sides of wicked humor, tons of action and an imagined world like no-where else ( literally hanging between the life and death!) then you should get your hands on this book.



This is Colin Gigl's debut and if this is any indication to go by, then this talented writer's got a long way to go. It reads like an assured piece of writing, whacky and funny to the core and paced really well, I couldn't seem to get enough of the story. Set in a hyper-imaginative setting called The Ferryman's Institute where the residents, simply known as ferrymen are primarily tasked with the onerous job of ferrying the newly dead souls, into the afterlife. And for this, they are 'blessed' with a seemingly immortal life ensuring that they carry on their assigned tasks. The Institute is structured like a modern day corporate company - headed by a "President" whose identity is unknown and the tasks are always completed by a team of three - a Manager, an analyst and the ferryman. Each with their own defined set of job responsibilities. They have their own 'internal affairs' teams and its all presided by a mythical board of directors, whom no one has ever seen or heard from.

So the story unfolds from the POV of Charlie Dawson - Charlie is a ferryman, no - he is THE ferryman having got to a superstar ferryman status having never failed in his job in the last two hundred and fifty years of meritorious unflagging service. But doing the same thing, repeating the same dialogue to millions of souls looking to make that cross-over - can be dull and deadening. And so with Charlie. Who now wants out of it. In fact, Charlie has got so bored with the proceedings that to pass time, Charlie flings himself off cliffs and lands on the rocks and beaches far below. In a way, this scene right at the beginning of the book even as the reader is trying to wrap that idea of an immortal ferryman, between the doors of life and death, is a subtle but powerful imagery that nods towards the disillusionment of Charlie.

That's when he gets a break - and a top secret assignment direct from the President him/herself about this subject called Alice Spiegel, who is about to commit suicide. But surprisingly, Charlie gets a choice. Be a Ferryman or Save the girl. A choice after two hundred fifty years is not something Charlie is going to let go of and this one act - of saving Alice from killing herself, pretty much tears a huge hole in the fabric of reality in Charlie's life. Sort of like that butterfly wing fluttering leading to an earthquake some place else. It sets off an event of chain-reactions that sees Charlie and Alice scrambling for their lives (!) against a determined set of antagonists hell bent on arresting Charlie. It's non stop action from here on and the novel is filled with suspense and thrill-rides with a lot of twists thrown in for good measure.

It's eminently readable as a 'thriller' book - but Colin's ingenuity is in presenting the Ferryman Institute in all its corporate glory, so relatable and alarmingly realistic. The people and their frustrations, their aspirations and jealousy that makes this world what it is. In Charlie Dawson, Colin gives us an empathetic and intelligent protagonist whose pain and longing is something we can all relate to. The author does stretch it in the beginning by painting up this picture of a desolate, frustrated man stuck in a job that he finds meaningless but continues to do so, almost to perfection for over two centuries and many decades. But then Charlie gets to meet Alice - his next 'job' and things get cracking.

Alice is a livewire - one of the reasons I enjoyed the book so much. An intelligent, sassy young woman whose snark and wit protects her vulnerable mind from the hurtful world. The cheerful banter between her and Charlie is very well written and is basically the backbone of the book as we go in further. But things really heat up with the introduction of Inspector Javrouche, an investigator within the Institute who's gunning all out for Charlie. A very well realized antagonist whose reasons are all too believable and the readers really get to believe in his cause. And that is definitely one of the strengths of the book. The characterizations are so pat-down rightfully done. And then there is absolutely delightfully Mr. Cartwright. Ah, you will just love this guy. A sort of distant mentor for Charlie whom Charlie spends time debating about 'life', the history of the Institute and the rules that govern this strange in-between place. And he's got more hidden away in his pockets than the whole world outside.

The bureaucracy and the meta-physics of the world of the Ferryman institute is well fleshed out and Colin's writing is first-class, engaging and spot-on with his witticisms and pointers about truths of life or death as it comes. If you are bored with the whole genre of urban fantasy in general, then this book about the "undead" infuses new life into such. It's a delightful caper, wickedly funny tale about the stasis of after-life, so to speak. With wonderfully realistic characters drawn up and a well-realized bureaucratic institute that doubles up as the most successful and original 'soul-processing behemoth' that Death himself has chosen to outsource his job to, The Ferryman Institute is a winsome novel about the choices you make in life - and death that defines you as a person. I cannot recommend enough of this one. Go ahead, grab yourself a copy. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Kammatipaadam: A riveting gangster drama

I watch movies, mainly because of the escape it offers me. Rose tinted dreams away from the bustle of a daily trudge of a real life. But occasionally, I get to watch such gems rooted in dark reality and grim truths that I cannot help but sit up to applaud.



Kammatipaadam was one such movie.

Funnily, I had never really heard of the movie much, except for some of the folk songs in it that seemed to briefly sparkle on the media. Maybe I was living under a rock. All things said and done, Kammatipaadam is an absolutely riveting, gorgeously detailed gangster drama that unfolds slowly, drawing attention to the hidden truths behind the rise of city of Kochi as the real estate haven. A missing-persons mystery, a revenge saga or a chronicle of the unraveling lives of unfortunate youths caught in the bottomless spiral of a life made on violence and blood : The movie is treated at different levels and it works, oh so well at all these levels.

Director Rajeev Ravi's third outing, Kammatipaadam primarily revolves around the life and times of Krishnan, a misguided youth. The narrative is split across three timelines, Krishnan as the ageing mature man, who is injured right at the beginning of the movie, struggling to stay awake.  His empty ramblings are reminiscence of a misspent childhood and misguided youth steeped in a life of crime. Third timeline tries to tie it all together focusing on the mystery of his missing friend, Ganga for whom he has returned from Mumbai. It's stark, raw and unapologetic, in its treatment of the crime-laden violence but its done with a purpose. It's amazing how Rajeev manages to humanize the criminals. But I think, the magic of this movie is how the underlying message that speaks to us about how the city of Kochi was built on the bones and blood of thousands, forced to evacuate their ancestral fields doesn't get lost amidst this tense narrative. From the beautiful green fields of this village called Kammatipaadam where Krishnan grew up, to the bustling metropolis that grows around him as he bikes around the Ernakulam city ( There's a line, when Krishnan the character mouths overhead about how Kochi is no longer a small city - not big as Mumbai but big nevertheless!) to the skyscrapers of Panampally Nagar towards the climax.

So Krishnan and Ganga grow up together as childhood friends - and under the leadership of Ganga's brother, Balan take naturally to a life of crime. Selling movie tickets in black to bootlegging illicit liquor to being henchmen to the business lords of Kochi. But with time, Balan realizes that his masters have slowly been using them to oust his own relatives and ancestors off their properties and fields to raise up their real-estate dreams ( There's this spirited monologue by Balan to his grandfather about how it is futile to hold on to these fields which would no longer produce rice or grain but give way to buildings of glass and steel) But a life of crime never pays and a series of mishaps later, Krishnan and Gang try to reform. And then we cut back to the present where Ganga has gone missing and Krishnan is back in the city of his youth, now unrecognizable with its flyovers and metro rail but still with its seedy underbelly of crime intact.

Dulquer Salman has become experimental with his roles - and this is definitely one of his crowning achievements in his career. A restrained performance, the different looks he dons in the movie including that of the grey-haired mature man are splendid and enough testament to the young man's acting chops. But the standout performances were indeed Manikandan, a fiery debut outing as the temperamental righteous Balan and of course, Vinayakan as the troubled Ganga in one of his most pivotal roles in Malayalam cinema. For Vinayakan, its always been the bit roles of the gangster's side kick but this one's meaty as hell and he does a terrific job in doing justice to it. There is also this understated romantic triangle involving newcomer Shaun Romy and the two leads but in general, I thought the female roles were not too strong.

A tribute to the marginalized communities in Kerala and their struggles, Rajeev Ravi's hard hitting crime thriller ought to be applauded for its daring and realistic approach. Overall, a tad bit long in its three hour reel, Rajeev has not taken any shortcuts in giving us these hard-boiled characters baked by crime and hardship - and in their backdrop, a story of how real-estate is feeding off the blood and tears of unnamed masses, unfolds slowly but effectively. Brilliant piece of movie-making! Hats off.

Monday, October 31, 2016

November Titles on the reading list

November looks good people! Funny thing I notice, most of the hotly awaited books release on Nov 1st. Maybe I will put up another post for the books releasing later this month. For now, I have got quite a good list to read and finish for the month.

The Facefaker's game by Chandler Birch

Typical marketing hype that compares debuts to established authors sometimes might backfire. And we are talking Scott Fucking Lynch here! The Facefaker's game is another gem of a debut that's high on the most-awaited list of 2016, the protagonist being a young beggar boy who tricks his way into a guild of thieving magicians. Comparisons being drawn to Locke, of course.
Well, you had me at theiving magicians! This one's up next on my reading list.

Releases Nov 1st, from Ace books.



The Operative by Gerald Brandt


I missed out on The Courier, a cinematic sci-fi thriller set in a futuristic California that came last year from Gerald Brandt. A San Angeles novel, the Operative is the sequel to that explosive debut that saw Kris, a motorbike courier go into hiding with the underground resistance after witnessing a murder. Tailor made for a cyberpunk movie! I hope to pick up the threads soon and jump onto this one.

Releases Nov 1st, 2016 from DAW books.




The Burning Isle by Will Panzo


Grim dark fantasy debut perfect for the fans of Joe Abercrombie and the likes, this one's definitely one of the most anticipated titles for me, this year. Initial chapters don't dissapoint, the world building seems epic and its suitably dark and drenched in blood for me to revel in ( grin!)

Follows the adventures of a mysterious mage, Cassius newly arrived at this lawless island called Scipio ruled by merciless gang lords and an invisible army camped out in the Jungles. Look at the glorious cover, it's just mindblowing!

Releases Nov 1st from Ace Books.

The Smoke Hunter by Jacquelyn Benson

Another odd one out in my list this year, this one is touted to be Indiana Jones meets Lara Croft in an intense action thriller. Well, you sure got my attention people.

Set in 1898, a lot of history and mythology woven together in this fun action caper, I am definitely in on this.






Dominion by Peter Mclean

I read the Drake, Burning Man#1 that was Peter's debut last year and it sure was a crackler. An explosive urban fantasy set in the seedy undergrounds of a London we don't know, featuring an anti-hero and his devilish demon, fallen angels and like. Cannot wait to get back to this world and figure out how Drake survives the next predicament, big and ugly as they are. What with deals with the Devil Himself.

Releases Nov 1st from Angry Robot books.




Jekyll Revelation by Robert Masello

This one's a bit different, a mystery/thriller inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson's creation of the Strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. And the blurb definitely sounded promising.

A curse from the 1880's London transported to modern day California. Robert Masello is the best selling author of the Einstein Prophecy and I have never read him before. The historical references sounded intriguing and so I will definitely be taking this one up.

Releases Nov 8, from 47 North. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Remember Yesterday ( Forget Tomorrow #2) by Pintip Dunn

When I was approached for a blog tour of Remember Yesterday, I jumped for the chance. As I had really enjoyed the opening chapter in the series, Forget Tomorrow by Pintip Dunn and along with the rest of the world, was waiting with bated breath about the fate of Callie Stone and the world she was trying to save.



A YA sci-fi with time-travel forming a critical part of the narrative, the first book was definitely a hit with the readers - mainly because of the delightful world built up and also how Pintip chose to portray her heroine, Callie Stone - a strong and level-headed girl, selfless to a fault; her ultimate sacrifice that probably prevents the world from plunging into a disaster. But after that ultimate shocker of an ending, Pintip comes back with an even stronger sequel - raising questions about time-travel with some breezy recap on this world-altering incident. Did it really save the world and her sister Jessa ?

As I plunged back into this familiar, well realized world, set sometime perhaps in our own near future, I thought that a quick brush up of acronyms from book one would have been helpful. FuMA, the now disgraced Future Memory Association tasked with making sure the memories get assigned to people on their designated date. TechRA - Technology Research Agency, working to "re-invent" future memory after Callie's momentous decision and action change the future course of this world. There, that is now out of the way. Trust me, the whole book centers around these two agencies that could define the future of this world.

Right in the beginning, the switch in POV to Jessa, Callie's sister who was all of six in book one, grown up to a rebellious and headstrong sixteen year old  by the second book, is an interesting plot device. So the beginning of the book feels really different from the rock-solid, fun caper that defined book one. We are talking about teenage crushes, rebel yells, the angst and confusion and the hormonal overdrive that defines typical sixteen years going through their transformation stage and a lot of the initial narrative is basically Jessa trying to live beyond the shadow of the legacy that Callie has left behind in this world. Coupled with that are twinges of jealousy and guilt that makes Jessa basically run away from the civilization to join a nomadic group called Harmony - who are the voice of dissent against the tyrannical government agencies.

She forms her most meaningful relationships here in the wild, With Ryder, a boy her age adopted by Mikey (Logan's brother from book-one) who is sort of the head of this rebel group. Now Ryder I thought had great potential, to be this side-kick who teaches all sorts of physical sports to Jessa including neat hover-board tricks. But as the book proceeds, this one goes to the sideline. In favor of the more candy-floss teenage hormone-driven romantic allusion she has with Tanner Callahan, a boy-genius and a scientist working at TechRA.

So put Tanner - the quintessential good looker with the IQ off the charts and a cocky attitude to boot. And Jessa - a punk rebel, headstrong and brash who is desperately trying to find her own purple haven - together, there is bound to be romance. In fact, in this aspect, Pintip does a xerox copy of the love-story that was building up between Logan and Callie from book-one. But somehow, this one really struck a chord with me as a reader. There are plenty of things happening through the book - twisted events that helps answer the questions about the damaged past, beautifully interjecting time-travel into the narrative. The romance builds up naturally even as these events transpire and define their characters in the story.

In fact Remember yesterday is pretty much the motto that Jessa lives by - Callie's sacrifice that rewrote the timelines and the solution to their problems might lie in the past. The breezy second part brings back some "crucial" characters who shape the destiny of this world and I thought this was really very clever.  And while I have to say, I saw the end coming, Pintip's energetic writing still makes this reading all sorts of fun - tying up a lot of threads neatly. The time-travel paradoxes are cleverly handled and the room is left wide open for an interesting climax by the series ender, definitely looking forward to wrap this one up as Jessa and her friends head for one hell of a showdown.

Overall, an extremely strong sequel to a wonderful sci-fi YA series that definitely will be remembered, today and tomorrow.