Book Review: I, The One by Dominika Lein

A “universe of souls where manifestation is a literal thought away and the Strong-Willed harshly rule”. . .

An etheric plane between dimensions with no rules save that the weak will be consumed . . .

Such is the setting of I, the One, the debut work from author Dominika Lein.

Lein posits a world some souls do not move on to paradise or ultimate rest upon death, instead ending up in The Other Side, a Wild West free-for-all where the strong rule. Niman finds himself in the thrall of the spider-like Hanhoka, his Guide, who teaches him and the mysterious Katilo how to find and consume souls from multiple dimensions . . . though Niman himself has no interest in doing so.

Still, he is tasked with training Meelik, a lizard-like lik, how to survive in The Other Side, in the hopes of revealing Meelik’s guide, who has something that Hanhoka desparately wants.

It’s an interesting set up that becomes all the more poignant when Niman realizes that he’s not ready to meekly submit to the will of those stronger than him.

All told, I enjoyed I, the One. I had to read it twice, though–and at 48 pages, it’s quick enough to do just that in one sitting.

My first time through, I felt bewildered and cheated, as if I struggled through pages of difficult description and confusing action just to arrive at an inconclusive, ambiguous ending. “What the hell was this?” I thought to myself, frustrated at both Lein for creating something that should be in my wheelhouse but wasn’t, and at myself for not fully grasping such a short, albeit dense, story.

Then I read it again after several weeks and wow, I have reversed my previous opinion. Lein does an excellent job creating her strange setting and the lost souls–some pure, some malevolent–who inhabit it. Continue reading “Book Review: I, The One by Dominika Lein”

Book Review: Sword & Flower by Rawle Nyanzi

Sword & Flower - Rawle Nyanzi

If you ever wanted to know what would happen when a Japanese pop-star who can use magic teams up with a sword-fighting Puritan warrior to fight demons in weird dimension that may or may not be limbo, then Rawyle Nyanzi has answered this question for you in his debut offering, the novella Sword & Flower.

Even if you’ve never had these questions–and if you haven’t, I’m sorry–Sword & Flower is a fun, exciting read, part of the nascent “Pulp Revolution,” looking to bring back the spirit, energy, and free-wheeling nature of sci-fi and fantasy’s golden age.

You know, before politics, social justice, and lots of other stuff that has nothing to do with storytelling got in the way of storytelling.

Think more adventure and less angst.

In the interests of full disclosure, I must state that Rawle is a personal friend. He and I talk writing very often in person or on-line, and have read and critiqued each other’s work. In fact, I had the pleasure of reading early versions of Sword & Flower, and it’s interesting to see what suggestions I had and points Rawle missed made it into the final story.

And if you recall, Rawle and I went to see both Suicide Squad and (ugh) the new Ghostbusters movies so you don’t have to.

I don’t want to give away too many of Sword & Flower‘s plot points since it is short–104 pages–but I have to give some, as it has as unique a premise as you’ll find.

Lesser Heaven is a place where some go when they die, where they are held before achieving either a seat in paradise or eternal damnation. Why this is so, and what they must do to get a full reckoning, however, is still a mystery.

Interestingly, people seem to get sorted on the basis of geography and culture, so that an thirteenth-century Zulu tribesman would be with other thirteenth-century Zulu tribesman while a twenty-fifth century space-faring Chinese astronaut would appear with other twenty-fifth century Chinese, and so on.

That’s right: All cultures and all time periods coexist simultaneously in Lesser Heaven, so you just know that interesting interactions are bound to take place.

One such involves Dimity Red (real name: Chiyo Aragaki), Japanese pop sensation, who meets her end in a grisly manner and finds herself in Lesser Heaven. For some reason, though, she is immediately attacked by a demon, saved by a Valkyrie, and then deposited near a settlement of Puritans. And though she helps these pilgrims stave off demons that menace their settlement, she is soon arrested for being a Satanic witch.

Luckily, she catches the eye of the free-thinking son of the settlement’s pastor, nicknamed Mash, who senses her goodness and questions his own people’s automatic dismissal of what should be considered, perhaps quite literally, as a God-send.

I told you, Sword & Flower has a bit of everything. Continue reading “Book Review: Sword & Flower by Rawle Nyanzi”