April Puppy of the Month: Souldancer

It’s my unalloyed pleasure to report that Jon Mollison, Nathan Housley, and the Frisky Pagan have chosen Dragon Award winner and CLFA Book of the Year Finalist Souldancer as April’s Puppy of the Month book.

Brian Niemeier - Souldancer

Jon kicks off the festivities with a preamble drawn from his experience of reading my work.

We here at the Puppy of the Month Book Club have a knack for picking the first book of a series.  We’ve done it with The Swan Knight’s Son, The Chronicles of Amber, catskinner’s book, and Nethereal.  It’s high time we revisited at least one of those universes, and none of them are as deserving as Brian [Niemeier’s0  It was the very first Puppy of the Month, and it only took ten months to get to the sequel.

That’s really too long.

Not just because it’s too good of a series to languish that long, but because this is a challenging series to read.  Frankly, Nethereal kicked my butt.  Brian’s writing is deceptively dense and is thoroughly riddled with multiple references and layers of meaning that completely escaped my typically shallow reading.  It wasn’t until Frisky and Nate [joined] in the conversation and started pulling on threads that I realized how knotted were the stitches that made up the Nethereal sweater.  They introduced me to whole new dimensions in reading, and pushed me to approach the Book Club – and my other writing – with considerably more intellectual rigor, and to devote more time and thought to my own posts both here, at my blog, and over at Castalia House.

Jon and his colleagues really do deserve a round of applause. I’m honored that they find my writing worthy of their considerable analytical skills. Based on their previous Puppy of the Month book reviews, it’s safe to say we’re in for a treat.

Frankly, I’m always a bit taken aback when readers say that the Soul Cycle is unusually dense in content and complex in terms of plot. It’s all perfectly straightforward to me.

Then again, I’m the author, and I read everything in the exacting, contemplative way that Jon found most effective for reading Nethereal. I suspect that it stems from a mild, undiagnosed learning disorder that explains why I a) have an extremely slow reading speed and b) practically memorize almost everything I read.

Anyway, I think that Jon will find the going easier with Souldancer. The first book got most of the setup out of the way, letting SD’s story hit the ground running. It will certainly be interesting to find out what the Puppy of the Month reviewers think.

Jon continues with a brief review and some speculation on Souldancer’s prologue. I won’t confirm or deny his conjectures, except to say that Almeth’s pilgrimage to Kairos has more pertinent and far-reaching effects for SD and the entire Soul Cycle than he expects.

For those who missed the Puppy of the Month Book Club’s epic, multi-part review of Nethereal, you can catch up here. Note that PotM reviews are intended as read-along exercises, so if you haven’t read Nethereal or Souldancer, it is highly recommended that you remedy the situation before diving in.

Brian Niemeier - The Soul Cycle

@BrianNiemeier

Review of Monster Hunter Memoirs: Grunge

What happens when you bring together one of the best SF&F writers into one of the best fantasy worlds in books today? Grunge.

At LibertyCon, John Ringo mentioned that he had been reading Monster Hunter International because it’s not the sort of thing he would write, so he wouldn’t be stealing anything from it by accident.
Instead, Ringo ended up writing three books for the world Larry Correia invented.
The premise behind this one is … interesting.

 

When Marine Private Oliver Chadwick Gardenier is killed in the Marine barrack bombing in Beirut, somebody who might be Saint Peter gives him a choice: Go to Heaven, which while nice might be a little boring, or return to Earth. The Boss has a mission for him and he’s to look for a sign. He’s a Marine: He’ll choose the mission.

 

Unfortunately, the sign he’s to look for is “57.” Which, given the food services contract in Bethesda Hospital, creates some difficulty. Eventually, it appears that God’s will is for Chad to join a group called “Monster Hunters International” and protect people from things that go bump in the night. From there, things trend downhill.

 

Monster Hunter Memoirs is the (mostly) true story of the life and times of one of MHI’s most effective—and flamboyant—hunters. Pro-tips for up and coming hunters range from how to dress appropriately for jogging (low-profile body armor and multiple weapons) to how to develop contacts among the Japanese yakuza, to why it’s not a good idea to make billy goat jokes to trolls.

 

Grunge harkens back to the Golden Days of Monster Hunting when Reagan was in office, Ray and Susan Shackleford were top hunters and Seattle sushi was authentic.

Monster Hunter Memoirs: Grunge has everything that I’ve come to expect from Ringo: a smart character (in this case, super-genius) taking over-the-top situations, and responding to them very pragmatically. Swarm of zombies? Shoot them in the head. And shoot faster. Have a dream about a mission from God? Well, it could be a dream, or it could be a vision. We’ll see.

Also, “57.” And “do the whole village!”

Heh. You’ll have to read the book to get that one.

One of nice bits of business I liked was the interaction with Agent Franks, where one is fairly certain that our hero was given access codes to a secret handshake between himself and a creature like Franks.

However, if you’re reading this work looking for the John Ringo of Ghost … don’t. First, I never thought the first novel was representative of his work (even representative of the rest of that series). Second, Grunge feels a little bit more like my personal favorite of Ringo’s series: Special Circumstances. And I swear that Ringo immersed himself in Japanese culture and has come back to his Catholic roots — there’s a lot of both in there.

Ringo also brings in politics to the realities of monster hunting. While Larry Correia goes for a more laissez faire attitude between government and private enterprise (“Seriously, federal government, leave us alone”), Ringo has a more intricate view of this. This is due to the fact that Larry’s books are nonstop action pieces that largely take place over the matter of days, while Ringo’s is a look at years of service in a particular region (in this case, Seattle). And even most of the politics boils down to “This is the nuts and bolts of how things get done …. poorly and with plenty of cash.”

From what I can gather, the series will be broken down by region, Grunge is Seattle, Sinners will be New Orleans, and I presume the third one will take place in MHI’s home base of Cazador. But that last one is just a guess.

Due to the way Ringo has this book set up, we get a detailed look at the day to day operations of an MHI outpost — dealing with MCB agents that aren’t running the whole bureau into the ground; occasionally making deals with things and people you’d rather see shot dead, but the sausage has to get made. This doesn’t happen with the main series all that often, because those novels usually start with them up to their neck it, with a truck backing up with another load.

Grunge is a little more laid back. Granted, Chad, our narrator, is … okay, I don’t know why he sleeps with everything that moves, but thankfully, if it’s off-putting to you, you don’t have to worry about it. There’s nothing graphic …. usually, barely anything suggestive …. and doesn’t drastically impact the story a lot.

And everything fits together.  There are plots for this book, and an overarching plot that will spill over into the final book. And while Ringo even tells you who the ultimate bad guy is (and it’s not difficult to deduce), it doesn’t change anything.

Obviously, there are cameos from some of the supporting characters in the series, and I suspect they will play a larger role as Ringo’s series continues.

Overall, I recommend this one. It deals with the politics of monster hunting, how the boots on the ground MHI personnel interact with local law enforcement, and even how locals interact with the feds and the MHI alike. Also, let’s just say that the politics of an otherworldly fashion come into play. And boy, do you want a lawyer for them. Heh.

I suspect the rest of the series will be just plain fun.

Declan Finn is a Dragon Award nominated author. His “Catholic Vampire romance novels” can be found on his personal website. As well as all the other strange things he does.