Dead Man’s Reach Reboot Review

FictionReboot2Welcome to the REBOOT REVIEW–the book review portion of Fiction Reboot | Daily Dose! Today’s review is of D.B. Jackson’s Thieftaker 4: Dead Man’s Reach. 

Reviewer: Tabatha Hanly

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I had read good reviews of the previous Theiftaker novels, and was expecting a good read, but as all overly-prolific readers know, there is a big difference between a book you can finish in a week, and one you really loved and are going to recommend to your friends. For me, what tipped Dead Man’s Reach beyond the rank of “a good enough book” was the realism and unpredictability I found in the details of this historical fantasy novel.

Yes that’s right—the apt detail work in a book about magic. (Or rather, conjuring—sorry Mr. Jackson.) One cannot describe the plot of this novel without copious uses of words like “magic” “witch” or “spells” but neither could one describe it without “Revolutionary War” “Boston Massacre” “winter” or “girlfriend.” It took witchcraft, historical knowledge, and believable characters to make Dead Man’s Reach the book it is. And to establish any of those elements, it took good writing and good detail work. For me, all of this was established and I was won over with one line on the first page.

With the single line “Every breath produced a billow of vapor, rendering his concealment spell all but useless” the author told me much that I needed to know about this world: that magic exists, that it’s not perfect, that the protagonist can use it, that he is outside, and that it’s damn cold! On the first page this line convinced me that D.B. Jackson knew what he was talking about; he could integrate history, fantasy, and plot seamlessly throughout the novel, without forgetting the little details. These characters, the first page hinted, and the rest proved, would be human enough to identify with and squishy enough for their fights to be thrilling, and therefore unpredictable enough to be interesting. Of course Dead Man’s Reach’s details did more than recognize the misery of a northern winter, they built real characters and believable events. The protagonists’ romance was long-established when I first butted into it, and so it was not built on magic moments of chemistry or grandiose gestures of the early stages of a fictional romance, it lived on the small details of a couple who talk over their dinners, who have silent-treatment spats, and who need to report in once in a while when they are fighting evil wizards so the other person doesn’t worry. You know, normal couple stuff. The details of the world and its characters made the Theiftaker world believable and interesting. The structure of the adventure kept me reading at a pace which was really not good for my housework.

The book follows Ethan Kaille and his friends (and his enemies) through the streets of pre-Revolutionary War Boston. While the street surfaces are flooded with lobsters, a much more insidious enemy lurks…somewhere in the city. And yet the Revolutionary War is much more than window dressing for Dead Man’s Reach. Jackson integrated details of the actual British occupation beautifully, showing how prevalent it was in every day of the characters’ lives, and making it an integral element of the plot. And well, really he had to. Can you imagine running through the crowded city cutting your arm and casting spells, trying to stop an invisible evil force without a few of the hundreds of soldiers at least noticing? And so it is with the tense and suspicious background that Ethan Kaille must face an invisible enemy intent on starting a war, destroying the city, and tearing Ethan Kaille apart personally.

As an incurable ending-guesser I was pleasantly surprised to never know what was going to happen next. Throughout the entire adventure, as I followed the theiftaker and his friends through pre-revolutionary war Boston I was curious to find out what was going to happen, and afraid that each favorite character might be the next to go. I never knew what step Kaille was going to take next, what magic he would, or could, employ in his cause. I was genuinely worried throughout the book that he would get arrested for witchcraft and have to watch his nemesis take over from a barred window, or worse yet that he would get caught up in Adams’ cause and find himself trapped in a bloody confrontation between the revolutionaries and the British “lobsters.” I worried that Ethan’s friends would desert him when they found out he was different. I worried about a lot of other things too, and many of them came true, but I’m not going to be the one to tell you which—though I will mention that there is a rumor this will be the last book in the series.

D.B. Jackson’s Dead Man’s Reach was a fun read start to finish with believability in its magic, accuracy in its history, and real suspense in its adventures.

Dead Man’s Reach will be available on July 21st.

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MedHum Mondays Presents: Spanning Genres

Nature
Nature and Time, copyright Schillace

Q: What do you call a medical humanities scholar having an identity crisis?

A: Interdisciplinary.

I’m a PhD, a researcher and curator for a medical history museum, an editor for an anthropology journal, and a fiction writer. I’m frequently asked how that’s even possible… surely these things are too disparate to work?

Not as much as you might think. I spent this past weekend at the 40th annual World Fantasy Convention in Washington D.C. If you’re not familiar, WFC is an annual gathering of professional writers, editors, agents, collectors, and others interested in the field of Light and Dark Fantasy art and literature. It’s also a wonderful place to meet and catch up with your fiction colleagues, and in that way, is not unlike most of the academic conferences I attend. There are other similarities, too; for instance, I sat in on a panel about the ethical treatment of historical figures in fiction–and that’s not radically different from the discussions I encountered at the American Association for the History of Medicine. When we write history, fiction or non-fiction, we find ourselves having to channel key figures, to hear and recreate their voices, and to do so without compromising truth.

Oh, there’s that tricky word again… “truth.” It’s often accompanied with it’s equally problematic brother, objectivity. In a recent conversation about my cultural history of death (Feb 2015), I was asked how I could be objective if I was also choosing what to represent, which stories to tell, which details to include…and which to leave out. “I’m not objective,” I explained. “No one is.”

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Trial history of Lizzy Borden

But that’s not the whole story, either, is it? In my life as an academic–with my PhD in literary history and my curatorial work for the medical history museum–I am always striving for objectivity. Historians are sticklers for facts and details. But even with all the facts aligned, we must tell a story, provide a narrative. And on the other side, when writing fiction, we nonetheless aim to provide a kind of truth, however we understand that.

“We have a responsibility to the collective understanding of historical figures,” said panelist David Coe (D.B. Jackson). “I don’t own Samuel Adams. If I want to use him in my fiction, I have to be faithful to what history says about him, and how he is received and understood by the public.” Historians also have an ethical responsibility; if facts emerge that cast a historical figure in a radically different light, we cannot be afraid to share this new information. On the other hand, we must never manufacture our own conjecture as though it were factual. (A case in point might be the spurious claim that 18th century anatomist and physician William Hunter murdered his patients, something which has been thoroughly debunked from numerous quarters, but which still occasionally shows up in print as “fact.” For more, see here.)

analysismachine
The Analysis Machine, copyright Schillace

Fiction and non-fiction writing may seem divergent, but my work on the academic and non-academic side of the word processor bring me often to the same set of questions. My work on the anthropology journal brings me back to them, too, as does museum exhibit creation, where we must tell big stories in small spaces. Curiosity and attention to what we include and exclude, what stories we tell and which ones we don’t, should not be niche specific. Ethics and narrative don’t just belong to medical humanities. They belong to humanity, period.

So, here’s to conferences and colleagues that remind us of our mutual interests–and our mutual needs. Do I sometimes feel I’m suffering an identity crisis? Somewhere between grading papers, writing fiction, proofing monographs and editing anthropology…yes, yes, I do. But that’s okay. The more people I meet, the more I am convinced that, deep down, it’s what we are all doing all the time.

Friday Fiction Feature

FictionReboot2Hello and welcome back to the Friday Fiction Feature! Series editor Tabatha here again to take you through this week’s selection of history and fantasy, starting with Vikings we’ll move through revolution, to virtual reality and a bleak future. Join us now on a literary trek across continents, centuries, and realities with this week’s Friday Fiction Feature!

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Beautiful Wreck
Larissa Brown

Beautiful Wreck(Un)chronologically we’ll start this week with Vikings in Larissa Brown’s Beautiful Wreck

In a bleak future built on virtual reality, Ginn is a romantic who yearns for something real. She designs environments for people who play at being Vikings. But when her project goes awry, she’s stranded in the actual 10th century, on a storybook farm in Viking Iceland.

Heirik is the young leader of his family, honored by the men and women who live on his land. But he is feared and isolated because of a terrible curse. Ginn and Heirik are two people who never thought they would find a home in someone else’s heart.

When forces rise against them to keep them apart, Ginn is called on to decide—will she give up the brutal and beautiful reality of the past? Or will she have the courage to traverse time and become more of a Viking than she ever imagined? (NOTE: the cover art was done by the talented Cleveland-based artist, Arabella Proffer).

Thieftaker Chronicles–The Price of Doing Business
D.B. Jackson

We move on to the revolutionary and fantastic with D.B. Jackson’s Thieftaker and a short story that debuted this week on Tor.com! The story, “The Price of Doing Business,” is s a prequel of sorts, taking place before any of the Thieftaker novels. But if you don’t know the Thieftaker novels–allow us to introduce you!

Thieftaker (Thieftaker Chronicles, #1)The first in the Thieftaker Chronicles introduces the readers to Boston, 1765: In D.B. Jackson’s Thieftaker, revolution is brewing as the British Crown imposes increasingly onerous taxes on the colonies, and intrigue swirls around firebrands like Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty. But for Ethan Kaille, a thieftaker who makes his living by conjuring spells that help him solve crimes, politics is for others…until he is asked to recover a necklace worn by the murdered daughter of a prominent family.

Suddenly, he faces another conjurer of enormous power, someone unknown, who is part of a conspiracy that reaches to the highest levels of power in the turbulent colony. His adversary has already killed—and not for his own gain, but in the service of his powerful masters, people for whom others are mere pawns in a game of politics and power. Ethan is in way over his head, and he knows it. Already a man with a dark past, he can ill afford to fail, lest his livelihood be forfeit. But he can’t stop now, for his magic has marked him, so he must fight the odds, even though he seems hopelessly overmatched, his doom seeming certain at the spectral hands of one he cannot even see.

This only starts the trouble, however, and a 3rd novel will be released later this year! In the meantime, the short story prequel awaits!

Journeys in the Winterlands
Dylan Fox, John Reppion, C. Allegra Hawksmoor

Emerging from the fantastic accounts of history, Fox, Reppion, & Hawksmoor give us a possible vision of a fantastical future with Journeys in the Winterlands.

Journeys in the Winterlands CoverThree writers. Three stories. The end of one world.
Nine years ago, the Earth struggled in the throes of an industrial revolution. Steam trains scythed across the countryside, and great aerostats drifted lazily across the skies. The cities swelled with factory-smoke and bilge-water while people thrived or starved in their streets.

On All Souls Day, that all changed. A great star fell into the sky, bringing a perpetual twilight that turned most of the population against each other—twisting men and women into the ferocious, sky-mad Affected. When the star finally disappeared, the world froze. Now, Callista trudges across the icy wastes in search of her mentor: everyman-turned-folk-hero The Web of the North, who might just be the last frozen glimmer of hope that she has left.

Allegra Hawksmoor, John Reppion and Dylan Fox come together for an exercise in collective storytelling and world-building that will lead you into the ruins of factories submerged beneath the ice, probe the wrecks of burned-out airships, and provide a glimpse into minds and the deranged communities of the Affected and Unaffected that struggle to survive out in the snow. Flip down the sky-guards on your goggles, and step into the Winterlands!

OLDER BUT STILL TOP SHELF:

The Book Thief
Markus Zusak

The Book ThiefWith more thieves and a different kind of magic, we invite you to read the bestseller The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, an unforgettable story about the ability of books to feed the soul.

It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still.

Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich, who scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement.

COMING SOON:

We will soon be featuring a few new titles, releasing this year! The third in Stephanie A. Smith’s War Paint chronicles, Content Burns, will be out in March. Do you have a novel soon to release? Let us know! We are happy to promote all genres!