Only the most recent posts pop up on the HOME page. For searchable lists of titles/series reviewed on this Blog, click on one of the Page Tabs above. On each Page, click on the series name to go directly to my review.

AUTHOR SEARCH lists all authors reviewed on this Blog. CREATURE SEARCH groups all of the titles/series by their creature types. The RATINGS page explains the violence, sensuality, and humor (V-S-H) ratings codes found at the beginning of each Blog review and groups all titles/series by their Ratings. The PLOT TYPES page explains the SMR-UF-CH-HIS codes found at the beginning of each Blog review and groups all titles/series by their plot types. On this Blog, when you see a title, an author's name, or a word or phrase in pink type, this is a link. Just click on the pink to go to more information about that topic.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Thomas E. Sniegoski: REMY CHANDLER

Author:  Thomas E. Sniegoski
Plot Type:  Urban Fantasy (UF)     
Publisher and Titles: Roc      
        A Kiss before the Apocalypse (4/2009) 
        Dancing on the Head of a Pin (4/2010)     
        “Noah’s Orphans,” in Mean Streets (1/2010) 
        Where Angels Fear to Tread (3/2010)     
        A Hundred Words for Hate (3/2011) 
        "The Bad Hour" in An Apple for the Creature (9/2012)
        In the House of the Wicked (8/2012)
        Walking in the Midst of Fire (trade pbk. & e-book, 8/2013; mass market pbk., 8/2014)  

    Sorry this review is so late in coming; no excuses, I simply overlooked it in my to-read stack.  This post was revised and updated on 3/1/14 to include a review of Walking in the Midst of Fire, the sixth novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the series world-building and reviews of novels 4 an 5:     

            NOVEL 6:  Walking in the Midst of Fire            
     Although Remy's personal life is looking up, the huge war between good and evil looms in the near future, just waiting for a spark to detonate a massive battle between the angels of Heaven and their dark counterparts from Hell. Remy's efforts to balance his dual natureangelic and humanhave been successful so far, and he feels more comfortable than he has in centuries. His love life with his new girlfriend, Linda, is also progressing smoothly, and he has even repaired his damaged relationship with his long-time friend, Steven Mulvehill. If only no one does something stupid to start the war, life would be great.  

     As we all know, though, Remy's life never goes smoothly for very long, and when bad things happen, Remy always gets dragged in to clean things up. That's what happens in this novel: When an unknown murderer brutally kills General Aszrus, the military leader of the Heavenly angels, Remy must keep the general's death a secret until he can figure out the identity of the killer. Otherwise, the forces of Heaven will immediately blame the fallen angels, and the war will begin with a vengeance. The general has been living in a house on mortal earth, so his killer could be anyone.

     The identity and motives of the hapless killer are buried in events that took place many centuries ago, and (as usual) the story line flashes back and forth in time and point of view as we get the background on the characters and events that have resulted in the murderous deed.

     The driving villainous force is Simeon, a man who was raised from the dead by the young Jesus back in 26 AD and who has never forgiven his Savior from wresting him from "the euphoria of death and the promise of eternal union with the Creator of All Things." (p. 3) When Jesus turns him into the "forever man," an immortal who is doomed to roam the earth forever, Simeon vows revenge on the Creator. As time passes, Simeon travels the earth, determined to learn every thing he can about the world. Unfortunately, he is drawn to the dark side: "Where the sane and rational mind might flee the terrors that hid in the shadows, the eternal man found himself moving toward them eagerly." (p. 27) As it turns out, Simeon has an aptitude for the black arts and soon apprentices himself to the dark sorcerer, Ignatius Hallow, twin brother to the current popethe evil, power-mad Tyranus. As time passes, Simeon's bitter envy of mortals who will eventually die and go into God's presence builds to the point that he wants to "witness the fall of Heaven…and watch the world and the universe around it, gradually return to darkness." (p. 109)  

     Most of the flashbacks go back to the 1200s when Remy is enthralled by Tyranus and forced to attack Hallow. Each brother wears one of Solomon's silver sigil rings, and each ring allows the wearer to control either the dark forces or the Heavenly forces. Tyranus wants both rings so that he alone can rule Heaven and Hell, and he uses his ring's Heavenly power to force Remy into playing the role of his warrior. The final outcome of that battle doesn't play out until late in the book, but we know far sooner than that who eventually gets possession of both rings, and that is a key element of the plot. These visceral flashbacks provide a series of gripping action scenes that are closely connected with the present-day stand-off between Heaven and Hell.

     As Remy investigates the general's death, he accumulates a motley crew of allies, including the following: 

    > Malatesta: a demon-possessed sorcerer in service to the Keepers of the Vatican
    > Montagin: General Aszrus' angelic assistant
    > Squire: the eccentric hobgoblin we met in the previous novel
    > Angus Heath: a sorcerer who is also Squire's neighbor
    > Francis (aka Fraciel): a fallen angel and long-time frenemy of Remy

     The disparate powers and alliances of Remy's strange little group provide most of the dark humor in the book, which is important because, once again, Remy's comedic hound, Marlowe, stays home with Linda and is rarely a part of the action.  

     The primary plot follows Remy as he dodges various assassins (principally the Black Choir and the Bone Masters) and follows the clues to learn the identity of the murderer. In the requisite showdown scene at the end, the murderer is punished, but the results of that punishment are not what they seem, leaving that part of the story line unresolved for now. Meanwhile, one set of assassins is still after Remy. Who hired them? Well, the answer to that one lies in a seemingly unimportant incident that occurred in a previous novelone that you'll never see coming (and which is dealt with in one very brief scene about 70% into this book that you might miss if you're not reading carefully). The final scene twists into a major cliffhanger that will certainly be the lead into the seventh novel.

     In this book, we get a great many details about the Creation and about Lucifer Morningstar's rebellion against the Creator and the punishments that were doled out after that war was won by the forces of Heaven. What makes this so interesting is that we see all of these early events from the point of view of both Remy (on the Heavenly side) and Beleeze, one of the demons of Hell. At one interesting point, Beleeze muses about what happened to his world when the Creator uttered his first command (see Genesis 1): "There were things living in the sea of black that existed before He even became aware of His own existence; worlds and peoples thriving in the cold, endless void. And so many met their end with the birth of this creation, their lives burned away with the utterance of four little words: Let there be light. Beleeze recalled the blinding flash and the screams of millions as they died, but somehow he, and others of his kind, had managed to survive, finding pools of shadow deep enough to hide themselves. For where there is light, there must also be shadow." (p. 108)

     Like all of the terrific novels in this series, the plot construction is complex, the characters are intricately developed, and the riveting action never stops. One of the most ironically humorous scenes occurs when Remy discovers Aszrus' secret room, where the general has obviously succumbed to every known human vice: smoking pot, eating junk food, playing video games, and watching porn on a 60-inch flatscreen TV. 

     I recommend that you read this novel in context, that is to say, in the chronological reading order (see list at top of this poet) because of the complexity of Remy's storyboth his personal battle with his angelic nature and his involvement with the growing tension between Heaven and Hell.  

     For the most part, the author handles the complexity of his plot quite well, but I have to say that the introduction of the Nephilim issue was rather abrupt and slowed me down for a moment of two until I figured out how it fit into the the story line. From then on, though, events moved along so quickly that I couldn't stop turning the pages. Click HERE to read an excerpt from this book by going to its page and clicking on the cover art at top left. 

     Imagine Raymond Chandlers' Philip Marlowe character with angelic powers (Remy actually names his dog Marlowe). Remy (aka Remiel) is not a fallen angel; he is a seraphim who chose to reject his Heavenly life after being disillusioned by God’s harsh actions against Lucifer Morningstar. Now a human, Remy has to fight constantly to keep his angelic side hidden. Here's a perfect description of Remy's character in Raymond Chandler's own words: "Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor. He talks as the man of his age talks, that is, with rude wit, a lively sense of the grotesque, a disgust for sham, and a contempt for pettiness." (from an essay in The Simple Art of Murder, 1950)

     A complex hierarchy of angels populates the series, from fallen angels to good and bad Seraphim, the Grigori (or Watchers, disgraced angels forced to live forever as humans), and the Black Choir (who tried to take both sides in the showdown between God and Morningstar and lived to regret it). 

     Remy has a human friend in Steven Mulvehill, a police detective who knows what Remy really is but doesn’t want to know much more. The series is set in Boston in the noir detective tradition. The angels have many human emotions—mostly negative. Adventures generally focus on angel-related supernatural crimes, with plenty of battles involving flying combatants wielding magical swords. A bittersweet aspect of Remy’s life is his mourning over the death of Madeline, his human wife. 

            BRIEF SUMMARIES:  Books 1, 2, and 3              
     In A Kiss before the Apocalypse, Heaven hires Remy to find the angel of death and to recover some missing scrolls. In Dancing on the Head of a Pin, Remy must retrieve some stolen weapons that have the power to destroy heaven and earth. In Where Angels Fear to Tread (my favorite), Remy takes a case involving a missing child and winds up playing an important part in the Samson and Delilah story: the sequel (and the FINAL conclusion).

              BOOK 4:  A Hundred Words for Hate              
     As the fourth book begins, Remy is on his way to his first date since the death of his wife, more than a year ago. Unfortunately, before that new relationship has a chance to grow, Remy is summoned by the Sons of Adam (yes, that Adam) to assist with some problems with the Garden of Eden. Eden was disconnected from the Earth way back when Adam and Eve were banished, so that fallen angels and their supporters couldn't have access to the Tree of Knowledge. Now, all of the direct descendants of Adam and Eve are having strange dreams that Eden is returning to Earth. Since Remy was the seraphim who closed Eden's gate and disconnected it, the Sons of Adam ask Remy to locate the keys to the Gate so that it can be re-entered. 

     As Remy begins his search, a sizable group of angelic forces are working against him. They want to find the keys for their own purposesboth good and evil. Remy's friend, Steven, also plays an important part in the story, and by the end of the book their friendship may be forever damaged. As Remy approaches the final apocalyptic battle, he must make peace between his two sidesseraphim and humansomething he has never been able to do. 

     Here is a list of links to angelic names and terms that will allow you to get a deeper meaning from this book (and from the entire series):
          Adam and Eve
          Garden of Eden 
          Morning Star
          Tree of Knowledge

              BOOK 5:  In the House of the Wicked              
     Some of Remy's old friends and enemies make appearances in this book along with a brand new pair of villains. The story opens just a week or two after the climactic ending to A Hundred Words for Hate when Remy finally united his relatively gentle human side and his fierce Seraphim side, and their coexistence is still a bit uneasy. When Remy's neighbor begs for his help in finding her missing daughter, Ashley, Remy has a bad feeling that there is magic involved and that it is probably connected somehow to him. Ashley has always been like a daughter to Remy, so he's determined to get her back safe and sound.

     The plot hopscotches through time, voice, and plane of existence—jumping back and forth between past (1945) and present, and shifting side to side from villain 1 to villain 2 to villain 3 to Remy and back. Parts of the story are set in the Shadow Lands, a dark and dangerous realm in which vicious monsters attack from the deep and ever-present shadows. What this all boils down to is a vengeance battle involving two rival sorcerers and a bitter and disillusioned Grigori (aka Watcher). Each villain dreams of taking the "right" actions (for himself, anyway) that will punish the world at large and satiate his need for revenge. In actuality, all of their dreams are horrific nightmares for the Earth's human population in general and for Remy in particular. 

     The plot defies summary, so I'll just say that the two mad sorcerers are among the most evil I've come across in a long time. Each is hungry—literally starving—for power and will go to any lengths to get more and more and more, including using magic to create gangs of spookily human-looking golems to provide muscle for their power plays. Ashley's disappearance gets the story going, but is then pushed to the side for awhile as Remy struggles from one battle to the next with various forces of evil. By the end, though, Ashley's humanity has a huge effect on Remy as he gets a better handle on his dual personality.   

     One of the most chilling scenes occurs when Ashley applies the literal meaning of her high school biology teacher's mantra for Darwin's natural selection theory, "Adapt or die," while she channels Dorothy's Wizard of Oz chant: "There's no place like home...There's no place like home." After Ashley does what she has to do, she turns to her would-be rescuer: "She would forever remember the look on his face as she turned toward him, bloodstained sword in hand. 'It was just like Mr. Harpin said,' she told him. 'Adapt or die....'I adapted.'" (p. 270) It's a horrifying scene. As the story ends, it is clear that a war between good and evil is imminent and that Remy will play a defining role.

Here is an annotated list of the villains:
   > Armaros is the self-appointed Grigori leader who was the lover of Sariel (the former leader who was killed by Remy). He wants to teach Remy—and humanity—a hard lesson in the name of God.

   > Konrad Deacon is a powerful sorcerer driven mad with rage when the members of his Cadre betray him after he gifts them with heightened powers. Deacon is forced to seek safety in the Shadow Lands, where he plots his revenge.

     > Scrimshaw is Deacon's scary, tattooed golem, who—like Pinocchio—just wants to be human, but unlike Pinocchio is a stone-cold killer (both literally and figuratively). (But what a great name!)

     > Algernon Stearns is the duplicitous, self-appointed leader of the Cadre of sorcerers that betrayed Deacon. He seeks ultimate power by any means possible. Here is the evil Stearns as he finishes sucking the power from a fellow sorcerer through the tiny mouths that have formed on his hands: "That last bit of delicious life clinging to the shriveled carcass in his hands broke free of its mooring and flowed into the mouths of his hands and into his newly enlivened form. Stearns shuddered with obscene pleasure, tossing his head back as he experienced the sensations of his revitalized body." (p. 86)

     One of the most interesting and mysterious characters is Squire, a hobgoblin who is trapped in the Shadow Lands and isn't sure he wants to escape. He has seen other worlds come and go, and he fears that our world is headed for catastrophe, just like all the others. We don't learn exactly how he wound up in the Shadow Lands, but he's such an interesting and complex character that I'm hoping he will show up in future books. Here is an example of Squire's ambivalence about life outside the Shadow Lands: "...there was always a war of good against evil in various stages of development, and...the worlds always had protectors who believed they would triumph over the seemingly insurmountable obstacles that were set down before them. Images of the place he had left behind and the number of other worlds that he had stumbled across in the throes of death appeared unwanted inside his skull. And Squire wondered if he had it in him to see yet another." (p. 153)

    The usual humor provided by Remy's dog, Marlowe, is absent in this story because Remy has to leave Marlowe behind while he jumps between dimensions. That is not to say that there is no humor; it's just a lot darker than Marlowe's usual slapstick style. Near the end, there's a great scene involving Leona, a "living" car who mimics Colonel Kilgore's style (Robert Duvall in Apocalypse Now) by heading into battle with Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries blaring from her radio. Remy's girlfriend, Linda, makes a few very brief appearances, but they are so transitional that we really don't get a feel for how their relationship is developing. Detective Steven Mulvehill appears twice—at the very beginning and at the end. He has not yet reconciled with Remy after getting his shocking look into Remy's creepy supernatural world in the previous book, but we get the sense that the events of this book help him accept his new knowledge.  

     This is another great book in a solid UF series. Remy is a terrific hero, with strength of character balanced by just enough flaws to make him more human than angel (although his angel half is getting stronger as the war gets closer). Don't try to read this book if you haven't read the first four because you really need to know the characters' history in order to understand what causes them to take such drastic actions in this book (particularly Armaros). To get a feel for the series, read "The Bad Hour" in An Apple for the Creature anthology. Click HERE to read a summary of that story and a review of the anthology.

No comments:

Post a Comment