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.

Saturday, February 8, 2014


Author:  Chuck Wendig
Plot Type:  Dark Urban Fantasy (UF)     
Ratings:  Violence-5; Sensuality-1; Humor-3 
Publisher and Titles:  Angry Robot 
          The Blue Blazes (5/2013)   


     Wendig has created an extremely dark and dangerous world that is set in and under New York City. In this mythology, the Underworld (aka the Great Below) is structured in three somewhat irregular layers: the upper portion, called the Shallows; the middle portion, a labyrinth called the Fathomless Tangle; and the lowest level, called the Ravenous Expanse, "where the eyeless gods of this place moan and gnash teeth the size of skyscrapers." (p 163) For centuries, all of the demonic monsters of the Underworld lived deep down and had no access to the surface world. Then, in 1976, a crew of Sandhogs were digging a tunnel deep under the streets of Manhattan when they accidentally opened up a hole that allowed the monsters to stream out. "And the time came that we learned what lurked underneath our feet, we stood tall and kept what was ours….When the Sandhogs opened up the Great Below and hell came spilling out. The monsters wanted a slice. Between the Sandhogs and Zoladski's crime coalition, the nightmares got pushed back into the dark." (p. 14) The mortal group that stepped up to stop the demonic Underworld invasion is called the Organization, a Godfather-like mob led by Zoladski (aka the Boss) that has ruled the criminal underworld for decades. The Sandhogs and their continuing work in the tunnels just above the Shallows are important elements in this world.

     The most common monsters that prowl the tunnels are goblins (aka gobs, gobbos), but a few other species managed to make it through as well, including the Naga (aka Snakefaces) and Trogbodies (rock-flesh Golem). Less powerful beings also abound, including roach-rats, milk spiders, and brimstone cankerpedes. The gobs routinely attack humans in the tunnels, and one of their weapons is a blunderbuss that shoots cankerpede ammunition, with these results: The victim's body is peppered with holes, and he "screams and thrashes as cankerpedes come pouring out of those holes, squalling  squirming, chewing at him." (p. 217) (I warned you that this series is very darkalso graphic in its descriptions.)

     Sometimes, a monster will slip through and mate with a human, a coitus that always results in a pregnancy. If the father is human, the monstrous mother generally keeps her child in the Great Below, but if the mother is human, the child lives in the surface world: "The horror of the half-and-half is unparalleled. Consider it: you are a child with only one human parent. Your other parent is no parent at all, merely a contributor of darkly squirming seed, a mote of ill magic spawned in the cracks and crevices of the Great Below….The design of the monstrous half cannot be predicted…nor does it seem related to the inhuman parentage….They are embraced by neither world but possess the power and frailty of each. Our world sees them as human, but a human that doesn't quite seem right." (p. 135) A half-and-half can glamour itself to disguise its nonhuman body, but the glamour is never perfect. In book 1, one of the key supporting characters is a half-and-half goat man—a satyr.

     The series hero (or anti-hero) is Mookie Pearl, a long-time enforcer for the Organization. Here is Wendig's wonderful description of Mookie: "He's a high wall of flesh stuffed into a white wife-beater stained with brown (once red), a man whose big bones are wreathed in fat and gristle and muscle and sealed tight in a final layer of scar-tissue skin. At the top of his ox-yoke shoulders sits a head like a wrecking ball with black eyes and shorn scalp and a mouth full of teeth that look like white pebbles fished from a dark river. He's got hands that could break a horse's neck. He's got Frankenstein feet and a Godzilla hunch. He's built like a brick shithouse made of a hundred smaller brick shithouses. Mookie the Mook, Mookie the Meat-Man. Mookie the Monster. Butcher. Bruiser. Breaker of legs. Some legs human. Most not." (pp. 9-10) When Mookie isn't on the job, he cures meat. He's an expert at charcuterie, and spicy, cured meats make up most of his diet. As Mookie succinctly explains it, "I kill pigs. I take their meat. I put it in sausages. I cure the fat. I eat it." (p. 37) 

     Mookie reminds me of Terrible, the heroine's anti-hero  soul mate in Stacia Kane's CHESS PUTNAM/DOWNSIDE GHOSTS series. Both are tough, scarred behemoths who have pledged their loyalty and their lives to their mobster bosses. (Click HERE to read my review of Kane's series.) 

     Long ago, Mookie turned his attentions away from his wife (now ex-wife) and daughter (Eleanora, aka Nora, aka Persephone) so that he could earn the money to pay their mortgage and send Nora to a good school. He stayed away to keep his dangerous life from polluting his family, but Nora has always viewed her father's absence as desertion. 

     Wendig also writes the MIRIAM BLACK series, which, too, is a dark urban fantasy, but not as grim and gory as this one. Click HERE to read my review of that series.

            NOVEL 1:  The Blue Blazes            
     As the series opens, Mookie's wayward daughter, Nora, who calls herself Persephone and keeps their relationship a secret, visits Mookie to give him one last chance to work for her. Nora despises her father for turning his back on her and her mother, but she also loves him in a twisted way, and she longs for his approval. Being the smart, but immature and naive, young woman that she is, Nora decides that the best way to goad her father into noticing her is to become powerful enough to go up against the Organization. She is building her own gang and wants her father to leave the Organization and work for her. Nora wants payback; she wants Mookie under her control so that she can make his life as miserable as hers has been. When Mookie refuses, she poisons him with Snakeface venom (from a Naga) and goes off to implement a series of events—all of which go terribly wrong.  

     Mookie manages to fight off the poison and make his way to a mob meeting where Zoladski—leader of the Organization—announces to his top lieutenants that he has terminal cancer and that his grandson, Casimir, will be taking over. When Casimir is murdered within hours of this announcement, a new group forces their way into power, and life begins to go downhill for the Organization's foot soldiers. The catalysts that set off the action are Nora's actions, the Boss's cancer, and Casimir's death.  

      The book is divided into three parts: Salt & Smoke, Blood & Brine, and Meat & Monsters. These parts are further subdivided into chapters, each of which begins with a diary entry written by a cartographer who went down into the Great Below to map it out, but lost his way and, eventually, his mind. This is an inventive way to provide the mythology. From these diary pages, we learn about the structure of the Great Below, the origin and characteristics of the supernatural beings who live there, and the importance of the Five Occulted Pigments, which are found only in the Great Below. Each Pigment has a particular magical power: Blue Blazes (Cerulean); Vermilion (the Red Rage); Viridian (the Green Grave); Ochre (the Golden Gate); and Caput Mortuum (the Violet void or the Death Head). Three of the Pigments play important parts in this story, particularly the titular Blue Blazes (aka Cerulean, Peacock Powder, Bluebird, BB). "Users smudge some of the blue power on the temples to bring on effects that include: preternatural strength  preternatural toughness, as well as a wiping away of the illusions that keep mortal men from seeing the truth of the denizens of the Underworld." (p. 46) BB has become a street drug used by humans (aka Blazeheads), who can be identified by their "Smurf thumbs." Mookie uses BB to identify the monsters who are masquerading as humans and to amp up his strength during battles.

     The story follows Mookie and Nora on their separate paths, as Mookie searches for one of the Five Pigments, and Nora tries at first to keep to her power plan but then just tries to hang on to her life. Their adventures include a trip to Daisypusher (an Underworld town inhabited by the undead), a feminist gang of street-wise roller-derby skaters, several life and death battles with various enemies, and the requisite slam-bang Underworld showdown with the villains.   

     Wendig has devised a terrific urban fantasy (UF) world, and he portrays its grim desolation and gory perils in graphic detail. Mookie is a true original. On the surface, he appears to be a simple giant who uses his massive body as a violent tool, but he is also a man with a complex inner poignancy that will break your heart. Although Nora is an interesting character, she is much more familiar and less interesting: a naive young woman with daddy issues who can't see beyond her own revenge until much too late in the game. Near the end of the story, though, Nora is dramatically transformed into a character unlike any other in the novel (or in any other UF I've read), so her further adventures should be fascinating. 

     Wendig writes in a wonderfully dark and descriptive manner as he introduces us to Mookie and his world. Although most of the characters are truly monstrous, they have so much depth and quirkiness that they are quite entertaining (in an evil, train-wreck sort of way). By the end, I even had a soupçon of sympathy for the primary villain. I'm looking forward
to the next book, in which Nora will be adjusting to her new life and her on-the-mend relationship with Daddy (who may have a love interest to liven up his life).

No comments:

Post a Comment