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Book Reviews

These are all old. New reviews are posts on Amazon, Goodreads, and Shelfari (Goodreads and Shelfari duplicate each other). The old reviews come from my blog or the now defunct DarkFiction.org.

Wildcard by Rachel Lee

Written 11 Caban 15 Cumhu March 25, 2006 Originally posted on my blog.

Last week I read a book and Kukulkan was in it. A modern book, Wildcard by Rachel Lee.Its genre is that new breed of romantic suspense, where it's a suspenseful action tale but the two main characters fall in love and have lots of sex. I like them, what can I say? If you like Romantic Suspense and you liked the DaVinci Code , you'd probably like this book.

This book buys into the now-tired theory that Mary Magdelene married Jesus and had his kids. It wasn't original when Dan Brown wrote his not-very-good novel (read Foucault's Pendulum for a much better treatment of the same theme) . The author manages to tie in the Templars (yawn) and Akhenaton to her conspiracy theory. And then she brings in Kukulkan (which she misspells throughout the book as "Kulkulcan"). I was excited at first. Not many modern novels talk about the old Meso gods, right?

And then my excitement died. Of course I've heard the theories that K/Q was actually once of Jesus's disciples, if not the big guy himself, and dismissed them. This book's addition to that theory is that it was actually a grandson of Jesus and MM who was Kukulkan, Queztalcoatl, and Viracocha (Incan deity, similiar to K/Q). And in the book a priest is sent to find a mysterious original Mayan document, the "Codex of Kulkulcan" because it could destroy the Church. Blah blah blah. Bringing in the idea that the reason that the Mayans had crosses everywhere was because they were actually, secretly Christians.

Now I pause and blow out a deep breath. If you want to mark a spot so people notice it, you don't want to use just one stick. One stick doesn't stand out. You want to use TWO sticks. There are only so many ways you can fasten two sticks together. Parallel (which defeats the purpose of using two sticks), in an x, or in a t. Do the Christians really believe that no other culture figured out how to tie two sticks together at right angles?

I don't even know how to put into words how angry it makes me. The first thing the Spanish did when they came over is declare all the natives heathens, suitable for excuting as heretics or killed in war or used as slaves. If they were in fact secret Christians, that's pretty bad for the Spanish, eh? But since I don't believe that, I'll move on.

Why can't the pre-Columbians have come up with aspects of civilization and religion ALL BY THEMSELVES without having the need to consult with Jesus, his disciples or his decendents? They built pyramids without going to Egypt. They tied sticks together at right angles without having attended the crucifixion of Jesus. Why do these people insist on sticking their long religious noses into every place on the planet?

Supposedly, this is the first of several books written around this conspiracy theory. I'm sure my mom will buy the other ones as they come out. If the "Kulkulcan Codex" appears again, I'll be sure to let you know.

Dying Days by Eric S. Brown


Dying Days is a collection of nearly twenty short stories, spanning the genres of Horror, Sci-Fi and even dipping into Fantasy. Most of the stories are end-of-the-world scenarios, including one story about the Rapture ("The Return") which seemed out of place. Also included are several zombie stories, along with a sprinkling of demons and other odd monsters.

The collection's title sums up most of the stories: Eric S. Brown seems to enjoy killing the human race, which he does in a variety of ways: EMP (electro-magnetic pulse), zombies, demons, aliens, vampires, and the Rapture. None of the stories end with hope or even a positive message; the world is doomed and there's nothing anyone can do about it.

The best story in the collection, and the longest, is the title story. "Dying Days" reads like a synopsis to a movie (and would make a good one): an EMP wipes out all technology and somehow turns most of the population into zombies. The story follows several non-zombie survivors as they make their way toward safety, in the formula established by such disaster movies as "Deep Impact" and the recent "Day After Tomorrow."

Most of the stories are short and easily digestible in a sitting, although too many at one time is depressing. The two stories I liked the best were "The Dwellers of Oar Knob" about subterranean demons, and "ShopMart" about vampires working the night shift at a large chain department store.

The style of Brown's writing is episodic vignettes; each story seems lifted from a larger work and sometimes suffers from a lack of back-story. The stories start in the middle of the action and end quickly, sometimes too quickly, leaving the reader with questions. But the collection is an entertaining, if uneven read.

This review was requested by the author. ObsidianButterfly.com and its reviewers reserve to the right to refuse any request for review. Requesting a review does not guarantee your book will be reviewed favorably. 2 Chuen 14 Zotz June 17, 2004 Originally published on Dark Fiction.

Keys Trilogy by Nora Roberts

Key of Light
Key of Knowledge
Key of Valor

3 out of 5 swords

Nora Roberts' newest supernatural/mystery/romance trilogy, about a trio of women, keys and goddesses, unfortunately falls short of her last entry into this field, the Three Sisters Island trilogy (Dance Upon the Air, Heaven and Earth, and Face the Fire). Roberts' stories are vivid, but her style of jumping from viewpoint to viewpoint is distracting and just plain bad writing. The characters aren't as well defined as those in other Nora Roberts books, and the intersection of magic and reality isn't as convincing as it was in the Three Sisters Island trilogy.

In Key of Light, three women (Malory Price, Dana Steele, and Zoe McCourt) from a small town in Pennsylvania receive private invitations to a reception at the mysterious castle-like home at the top of a nearby mountain. The women, all strangers, discover they have something in common: all of them have precarious job situations and no cash reserves. Malory is about to be fired as manager of an art gallery, Dana Steele's hours at the library have been halved, and Zoe was fired from a hairdresser's that day. Rowena and Pitte, the owners of the castle, offer the three women an intriguing quest: to find three special keys within three months. For this they each will be paid $25,000 up front, and $1 million upon completion. If one woman fails to find her key, they all fail, and forfeit one (unspecified) year of their lives.

Rowena and Pitte tell them a story about an ancient Celtic (or Welsh) god who fell in love with a mortal woman. Breaking the law of the Gods, he brought the woman through the Curtain of Power (also called the Curtain of Dreams) and when he became King, he made her Queen. This angered many of the gods, even more so when the couple had three beautiful demi-goddess daughters. The daughters were supposed to be watched over by a female teacher and a male bodyguard. When the teacher and bodyguard fell in love, their attention waned. Kane, an evil sorcerer/god who opposed the idea of mortals behind the Curtain, took advantage of the guardians' inattention and imprisoned the souls of the daughters in a glass box, locked with three keys. The gods know where the keys are, but only mortals are allowed to actually open the locks. Three women will be born in every generation with the ability to find the keys and open the locks, and at the end of 3,000 years the souls of the daughters will be annihilated if not freed.

Malory, Zoe and Dana are the three of their generation, and are astonished when Rowena and Pitte show them a portrait of the Daughters of Glass, who look eerily like Malory, Zoe and Dana! They agree to the proposition, and Malory is chosen as the first to find a key; she is given thirty days (incorrectly stated as "one moon cycle" which is actually 28-29 days) and a riddle-clue.

Shortly after, Malory is fired and able to devote all her time to the finding of her key. She meets Flynn, Dana's stepbrother, taking an instant dislike to him that in this genre can only mean true love. With his help and the help of the other two women, she searches for the key, thwarted by Kane and her own fears and doubts, and tempted by the illusions offered by Kane. It seems obvious to the readers where the key is to be found, but it takes her nearly the whole thirty days to find it. (No, I don't feel that's a spoiler. If she hadn't found it, there would be no books 2 and 3, right?)

In Key of Knowledge, it is Dana's turn. Her time at the library over, she turns her attention to opening a business with her two new best friends, Malory and Zoe, while searching for the second key. One of Flynn's best friends, novelist Jordan Hawke, has returned to town and to Dana's life. He broke her heart when he left her behind to move to NYC while she was in college, and she vows not to let him get close to her again.

Kane once again meddles in the quest, upping the stakes by making his attacks physical as well as mental as he breaks the rules that are supposed to bind him. Old relationships are renewed, destroyed and reforged while existing relationships are taken to the next level as the three women search for the second key.

Key of Valor completes the trilogy as Zoe takes up the gauntlet and searches for the final key. Once again, Kane escalates his attacks on Zoe and the man she doesn't want to love (Brad, a friend of Flynn and Jordan). The book, like the other two, drags, and the conclusion is inevitable and even clichéd.

These books could have been issued as one volume, and cut considerably. If you only purchase one magically-themed trilogy by Nora Roberts, get the Three Sisters Island one. If you are already read that, you will probably enjoy the Keys trilogy. 9 Ahau 3 Pop April 7, 2004 Originally published on Dark Fiction.

The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown

For months, people have been telling me to read this book."Read this book, you gotta read this book, it's amazing." So, I finally read it. And guess what? I read it about twelve years ago, only then it was called Foucault's Pendulum and Umberto Eco wrote it.

The Da Vinci Code is Foucault's Pendulum lite. It covers much of the same ground: the Templars, Masons, Holy Grail, Crusades, secret societies and their rituals, European art museums, strange medieval inventions, and Micky Mouse. While Eco's book was an amazing, densely written, multi-layered masterpiece, Brown's book is just a ghost.

The Da Vinci Code is a typical thriller; the "must read" hype is all about the subject matter: that the Church covered up the truth about goddess worship in its quest to rule the world. Not exactly earthshaking to me (a pagan).

A American professor of symbology, in Paris for a seminar, is improbably called in to look at a crime scene at the Louvre, because he was supposed to meet with the victim. The victim, a curator at the museum, arranged his dying body to match a drawing of Leonardo Da Vinci, drew a symbol on himself, and wrote a cryptic poem and set of numbers nearby. The victim's granddaughter, a master cryptologist, also arrives at the scene, and is able to follow the clues left by her grandfather. She convinces the professor that he is a suspect in the crime, and after taking what her dying grandpa had hidden for her, the two are off on an improbable chase across Paris and into Great Britain.

The two characters, in spite of their intelligent professions (code cracking and symbolism) act stupidly. As a police officer, the granddaughter should know the capacities of her department to trace fugitives. For instance, they make their getaway in an armored car. What vehicle could be MORE traceable? Yet they are surprised when the police catch up to them. The couple's every ploy is seen through by the police, but somehow they manage to get away, and continue to work on the central mystery: where is the holy grail?

Partway through the book, the professor reveals WHAT the holy grail is (I won't give it away, in case you don't already know, but it's not original to Dan Brown).

The book is sprinkled with brief, tantalizing hints that medieval and modern artwork is filled with references to the grail and to the lost goddess cults. They are too vague and unsatisfying: for instance, Brown claims that early Disney movies were all heavily encoded, but gives only the broadest strokes of how they were. Same with the secrets supposedly painted into the Mona Lisa and the Last Supper by Da Vinci; a few are given, but it'ss not enough.

This book reminds me of those old ads for designer knock-off perfumes, except that in this case, you'll like the original (Foucaultss Pendulum) more than the copy (The Da Vinci Code). If you must know what all the talking and hype is about, read The Da Vinci Code. If the subject interests you, grab a dictionary and read Foucault's Pendulum. (Although it was translated from Italian, it's the ONLY book I've read as an adult which required me to look up words as I read.)

Da Vinci Code: 4 swords out of 5, only because it might make you think
Foucault's Pendulum: 5 swords out of 5

12.19.10. 17.03 10 Akbal 11 Muan 01/21/04Originally published on Dark Fiction.

The Awakening By Shannon Drake

Author's website: http://www.eheathergraham.com/

The Awakening is part of Shannon Drake's Vampire series (other books include Beneath a Blood Red Moon, When Darkness Falls, Deep Midnight, and Realm of Shadows), although you wouldn't know it from reading the back cover (why would the publisher NOT want to tie a book to others in its series?). The Vampire series features a group of vampires, werewolves and assorted odd humans who call themselves The Alliance (shades of Anne Rice's Talamasca) and travel the world seeking to stop crazed cultists from unleashing evil upon the world.

Shannon Drake is a pseudonym for Heather Graham, a best-selling romance writer. Although the other Vampire books were ok, this one is a nightmare (literally and figuratively). It cannot decide if it wants to be a romance novel or a horror/suspense novel, and as a result is a poor version of both. The plot drags and the appearance of the Alliance at the end seems like a deus ex machina.

A New Orleans couple whose marriage is on the fritz, Megan and Finn Douglas, are invited to Salem for Halloween week. Their band is offered a can't-deny-it amount of money to play each night in an upscale Salem hotel. They decide use the time to reconnect and re-establish their marriage. As soon as they arrive, strange things begin to happen. A blue fog appears and disappears, Megan feels stalked, and her screaming nightmares propel rumors that her husband beats her. Finn's nightmares mirror hers.

The Wiccan community is convinced that Finn is evil and means his wife harm. Shannon Drake goes to great lengths to portray the witches of Salem as good people who believe in doing no harm, and does a more or less accurate job of describing Salem itself.

Megan learns that a demon, Bak-Dal, is being resurrected on Halloween night, and for some reason wants both Megan and Finn. They enlist the help of the local witches and, at the last minute, the Alliance. (One member of the Alliance had reviewed their band favorably and also written a book on demons which mentions Bak-Dal, the slim premise used to get the Alliance involved.) Megan and Finn seem unfazed when a group including vampires and a werewolf arrives to help them, another shortcoming to the plot.

The stalking, nightmares, and reassurances of all Wiccans being good people drags on for more than three-quarters of the book. Megan and Finn alternate between having lusty romance-novel sex and being stalked through the weird blue fog. The late-arriving members of the Alliance manage to tie up every loose end neatly, but the constant harping of "all wiccans are good" is destroyed when many of the evil cultists who plotted to bring back Bak-Dal are shown to have been Wiccan by day and evil by night. The author also could not decide if Salem was a place where true evil had happened (the execution of nineteen perhaps innocent people in the 17th century and the prior attempts to resurrect Bak-Dal) or a place where no one believed in Wicca or magic but just exploited the stupid tourists for commercial gain.

This book was extremely disappointing. I have many Wiccan friends, and all of them are tired of the media's portrayals of witches as either evil or cutesy and not real. There is no reason why this book couldn't have been set in the characters' native New Orleans and used voodoo priestesses (who are as good as witches) to the same effect. If you are already reading the other books in the series, pick this one up for continuity. If not, buy one of the other ones instead.

2/5 7 Manik 15 Kankin January 5 2004 Originally published on Dark Fiction.

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