Review: Her Fingers by Tamara Romero

October 5, 2013 at 2:56 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , )

According to ancient Yimlan tradition, you need to say your three names at the beginning of an encounter with someone who has saved, or is going to, save your life. With this simple piece of imagined folklore as its base, Tamara Romero weaves an intricate and fragile tale that mixes witches and technology, druidism and drug addiction, bionics and magic in Her Fingers. The book is peppered throughout with little aphorisms like this, bits and pieces of legend from the world of the story. Romero uses the three-names idea to brilliantly set up some wonderfully revealing twists and strangle beautiful storytelling.

Chapters alternate between two protagonists: Volatile, a mysterious man hiding in an isolated cabin in the woods with his robotic doll Shades, and Misadora, a young witch who finds herself drug-addled, persecuted by the government, and trying to understand the nature of her scared ring and the tree-bound women who call to her in her lucid moments. As the story progresses, identities are fleshed out and surprises abound, both for the individual characters and for their relationships to one another. This is something that Romero does magnificently, writing relationships that feel vibrant and ever-shifting, dreamlike and engaging.

The lovingly crafted relationships are the most engaging thing about Her Fingers. The plot is enjoyable, and follows a well-crafted arc with few diversions from the main storyline, however it is those moments where we see characters interact that truly shine. Without ruining anything, there is a moment toward the end of the book in which we get to see a flashback through the eyes of Misadora where we are witness to the moment she lost a very important ring. We are led along without knowing the origin of this loss for most of the book, and then suddenly everything is revealed. It’s not the reveal of the “how” though, so much as the “whom.” We are shown wanton cruelty, beautiful kindness and everything in between in these simple interactions, and what’s better, this all becomes yet another setup for more puzzled solved only a few pages later. Her Fingers is a very short book, but there is a ton of magic packed between the pages.

Her Fingers was written in Spanish, initially, and translated by the author for its publication in English. Some of the sentences seem to hold odd word choices or construction, possibly due to the translation process. That said, however, the poesy of the language and the specificity with which Romero chose each word rings with a melody that is unlike most other debut books. The concepts are spelled out with carefully chosen language that just sings. Consider the way the prostitution of witches is described, an ugly concept made beautiful by prose: “And many a man would pay extra to lay with a witch, watching her colored hair become wild, since at night a witch has not only a naked body, but a naked condition. In those chambers converged heaven and hell, ecstasy and darkness.” A magical, tragic and personal tale of the strange and wonderful worth picking up for anyone who likes their genre tropes mixed, blended, and served with a side of mist and fog.

Advertisements

Permalink Leave a Comment

Review: House Hunter by S. T. Cartledge

September 15, 2013 at 1:05 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , )

Imagine a world in which a shadowy agency funded by the government pulls strings behind the scenes to create a state of perpetual war and devastation in the name of progress. No no, wait, I don’t mean OUR world, I mean the fascinating and violent world of S. T. Cartledge’s House Hunter. Okay, well there might be some allegory at work here, it’s true, but at least we don’t have enormous buildings wandering around our skeletal cities pounding the hell out of each other with lightning cannons. We save lightning cannons for conflicts in the middle-east.

House Hunter is set in a society where buildings are semi-sentient and capable of much more than simply providing shelter and places for birds to crash into. Using a cerebrum, which is a sacred object imbued with special properties that allow a user to control the structure, houses can engage in combat, protect their users, and transform into a variety of animals, flying machines, weapons and creatures from our mythic lore. House hunters are those who wrangle the most ornery of houses and train them to be peaceful and helpful, something like wildlife conservationists with an added mixer of daring adventurer and the occasional splash of cock-fighting aficionado.

Cartledge introduces us to Imogen, a house hunter who quickly ends up going from a normal life (as normal as house hunting gets, anyway) to being on the run from a syndicate of influential people interested in consolidating their power using the might of the fabled Jabberhouse. Her only ally, a mysterious figure named Ellis who hides a past that leads to some great twists later in the book. From there, Cartledge spins a tale of adventure that takes the characters through ancient jungles, dark labyrinths and mysterious monasteries to try and stop the Association. This is a fun book, the story riddled with battles between bizarre monsters and exciting transfigurations. It’s obvious Cartledge is a fan of cartoon violence and giant monster flicks, as the series of battles in House Hunter hearkens back to battle scenes from the classic Godzilla films, with the addition of smaller figures (such as his human characters) swinging around and shooting lightning cannons, setting traps, and generally adding to the chaos.

The plot is lightning fast and lots of fun. Cartledge wisely sticks mostly to one through-line and though he occasionally riffs on things with slight detours, every chapter serves the central arc and drives toward the conclusion. It’s difficult to diverge from the main story in a book this short and keep things moving in the right direction, so we’re treated to a very tight and direct plot, which works well. The prose itself belies the author’s youth, and reads far better than a typical first novel. It’s obvious Cartledge has a love of language and storytelling, and that voice comes through in House Hunter. There is also a distinctive noir feel to the style of the book, with the gritty feel of urban environments utilized as characterization instead of setting, which is interesting.

I wish that there had been more room for House Hunter to really explore the world that we get glimpses of in the book. There are all sorts of amazing creatures and concepts on the periphery as we read through the book, everything from minotaurs and sprites to the weird insectile facial features and mutations of the citizenry. In that vein, House Hunter walks a line between the world of the familiar in a sort of magical-realism way and all out full-on bizarro. Because of the book being novella length, it always feels like there’s more just outside the reader’s line of sight. Perhaps we’ll see more of this world in future books, as there seems to be a great deal more to see. Intriguing, fascinating and strange, House Hunter is definitely worth picking up, especially for adventure fans and people who want the grime of noir jammed into their weird action stories. I’m also a huge fan of epilogues that cast the story they follow in a new light, or recontextualize pieces and parts of the narrative – something the author uses here to great effect. A great debut from Cartledge, who is sure to rise in the bizarro scene like a flaming house about to cold-cock a skyscraper. 

Permalink Leave a Comment