#BookReview of Dargolla by @GodofThunder851 @SeveredPress

Massive monsters have always commanded our attention. Godzilla wasn’t the first beast to stomp its way into mainstream media, but since its arrival, the kaiju genre has flourished. While Hollywood has attempted to take on such stories through Pacific Rim and similar films, indie authors have brought the intensity of such huge creatures into very small perspectives.

In this case, Christofer Nigro explores the arrival of Dargolla, the kaiju for which the book is named, through the eyes of Colin Wilson, a young boy who’s grown up in the post-kaiju-arrival world. He lives in Metroville, a fictional city, with his family. Having grown up in a world where any given moment might be interrupted by a hundred-foot-tall monstrosity crushing the life out of everything that moves, he’s a little bit paranoid that one will show up and destroy his town.

That’s exactly what happens, but this is the basis for all good kaiju stories. From the ashes of society, a hero rises. More or less. Colin’s story is more about survival than heroism, a welcome change from the apparent mandate that the main character of such stories must become a super slayer of some kind. Dargolla, a burrowing, bellowing beast, makes short work of the many humans, buildings, military vehicles, and other signs of life that stand even remotely near its path of destruction.

Dargolla is a novella, meaning two things: it’s a quick, high-action read full of epic pulp violence, and each scene counts double. This makes the fact that the prologue is somewhat long stand out. While great for world building, the opening is packed full of details about the various types of kaiju that have torn up earth, where they’re believed to have come from, and what their arrival has done to the other earth species. In some respects, this is great foreshadowing, such as the mention of psionic/mutated humans, which sets up for two characters later on; in others, this feels unnecessary, such as the mention of “false kaiju” or mutated megafauna, neither of which show up. However, the ending does foreshadow a sequel, so it’s possible this was laying the groundwork for a larger story later on.

Perhaps one of the most effective elements of this story is how quickly destruction or death occurs. I don’t mean this as in, “Wow, it’s been an hour and the whole city is gone,” so much as that even major characters are wiped off the page in just a few sentences. In doing this, the writer uses form, rather than detail, to capture the shock and visceral gut-punch of sudden death. There’s no melodramatic lingering on someone’s final cry of pain, which happens in movies but not real life. The reader only fully registers the character’s death several sentences after the fact, perhaps even stopping to reread the passage just to be sure it actually happened.

This is balanced by a mechanical slowness in other areas. In some instances, the writing becomes clunky or even clinical in ways that don’t quite fit the scene. One instance refers to a woman’s eye as her “ocular organ,” which isn’t technically wrong, but provides an odd emotional distance consider the scene was told from the close third-person of a suburban housewife. Such technical details work really well in some areas, as it gives the story the feeling of a PTSD-ridden survivor’s account, where emotional distance is necessary to the teller’s ability to continue, but takes away from the action in other instances when it gets too detail oriented.

Along the path of destruction, this story provides a bevy of fun side characters, including several soldiers who call out to Odin and Thor rather than God, and a group of higher-ranked military men desperately attempting to play cards despite the constant kaiju-based interruptions. President Trump even makes an appearance, but as a reference—the fictitious version of #46 gets no actual dialogue, and the narration neither supports nor opposes his presidency, allowing the writer to lock the story in time while wisely staying away from political endorsement.

Overall, Dargolla: A Kaiju Nightmare is exactly what the title suggests. It’s a story of mayhem and carnage, where a young boy fights overwhelming odds to survive a kaiju attack and the generally fruitless military attempts to kill said kaiju. Plus, without spoiling it, I’ll say that there’s a twist in the ending that sets up for a very interesting new direction, should the writer continue the story.

Due to its length, Dargolla may feel like the introduction to a larger work, rather than a stand-alone piece, but fans of the kaiju genre—and anyone looking for a hundred and change stories of things exploding—is sure to enjoy this book.

***

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Weird crap I’ve said while playing #TheBindingofIsaac @edmundmcmillen

Hi everyone,

As you no doubt gathered from my last post, I’ve been playing lots of The Binding of Isaac lately. It’s a pretty weird game, but here are the weirdest things I’ve said or thought while playing (both alone and with friends).

Let’s take a ride.

  1. I’d prefer to start in the Burning Basement because I can make money off the fire.
  2. The Ocarina of Time has aptly prepared me to chuck a bomb in this tapeworm’s mouth.
  3. The power of flight has failed to protect me from tiny spiders.
  4. If I don’t cry on all this poop, I won’t have enough hearts to kill Mom.
  5. I’m not sure what that is, but I’m going to touch it. *Mortally wounded.* Oh. Note to self: That thing is “a bastard.”
  6. If you’re not using bombs to put out fire, you may not be doing it right. If you ARE using bombs, please direct me to the nearest bomb bag salesman, because I’m all out.
  7. I have more keys than God!
  8. The secret room was full of mushrooms, and the mushrooms were full of spiders. Again.
  9. The shopkeepers don’t mind if you blow them up. I mean, none of them complained afterward.
  10. Using a Devil Room is like gas station sushi. It might seem like a good idea, but if you’re not careful, you’ll regret it.
  11. Using a Devil Room is like choosing the holy grail. You’ll melt Nazi faces!
  12. Using a Devil Room is like insulting your mom during an argument. Sure, it might feel good, but you’re probably going to regret it.
  13. You can touch whatever you want, but don’t go crying about it if it hurts you.
  14. *Follow-up* Actually, since tears are your weapons, continue to cry.
  15. *As Samson* The best thing you can do for yourself is throw that boy on a spike pit.
  16. *As Samson* The redder you glow, the smoother your go!
  17. Remember kids: do all the drugs.
  18. I found a weaponized fetus in the basement. Good times.
  19. I haven’t been this excited for a quarter since the first World War!
  20. I haven’t been this excited for a quarter since S.H.I.E.L.D. dragged me out of the ice!
  21. I haven’t been this excited for a quarter since last week! …I’m really broke.
  22. Most games make you ask, “Why?” This one makes you ask, “What the fuck?”
  23. *As Eve* If you get attacked, your bird will eat people. It’s like Bioshock Infinite, except you’re more likely to accidentally kill yourself.
  24. *As Eve* Isn’t every night a terrible night to have a curse? I’m not less inconvenienced by the horns growing out of my head just because it’s Labor Day.
  25. *As ???, reincarnated via the Ankh* Am I cold, or just really dead?
  26. *As ???* Something stinks, and it’s probably me.
  27. *As plain old Isaac* I love how his first instinct upon finding any given object is to shove it through his head. KID. YOU’RE NOT A CLOSET, THERE SHOULD NOT BE HANGERS IN YOU.
  28. *Fighting Mom* Those calves are not meant for heels. Or going out in public.
  29. Satan can’t be killed by the Bible. Mom can, but not Satan. Why? Because he’s Satan, and you’re a child. He doesn’t have time for these games.
  30. I try to take pills whenever possible. Then I can show up to boss battles like LOOK HOW MANY SPIDERS ARE COMING OUT OF MY BODY.
  31. I’m not sure why that giant ball of crap is so yellow, but Conker’s Bad Fur Day prepared me for this. Now crank up the opera.
  32. This game has a great soundtrack, but it also syncs perfectly to Radio X from Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.
  33. Pro-tip: Blow up the slot machines. Also, I’m not allowed in AC anymore.
  34. The Devil Beggars are pretty chill dudes. I mean, they’re like Red Cross, but I get floating babies and damage boosters instead of fifty bucks and a cookie.
  35. There’s a fifty percent chance this game is just another set-up from Cabin in the Woods.
  36. Ultra Greed compared to every other boss is like having your girlfriend beat you to death compared to a quick kiss on the cheek.
  37. *Singin’* “’Cause I’m a gamblin’ boogey-man, although I don’t play fair!” *Dies*
  38. *Reading Isaac’s last will* How did I carry all this stuff? And when did I even find half this crap?
  39. This is by far one of the sickest, darkest games I’ve ever played. It should be a movie. I mean, everyone involved would get sued for making it, but it would have such a cult following.

That’s all for now! Keep shining on, you crazy diamonds.

Three reasons #TheBindingofIsaac might be the most #zen #game ever @edmundmicmillen

Life is suffering, and death is inevitable. Buddhism (as well as many other eastern philosophies) teaches that these two statements are parts of the, if not the entire, core of the human experience. After all, nothing is more certain than the fact that, eventually, the universe will self-destruct and everything we know will be erased.

Let’s avoid nihilism, at least for a moment. For those of you not familiar, The Binding of Isaac is a phenomenal game with high replay value. It’s also one of the most shockingly adult games I’ve ever played, with an all-too-brief story of a boy names Isaac whose mother has a psychotic episode and believes God is telling her that Isaac has become corrupted/sinful/impure.

She takes his toys and clothes, and shaves his head, but the voice commands her to kill him, much like how God commands Abraham to kill his son, also Isaac, in The Bible. Our Isaac, though, finds escape through a strange trapdoor in his room which basically leads to an ever-changing hellscape full of monsters. “Mom” is a boss, as is “Mom’s Heart” and “It Lives,” which is basically a vengeful fetus god (lookin’ at you, Silent Hill 3).

Given that your main attack is to shoot tears at the enemies until they die, and many pickups hurt Isaac (by actively damaging him or causing him emotional/bodily distress, making his tears larger/more powerful), it’s clear to see that this game isn’t for the faint of heart. But, despite its incredible learning curve and difficulty scale, it’s the most meditative gaming experience I’ve ever had.

Death is Inevitable

Sticking with this for a moment, I go in expecting to die. Did I get blown away on the first level? No problem! I figured that might happen. Die at the final boss? Well, heck, at least I made it that far, and I know better for next time. I’ve gotten blasted at the last second so many times that I recently had a perfect run (no damage) during the battle against Mom’s Heart, generally known as a Bullet Hell.

Steam user Lunick says, “**** this game,” but I say, “If I’m still alive in twelve seconds, I’m eating a whole victory cheesecake.”

Life is Suffering

The Binding of Isaac uses a couple different sacrifice mechanics, ranging from donating health to get money, which can be donated (for unlockables), spent at shops, or given to beggars (for gifts), all the way to actually sacrificing yourself by impaling Isaac on spikes in given rooms. (Brief note: he’s, like, five. Maybe younger. This game is brutal.)

 

Why is this zen? Because it teaches you not to be prideful by holding onto all that extra health, especially if you’ve left pickups behind in other rooms. Sure, if you’re on your last heart container, I recommend visiting a Great Fairy getting some more health before forking over the rest to a Demon Beggar, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve given away most of my life force only to surge back and obliterate all before me.

You are One with Everyone

Isaac is technically the only character in the game, but he takes on the forms of different Biblical characters, like Azazael, Samson, and Lilith (in the new, disgustingly-perfectly-named Afterbirth expansion). He’s always Isaac, yet shares the collective knowledge and experience of these other figures (doubly so, considering unlockables and donations carry across all runs in a given save file).

Buddhism teaches this very same concept: that we share in the collective experience of all mankind. Good things that happen to one of us happen to all of us; trauma and danger–like a child’s mother trying to kill the child–harm everyone, hence why all these other figures are trapped in the magical door to hell too.

Those are my thoughts on this game. What are yours? Give me a shout in the comment section!

Some things @theevilwithin did right, and some it did very wrong #videogames #horror

I’ve been replaying The Evil Within on my PS4 and, as I did the first time, really enjoyed some of the gameplay. Since I’m a pretty critical gamer, I can’t help but praise it–and chastise its creators for some glaring oversights and easily avoidable flaws. Let’s check this out.

Good: Run for your Life

There aren’t a lot of games out there with quality chase sequences, but when done right, those games deserve a thumbs up. The Evil Within is one such game, offering several “Run or you’ll die” moments, many of which are complicated by traps, offering even more ways to get brutally torn into a thousand pieces.

Bad: PS2-Grade Controls

Between a white-knuckled grip on the shake-cam and controls that feel more at home in Silent Hill than a PS3/PS4 title, you’re likely to slam Detective Castellanos into so many walls you’ll wish he was locked in a padded cell so he didn’t keep hurting himself. I’m not suggesting it should’ve been an Assassin’s Creed-style “turn so fast your legs skitter out to the sides” sensitivity, but god damn, this guy turns slower than a cruise liner.

Good: Interesting Monsters

Between the variety of disfiguration the main enemies suffer, The Keeper, The Four-Armed Teleporting Kayako, and the grotesque bosses, there are quite a few baddies to look at while the Detective gets murdered.

Bad: The hell do they look like?

Between the aforementioned herky-jerk camera, intentionally grainy screen, and the background environments, there’s barely any time to actually see what you’re shooting, and when you do see it, it blends into the background. Fuzzy texturing and an over-emphasis on gritty world-building left the creatures feeling lack-luster.

Good: Atmospheric Tension

Some of the early environments do a great job of capturing that survival horror feel, especially if you’re low on green gel and haven’t bought many upgrades.

Bad: They Completely Forget About Tension Halfway Through

Call of Duty style shootouts and an increasing reliance on bosses or subbosses to keep the game challenging cause atmosphere to go right out the window. Bonus Bad: Survival horror ammo scarcity, massive shootouts, and a camera that shakes harder than a fault line during a volcanic eruption gets frustrating very fast.

Ugly: The Main Character is a Moron

I was pretty disappointed with Det. Castellanos’s character. He spends half the game asking obvious questions, and the other half making idle, unthinking remarks. At one point, he even refers to “that red liquid.” …That liquid is called blood, detective.

However, the acting is very well done, and kudos for bringing in Jennifer Carpenter for Nicole Kidman. As a huge fan of Dexter, there’s a certain appeal to having her in the game.

Ugly: Too much Resident Evil

I love Resident Evil, and I’m all for homage, but between Evil being in the name, the final boss getting blown away by a rocket launcher, and the fact that it uses the iconic “zombie hunkered over, eating someone, then turning around slowly while the lights flash” TWO TIMES, I found myself wondering why I didn’t just play RE.

Even the subbosses are copied straight out of RE4, including fighting two giant troll things at basically the same time (El Giganto), a water-dwelling beast that you can’t directly kill (El Lago), and a subordinate of a major boss that uses ground hazards and extreme physical power (Salazar’s Right Hand).

But, when the game actually tries to be its own experience, rather than a fan-service clone, it handles really well.

Ugly: Troped-up Female

There are only two women in the game. Kidman plays the damsel in distress and the femme fatal, while Ruvik’s sister, aka Four-Armed Kayako, is the woman-as-monster. There’s no redeeming element here, and I’ve knocked a full point off its score for that.

Do I recommend this game? Yes. I wouldn’t say I love it, but I definitely enjoy playing, and have bought it twice. It’s not perfect–six and a half out of ten, at best–and it won’t give any seasoned horror fans nightmares, but it’s worth a few playthroughs. If you haven’t tried it, and you’ve got a little spare time/money, give it a look.

@HoltonsHorror reviews #CaptainAmericaCivilWar @Marvel

Okay, so this movie isn’t horror, but who would I be if I didn’t devote a blog post to the heroes I’ve come to know and love?

For those of you that are new to this planet, Captain America: Civil War is about The Avengers coming to a disagreement over the Sokovia Accords, a UN-ratified document that would only allow the team to intervene if and when a UN committee deems intervention necessary. This doesn’t fly with a lot of the members, but it really doesn’t with ole Cap’n A, whose compulsion to act when he sees injustice–and his experiences in WWII–seriously clash with this “Let’s put the good guys on a leash” philosophy.

Now, how did this movie do? Let’s delve in (Or scroll down for a TL;DR).

(SLIGHT SPOILERS AHEAD)

It was a pretty good adaptation, all things considered. There was no way they were going to be able to bring in every hero in the Marvel Universe, so considering that they introduce Black Panther and Spiderman while also expanding on the day-to-day relationships of the other Avengers was really something.

Paul Rudd! How was I not going to start with him? He was phenomenal, like he’d walked right off Ant Man and into CA:CW, ultimately using his Ant suit in a way that will please those familiar with the comics and surprise those who aren’t (and extra props to his comically deep laugh during such a big scene).

Black Panther! While his character arc was predictable, it was still well executed, the costume/stunts were great, and Chadwick Boseman was a perfect choice.

Spiderman! Tom Holland was another spot-on casting, and since Spidey wasn’t part of the driving action, he got to really immerse himself in the role. He’s really only present for the big fight scene, yet stands out by delivering a constant barrage of jokes while actively fighting, just like in the comics.

Love! One of my favorite hobbies is imagining what these superhumans do during their down time. What bank does Natasha Romanoff use? What does Tony Stark eat for breakfast? Has Steve Rogers ever played a video game? (This is a great exercise for writers, BTW).

But, one of my favorite scenes in CA:CW comes from Vision and Wanda Maximoff (Scarlet Witch) casually hanging out at The Avengers compound, the buds of romance clearly blooming. I especially liked how the Mind Stone fails him when it comes to cooking. They’re endearing and amusing scenes that provide a respite from the heavy tone of the movie, and frankly, I could’ve done with another one of those scenes (despite the 2.5 hr run time).

But how was the plot?

I was really surprised at how integral Bucky was. I knew he’d be involved, but The Winter Soldier wound up being one of the main characters, and though his personal trials were, again, nothing too unique, the initial twist involving Hydra’s Winter Soldier program was surprising. Then when they showed how Bucky was involved with ole’ Tony Stark, things got REALLY surprising, and basically turned the plot inside out.

The tensions run high between the teammates throughout, and we see many instances of team allegiance being challenged by personal relationship. The poignancy, most notably when Captain America attends a particular funeral, was profound and welcomed.

There are, of course, some pitfalls. As with any Marvel movie, there’s about ten to twenty minutes devoted to explaining or setting up for new heroes/villains later on, including the second after credits scene (all I’ll say is that it’s about Spidey). To the writers’/director’s credit, they do humorously skip past Spiderman’s origin (Holland says, “When what happened happened, my senses were turned up to eleven”), which got a lot of laughs from the seasoned viewers.

The aspect I most appreciated, though, was that this was clearly written for people who’d seen the other movies. The Falcon and Ant Man refer to their brawl in Ant Man several times; Falcon and Bucky clearly haven’t forgotten each other and are still sore over The Winter Soldier; Stark and Pepper Pots have a development in their relationship that might be lost on those who didn’t see the Iron Man films. This not only saved time and delivered constant, fresh writing, but it made me feel a little more validated for having spent so much money seeing all those movies.

Some Dull Bits

The negative aspects are few and far between. The music, for example, is performed and written very well, but isn’t distinguishable from the scores in other Marvel movies. Some scenery and backgrounds look the same (how different can one destroyed city block be from another), though this is balanced by some very interesting arenas, namely an airport and a Hydra compound. There are some would-be significant characters who, due to limited screentime, are criminally underdeveloped (like Marissa Tomei’s Aunt May).

And, of course, Hawk Eye comes back, and is about as effective as he’s ever been. Sure, he’s still clearly a clever tactician, but his role seems more to showcase the other character’s abilities, like when he tries to help Scarlet Witch, gets overpowered by Vision, and has to have her rescue him.

…Although, it’s kind of nice to see a guy in a typical “damsel who tries to help and needs to be saved” position.

The Summary (TL;DR)

See this movie. Just go see it. Right now, in IMAX 3D, like I did. It’s by far one of the best Marvel films to date, so much so that I’m glad Thor and The Hulk weren’t in it, because it would’ve demanded changing a fairly fantastic group dynamic.

The combat is stylish, dynamically-shot, and still manages to be new despite almost a dozen of these comic adaptation movies (not even counting DC!). This feels more like watching people in conflict rather than mere characters, a huge step in the right direction for a franchise that was starting to lack emotional depth, beyond the usual “I don’t want to fight my family” or “I don’t want to lose my love interest” plots.

I was worried about Joss Whedon taking his hands off these movies, even though this wasn’t really an Avengers film, but am glad to say that the Russo brothers nailed it. I give it a 9/10, with half a point lost for the soundtrack, and .1 stars lost for every time I’ve had to hear someone complain about Stark’s ego. Otherwise and overall, fantastic.

I played the Catalyst Beta, and I’m so glad I pre-ordered the collector’s edition #mirrorsedgecatalyst @mirrorsedge

I was one of those lucky people granted access to the Mirror’s Edge Catalyst beta, which I signed up for pretty much the minute I heard about it. As a runner myself, I loved the crap out of the first game, and played it way, way more times than I probably should’ve.

Now, as someone who’s played the beta and has a reasonable grasp on what Catalyst will be like, I can make a few snap judgements reasonable assessments on the final product. Maybe you’re here because you want to know about the game, or maybe you’re here because you absolutely love my blog. Probably the former, but hey, give me a shout if you’re just that into what I’ve got to say.

So, what are my thoughts on Catalyst?

1) The skill tree makes perfect sense

Mirror’s Edge was about a skilled, seasoned veteran Runner fleeing for her life in the face of a totalitarian, militarized government trying to kill her. Catalyst is about a spunky early-20s (if that) woman who recently spent two years in jail and, though good, isn’t nearly a legend among the other Runners.

I’ve seen some griping about how you can’t skill roll or do a quick turn at the beginning of the game, but I didn’t see a gym yard in Faith’s prison. No matter how much stretching or how many lunges you do, you’re not going to keep in top Runner form after spending that long in a jail cell. Giving us a way to watch her grow–and giving us control over her growth, much like how a real person prioritizes, say, movement over combat–was a great decision.

2) Holy Crap Sack, Batman, Look at those Graphics!

My jaw literally dropped when I saw Faith step outside into the halogen glare of street lights on a rainy night, and my eyes watered with awe when the camera panned up over Glass to show off the Catalyst title art and the city skyline at dawn. It’s art in motion, and beautiful even during a speed blur.

3) Combat is way more intuitive

The combat is designed to work with your speed and your controls. In addition to Traversal Attacks, which are only available while sprinting, and allow you to stun an enemy and keep running full-speed, Faith can do direction moves, knocking enemies into each other.

You know what I did the first time I freely (outside tutorial) fought some security officers? I delivered a crushing roundhouse that sent one Dudeman into a second Dudeman. Then they went straight off a roof. I then ran full speed at the last guard, slid, kicked his crotch up into his stomach, and swept the legs, leaving him KO’d on the floor. I’m not sure who got it worse, but I walked (well, ran) away without a scratch.

4) Secrets and Emotions

Icarus, a poorly-named young male who helps Faith readjust to runner life, is seen playing a board game against Noah, Faith’s leader and father figure. He’s an arrogant Bro in his sunglasses and vest, but there’s more to him than the Beta let on.

And, Faye Kingslee nails her deliver, giving Faith’s spare lines a lot of heart and emotion. These don’t feel like scenes; they feel like I’m eavesdropping on someone’s life.

5) Collectibles!

Performing certain tasks causes Runner Bags to appear, allowing you to customize your Runner Tag (which you use to Hack certain screens, displaying your Tag on all your friends’ games) and your Echo, which is a 3D virtual reality Faith that runs out in front of you when you click R3, showing the easiest path through Glass.

I’m not ashamed to admit I’m a sucker for an in-game unlock.

There you have it: five reasons I was like “OH DANG THIS THE BEST EVER” and why June 7th can’t come soon enough. Even if you’re not a hopeless fanboy like me, it’s worth your time and money to check this out. And no rental crap! Invest in this game. It’ll pay off in the long run.

Pun so intended.

Review of Night Things: Dracula versus Frankenstein by @TerryMWest #horror

Today, I’ll be reviewing Night Things, by Terry M. West, in case the title didn’t give that away. This is a NSFW review on account of some NSFW subject matter in the book, so if you’re easily offended or have a supervisor looming over your shoulder, come back later. Or don’t! Keep reading! Be awesome!

I have to note two things before we begin: One, I reviewed an uncorrected proof, so I’ll be glossing over grammar/style issues, and two, this is a book set in the same universe as several others of his, so it’s possible I missed things that running fans would’ve appreciated.

Onward, to the review!

The snapshot description of this book is as follows (this is part of the description found on Amazon):

Dracula, considered the messiah of the Night Things, builds an unstoppable army as he plots to wipe humanity from the face of the earth. The mysterious New York crime boss, Johnny Stücke (the creation of Frankenstein) wants to keep the peace between the Night Things and humanity. Stücke fears total extermination of his kind, should Dracula unleash his forces on New York.
The fight for the night begins.

…There’s only one problem with this. Roughly half the book isn’t about DvF at all. It’s about Gary Hack, an overweight, heroin-addicted porn director. Granted, it all ties in–Hack shoots a few snuff films where Dracula’s beloved children bite the big one, sparking the war–but there are major parts of the book not directly related to this conflict at all. They’re meant to build up Hack as a supporting character, though he’s ultimately not a sympathetic one.

There are a lot of interesting qualities to this book. The premise, for one: rather than just randomly clashing, the Drac-Frank relationship goes back over a hundred years, to the Fanged One’s adoption of the traumatized creation, enlisting “Primul” in the quest to build up an empire of “night things” (Drac’s rather uninspired name for any non-human entity).

The use of two timelines is another clever way to show both sides to the main baddies. The creature winds up living as a mobster in present-day New York City, where he mercilessly squashes the skulls of those who dare cross him. His relationship to the other, human-led mobs isn’t exactly clear–he says he could crush them all in an instant and has no use for them, but later says he could learn a lot from them–but that’s okay. They’re not really part of this action. The crucial take-away is seeing how ruthless he is in the present, then looking at his gentle past and piecing together how he got so cruel.

West also pays a lot of attention to world building. Readers will get to see all sorts of creatures in action, as well as how they either keep their cover or shout their existence to the world. Creatures involved include a succubus, zombies, werewolves/shapeshifters, witches, and an Egyptian god.

And yet, sometimes all this expansive interest takes the reader’s eye off the meat of the story, leading to flashy distractions. Along the same line, different names are used for each being. Vampires are sometimes called leeches, which is fine, but some werewolves are referred to as ‘shifters’ (as in, shapeshifters, a totally different creature) or furries. “Furries” also appears to be used once in reference to actual furries, making one scene very confusing. There is also a scene where some witches are referred to as necromancers, but they summon demons, not the undead, which isn’t quite right either (however, it is very common to conflate necromancy and demonology).

The only thing I’ll say about the language used is that the characters swing wildly from low-brow slang, i.e. I need some fuckin’ blow, to high-brow diction, like Do not stare into his ruthless, undead eyes. This makes for an inconsistent read, and proofs don’t tend to get edited more heavily than a copy edit, so it’s possible this issue persists.

Lastly, some details are thrown in with little lasting impact. The opening makes a huge deal about Johnny’s musical interests, taking a page or two to discuss how much he loves opera, and one specific classical composition, to make him seem high-class, but this is only mentioned once more in 150 pages. He also adopts a girl with Down Syndrome, but this too is only mentioned once more, and that prompts the mobster skull-crushing I mentioned earlier, making her seem more like plot fodder than a step toward inclusive writing.

I may pick out some flaws, but this was an engaging book overall. Hack may be a generally lousy guy, but at least he knows it, and there’s a refreshing element to his noir-like obsession with self-destruction. Johnny, likewise, is a complex character with some cliche traits and some redeeming ones, and leaves the readers with a reminder that he has some humanity in his many human parts. Dracula isn’t exactly the cool-and-capable vampire of legend, yet seeming a who-knows-how-old creature who is frequently thrown off-guard and subverted was a nice change of pace too.

The summary: Some inconsistencies aside, this was a book with a lot of heart. West clearly has a passion for otherworldly creatures, as shown in the extensive network of monsters into which he drops the readers, and his unusual interpretation offers a nice perspective. A few moments may be more jarring than some would like, but there is humor in these horror-lined pages, and a strong balance between human kind and otherwise. I give this 7.5 stars out of 10. If you’ve got some time and a few dollars, give it a look.