Category Archives: J. M. Martin

Heroes Dark and Dangerous

Dark Heroes
Jessy Marie Roberts, ed.
Pill Hill Press
Paper $15.99, ebook $0.99

This anthology has an interesting premise.  The creatures we think of as monsters play the role of hero. 

Most of the authors in this anthology were not familiar to me, although a couple of them were.  I’ve always found anthologies in which I don’t know the work or at least the reputation of the contributors to be something of a crap-shoot.  Fortunately, the dice roll came up predominantly in my favor.

Here’s what the book contains:

J. Leigh Bailey draws on Mesopotamian mythology in “The Twelfth Monster of Chaos” in one of the more original takes on a dark hero.  The vampire Phil Wolters describes is “Just Waiting for the Sun to Set” but what comes out in the dark is something even he has trouble defeating.  Samhain fights for right in “Cat Got Your Tongue?” by Gary Buettner.  Scott M. Sandridge has the first of several werewolf/shafeshifter stories, but it’s “Nothing Personal”, in which a madame hunts down the murderer of one of her girls.  Jennifer L. Barnes continues werewolf theme in “It’s Medicine; Not Magic”.  Mel Obedoza turns the tables on convention with her “Monster Hunter.”  In “The Ease of Evil”, Aaron Renfroe gives us a tale from the point of view of a monster who doesn’t realize he’s a monster.

Anita Siraki doesn’t deal with a werewolf per se, but in the bleakest tale in the book, “La Bete”, her heroine experiences life as a wolf and discovers that revenge has a high price.  Those who deal with the undead, even those who hunt them down, take on their characteristics, something Christopher Heath demonstrates quite effectively in “Azieran:  The Crypt of Shaddis’zzam”.  His Azieran is always a fun place to visit.  Gorgon sisters battle in “Their Last Escape” by Alexis A. Hunter.  Revenge comes from beyond the grave in Chloe Stowe’s “The Widow and the Scythes”.  On the “Solstice”, Darin Kennedy’s heroine April Sullivan makes a return appearance to try to prevent another necromancer from raising Arlington National Cemetery.  J. M. Martin turns in the best were-animal story, and certainly the most emotionally complex one, in “Eaters of Meat and Hunters”.  Kat Hekenbach shows us that werewolves are just “Ordinary Folk”.  A half demon aids his former lover, now a nun, in protecting a young girl from “The Dream Easter”.

This isn’t the strongest anthology I’ve read from a small press this year, but then it’s been an exceptionally strong year for small press anthologies, as I’ve stated elsewhere. This is still a better anthology than most of those published by a certain New York imprint known for its anthologies.  I suspect many of these people will be well known in the field if they keep writing.  The stories are at a professional level, although some are stronger than others.  I guess that reaction on my part is to be expected with so many dealing with were-creatures.  That’s probably the one gripe I have about the stories as a whole.  I was expecting more variety; in fact, I’m somewhat surprised there weren’t more vampires, since they seem to be everywhere these days.  At least the vampire herein didn’t glitter but was properly loathsome (Thank you, Mr. Wolters).

If it seems I’m damning with faint praise, I don’t intend to.  I quite enjoyed the anthology.  It’s just that I enjoyed some stories more than others.  With the exception of J. M. Martin’s werewolf story (set in the same world as Tisarian’s Treasure, reviewed here), the stories I found the most interesting were the ones that stayed away from the tried and true and focused on monsters/creatures/beings that haven’t gotten as much exposure.  I also found that the stories in which the narrator had a distinguishable voice tended to stand out.  Overall, the contents were worth the investment.

What did annoy me, and I mean really annoy me, was the ebook version, at least the one for the Nook.  There was no table of contents, not even a listing, never mind anything interactive, and when I tried to use the Go To function, nothing came up on the Chapter option.  I had to put bookmarks in as I came to new stories.  As I’m not in the habit of having to to that, it was a little bit of a hassle.  I would have preferred to keep reading without having to stop and place a bookmark.  (I know it only took a couple of seconds; it was still a nuisance.)  Pill Hill Press has an extensive list of anthologies on their website, and not all of them are available in electronic formats, so my complaints may just be a function of where they are on the epublishing learning curve.

Regardless which version you prefer, print or electronic, check this one out.  There’s some good writing here, and I’d like to see some of these characters again.

Tisarian’s Treasure: An Example of an Indie Published Ebook Done Right

Tisarian’s Treasure
J. M. Martin
Cover by Peter Ortiz, interior illustrations by Julie Dillon
ebook 0.99, paperback $5.99

There’s been a lot of discussion online over the last year about the quality of what are called indie published books by their proponents and disparagingly called self-published books by the publishing, agenting, and critical establishment.  You can probably tell from the title of this post as well as how I worded the previous sentence which side of the issue I come down on.

So, rather than simply discuss the merits of the story and the writing itself  in this novella, which I will do, I’d like, begging the indulgence of the author and artists, to go beyond that and discuss the qualities of the publishing as well. 

Most opponents of indie publishing will try to scare you with Chicken Little-esque cries of “You won’t be able to find any quality; you’ll be buried in a sea of crap!” 

Like we aren’t now.  Sturgeon’s Law has never been repealed and never will be.  For those of you who don’t know, Sturgeon’s Law, after the science fiction and fantasy author Theodore Sturgeon, simply says that 90% of everything is crap.  I submit for your consideration what’s on most bookstore shelves.

Fortunately, Tisarian’s Treasure is in the 10%.  We’ll start with the story and the writing since those are what will ultimately make or break an ebook.  (I’m going to confine my comments to the ebook since that’s what I have.)  Problems of formatting can be fixed much more quickly and easily than problems of story and writing.

The writing is fluid and smooth, in the style of an old fashioned pirate novel, which is what this essentially is, with fantasy elements thrown in for fun.  Mr. Martin paints in both broad swathes and in detail, and his prose is lyrical and highly readable.

It’s the story of Dr. Alexandre Mallory, who finds himself marooned on an island with a handful of other survivors of an attack by the pirate Thadieus Drake.  Dr. Mallory has recently been in the service of said Captain Drake, although unwillingly.  Also with them is Oberon Teag, a pirate who has a tattoo on his back showing the location of the famed Tisarian’s Treasure.  It’s on the island they on which they’ve taken refuge.

Also in the group is the woman Katalin, who has mild prophetic powers.  She’s brave, beautiful, strong-willed, and one of the most interesting characters in the novella.

The plot, the characters, and the dialogue are all first rate.  The characters exhibit courage, treachery, ambition, and sacrifice.  They grow and change.  The ending is satisfying, and there’s room for more installments.  (That’s a hint, J. M.)

This story is set in the author’s world of Khaladune.  I’d like to sail these seas and visit this world again.  Fortunately, I will.  There’s a Khaladune story in the anthology Dark Heroes, which I hope to finish and review sometime next week.

Now, let’s look at the production values.  The cover art is gorgeous, of a professional level I’d expect from New York on a major fantasy novel.  The b&w interior illustrations are a nice added bonus, and while Ms. Dillon’s views of the characters don’t exactly match mine, they are well done and add a level of value to the book. 

The formatting on the epub (Nook) version is better than what I’ve read in ebooks by major publishers.  There were no missing line breaks between paragraphs because there were no line breaks between paragraphs.  Instead, the paragraphs were indented, just like in a print book.  I can’t tell you how much I appreciated that touch.  I hate line breaks between paragraphs when I’m reading fiction.  None of the lines extended off the page like those of a certain publisher I’ll not name sometimes do.  In fact, the only odd thing about the formatting was that occasionally a page number would skip.  That’s a page number, not a page.  And it wasn’t a big deal.

In short, Tisarian’s Treasure had everything I’m looking for in an ebook.  Captivating story, highly readable prose, professional art, and well-done formatting. 

Tisarian’s Treasure is available for both Kindle and Nook, with a paper edition available for those you haven’t gotten an ereader. This is one you will want to check out.