Shadowmancy by Jason Franks – a review

I’ve long been a fan of Australian author Jason Franks. His previous books, Bloody Waters and Faerie Apocalypse were both weird, but in the best possible way.

Shadowmancy by Jason Franks

Shadowmancy continues the weirdness. It is a dark, dark tale about a boy who goes to wizard school – but this ain’t the wizard school your mama told you about! Learning happens without teaching. Dangerous deals are done. And power is bought in the most cutthroat of marketplaces.

Franks grounds his writing with a sense of place, a visual sensibility enhanced by the illustrations. The pacing is great, the characters vivid, the choices bold.

I’d love to describe the book more, but in some ways to describe it is to ruin the experience of engaging in it. The book does not represent a long read, and I highly recommend going into it as cold as you can, without preconceived notions of what a book about magic schools should be.

As always, Franks delivers! At this point, I’ll pretty much read whatever he produces on spec – no matter what the subject matter.

Faerie Apocalypse by Jason Franks – a review

First a confession. I’ve been very tardy writing this review. Partly because the business of life has got in the way of me updating this site as often as I should, but also because I felt I needed to sit on this story for a while before writing down my thoughts. It is, without doubt, one of the most refreshingly different stories I’ve read in a while. I knew I liked it. But I had to think a bit about why.

This is the second book I’ve reviewed by Australian author Jason Franks. The first was Bloody Waters, a fantastic story about magic and music.

From Goodreads:

Over the centuries the Faerie Realms have drifted away from the mortal world. But for some, the Doors will open. For some, there is a Way to travel there, if they want it badly enough.

If they dream it hard enough.

In this era, only lovers, poets, and madmen can access the Realms of the Land–and for good reason.
A succession of mortals travel to Faerie: a veteran seeking beauty; a magus seeking power; an urchin seeking his wayward father; an engineer seeking meaning. These mortals bring the horrors of our age to the Land, and the Folk who live there respond in kind.

As the title suggests, this is not a pleasant dip into the whimsical world of the fey. There are few characters whose behaviour would lead me to call them sympathetic. Compounding that, Franks uses labels instead of names (“The Magus”, “The Mortal” etc) to create even more distance. For the first few chapters I found this a little off-putting. I didn’t feel engaged with the protagonist. I even put the book down for a few days. But Franks’ prose has the same deceptively simple, and beautiful, style that I loved in Bloody Waters and so I came back, and was quickly hooked.

And that was when I realised that the characters were not designed to be sympathetic, and the additional distancing actually allowed me to focus more on the impact they were having to the world(s) around them, rather than wasting energy on trying to relate. It also gave the whole text the feel of a fable, almost in the style of aural storytelling. I found the combination compelling, and once I got into the rhythm of the storytelling I gobbled it up in very short order.

Not withstanding all that, I did love reading the character of the Magus. A bad man by any standard, but I love Australian bad guys. Franks draws out the Australian-ness of the character to a level that should resonate with overseas readers, but doesn’t go too far into parody. In that sense, it reminded me of the writing of another favourite Australian author, Jason Nahrung. There are also a few little quirks that would particularly appeal to an Australian sensibility, for the local reader.

There is a lot of violence, to almost gratuitous levels. However the violence has a purpose, and underpins the story. It is an apocalypse after all. And each fight/battle/encounter is rendered so uniquely that the violence doesn’t seem repetitive at all. Still, if you aren’t one for a bit of blood and guts steel yourself before embarking on this particular quest.

The novel is made up of a few interlocking stories that build on each other. Franks uses the structure to pointedly comment on a lot of fairytale tropes, usually without much mercy. The gradual accretion of evidence of fey-dysfunction built slowly over the course of the stories also helps make the case for the conclusion.

While the first couple of transitions are a little jarring, by the end of the novel the different strands have come together and you have a connected narrative in your head.

Franks plays a bit with time, and as a reader your progress through the story is not exactly linear. However, I’ve been a sucker for this type of storytelling since I fell in love with Catch-22 at high school, and I found it added to the other-worldly feel of the novel.

As a minor aside, there is one section, based in the “real” world that is clearly set in the future. Franks does a fantastic job seeding the story with just a small number of specific details that flags this fact, without having the character dwell on futuristic things. It is a subtle, but brilliantly executed, piece of world building and although it is only a very small part of the story, I did enjoy it as both a reader and a writer.

A fantastic, original piece of work that I very much enjoyed. Franks has delivered another great read, which I highly recommend.

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This work by Mark Webb is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Australia License.

Bloody Waters by Jason Franks – review

Bloody Waters

Bloody Waters is the first novel of Australian author Jason Franks (better known for his work with comics and graphic novels). It was nominated for the Aurealis Award for best horror novel in 2012.

The blurb according to Franks’ website.

When guitar virtuoso Clarice Marnier finds herself blacklisted she makes a deal with the devil for a second chance. Soon Clarice and her band, Bloody Waters, are on their way to stardom… but cracking the Top 10 is one thing; gunfights with the Vatican Mafia and magical duels quite another. Clarice is going to have to confront the Devil himself – the only question is whether she’ll be alive or dead when it happens.

I really enjoyed this novel. The style was very different to a lot of the horror I’ve been reading recently, with a clarity and deceptive simplicity that really suits the story. The protagonist, Clarice, is a no nonsense, kick arse kind of person, and the writing reflects that attitude.

The supernatural elements of the story build slowly. For the first little while, the book seems focused on the utterly un-supernatural rise of Clarice. She is a guitar god, who gets her skills from years and years of borderline obsessive practice . She sacrifices her free time and all semblance of a social life on the alter of her talent. It is refreshing to see the hard work needed to master any skill being reflected so effectively on the page. This section is well executed, but I can see that if a  reader wanted all horror all the time they might get a little impatient here. Stick with it – the work done here to establish Clarice pays off handsomely later in the book.

Clarice herself is an excellent central character. “Doesn’t play well with others” would be an understatement. Clarice is rude, tactless and doesn’t take crap from anyone. She has a clear vision of what she wants, and anything that gets in the way does so at its own peril.

This single minded attitude helps with the building of guitar skills, but not with much else in the musical world. When she becomes black listed by record companies, the supernatural enters her world when a deal with the devil is needed to kickstart her band’s career.

The book is filled with rock and roll references. To be honest, I’m not intimately familiar with rock and roll lore and I suspect a more knowledgeable reader would get more out of those aspects. But it is not overplayed – there is no rock and roll entrance exam needed to enjoy the book!

The escalating series of supernatural encounters had a balance of kick arse action and absurdity that appealed to my sense of humour. The pacing of the story was good through this section, moving from one skirmish to the next at a fair clip.

I really enjoyed the ending, as in many “deal with the Devil” tales, the Devil plays a crafty game and it isn’t until the very end that you find out what’s been behind all the events. The resolution felt fresh, without a cliche in sight.

I can see why Bloody Waters was nominated for the Aurealis Awards. Highly recommended – especially if you love rock and roll.

I also reviewed this book on Goodreads. View all my reviews.

Creative Commons License
This work by Mark Webb is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Australia License.