I volunteered to be a reviewer of books through Literary+, who match up reviewers with authors and yesterday, I was sent my first set of stories to review. All three are short stories by Gabriel Fitzpatrick, two with a vampire theme and one with, well, a fantasy theme, I suppose, although it's not easy to classify. Below are all three of my reviews in order of preference.
The Centurion's Commencement by Gabriel Fitzpatrick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I really enjoyed this book. It’s a short story set after the defeat of Rome by the German hordes. We follow a ragged group of ten legionnaires, led by Sextus, the centurion in the title, struggling to return to their army, and their hunter, Adela, cast out by her own people after the battle where she revealed herself to be other than human.
Sextus is not altogether interesting, he’s a professional soldier, commanding, disciplined, but a little ragged round the edges. However, that’s not the point of Sextus, he is there to be the rigid, vaguely pointless disciplinarian, the face of Rome, holding on to flawed might after defeat. Adela is a much more interesting character, and not because she is a vampire, but because she has been through her own epiphany, an effect of the light, literally. She is grappling with ascendance, an out of body experience that took her beyond the blood-lust, but still she hunts, still she is hungry and that duality warmed me to her, monster and all.
Inevitably, hunter and hunted come together and trained discipline meets savagery. I won’t spoil the ending and say what happens, but, in those last few paragraphs, live, or die, Sextus comes alive for me. Gabriel leaves the reader with a sense that the story could go on, that things have shifted irrevocably for the survivor, and I want to know more.
Enki by Gabriel Fitzpatrick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
There’s one thing missing from the genre tags for this story, humour, very, very dark humour; I actually laughed out loud at one point. Basically this is a monologue with reported interjections. Our speaker is a Librarian, yes I said, Librarian and he’s talking to his latest victim, again, you heard right, this is no ordinary librarian. The reason I mention the humour is it is what engaged me in the story and kept me reading. Our librarian is arrogant, cruel, likes the sound of his own voice (I’m saying him, but I’d actually have to go back and check if his gender is ever determined, but I assumed him) and is one hundred percent a monster and without the humour, I probably wouldn’t have finished reading.
The initial paragraphs are well written and drew me into the story, quickly establishing the perversity of the situation, in which there lay the black humour. I soon had the scene in my head, a grand library, lots of books and one bitch-slapper of a librarian who didn’t want to loan out any of those tomes and rather enjoyed hurting those who tried to take one. Alone for most of the millennia he has guarded the books, the librarian takes the opportunity of a hapless visitor to have a chat, recollecting old victories like a Vogon enjoys disseminating his poetry, although the torture that goes along with the conversation is all too real. To be honest, though, the best bit of the whole monologue for me was the Librarian’s asides to his victim that interjected his old battle stories. They were the gems in this piece.
I wanted to finish this short story not , I have to say, to find out what happened in all the Librarian’s stories, because they all mostly had obvious conclusions, but to find out what happened to his victim. The book grants me that wish and I’m not going to say what happens, but I will say, I wanted more of it. The ending was far too quick. Also, on the experimental note in which Gabriel wrote this, I would challenge him to actually write the ending as part of the monologue, i.e. from the librarian’s point of view, so that we only hear what the victim has to say, like we do through the rest of the piece, in the librarian’s own words. I think that would be more satisfying.
The too short an ending, the occasional typo and one or two sentences that made me go ‘huh’ are the reason I have given this book 4 not 5 stars. It’s an interesting read, well formed and engaging. I’d read it again, especially if that ending was reworked.
An Anecdote at Dinner by Gabriel Fitzpatrick
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This book got its stars for the skill with which the prose is written, but I did not like it at all. The style is everything I dislike about the portrayal of vampires, which does not mean it’s invalid, just that I don’t like it. The story is told from the point of view of our vampire perpetrator, who is recounting his recent attack on a young family to dinner guests. Just like him, the story is cold, arrogant and disdainful, and therefore did not engage me at all. I could find nothing to draw me into the narrative, because the vampire is so aloof from his actions that even with the pretty graphic description of what he does, I felt nothing. He’s showing off for the benefit of his dinner host, and since we do not know what history there is between them, we had no concept of why she reacts to him, or even exactly how she reacts – a little more insight into this relationship might have given the book more depth for me and anchored me into the story, but I’ll admit, I probably still wouldn’t have like it.
This not being my kind of vampire story, if it had been longer, I probably would have put it down and not picked it back up, but its shortness meant I finished it. I wasn’t quite sure what happened at the end. I think I understood what happened, but because descriptions were used instead of names, I’m not absolutely certain. It was throw away, again, though, I think conveying the lack of regard these vampires had for anyone else, but I found it abrupt and I think it wasted the character of the familiar, which was probably the point. However, it left me, the reader, without a payoff, nothing to walk away with except an air of superiority that just left a bad taste in my mouth.
I like the other two books I’ve read of Gabriel’s much more, but, I think, in an attempt, as his notes put it, to be literary and disturbing, this story added too much that made me disconnect from it. I don’t mind aloof, violent vampires, in fact, I quite like them when there is contrast to go with them, but this story offered me no relief, except, for the tiny moment when we enter David’s head towards the end, that gave me a little something, far too brief, to hold on to. I don’t mind blood and gore either and this was artfully written, but the victims were so belittled that I had no sympathy for them, nor interest in their murderer.
I’ll finish by saying that some people will probably love this book. It’s well written, except for a few typos and the odd sentence that needed to be split up into more. It is the antithesis of the moody, angsty Twilight-like YA, which is no bad thing, but I think it needs work before I’d want to read any more in this mythos. Give me contrast, give me a glimmer of light in the vampire darkness, give me conflict, something to invest in and I might read more.
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