Lesath – Review

Lesath

Lesath by A.M. Kherbash

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


*Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book from Netgalley.

Lesath by A.M. Kherbash is taut, eerie, and disconcerting. It’s a modern creature feature of a book, which embraces tropes of Gothic literature, psychological horror and X-files style secrets to create a surreal journey through… What? A prison? An asylum? A mad scientist’s laboratory? All three? It never becomes entirely clear.


Indeed, not a whole lot does become entirely clear. The protagonist, Greg, an aimless man living from his car apparently decides to investigate a mysterious old manor in the woods for his podcast. He ends up trapped inside and the only explanation he’s given, that he is identical to an escaped inmate, might actually be true… Or it might be a delusion?
Things, of course, take a dark turn very quickly. People die. “Things” come out of ducts. More people die. And so it goes…

Many times reading this book, I was reminded of the greasy, oddly quiet scenery of horror games like Psycho-break or The most recent Resident Evil. Things are clearly bad. There is books on the walls, inexplicable mild and black ichor. You know something is coming. But lots of the scenes are just walking around checking doors and drawers.

This is my first criticism of the novel. There is a lot of compelling grotesquery and tension, but far too much of the book is taken up by sudden scenes of nothing much. The nature of the story, I think, is such that the reader is supposed to be confused by unexpected scene changes, as a way to emphasize the precarious nature of the protagonist’s mental state. But often times, the breaks don’t actually lead anywhere, and structurally seem to lose effect after the meeting of the book.

My other, and main criticism, is that a lot of the language used in the book simply didn’t mean what it’s supposed to mean. The author send to be struggling for an elevated register to evoke the Gothic tradition. The problems with this are twofold: first, sure this is a modern setting, the dialog is modern, and the clash between the elevated narrative and modern dialog is so great as to be almost comical. The second is that the register becomes so high that I dear many readers, and the author as well, don’t be really understand the words.

Phrases like “after observing the prevalent silence…” Or “he expressed a contented sigh” or the extremely frequent use of “discern” (13 times in 159 pages!) Feel like thesaurus abuse, and indeed incorrect usage at times.

Which is not to say that the writing is poor, it isn’t. It’s often well phrased and interesting. The dialog can be snappy and fun, too. But it can also be a bit messy and overwrought. I think a bit of time with a developmental editor could make the creepy story at the core of this novel shine.

I burned though it because I did want to see what happened, and the ending was fittingly unsettling and slightly confusing. I did enjoy the book, and appreciate the chance to read it given by the author, A.M. Kherbash.



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Mindscape – Review

Mindscape

Mindscape by Andrea Hairston

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This surreal, intricately woven book deals with an earth that is fundamentally changed by the appearance of a phenomenon called the Barrier, a web of mysterious energy that divides the land into regions that can only be left via seasonal corridors through the Barrier, or under the guidance of mystics who can commune with the Barrier to open pathways through.

The zones thus divided have grown independently, with divergent cultures and technologies, and more than anything, values. And these values lead to conflict.

It is beyond me to summarize this book. It is a fever dream, a mesh of languages ranging from German to Igbo to variations of English and more, a refusal of mere plot, arc or story. It shifts in perception and reality and detail until it becomes less about what is happening, and more about the language itself. There is a beginning, and there is an end. There is a journey here, but the value is in each individual footstep along the way, rather than the destination.

It is a challenging read, and confusion is to be expected, but the value in engaging with the challenge cannot be denied.



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Resurrection Fireplace – Review

The Resurrection Fireplace

The Resurrection Fireplace by Hiroko Minagawa

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


The Resurrection Fireplace by Hiroko Minagawa, Translation by Matt Trayvaud

In 18th Century London, a group of anatomy students and their professor get caught up in murder, fraud, and confusion as deception piles on deception in this whirlwind mystery.

This is far and away one of the most intricate, convoluted plots I’ve read in recent years. There are lies within lies, plots within plots, and crimes both real and imagined. The villains are revealed, then changed, and finally, when all is made clear, the light comes on and you realize the clues were there all along… Or were they?

It’s a trip, and one well worth taking.

This is the rare Japanese novel that doesn’t revel in its Japanese-ness. It does a wonderful job of evoking the grime, corruption and class heirarchy of Georgian London without exoticizing it, although there are certain times with the exposition of cultural norms can feel heavy for people familiar with the setting (as most Japanese audiences definitely aren’t).

The overall pace is smooth and fast, and the characters are well-drawn. The misery of the underclass is played out without pandering, as well. I quite enjoyed the irreverence of the anatomy students at their grisly work, but there are definitely sections that might turn off the squeamish. The violence is not gratuitous, but anatomists in 1700s London dealt in rotting flesh and death. It’s not pretty.

I will say that the last section, where everything was tied together, felt a bit rushed and entirely over-complicated, but it seems to fit the overall tone of the story well. I was genuinely taken by surprise by one or two turns, but it was not confusing at all.

Let me say one thing about the translation: This was masterful. I am a professional translator of Japanese to English, and the mere thought of some of the challenges this book brought (the use of original Middle English poetry?! Translated from Japanese?! Holy moly…) makes me dizzy. The language is natural, and the characters have clear voices, and the translation never gets in your face as “translation.” It’s outstanding.



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