Book Review – Dodge and Burn by Seraphina Madsen

Our pal (and Total Reroll DM) Ian likes books. Here is what he thought of one of them.

This novel begins with killer bees and perfume in New Mexico and potions in the woods of Maine, and transforms into an adventure road trip as our hero Eugenie and her husband Benoît fleece casinos and try to plan their escape from America.

Eugenie and her twin Camille are the adopted daughters (or hostages…) of the enigmatic Dr Vargas. After their mother’s untimely demise to aforementioned bees, they are raised in the wilds of New England in a sprawling house with armed guards and a routine of esoteric training. Dr Vargas teaches gymnastics, science and survivalism, but in the woods they practice a patchwork of witchcraft and spiritualism, autodidact savants of potions and omens, rituals pieced together from their keeper’s quixotic library. Camille is the leader, the brains, the unerring strength and resistance against Dr Vargas’s barbaric regimen. Inexorably confrontation ensues, and in the end Eugenie is free and Dr Vargas defied- but Camille is gone…

The majority of the book follows Eugenie and her husband Benoît as they scramble across America. She has been unsuccessful in finding Camille, but is ever drawn onwards in that search, and in Benoît has found someone who accepts her scattershot mysticism and science and inscrutable motivations. We are plunged into a vortex of drugs and music and casual acquaintances, tribes of ravers and backwoods farmers, snakes and guns and half-remembered arcane rituals. Always, Eugenie is seeking Camille.

Dodge and Burn presents us with a narrative of a world with layers beyond what we can see, connections and synchronicities and patterns and abilities that belay the doldrums of the scientific method. In the end, there is a choice to make- which narrative is true? Eugenie’s visions and magic realism, or the harsh reality of Dr Vargas?

239df7b25844ad1c78c8d6316c22d9dc The novel is not without issues. The abundant drug-use as adjuvant to Eugenie’s mysticism actually somewhat undermines her worldview. Benoît feels somewhat underdeveloped, a simple creature utterly accepting of the narrator’s whims and oddities, though this is perhaps a relic of following Eugenie’s personal viewpoint. The final reveal in the novel is not much of a surprise, and perhaps could have been utilised earlier to more effect. These are in sum minor issues that only subtly detract from a very enjoyable novel, and indeed the pacing is such that it isn’t until the ending that you begin to question these moments.

The absorbing narrative, impressive imagery, and plethora of memorable scenes make Dodge and Burn an enjoyable and compelling read- it is a surreal trip laden with wonderful research and convincing emotion. As the first release from new indie press Dodo Ink it bodes well for their upcoming ventures and for whatever Seraphina Madsen decides to turn her hand to next.

Verdict: 8 Killer Bees out of 10

 

Dodge and Burn is out next week, and you can pre-order it here and follow the new indie publisher Dodo Ink @DodoInk or on their website

You can follow Ian too @IanTheGreen and his own writing on his website

Book Review – The Honours by Tim Clare

Our pal (and Total Reroll DM) Ian likes books. Here is what he thought of one of them.

Hand-grenades fashioned from condensed milk tins; shotguns tracking winged shapes through dark forests; inscrutable conversations overheard from hidden passageways; creatures and beings from another place, inscrutable, impossible. As you read this book, the taint of moss and gun smoke is tangible.

The Honours is the first novel by poet and author Tim Clare, following thirteen year old Delphine Venner in Norfolk 1935 as she tries to unravel a mysterious cult-like organisation (are they Bolsheviks? Anarchists? Republicans!?). This society have set up operation in a sprawling country estate replete with dodgy accents, hidden passages, secret tunnels, and dark secrets. Delphine’s damaged father and insipid mother have taken her to live here, amongst the society, the only child in a morass of desperate adults. As Delphine struggles to fill her days and fight her isolation she spends more and more time spying on her mysterious companions, cutting keys and stealing mail. Her friendship with the damaged groundskeeper Mr Garforth is scant solace, but at least provides ample training in shotguns and hunting traps.

The honoursThis slow burning first half establishes Delphine as a piteous figure, spirited and full of righteous anger but ultimately lonely and largely ignored. A peppering of odd occurrences and mysterious figures keep the narrative driving forward, and the second half of the novel picks up pace incredibly quickly and soon a Lovecraftian horror thriller is unfolding, culminating towards a series of revelations showing the society to be far stranger and potentially dangerous than anything Delphine could have conceived of. This pace shift is deftly handled and the deluge of creatures and concepts that emerge between the action set-pieces are never less than intriguing. Delphine as a character ran the risk of being unsympathetic (so brave, so very clever!) but she is wrought with such flaws and pathos that she is impossible to dislike.

Throughout this novel Clare’s descriptive prose and extensive research help anchor the narrative firmly in time and place which contrasts excellently with the otherworldly intrusions to come. Any fans of Mervyn Peake, H.P. Lovecraft, or China Miéville will certainly enjoy this well-crafted gem, proudly showcasing elements of classic horror and weird fiction. Check it out.

You can pick up The Honours here and follow Tim Clare’s other work at his website or @TimClarePoet

You can follow Ian too @IanTheGreen and his own writing on his website