Sunday, October 23, 2011

I'm baaaaack! With another album review...

To anyone that reads my blog, yeah, it's been a while. Life has a way of coming up with little annoyances, housework, deadlines and all sorts of fun stuff that makes someone who enjoys writing want to grab a double of whiskey and basically state, "fark you all, this is MY time and I shall waste it jotting down whatever I bloody well please". Or substitute your libation of choice on that end.

Enough with the excuses and kvetching...on with the show!

Metal is one of my favorite genres of the music world. It gets to a point where my collection becomes rather nerdy (yes, as you can see by my blog title, it fits) in terms of the breadth and randomness of the metal found within my playlist. Some headbanging folks choose to immerse themselves in one subgenre of the many, I tend to like most of them, yes, even a bit of "hair" metal. There is such a variety within the genre in terms of style, musicality and the different appeals that each brings to the table. There is no empirical "brand" of metal, no matter how some might rage that one band or another fails to meet his or her criteria on what metal "should" be. Death Metal is not Celtic Metal, Celtic Metal is not Doom Metal, or Speed Metal, etc. but, on occasion, the subgenres make one sweet, brutal slurry that transcends any stylistic differences or qualms that one listener may have about either subgenre.

One of my favorite bands in that particular category is Suidakra, what I suppose someone could classify as "Blackened Celtic Metal". A brief explanation for all my friends out there not familiar with the particulars, Black Metal utilizes such devices as harsh, screeching vocals, pagan themes in the lyrical content, "blast beat" drumming (think of machine-gun paced beats), and some distortion with the guitars. Some of these influences, as well as more melodic and progessive devices, clean vocal harmonies, harmonizing solos, etc. appear in the "blackened" varieties of metal, and in the celtic variety, you find foot-tapping, spinning Irish reels, at times a lively, folk-song chorus, and the use of traditional instruments, whistles, bagpipes and fiddles or banjos.

Suidakra make great use of all these elements in their March 2011 release, The Book of Dowth. Influences by a darker side of the Celtic mythos, it tells the tale of the Fomorians, god-like beings in the lore that may have represented the chaos of nature or pre-Celtic deities of their adopted homelands. Giants and usually represented as the villains pitted against the Tuatha De Danann, their fall is documented in this album by the hands of the Celtic gods of man. Their spirits are sealed away in the Book by the Tuatha De and buried for the good of the world, until they are unwittingly set free by an archaeology student excavating the real tomb in Ireland (Dubhadh). As they are unleashed upon mankind, they bring about an apocalyptic end to the world as we know it, creating an Otherworld in this and colliding it with the other side of the veil of mortality, Mag Mell, so they can begin their cycle of rule.

Cheerful stuff, eh? Nevertheless, Suidakra make this a good romp and an interesting listen. They begin in true epic fashion with a crescendoing bagpipe solo that accompanies charging guitar riffs in "Over Nine Waves", blasting into "Dowth 2059" highlighting the shocking discovery by the archaeology student as he recognizes the horrible fate that his curiosity has wrought upon the world. "Battle-Cairns", "Bir-og's Oath", and "Mag Mell", tell of the struggles between the Tuatha De and the Fomorians and their travels into the West to the realm of fallen warriors. The acoustic, sonorous "Mag Mell" might fool the unknowing listener into thinking this a different band entirely, showing off the gentler, lyrical musicianship of Arkadius and his bandmates, and, while I don't particularly count that as a favorite, I enjoy the change-up in the pace and style.

The listener, after the calm, reflective "Mag Mell", is jerked back into the brutality that Suidakra can generate with "The Dark Mound", a tale from the perspective of a druid that ruled and enslaved the people of Erin after being possessed by a Fomorian spirit, his punishment was to be imprisoned with the Fomorians in the namesake Dark Mound. "Balor" continues the assault, recounting the destruction wrought by the return of a Fomorian king who could kill with the power of his extra eye, situated in the back of his head, so no one could take him by surprise. All metallers who appreciate "epicness" will have fanboi/girl moments on this one, where Arkadius gives us his most rolling, epic death-growl at 2:00, followed up by a sweeping, spinning riff that mimics the chaos and speed of battle.

I'd have to say that it's a hard contest between the previously mentioned two tracks and "Stone of the Seven Suns" that have become my favorites. "Stone" begins with a lively banjo, doling out a stomping reel, accompanied by a chorus that could give "Whiskey In the Jar" a good run for a pub song. The former is just as powerful in the lyrical content as the latter, speaking of battles and determination, and a vow to end the conflict at whatever cost. "Fury Fomoraigh" is a gesture of pure rage, plunder and pillage from the view of the Fomorians, they are free to scourge the world now to make it their own, with no De Danann to stop them as they sweep across the earth. "Otherworlds Collide" is the last painful, lamenting acoustic farewell to life and all as we know it.

Overall, I, and I'd believe other fans of the band, would be quite thrilled with this story-telling and craftsmanship shown in this album. Epic and thoughtful, while still showing all facets of the band and their abilities, it manages to show even the most doubting listener that metal can be more than growling vocals and brutal lyrics, but it's still fun when those elements come together, too.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

A Modest Proposal

First off, I don't pretend to be a world-class economist, political thinker or environmental expert, as often people on the web seem to think themselves after reading an article or two by their favorite talking head on this website or that. I am simply a woman with an idea that I think could potentially benefit the US economically, politically, and environmentally. Many would or will probably disagree with this for a variety of reasons, and that's all well and good, but I would love for someone to see this, someone of both means and power, and for them to consider it.

But, let's get the definition of the problem out of the way. For the past few years, the southern half of the United States has been sweltering in some sort of drought or another. This year, the problem has been exacerbated ten-fold, owing to the 5th most 100*+ F days that Texas has experienced since record keeping began. Farmers are counting their fields at a total loss and plowing under their crops that are dying, ranchers are selling off cattle, simply because they will dehydrate from the lack of natural pools from rainwater, foundations are cracking and splitting, and 95% of the state of Texas is amidst "Exceptional" drought conditions or worse.

This isn't isolated to Texas, but has been prevalent in all of the Southwest and is once again spreading to the Southeast and Midwest. There is no rain in sight, and it's only the last third of July. The lake nearest to my home, Lavon, is down 5+ feet at the moment, and is being further depleted as we speak. There are cracks in my yard that spread over 2" wide. I imagine there are people around the US that share my level of concern when they look at the shrinking waters of their own lakes, see the yellowed rows of crops that remain, and watch as nothing but dust seems to be the only crop available to us.

It could not come at a worse time. The United States is once again in financial crisis, this time over the debt ceiling, and jobs are dwindling once more. More farmers might find ruin over this drought and heat, more ranchers might have to borrow huge sums, fire hands, and scramble to try to save themselves amidst the crises. Budgets are drained even in states that have not gone through the drought due to outstanding debts and the drying up of government aid. Whereas Minnesota, my home state, once boasted a great surplus, the past few governors have left the budget in such ruin that state parks, rest stops, and even the lovely Minnesota Zoo have had to close their gates.

I'll not voice my politics or who I think is responsible for the last point, but, you'll get my drift if you're a resident of that particular state.

While thinking of this, I've had a notion that may help alleviate, maybe not solve, both of those issues. Flooding has been drowning yards and fields this summer in Minnesota. It's not uncommon, since the Mississippi seems to be one of the most deluge-prone rivers, along with the Red River of the North that runs the border between North Dakota and Minnesota. It's not rare to hear of cities along the flood banks buckling down and putting up sandbags, prepping their homes and readying or the worst in those scenarios. But, what if this type of disaster, and one that often costs the states that it afflicts as much as a Texas drought, might be a partway solution to said drought? The water that invades these homes often becomes contaminated and is wasted after the clean-up efforts begin, but what if it could be collected, kept sanitary and then put to a use that it would so desperately serve?

What I'm speaking of is a method to harness nature, in a sense, to use a surplus in one area to fight a dearth in another. Texas, and its surrounding states, need the water. Minnesota, North Dakota, Iowa, and others in the northern Midwest are often innundated at this time of year, and have to drain their fields and let that water go unused. Minnesota, and many other states, need income to assist their budgets to pay state workers, keep up infrastructure, and make necessary additions to their state budget.

The answer could be in constructing a system of collectors, akin to channel locks, throughout the river systems that annually flood. Studies would be done to determine which rivers in the nation are most likely to flood within a given season. Within each state, construction along the banks of these rivers, in areas that aren't designated as wildlife refuges or for other sanctuary purposes, to install collection chambers that would only unlock in the event that the river flooded over a certain level. Then, the locks could open, allowing the uncontaminated, still useable, rain and river water to be obtained, and once the river resumed its normal flow, then they would close again, allowing the regular course to continue.

The initial issue of start-up funding would be the greatest, I would think, but once the proper funds could be obtained, it could be a true revenue producer. I also believe that the general guideline for how it could proceed should be fairly simple. Each state would be responsible for funding its own system, with construction, repair, and usual maintainance, as well as deciding how much the collection areas would hold. Additional water towers for storage, most likely, would have to be constructed and maintained, as well as treatment facilities, should any contaminants make it into the supply. The states would handle this individually as well, adhering, of course, to any federal standards that are already in place.

Once the facilities are up and running, states that collect the water would ultimately decide what to do with it. Should they themselves face a drought, naturally, their own concerns would be priority. But, if states, wanting to obtain additional revenue and add to their budgets, sold the water to states that needed it, then you'd have a ready source, at least in years like this. Texas and it fellow drought-sufferers might find some temporary relief, and states like Minnesota would get a boost to their budgets that would allow facilties that might be in jeopardy to continue functioning as normal.

The benefits of such a project would be innumberable. You have economic stimulus via the need for a workforce to construct all sides of the projects, from the water collections at the river banks, to the water towers, to the administrators delegating the use of the water. The stimulus also flows to the towns closest to the construction projects. Workers need to be fed, housed, be provided equipment, etc. Mandate that all companies involved must be US-based, and you have thousands upon thousands of jobs and domestic product handed in a neat package to the government. Benefits would also extend to the towns along the river banks due to few floods destroying property and putting people out of their businesses. People in those towns can also get a ration of the water, so that they have a first priority status if the river doesn't undergo its usual flow in the spring and summer.

Environmentally, the spread of contaminants is limited as well. Flooding gets into trash disposal locations, nuclear waste, chemical storage facilities and other locations where the damage can wreak havoc with both people and the natural surroundings. The plan also employs water that is already available, and not drained from a reservoir or natural aquifer. The natural flora and fauna is left undisturbed by flooding. While the construction would provide a temporary issue, once the project is complete, the benefits would outweigh the temporary problem. Also, as I said earlier, no wildlife refuges would be allowed to be bothered in the project.

So...that's my idea. I can hardly believe that I'd be the only one to think of such a plan, and far greater minds than mine could probably run circles around that solution, but I think, if people were to get talking about it, it might at least be a start.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Book Review: Thirteen Years Later by Jasper Kent

Well, it's been a little while since my last review, and it seems equally apropos that it's also of another novel by Jasper Kent, a continuation of his original Twelve, titled simply as Thirteen Years Later. I like Kent's style, his grasp of unadulterated, dark periods of the past that most of us in the good old US of A have a tendency to brush aside, and the moving, harsh prose that he chooses to construct his tale of terror. I hope we see more of his work in the future, as I think it would be something the dark fantasy world desperately needs and from which it would benefit.

Well, enough pontificating, on with the review! Once again, the reader comes upon our hero, Aleksei Ivanovich Danilov, thirteen years after his brutal encounter with the voordlak in their mercenary guise. Alexei's had a chance to settle into something of a normal life, as normal as one could have it while involved still in espionage, as he's still in the employ of the government, this time directly to Tsar Aleksandr I. He is balancing two sets of domestic requirements, the first to his wife, who has taken on a lover, (but which seems inconsequential at first to the consideration that Aleksei gives the discovery) and his son, Dmitry, while he maintains his connection to his longtime lover, Domnikiia, with whom he has a daughter.

As his son, resentful of his father's absences, is about to accept his commission into the army and dedicate himself in Moskow, Aleksei follows him to visit with his mistress and daughter, unbeknownst to his wife, Marfa, or Dmitry. Here, we see the strains and demons of emotion and regret that exist in Aleksei's otherwise happy life. There is a tension between father and son that strikes a chord with many a reader, I'd wager. Given that Kent uses both of their points of view, anyone can empathize with either man in the situation, giving the story a very human element and depth to both Aleksei and Dmitry. We see a father's hopes for his son to do what he feels will be best for his future, while the son merely wants to both assert his individuality and express himself in the world as he sees fit.

The pedestrian realm of father-son conflict is soon left behind, however. While in Moscow, Aleksei is made aware of two threats, one to his own safety, and the other to that of the tsar. As the story progresses, it is made clear that he has underestimated the nature of the threats and their connections to each other, embroiling him further in the political intrigues of the Romanovs and resurrecting the dangers of the past that he thought long dead. The voordlaki resurface, though not as Aleksei suspects and also in a position to cause him to doubt who the clear enemy might be. The noose tightens around Aleksei's life, and he is forced to uncover dark secrets within the Russian royal family itself that might be the key to the empire's survival.

As with before, Kent uses startling, jarring imagery to depict both the animal nature of the voordlak and the physical confrontations. Body parts are severed, mutilation and disease are given no quarter in their descriptions. It is an extravaganza, once again, for those who enjoy the old nature of horror epics and harkens back to a time when vampires were among the creatures in the dark to fear, as I've mentioned in my other review. Once again, I feel that something could be expanded, given our sometimes villain in this volume, Kyesha, I would have liked a little more of a backstory, but that is just my desire. I like to know the reasons for a villain's transformation, what in their humanity, beyond just becoming a supernatural creature, made them change.

There is a surprise ending, considering what I think many readers of the first novel, myself included, may have expected from Kent. I was amused by it, if not totally enthralled with it. Overall, I enjoyed this follow up, and once again, hope that Kent makes quite a few contributions to the genre in the future. Given that some people now shy away from dark/urban fantasy entirely because of the stigma attached by certain shows and movies, this particular subgenre would be all the better for it.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Things that make me question humanity....

I think I've said it before, but I'll say it again, I'm a cynic, and generally think the worst of people. There are, however, things that, despite my jaded, gallows humor and doubting attitude that some people just don't get, will cause even me to want to lock myself in a room and want to listen to Tool and plaster "Learn to swim...." all over my Facebook page. You could classify such things as two categories or one, however you like, but cruelty to children and cruelty to pets just boggle my mind and make me want to bawl like a little Bieber fan who didn't get into the show. I would say that the broad category is preying on the weakest members of our society, if you want to lump it all together.

A few things have brought this to the forefront of my mind, one being that we are now trying to find a home for our kitten, since I have been outvoted by my husband and dog, he's being a total grouch and, figuratively speaking, dug his own grave in that aspect. But I could never imagine hurting him or abandoning him. And while this is going on, we are trying to find a playmate for our puppy, Leiche. While she is one of the sweetest dogs and has shown herself to be smart, loving and loyal, she also has abandonment issues, due to the circumstances of her earlier life. She was found and adopted after being a stray for some time, and then the couple who took her in dropped her off at the animal shelter in The Colony, supposedly worried that she would be too rough with a new baby on the way. However, given her disposition, it seems more likely that she would bond with any new family member, and be extremely protective of any young in her "pack" that couldn't defend itself. How anyone could give her up, I just don't know. These people might have been respectable and loving, otherwise, but, with so many rescue organizations out there, she could have at least been given to a foster home where she would find a welcoming and dedicated family, rather than having the chance at being euthanized if no one claimed her. We were lucky in that respect, because we just happened to be out looking for a dog that day, and we had known her all of five minutes when we took her in. It was one of the best decisions that my husband and I have ever made.

And I'll move on to my next soapbox promptly. The child abuse angle came to me, not through a girl that was abused, but a child who witnessed domestic violence, and when my husband and I helped her out, asked, "Why are you being so nice to us?" That a little five-year-old would ask why, though we were strangers to her, friends of her mother would show kindness and consideration broke my heart. Children are supposed to be ever-bubbly and naive, thinking that all the world is still a wonder and that people are mostly good, and the realities of life are hard lessons that wait for them in adulthood. But this little girl had already seen the worst, just because of one abuser who refused to see that he had a problem and likewise also refused to acknowledge the humanity of the other person in his relationship. Would the child have been abused later on? Maybe, maybe not, though its likely that I think the abuser would have no qualms with it; thankfully, her mother was strong enough to press charges and get out as fast as she could.

Cruelty to children also causes me to want to bang my head against a wall. While there are certainly kids that are a trial, have issues, problems both medical and otherwise, and there are plenty of times that they try a person's patience, sometimes on purpose, it is an adult's job to guide and show them the appropriate way to handle things. That's not saying that if they misbehave, they shouldn't be disciplined, or that a parent/guardian/caregiver should never get angry, but when an adult feels that their proverbial top is about to blow, it is up to them to make the decision on how the situation will be settled. I'm a proponent of physical discipline, which may sound archaic to some people, but I think it should only be used in the most extreme circumstances, and with very careful discernment. I don't believe that, as a parent, you should hit your kids out of anger and as a regular form of discipline, else it starts to creep dangerously towards abuse and can snowball.

And sometimes, I don't think it's physical abuse that does the most damage, but the psychological component that comes with it, be the abuse to a child or an animal. It's the fact that someone was willing to tell that being with a physical action that they "deserved" to be mistreated and degraded. Whether the abuse is intentional or not, and I do think some people just can't figure out how to parent properly, the result usually remains the same, and the cycle continues. Statistics and experience will show anyone, kids who grow up in homes with abuse tend to continue it into their adult lives, or seek out relationships in which they are mistreated. It is heartbreaking to listen to their stories, and how they actually believe this behavior to be "normal".

My grandfather was haunted by the memories of his own torture at the hands of his father, who would hang the boys in the family up by their thumbs for hours in the shed if they misbehaved, for one example. Needless to say, he ran away at twelve, and struggled with the pain most of his life, leading into alcoholism and other personal demons that he tried his best to contain. While a victim of abuse, he somehow managed to break the cycle and never laid a hand on my mother or my aunt, which left the discipline to my grandmother, a very calm, but no less firm, taskmaster and disciplinarian.

When someone preys on the weak who have no voice or cannot defend themselves, despite all that I've seen in my own experience and at work, my blood never fails to boil. While I don't personally follow the Christian faith, I like the verse of Matthew 25:40, where Jesus says, "Whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me." Those of us who have the means and tools to give our voice against abuse should do so, in whatever form we can manage.

And those of us who were lucky enough to be truly loved and treasured by our parents should count our blessings, by God or the gods, and pass that generosity of spirit and love onto all in our own homes. And to me that counts for real children and the furry "children", too.

So I apologize for the preaching, gloomy post, but maybe next week will bring a better one to light.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Poetry and junk.....

Something I wrote last night while watching CNN's coverage of the crisis.


The seismic shift nears
The world dances on the edge of the knife
Spiraling, colliding, careening away
Change breathes new, dusty life

Raise the arms of the oppressed
Ride the tidal wave of the roar of change
Burn the flag of tyranny and hate
Brave the storm of rage, unrest and war

It matters not for the deaf
There is no haven for the weary and silenced
There is no faith in the old protectors
Old despots die hard, and their legacies harder

Change must come again
Once the mountain falls, only its memory endures
Once man's plans are undone
Only destruction and upheaval await

Old tyrants hold their grounds
Like gargoyles crumbling atop the decay
Ahead of the the longest fall
The farthest descent is found in disgrace

Raise the sword and shield
The time for harvest and ease is done
The black days loom ahead
And now the challange rises, unwelcome

Now is the time to stand
And declare ourselves to stand with justice
Bring forth the massive scales
And weigh the burdens of our bleeding hearts

We can no longer turn aside
And try to hover above the bloody tempest
We are no longer without shore
Take your place, for battle has begun

Monday, January 10, 2011

Booklist 2011 - The Stack and Beyond

Well, I believe in the past I've mentioned that I'm a voracious reader. If need be, I can plop myself into a chair or couch, and provided enough beverages, both caffeinated and non, I can blast through most standard fare in the span of a day with enough time. But that seems to be the key ingredient that I lack in the window of most days, time. It's not that I lead a fantastically exciting existence, but there is that pesky thing called "work", and the fact that I do have a few other hobbies that take up my time. My husband and I have a garden in the spring and summer, which is a surprising amount of work if you've never done it. We also brew our own beer, also surprisingly time consuming. I miss riding my baby, and as soon as this abominable weather clears, she's getting a well-deserved run somewhere. And I'm working on my own novels, don't laugh, it's true, and I'm up to Volume Three, the one for which I have the most ideas and the scenes set up, but the execution is always harder than the dream. Like every other schmuck, (or is it schmuckette?) I also have the need to get some exercise in a given day, if nothing else to, as my Granpa often said, "let the stink blow off".

So, here's a list of the books that I hope to read this following year that have yet to make it into my Stack (yes, it deserves a capital):

Ghost Story by Jim Butcher - Dresden Files nerds from across the globe have been greatly anticipating this one. I won't mention any spoils beyond the nail-biting anxiety that makes one wonder how Butcher is going to recharge this series and get some of his readers to recover from the shock of Changes. That was one of the true "WTF!!!!!????" moments that I've had within my reading history, and even though you knew something monumental was shifting within the series, it was still a heart-stopper. Well done on that front, Jim, but I still blame you for the following kniption. It's set for release on 4/05/11.

Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss - A follow up to The Name of The Wind following the tale of Kvothe, a notorious wizard of epic proportions as he is interviewed by a young scribe. The first novel encompasses his tumultuous youth and entrance into the University as a budding, gifted scholar, the second his equally exciting rise into royal politics and faerie realms as he seeks answers concerning his family honor and the deaths of his beloved parents. It's been a few years in the making for this one, and due to my nature, I have a hard time with patience when it comes to stories and finding out what happens next. Thankfully, this will be released on 3/01/11.

Mister Slaughter by Robert McCammon - I've been eagerly awaiting the paperback version of this, but because I have all the others in this particular series in paperback. Yes, I'm neurotic. The third installment of the legal clerk turned private investigator, Matthew Corbett, and his new assignment to transport a mass murderer, with a set of consequences based on a choice that the killer, Tyranthus Slaughter, gives his jailers. McCammon's done a fabulous job of painting his quirky hero with great vivacity and credibility, but also showing how a character can still grow and be just as fascinating, so I eagerly await this volume when it gets to paperback on 2/28/11.

New Spring: The Graphic Novel - I know I'm not the first to look at this with fangirly excitement and squeal "FINALLY!" Any dedicated WOT-er will probably be enthused and drooling over this one, and thank goodness I'll only have to wait until 1/18/11.

And the Stack includes a few good ones as well:

The Naming of the Beasts by Mike Carey - I hesitate to make a comparison that sooooo many reviewers have made between Mike Carey's Felix Castor and Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden. But, chances being what they are, if you like one, you probably would like the other. Castor, aka Fix, is an exorcist turned PI, and has a little bit more of an edge to him than Harry, I'd say, however, and the British slant changes the flavor of his equally cutting wit and wisdom. This is the fourth of the Felix Castor novels by Carey, and delves into the harsh choice that Castor has made between his loyalty to loved ones and clients and the consequences that he faces in the pre-apocalyptic battles that only he and the few of his remaining friends are ready to fight for the good of humanity. I'd suggest reading The Devil You Know, Carey's first Castor foray, a great introduction to the hero and his mounting struggle against the rising tide of evil in London.

The Poetic Edda - I managed to get through much of Snorri Sturluson's Prose Edda, so I think tackling this one in bits and pieces would be far easier than how I tried to blast through the other. Whereas much of the Prose had the newly-Christianized slant of the Vikings from Sturluson's time, the Poetic is just the collection of the written poetry, not the version to which Sturluson put a nostalgic twist in the Prose. We'll see how this pans out.

Also included in the Stack are a few other compilations of myths, such as collection of Celtic tales that I picked up, Tolkien's version of Sigurd and Gudrun, a brush up on my Roman history with The Spartacus War, and several other fantasy and fiction tomes.

All in all, hopefully the reading year will be productive, and I can make a dent, if my impulses at the bookstore can be squelched severely enough in the coming year.

But, I make no promises....

Friday, January 7, 2011

Book Review: "Twelve" by Jasper Kent

I'll be the first to say it, as of the past few years, the genre of "Dark Fantasy" has gotten soft, especially where vampires are concerned. Don't get me wrong, I even fall occasionally for the tale of the romantic, loner, dark lover vamp that plays the tortured...well...okay, sometimes not-so-tortured, soul. But let's get serious, there needs to be some mass injection of fear-instilling, bloody, brutal writing in the subgenre of these fantastic creatures that resurrects that dark, evil, primal nature for which they were so feared in literature and folk legend not so very long ago. A few exceptions have appeared, Robin McKinley's Sunshine, though it does bear that romantic twist, where the vamps are not the misunderstood outcasts, but frightening, alien creatures that strike terror instead of lust and longing into the hearts of the prey that they hunt.

Jasper Kent surely delivers on that count with his historical-cum-dark-fantasy romp Twelve. Set in Russia in 1812 at the onset of Napoleon's invasion and takeover of the protagonist's beloved Moskva, he gives the reader a reason to fear the dark, to dread the power of night once more. At the beginning, we are abruptly, but effectively, introduced to Aleksei Ivanovich, a hardened, yet still idealistic, Russian soldier turned spy that bears the horrendous scars of torture from a Turkish prison, but maintains his resolve and faith even in the face of extreme adversity. Aleksei is masterfully written, while trusting and naive enough to maintain the patriotism for his beloved Russia and the wonder of her cities, but savvy enough to know that even his nearest and dearest may yet betray him to the French, or worse yet, the frightening voordalaki which his compatriot, Dmitry, has employed for their cause against the French.

Aleksei and his three fellow agents, Vadim, Dmitry and Maksim are faced with the immediate issue of the French invasion from the very beginning and how to deal with the interlopers. It is Dmitry, who, while showing his vascillations early on, but maintaining the reader's respect at the end, suggests hiring twelve mercenaries, which whom he has already fought in Wallachia. The initial meeting of these hired killers, sought for their abilities to cause chaos and strife behind enemy lines, but with their origins cloaked by Dmitry, is shadowy and has a wonderful sense of foreboding. Anyone who is a fan of Bram Stoker's original or the history behind Vlad Dracula would be well pleased with the insinuations.

The reader is subsequently led into a tangled labyrinth that Aleksei explores. He is a married man, and while Kent makes the case for an adequate sense of detachment that Aleksei feels from his wife, Marfa, a society girl that Aleksei married in a matter of haste, Marfa is one part that still doesn't quite connect with the reader. While Aleksei feels estranged from Marfa both due to the nature of his assignment and his lack of attachment, he seems to form a bond rather quickly with Domnikiia, a prostitute with whom he first shares a distracted, escapist experience, which morphs into a relationship far more complicated than he has intended. The reader is also led to constantly question the loyalty of everyone Aleksei encounters, be they old friend who could be working as a French agent, or a sympathetic heart turned to the cause of the voordalak.

The ensuing tale is certainly not for the faint of heart in the sense of gore. Kent paints vivid yet economic scenes of devastation and destruction, both by the onslaught of war, the brutalisation of occupying forces, the voordalaki, and torture. Aleksei's flashback into the incident where he was mutilated in the Turkish cell is actually the most riveting, despite not being the most gruesome of the scenes that Kent describes. The vampires are shown in their full brutality as depraved, cunning murderers that will go to any extreme to satisfy their perverse desires. The sense of urgency and further excitement is amplified by the war being waged in the heart of Moscow and the invaders' hold on the city. Kent doesn't delve too far into the French motivations and methods, and they are far less demonized in Aleksei's mind than the monstrous vampires, once they are truly discovered.

Twelve is a novel I would recommend to most, especially those wanting a little history (thank fark Kent does his bit to explain Russian history and tidbits, not my strong suit, I'll tell you), a little fright, and a return to the darkness that once enraptured audiences of the fantasy world. Take a peek, and well, you might just conclude that yes, sometimes the dark is something to be wary of once in a while.