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Fiction Thoughts: In Hero Years…I’m Dead (2010)

by Jamie Downes


Author – Michael A. Stackpole

Genre – Superheroes, Action, Noir

Length – 325 Pages (Kindle Edition)

In Capital City, the superhero-laden setting of Michael A. Stackpole’s In Hero Years…I’m Dead, the opportunity to oppose a villain in a pre-planned crime is auctioned off to super-powered residents whose subsequent success or failure drives a socially popular and financially lucrative ranking system; prestige, endorsements and a legion of fans awaiting those at the top. Yet while this concept is fascinating in itself and an excellent backdrop for a superhero story, the execution is such that the novel simply becomes ever more of a chore to read the longer it goes. The disappointment of a shamefully underdeveloped plot is exacerbated by the confusion caused by the often random introduction of far too many indistinguishable characters, and even more so by their being referred to in a wildly inconsistent manner; the protagonist alone switching between what at the very least seemed like half-a-dozen different names. This, combined with a prosaic writing style that is poorly edited, means there is little to recommend ‘In Hero Years…’ beyond the under-utilised basic concept, one which could undoubtedly have seeped intrigue at every turn had it been penned with greater plot-focus and page-to-page creativity.

Rating: 2 / 5

More info on In Hero Years…I’m Dead


Fiction Thoughts – Others

by Jamie Downes


Author – James Herbert

Genre – Horror

Published – 1999

Length – 512 Pages

It takes a lot to viscerally sicken many of us in modern society – our immunity to the reprehensible being one of the sad realities of the morally misguided era we live in – but James Herbert’s Others comes mighty close to doing so. The horribly lurid nature of the tale seems unnatural however, as if the author were straining to manufacture as much shock value as he could muster, more excited by the prospect of reviling his readers than producing an immersive work they might enjoy. In stark contrast to his ageless Magic Cottage – a charming and wonderfully written novel that challenged horror maestro Stephen King with its superb scene-setting, sympathetic characters and immaculately paced unveiling of sinister forces – Others attempts the unashamed, warped explicitness of King in the setting of a bland private detective novel. It fails, despite hinting for at least half of its bulk that something more interesting might be hiding up its sleeve. The twists are few and far between and the transparent narrative chugs amidst a barrage of eager, superfluous description that contrary to the author’s apparent belief, is horrifying not in its content but in its volume. Without any emotional-pull from the characters and no real atmosphere to speak of, by its end, Others comes across as little more than a disgusting perversion with little to justify its vulgarity.

Fiction Thoughts – Airborn

by Jamie Downes


Author – Kenneth Oppel

Genre – Young Adult, Sci-fi/Fantasy, Alternate History

Published – 2004

Length – 433 Pages

Airborn is about adventure; about having belief in the existence of things that have not yet been placed before our eyes; about the wonderment provided by a world less rigid and all knowing. I could argue at length about why such grand tales are so imperative to the development of young adults; about the ridiculous notion that such novels are now termed ‘middle-grade’ and thus seemingly not considered mature enough for the gritty abrasiveness of modern teenage life. Such issues however, are for another time and another place. Airborn itself is a very good example of the classic adventure tale, and while some of the action sequences do drag towards the end, Kenneth Oppel’s scene-setting is quite exquisite. I want to live in the world he has created; I want to take a trip on the luxury airship that his novel is built around, and on reflection, perhaps most importantly, Airborn makes me want to believe in the fantastical things that could be a part of our own reality. Even as a mid-twenty-something, how is that not a wholly invaluable reading experience?

Fiction Thoughts – Pirate Cinema

by Jamie Downes


Author – Cory Doctorow

Genre – Young Adult, Dystopia

Published – 2012

Length – 384 Pages

Pirate Cinema’s biggest failing is a jarring juxtaposition between the contemporary young-adult novel that it would appear to favour, and the youthful innocence preferred by classic and middle-grade literature. The grimy, modern reality of a daring teenage life can be front-and-centre one moment, smoking weed and hiding from the police, but the next it’s sitting down at a table piled high with every delicious food you care to mention, all scavenged from rubbish skips yet cooked to mouth-watering perfection with a side order of jolliness. It’s an enjoyable read nonetheless, but one can’t help but feel that a greater commitment to either the realistic, or the fantastical portrayal of a homeless teenage life in London, would have made for a more consistently enticing read than Pirate Cinema’s awkward combination of the two.

Fiction Thoughts – The Sign of the Four

by Jamie Downes

Author – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Genre – Crime, Mystery

Published – 1890

Length – 118 Pages (Kindle Edition)

In my experience, no matter the medium, tales involving Sherlock Holmes can almost uniformly be described as having a hugely promising beginning that declines horribly into nonsensical tedium ad infinitum. I theorised that the original works by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle must be immune to this formula. I believed they would offer engaging tales, full of twists, turns and ingenious feats of deduction. If his second Sherlock novel, The Sign of the Four, is anything to go by, my assumptions were spectacularly wrong. The great detective has supposedly built his reputation by obtusely solving complex mysteries no other could fathom, not following the most laborious breadcrumb trail since a trek across several miles-worth of inanity led directly to the door of Dr Watson. It’s as if Conan Doyle decided his audience could only handle so much intrigue, and thus a sterile second half of the novel was a necessity to protect their fragile little hearts. An unspectacular reveal is followed by a long and insistently boring monologue from the villain of the piece explaining in great detail how he arrived in his current predicament. Frankly, my attention was elsewhere, partly trying to keep myself from falling asleep, but mostly wondering why Sherlock Holmes ever became the widely celebrated character that he remains to this day.

The Sign of the Four is available as a free Kindle download from Amazon UK, here.

Fiction Thoughts – Blackened Cottage

by Jamie Downes

Author – A.E. Richards

Genre – Psychological Horror

Published – (Kindle Edition) 2012

Length – 217 Pages

Despite being written exclusively in grand, standard English, had Blackened Cottage been constructed for the world of moving images, its neighbours would be the likes of Secret Window and Shutter Island rather than Downton Abbey. A.E. Richards’ gothic tale of peril plants subtle seeds of veiled but persistent doubt regarding the legitimacy of certain plot points, without allowing them to be dwelled upon alone for extended periods. For with the survival of innocence at stake in a beautifully flowing, darkness-enveloped pursuit of freedom, the main emphasis is placed not on the murky secrets of the past, but on the absorbingly terrifying reality of the present. It’s this immersion that makes Blackened Cottage such a winner – the unwavering atmosphere that engulfs the narrative. It’s a tremendous example of how to maintain the interest of your audience without giving too much away, and a must read for fans of psychological horror stories.

Blackened Cottage is available as a Kindle download from Amazon UK, here.

Fiction Thoughts – The Turtle Boy (Novella)

by Jamie Downes

Author – Kealan Patrick Burke

Genre – Adventure, Horror

Published – 2005 (Kindle Edition – 2010)

Length – 79 Pages

Synopsis – A young boy’s summer holiday takes a horrifying twist after he encounters a stranger feeding his feet to the large turtles residing in a local pond.

Bram Stoker Award winner The Turtle Boy makes you comfortable, colours you interested, then abruptly punches you in the face. Not with a friendly schoolboy jab, but with a stinging blow of pent-up adult ferocity, guaranteed to force the wind from one’s sails and change an entire perception of the previously benign work now viciously assaulting the familiar innocence of childhood adventure. But while the sudden change in mood may be startling, the dark clouds are unable to dampen the intrigue which gathers pace with every new raindrop, hurtling towards an ending that may chill the person, but will almost certainly grab the reader; no doubt pulling unerringly towards subsequent entries in the series.

Final Thoughts

With superlative, atmospheric description, clever building of characters and immaculate pacing, Kealan Patrick Burke’s novella is an outstanding read with a grip to surely rival that of the inhabitants lurking in Myers Pond’s murky depths.

At the time of writing, ‘The Turtle Boy’ is available as a free Kindle download from Amazon UK, here. Snap it up while you can…

Yes, I used a pun. My apologies are genuine. Honest.