Saturday, August 18, 2012

Book Review: "Dreadful Beginnings", by Marty Shaw

Those watching the publishing industry know that this is an exciting time for those who want to take nontraditional routes; with the ease of e-publishing and increased availability of tablets and smartphones, more writers are taking to the virtual streets themselves, bypassing traditional publishing houses. I've joined with the independent author's support/promotion/marketing group Literary+ for the occaisonal review and perhaps another surprise or too; today I'm reviewing Marty Shaw's novella "Dreadful Beginnings", the first of his "Penny Dreadful" series. Enjoy!

Review: "Dreadful Beginnings", by Marty Shaw 

Marty Shaw's new novella "Dreadful Beginnings" promises to begin his new suburban fantasy series,  "Penny Dreadful". It's a face-paced and fun story, marred by overly broad characters and a bit of a simplistic, straight-forward plot. 

We first meet our heroine, recent high-school graduate Penny Dire, as she's quitting a telemarketing job after only two days.  The initial impression of Penny is of a carefree and immature for her age young teenager who doesn't seem to care that her friends all have jobs and doesn't see to have or want a plan for the future. She also has a gothic style befitting her name, an artistic bent, and an affinity for cemetaries.  In one early scene, Penny visits one of her favorite tombstones: 

One ancient stone looked especially photogenic, but looks could be deceiving. I 
had used up a whole memory card on this ancient rock, trying all kind of different filters and lighting angles. In real life, the tombstone called out to me and made my skin tingle whenever I was close to it. But it was just a dumb slab of granite in the photos. For some reason, I couldn’t capture its essence on film. I knelt down and brushed away some of the grime, feeling the familiar electric tingle on my hand when I made contact with the stone. Maybe a charcoal rubbing or possibly even a foil casting was needed to really capture the spirit of the piece. 

This painted a nice picture of how Penny sees the world, and shows rather than tells us about her budding talents. Sadly, this picture of Penny as a budding artist who sees things more deeply than others doesn't recur through the story, nor does it figure in Penny's eventual training as a demon hunter. Her irresponsibility and shortsightedness don't factor either, leaving her eventual demon-hunting persona feeling somewhat generic. 

The initial buildup to the paranormal events is nicely done, with small magical effects giving the reader - and characters - hints that the world doesn't function quite normally before leading us to the climactic battle with a demon. There's just enough tragedy to make the threat seem real without letting the story sink into real "horror". When the final battle comes, it is exciting and suspenseful, with real stakes and a satisfying conclusion. 

Shaw's biggest weakness is that his reliance on archetypes makes it hard to really care about the characters. Penny's artistic talents and ambitions are forgotten, leaving us with a sassy demon-hunting teenage girl. She meets a mentor - the improbably named Doctor Horror -  who tells her just as much as she needs to know, with cryptic riddling hints before literally vanishing. An overprotective mother. A gruff magic-shop owner with a hidden heart of gold. I couldn't  escape the feeling that, even if I hadn't met all of these people before, I knew someone just like them from another book. It ends on a promisng note, with hints about the identity and nature of her mentor. 

In conclusion, while there isn't as much depth as one might hope for, "Penny Dreadful" is an entertaining, quick read with promises for more as the series continues. It is available from Amazon for your Kindle

Three stars

1 comment:

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