Friday, October 28, 2016

Guest Review: Jinx High by Mercedes Lackey #witchseasoncm

Book Cover Photo Credit: TOR

Book Review: Jinx High by Mercedes Lackey
Publisher: TOR
Publication Year: 1991

By Steven Arellano Rose, Jr.

Mercedes Lackey is mostly known for her high fantasy novels such as the Collegium Chronicles. Her settings are often Medieval-type, magical worlds. However, in her novel, Jinx High, Lackey deviates from her usual high fantasy elements and instead focuses on those of horror and dark fantasy in a modern day urban setting. It’s a deviation she does well.

Jinx High is a story about a witch who hunts down an evil force that is threatening the lives of a several teens. The witch is north-east coast romance writer Diana (“Di”) Tregarde. Di travels to Tulsa OK, the hometown of old college friend and fellow magician Larry Kestrel to teach a series of creative writing lessons in his teenage son Derek’s (“Deke’s”) high school English class. However, when she senses an evil magic that is trying to destroy Deke and several of his schoolmates, her mission goes beyond that of a teaching assignment. The evil force that Di must seek out and defeat? (Warning: potential spoiler ahead.) Deke’s fellow student and girlfriend, Fay Harper.

Published in 1991, Jinx High is probably one of the earliest horror stories to utilize the “monster” as hero--“monster” in that the character is of a type that has traditionally been portrayed as evil, such as a witch, vampire or zombie. So this twist comes at a time that predates the trend that it has become today in horror fiction.

The horror element climaxes in the prom night scene making the novel a tinge reminiscent of Stephen King’s Carrie but is far different from it. Still, the mood of the dark side of adolescence permeates and the black magic definitely enhances it. Yet the novel can hardly be classified as YA. Not only are they’re strong adult concepts and language, but the story is structured around the adult characters more than the teen ones. But even so, the 16-to-18 crowd can probably relate to it since that’s the age range of most of the adolescent characters.

Besides black magic, there are also plenty of monsters that it conjures in this story, such as demons that attack kids and spirits that possess a garage band’s guitars putting a curse on the kids at the prom.

The other element that makes this novel horror is that we are in several of the victims’ heads when they are attacked by the monstrous forces. Yet the story is also a quest to protect a population of students from being taken over by an evil sorceress. Because of this, we shouldn’t be too surprised if Fay is named after Morgan le Fay of Arthurian legend who has been portrayed as an evil enchantress. So the novel overlaps with the dark fantasy genre as well. However, interestingly enough, there is a bit of a science fiction element. Computer terms of the time (some that have survived through today) are applied to the magic such as the “construct”, the artificial human that Fay makes and that poses as her “Aunt Emily” but is really her slave.

The characters in Jinx High are well-developed and sympathetic, including Di. This is played out good in her relationship with Deke’s female friend and fellow classmate, Monica Carlin whom Di defends from a horde of demons. Also, Monica looks up to Di as both a model writer and mentoring friend. So the reader gets the sense of security through the interaction between Di and Monica. The story also does a good job balancing out the scenes of the teenagers with those of the adults. We both get the teen culture of the novel’s time period, such as in a scene with a group of kids playing a Nintendo, as well as that of the adults which particularly reflects a nostalgia for the ‘60s hippie culture so popular in the latter half of the ‘80s and through early ‘90s. After all, the kids’ parents are baby boomers.

The few flaws that I had with Jinx High were actually in Di’s character as much as she was among my favorites. For one thing, the story stays in her head too much when she thinks up solutions to challenges. For another thing, her verbal tick, “Jesus Cluny Frog”, though well utilized to distinguish her character, is overused to the point of annoyance on the reader’s part. But these flaws are out-weighed by the strengths mentioned above.

Even though Mercedes Lackey is mostly a storyteller of high fantasy set in medieval-type worlds, her Jinx High is really well-told as a modern day horror story. I recommend it to my fellow readers of dark supernatural fiction. It shows you that an author does not have to regularly write in a particularly genre to write it well.

Amazon/Kindle Link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01LHCFW5M


Visit Steven at his blog, A Far out Fantastic Site.

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Saturday, October 8, 2016

#Poe Read-Along - The Mask of the Red Death #witchseasoncm

Yesterday was the anniversary of Poe's death.
On September 27, Poe left Richmond for New York. He went to Philadelphia and stayed with a friend named James P. Moss. On September 30, he meant to go to New York but supposedly took the wrong train to Baltimore. On October 3, Poe was found at Gunner's Hall, a public house at 44 East Lombard Street, and was taken to the hospital. He lapsed in and out of consciousness but was never able to explain exactly what happened to him. Edgar Allan Poe died in the hospital on Sunday, October 7, 1849. (PoeStories.com)

I was first curious abou the spelling of the title of this story, as I was seeing it spelled online as "Masque" of the Red Death. However, in my unabridged anthology (published by Running Press in 1983), the title is The Mask of the Red Death. I believe it is a play on words on Poe's part. At the beginning of the story, he says, "The scarlet stains...especially on the face of the victim, were the best ban which shut him out from the aid and from the sympathy of his fellow-man." There is a kind of scarlet "mask" that is a dead giveaway of someone with the disease. But then, Prince Prospero also holds a masquerade (masque) within his seclusion. I feel that was Poe's intent...for mask to represent both.

I'll admit to this being one of Poe's stories that was pretty deep so I did some analysis reading about it online. The first thing I read was the symbolism of the seven rooms of seven different colors representing the stages of life, the black room with the scarlet windows representing death. It makes sense and is quite clever, especially when the Red Death makes its appearance, walking from room to room, blue room all the way to finally black. When Prospero and his revelers follow, it is like they are going through life, and then they finally reach death at the hands of the disease.

There has been much analysis of Poe's works and this one is no different. They really dig in deep with the symbolism. For instance, the line "a thief in the night" is from the Bible and many scholars align the Red Death as the apocalyptic Jesus figure and the castle with Prospero and his revelers represents the world. And so, the Red Death brings about the end of the world. Interesting idea.

My final take is that these wealthy people seal themselves away to escape the Red Death, only to succumb to it in the end anyway. The lesson...you can't escape what's inevitable, or what proves to be a virulent disease. I'm quite sure I remember reading about households during the Black Death that sealed themselves off from the rest of the city/town, but ended up contracting and dying from the disease anyway.

A great story, in my opinion, but not overly scary. What did you think about what I discussed above and/or did you like the story?

On a side note, and I'm sure I mentioned this last year, but I'm a huge Vincent Price fan. Price starred in a bunch of films based on Poe's works. This one was no exception.



The Masque of the Red Death/1964
A European prince terrorizes the local peasantry while using his castle as a refuge against the "Red Death" plague that stalks the land.

I'm not sure if I have seen this one or not. If I have, I don't remember it. You can watch it on Amazon Prime for $2.99, or here's the full movie from YouTube. Fun!



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Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children #Read-Along - Final discussion and thoughts on the film #MissPeregrines


First, let me apologize for the delay in posting this. I had thought to finish the book before seeing the film (I was at the final chapters), but it didn't quite work out that way. Also, my sons are on Fall break so I've been busy getting things done around here (that requires their brute strength. lol) and spending time with them.

So, what a magical book, right? I really enjoyed this final part of the book where we finally learn the truth of Jacob's gift...he can see the Hollows! Not sure I would want that gift though. Yuck.

This book is unique because of the photographs. I really liked that aspect because it gives us a point of reference to what some of the children looked like, and it added to the vintage Gothic feel of the book. I think the photographs also evoked a World War II feel.

I liked the incorporation of the Nazis at the end. Makes sense that they would be involved with the nefarious doings of the Wight. This aspect, to me, gives the book a slant of morality. The correlation between the pursuit and persecution of the peculiar children with the pursuit and persecution of the Jewish people by the Nazis...clever.

Which brings me to the film. There is no part of the above in the film. Not sure why. Maybe because of the current state of things with race relations, etc. in our country and the world. Actually, the movie really is quite different from the book. Tim Burton changed a lot and I found myself wondering if that was truly necessary. Don't get me wrong...the film is pretty good...but the book is better. Who didn't know I would say that? He even flip flopped characters, giving Emma Olive's power of floating and Olive had the power of fire from her hands. Why?


Again, the film was enjoyable enough and definitely worth seeing for the visual elements alone. Also, Asa Butterfield was great as Jacob and Ella Purnell was ethereal as Emma. Of course, Eva Green was fantastic, as she is in pretty much everything she's in.

Definitely see it if you enjoyed the book, keeping in mind that the book is (almost) always better.

Thanks to everyone who read along with me.

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