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He nods. He understands. And then he takes my hand and presses his lips against my palm. It feels like fire entering my bloodstream and laying siege to my body. He kisses my wrist, and I am an inferno. He starts to move up my arm, his breath tantalizing, and I almost give in as he pulls me to him.

But instead I step back, cradling my arm to my chest. “Be well,” I tell him because I don’t know how to explain what I really want to say. And then I slip out the window and am covered in snow that instantly douses my skin, which just moments before had been aflame.

Paranormal romance has evolved certain tropes that are in danger of becoming repetitive. Firstly, the whole romance itself has often been perpetuated through a love triangle whose oscillations sustain a series of novels. Secondly the female protagonists have a tendency to either be clumsy, or suffer extreme injuries/physical deprivations. What interests me is that this kind of wish fulfillment fantasy carries echoes of male adventure novels. Bond having to choose between the ‘good girl’ and the bad. Clive Cussler‘s Dirk Pitt receives terrible injuries only to get right back up again and carry on. Are Paranormal Romance books just gender-swapped boys’ own adventures, with all that that implies?

Mary lives with her mother and brother in a community of survivors following a catastrophic event that destroyed civilization. Their memories of the time before are vague and the event itself is simply referred to as ‘The Return’ – when the dead rose and began to feed on the living. These once human creatures are known as the Unconsecrated and for her entire life Mary has lived with the sound of their cries every day, pressed up against the protective fence that surrounds the village. Beyond the fence lies the impenetrable Forest of Hands and Teeth.

When Mary’s mother is killed and her brother disowns her, she is thrown to the mercy of the Sisters, who run the village community. Her only other option would be to marry, but her best friend is to marry the boy she loves Travis and his brother, Harry, who does want her let the Sisters take her from her home. She is alone.

Sister Tabitha attempts to break Mary’s spirit and teach her that the only option is to accept her fate. Instead the young girl continues to find new ways to rebel, despite her punishments. Eventually she discovers a secret that the Sisters and the Guardians, who patrol the village fences, have been hiding. There is another girl in the Cathedral, wearing red, who Mary has never seen before. She is not from the village. Is there another place where life survived? Will she ever, as her mother promised her, see the ocean?

This is a very problematic novel. For a start the ‘romance’ is entirely counter-productive. Sister Tabitha claims that Mary’s headstrong nature will be the doom of the village. As it happens, she is not far wrong. The main character’s insistence on pursuing her own desires are pitched as being liberating, but she is living in the centre of community surrounded on all sides by monsters! Priorities! When survival becomes the most important thing, Mary is still mooning after Travis. More interesting by far is her relationship with her brother Jed, who blames her for their mother’s death. Unfortunately the novel only returns to their conflict near the end, just in time to tie up loose ends before the anticlimactic conclusion.

Mary is simply infuriating, her self-absorption almost justifiable if the reader considers that she must be suffering from colossal trauma given the village’s circumstances. The Unconsecrated themselves are mindless monsters that are simply always there. Their function in the story is to represent an ever-present threat, but beyond that there is nothing of interest about them.

This is a frustrating, tedious novel, that loses its way once the characters themselves become lost in the Forest of Hands and Teeth.

“If the Deathly Hallows really existed, and Dumbledore knew about them, knew that the person who possessed all of them would be master of Death – Harry, why wouldn’t he have told you? Why?”

He had his answer ready.

“But you said it Hermione! You’ve got to find out about them for yourself! It’s a Quest!”

In the interest of full disclosure, I must confess I am not a fan of the Harry Potter series. Perhaps that will colour everything I say in a negative light, but despite my opinions on the books I am looking forward to the concluding film. Harry Potter is indisputably a modern-day phenomenon. Any adaptation presents the collaborator with an extraordinary opportunity to tap into a massive audience and perhaps put their own unique spin on then material.

The story opens with the shocking killing of a Hogwarts staff member taken prisoner by the evil Voldemort. His followers, who call themselves Death Eaters, are cowed into submission by the demonstration. The Malfoy family in particular are coming to regret their support of the tyrant, with Lucius left broken by his master’s callousness. Voldemort has discovered that his wand cannot harm Harry Potter and takes Lucius’s to make another attempt to kill the Boy Who Lived.

An opportunity presents itself soon, during an assault on the Order of the Phoenix, whose members including Harry are among the few opponents left standing against the dark wizard. The attack leads to the death of an ally of Harry’s, convincing him that he has to undertake his quest to defeat Voldemort alone. That mission was given to the boy wizard by Dumbledore and in the wake of his death disturbing revelation have begun to shake Harry’s faith in his mentor. Why would this quest to destroy the source of Voldemort’s power, the hidden Horcruxes, be given to a teenage boy? Has he been manipulated into becoming a weapon by the kindly old man he loved so much?

There is a great deal of confusing to-ing and fro-ing in this novel. Harry’s quest serves as much to delay his final confrontation with the now revealed Voldemort as anything, with Rowling‘s introduction of the Deathly Hallows, yet another series of hidden magical items, a further digression. There is also an awful lot of exposition in this book, chiefly concerned with the deceased Dumbledore, who despite being dead persists in reappearing as a ghostly presence throughout the book.

The other point of concern, and this has been a constant for the series, is that Rowling description of Potter’s importance sometimes smacks of Marty Stu-dom. This passage in particular is galling:

Kingsley, I thought you were looking after the Muggle Priminister?” he called across the room.

“He can get along without me for one night,” said Kingsley, “You’re more important.”

It is even more distressing when the narrative’s dogged focus on Harry, who goes into hiding from Voldemort’s forces, means that several dramatic events occur off-camera due to the boy wizard camping out in forests for the best part of a year. For example Luna Lovegood and Neville Longbottom‘s secret Hogwarts revot sounds like a fantasy-version of Lindsay Anderson’s seminal film If…. but is only referred to in passing.

Still, despite myself I continued turning the pages, eager to learn how the story ends. Yes I find Rowling’s books frustrating to read, but they remain compelling.

“So, do you think , kiddo?” Though, judging by his son’s disgusted expression, Matthew probably already knew the answer.

Mockingly, Robby answered, “If it moves, you can kill it.”

“Why the sarcasm, I thought you got off on stuff like this.”

“Um, just because you’re now married to my mom, doesn’t mean you know me. You haven’t even known me long enough to know me.”

Originally posted over at Tastes Like Comics.

Robby and his new father Matthew have a strained relationship that they attempt to endure for the woman in both of their lives Janet. Any bonding between the two comes as a struggle, so when Janet suggests Matthew take his new son on a hunting trip he reluctantly agrees, despite feeling the effort will be wasted. After all Robby prefers to play Grand Theft Auto than step outdoors.

Of course both men do have in common an interest in random violence, of the simulated kind. They travel to a Mexican island off the southeast coast to take part in an unofficial tourist hunting package known as Dangerous Hunts: Safari-Style Hunting Practically In Your Own Back Yard. Off the books and run by a seedy character known as Garrick, American huntsmen who want to enjoy slaughtering wildlife over the course of a fun-filled weekend. Robby, however, is less than impressed

Before the two men in Janet’s life can come to an accord, the tour group suddenly finds itself under attack from a different kind of hunt – the undead.

Masters sets the scene quite nicely and as is typical for zombie fiction, the mouldering monsters function more as a metaphorical plot device. In Dangerous Hunt the allegory is the nature of male bonding, how danger can bring them together. The comparison between video game violence and hunting parties is an interesting one, not one that has often been made. Perhaps because hunting is seen as outdoor exercise, whereas gaming is the province of pale-skinned competitive sorts who live on the internet. Instead, this story hints that there is a common root.

I was reminded of David Eddings’s first book High Hunt, which came before his successful career as a fantasy author, as well as the film Southern Comfort which paralleled a hunting party in unfamiliar territory with the occupation of Vietnam. The men in Masters’ novel are unprepared for the devastating zombie assault, but quickly take to headshots and explosives. Being allowed to kill with impunity is shown to be enjoyable to some of the characters, especially the bloodthirsty Daniel, a fellow ‘tourist’ who takes to the combat quite naturally.

As for zombie fans, the creatures here avoid the recent trend of identifying the undead as being the result of some experimental virus, or disease. Instead it is hinted that a naturally occuring plant on the island is responsible, more in keeping with original houdon tales of resurrected murderers.

Overall Dangerous Hunts is an enjoyable and fast-moving short yarn, with an interesting use of the zombie sub-genre tropes. Go check it out.

With thanks to the author for my review copy.

There was one additional thing I can hardly bring myself to mention: an expectancy. I sensed it, felt it hovering lightly in the air. The house was awaiting its new owners, impatient for its life’s work and purpose to begin. It was almost as if it was – repudiating me, but that is too strong.

Yet I was aware that a distance had opened up between us. The intimacy of our relationship, the three-way interplay of myself, Teddy, house – it was no longer there. And more than that, it was as if it had never been. It had blown away, just like my money. Vanished without a trace, and from this day forward I could be nothing but a casual visitor.

I felt I was trespassing in my own house.

I am becoming wary of reading any further books featuring teachers. My dad was a teacher and I have worked with Education departments in the time, so I have a lot of empathy for the profession. Yet every book I read involving a teacher these days seems to involve child abuse of  one form or another. Not comfortable reading, certainly not something I would choose to read. So it would take an extra special author to attract me to this kind of story.

Luckily Virginia Duigan is just such an author.

Thea is a retired school principal who has enjoyed her lonesome existence in the Blue Mountains accompanied only by her dog Teddy. Unfortunately due to a slight hiccup in her finances – and the complete loss of her savings – she has been forced to sell her dream home. The couple who buy the property, Frank and Ellice, are trendy hipster who seem inoffensive enough at first, but Thea cannot help but feel resentful as she is forced to retreat to the old hut she owns on a neighbouring plot.

Then she meets the couple’s adopted child Kim. The young girl, abandoned by Frank’s absent brother, instantly bond with Teddy much to Thea’s initial annoyance. However, as time she passes she discovers a kindred spirit in the twelve-year-old, a girl who is as out of time as Thea, eagerly devouring old books and adopting the older woman’s speech patterns.

During this period of upheaval in her life, Thea has also been attending a series of writing classes. Though she is fond of quirky rhymes, she feels insecure about her own literary talents. As the book progresses it becomes clear that her classes are also intended to facilitate a long-overdue catharsis, concerned with a teaching colleague from years before named Matthew. Thea still carries a massive burden of guilt related to the dishonourable end to her teaching career. This influences her growing sense of responsibility for Kim, as well as her concerns over Ellice and Frank’s parenting skills.

Duigan captures Thea’s voice brilliantly, clinging to very proper phrasing and anachronistic expressions, her bitterness the preservative that keeps her out of time. In effect her slow thaw due to Kim, her comparing of Frank to the mysterious Matthew from years ago, and the increasing use of personal insights in her writing, are all signs that Thea is slowly but surely building up to a single, climactic act.

The Precipice is a strongly observed and insightful novel, from this very gifted author.

With thanks to Random House for this review copy.

Meillassoux lists three positions that fall under the label correlationism: transcendentalism, phenomenology and postmodernism. This implies that most correlationists are ‘continental’ antirealists. These continental antirealist positions tend to emphasize questions of givenness, human access, and transcendental subjectivity. The correlationist claims that when you speak about objects, events, laws or beings you do so in the sense of the correlationist’s commitment: as given.

When I saw that the author of this book was based in Dublin I got onto the philosophy student grapevine (translation – I sent a text) and within minutes had the full skinny on Paul J. Ennis. Ireland is a very small place. The social scene of former philosophy students is even smaller.

Ennis is here critiquing the theories of Quentin Meillassoux and the Continental Realist school he has come to represent. Nothing less than a challenge to the dominant theories of Immanuel Kant, whose ‘Copernican Revolution’ has infused academic philosophy ever since, this is a fascinating discussion. Focusing on Meillassoux’s ‘After Finitude’ initially, Ennis then expands his book to include a study of the aforementioned Kant, Alain Badiou, Slavoj Zizek and Markus Gabriel, before becoming beached on the lonely shore of Heidegger. There is nothing less at stake here than the relevance of philosophical discourse itself, Ennis providing a candid examination of the opposing sides in this refreshingly modern philosophical debate.

What Meillassoux terms the ‘arche-fossil’ or ‘The Ancestral Realm’, forms the basis of his attack on post-Kantian correlationism – the notion that we can only know the world as it is perceived. As scientific discovery and technological advancement have increased, divisions between mind and body, phenomenological bracketing and noumena have become the stuff of tired academic lessons. Philosophy has become the dogmatic study of ‘ephemeralities’ ghost of thoughts propounded by dead men. The Anglo-American, or Analytical school of philosophy has exhausted the limits of Wittgenstein, who in turn reduced Kant’s legacy to a discussion of statements. The study of thinking, metaphysics, ethics, all become boiled down to a series of logical relations, dependent on science for its existence, which it gave birth to as ‘natural philosophy’ (brilliantly described by Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle).

Continental Philosophy dredged literature and art for its material, following Walter Benjamin and the Frankfurt School. Meillassoux abandons this retreat, instead insisting on the existence of ‘ancestral time’, a knowable state of the world absent of human life. Ennis summarises one argument as follow, that if “anything in our world can be depended on it is that the sun will rise: that it is necessary for the sun to rise. Meillassoux retorts that the necessitarian inference is a piece of mathematical probabilistic reasoning.

Should the world suddenly end, the human world, our part in this universe would be over. Meillassoux embraces the scientific perspective of the observer-less model of existence. In effect this change in European thought represents a rejection of post-modernism, an assertion of mathematical absolutes. Philosophy has traded in a sort of backdoor theism for too long, as well as a sycophantic devotion to science (all in aid of preserving its territory over academic discourse) – Meillassoux rejects both in favour of a philosophical model that can accomodate hard science.

This is an excellent introduction to a fascinating new development in philosophical thinking.

With thanks to Zero Books for my review copy.

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