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Book Reviews

Spotlight on: Keith Gouveia

Books Reviewed:
Children of the Dragon by Keith Gouveia
Devil's Playground by A.P. Fuchs and Keith Gouveia
Freehold: Southern Storm edited by Armand Rosamilia
(Monroi Pass, Book I -- contains a story by Keith Gouveia)

To arrange to have products considered for review, send an email to craigsbookclub@yahoo.com.

Children of the Dragon by Keith Gouveia Keith Gouveia, Children of the Dragon

Great Germaine is a peaceful continent on a parallel world. Its king offers his throne to anyone who can defeat him in battle, and one day a man takes the challenge. The king killed this man's father in a similar battle and he has wanted revenge ever since. He has sold his soul for the ability to steal the power of Great Germaine's magical creatures. By killing them, each death increases his power, the lives of dragons, ogres, fairies, et cetera, taken to support his malevolent whims.

Meanwhile, in our world, Ricky and Alyssa are enchanted by a statue in an antique shop. The mysterious shopkeeper gives it to them for free and, upon taking it home, it transports them to Great Germaine, where they are endowed with magic powers by a pair of dragons. They immediately find themselves swept up in the battle to defeat the appropriately named Balthazar Despot before he can become all-powerful. But all they really want to do is go home to their father.

With Children of the Dragon, author (Killing Faith, Devil's Playground) and editor (Small Bites, the Charles L. Grant benefit anthology) Keith Gouveia leaves the horror genre temporarily and dives head first into fantasy adventure, writing his first novel for children in the process.

By writing for children, Gouveia has managed to recapture the fascination that children have with storytelling. It's pretty clear that Gouveia's intention was to put his own children into their own fantasy adventure, given that their names are the same and their personalities feel so genuine, which leads to a rather unconventional narrative, but even so, Children of the Dragon seems less to have been written for children than written by them. His story is filled with the childlike ability to make anything happen that you want just by saying it -- wish for special powers, and you get them. This cuts down somewhat on the suspense, which may turn off more mature readers, but for the rest of us, it only adds to the fun.

Childishness aside, Gouveia's skill and experience also shine through, especially in his ability to convey a sense of place. Great Germaine may be a figment of his (and now my) imagination, but I feel as if I could find my way around with only this book as a guide. If you are in the right mood to go along with it, Children of the Dragon is a fantastic read. Offer it to some kids you know when they're crying for something to read while waiting for the next Harry Potter.

Then read it yourself.

Devil's Playground by A.P. Fuchs and Keith Gouveia A.P. Fuchs and Keith Gouveia, Devil's Playground

Coscom Entertainment has come up with an interesting idea: two separate authors (A.P. Fuchs and Keith Gouveia) tackle two parts of the same story in, combining their talents to create a nasty two-part novella, and a lot of Halloween fun in Devil's Playground.

Gouveia starts off with "Forever Hallowe'en." The story begins, appropriately enough, on Halloween night, when a group of friends meet at the house of one of their number to go out trick-or-treating. They are having a great time until they decide to stop at the wrong house and, on the one night they're allowed to take candy from strangers, they end up playing a game for their lives. In a magic arena built by Lucifer, where a player becomes whatever his costume represents, they are pitted against each other and against the clock. But when you play by the devil's rules, it's nearly impossible to come out on top.

Like in his novel, Children of the Dragon, Gouveia really captures the different voices of these children as they prepare to go out for the evening. "Forever Hallowe'en" was fast-moving and relentless and it was over before I was ready. Nevertheless, I jumped right into the second story, unable to wait to see what Fuchs did with the rest.

What he does is continue the story from another perspective. In "Forever Jack," a boy named Max, dressed like Jack the Ripper (and behaving like him as per the rules of the game), meets up with two survivors from "Forever Hallowe'en." Together, they have to decide whether to compete against each other and escape individually, or join forces in hopes of defeating their captor. But to do that, they'll have to resist the ever-increasing tendencies of their "characters" to take over their thoughts and actions. Nearly irresistible bloodlust works against you in this kind of situation requiring calm, strategic thinking.

Fuchs' take is a little slower and more introspective, with "Jack" remembering his past and how he got into the game (100 years ago!), yet also more action-oriented with some terrific battle scenes with the devil. Ideally, these two stories would feel like they were told by the same writer, but each individual's style comes through, forcing the reader to take the stories more as two separate tellings than as one smoothly flowing narrative. One wonders what Fuchs and Gouveia would have come up with had they collaborated on a single novella, but Devil's Playground is quite the ride on its own terms, perfect for those looking for a couple of quick jolts around every child's favorite holiday.

Freehold: Southern Storm edited by Armand Rosamilia Armand Rosamilia (editor), Freehold: Southern Storm (Monroi Pass, Book I)
(contains a story by Keith Gouveia)

Shared-world anthologies have never been all that attractive to me. The blend of different authors working from their individual directions in the same setting just always seemed a little off, even when it works well, like in Charles L. Grant's Greystone Bay Chronicles. Now Carnifex Press is launching a new series set in the land of Freehold, with stories by publisher / editor Armand Rosamilia and a slew of up-and-comers. The first trilogy (there are four trilogies proposed) is set in the Monroi Pass region and is called Freehold: Southern Storm.

Rosamilia has been building Freehold in his mind since the mid-'80s, and it is obvious in the detail of his entry in Freehold: Southern Storm, the title novella also called "Freehold: Southern Storm." At 80+ pages, he sets the stage confidently (his story comprises half the book).

A sibling-rivalry duel with wooden training swords resulted in the wounding of Damu Brannock, eldest son of Mad King Damu of Deaxa, by his younger brother Devin. Young Damu was the warrior of the family who was being trained to protect the kingdom, and neither chubby Devin nor his other brother, the scholarly Stephyn, are fit to take his place. In his rage, King Damu sentenced Devin to death.

Luckily, the sensible Wizard Espy arranges for Devin to be sent far away to Monroi Pass, for his own safety. There, he will be trained to defend the area (and, apparently, the rest of the kingdom) against goblins and Vipers. No longer the overweight young boy, Devin Brannock will, during his time in Monroi Pass, become a man ... and just perhaps fulfill an ancient prophecy while he's at it.

Rosamilia's novella sets up Freehold and its city-states smoothly, allowing the reader to ease into the world while being entertained by Devin's story -- which lacks any true ending, so I assume it is to be continued in future volumes of the trilogy. In the meantime, Freehold: Southern Storm treats us to five other authors' takes on Freehold, specifically Monroi Pass, with the occasional overlapping character. M.P. Ericson follows a couple of not-very-trustworthy traders in "On Barren Ground," with a bit of pride and betrayal mixed in with the author's wonderfully descriptive style. Keith Gouveia goes back to Deaxa for "Thieves Among Serpents" which sees the son of a thief watch his father die (the flipside of the father issues so prominent in "Freehold: Southern Storm"). Gouveia also continues the story of Devin somewhat, a bold move that succeeds since it is only supporting Gouveia's main story. But Devin's appearance ties "Thieves Among Serpents" to "Freehold: Southern Storm" more fully than the others, even though I felt that it, too, was only a beginning. I look forward to more from these characters. (Rosamilia has hinted that a standalone novella from Gouveia is in the works.)

Heather Lee Fleming's "It Takes More" follows her original characters through a test, and answers the question, "What does it take?" By this time, I had read so many battles, that yet another one was tiring, Fleming kept me reading with fully-developed characters she obviously knows very well. "Kalini Steel" by Bruce Durham levies the proceedings with a good dose of humor. I really enjoyed these characters as well, and look forward to seeing more from them (since this story also doesn't have any real conclusion). Steve Goble closes things out with a bang. His "Snake Eyes" introduces Hissu, whom the author describes as a "snake-worshipping cannibal insurgent" from the Viper lands. Goble gives us a terrific view of the "villians" of Freehold and I, for one, was grateful. I've always preferred by fantasy dark, anyway. (Hissu is to reappear in the second volume of the series, Freehold: Protector.)

The copies of Freehold: Southern Storm sold by Shocklines are signed by three of the contributors: Rosamilia, Gouveia, and Fleming. (In fact, I only got one because the signature page fell out of one of the books during the signing, and the author didn't want to see it wasted.) Fantasy, especially epic fantasy, isn't usually my cup of tea, but I have to say I was very pleasantly surprised by the quality of writing (and editing, for an independent press) in this volume, and I look forward to further adventures in Freehold.

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