Dead Religion: Self-published, September 2012, cover art by Renu Sharma. Dead Religion is the stand-alone first novel by David Beers, who has since gone on to publish serialized novels called The Devil's Dream and The Singularity. The opening 25 pages of Deal Religion jump between three different time periods. In the present day, FBI agent James Allison is sent to investigate a terrorist bombing in Mexico, believed to be the work of an American of Mexican descent, Alex Valdez. James is reluctant to leave his 15/16-year-old brother, for they have no surviving relatives. In an earlier period, Alex Valdez struggles with recurring nightmares, which he and his wife Brittany fear threaten his delicate mental health. In the earliest time period, Alex nearly commits suicide, believing that he cannot escape the evil presence that killed his parents. The narrative hints this presence may be some kind of remnant of the Aztec religion.
Libriomancer: DAW, August 2012, 305 pages, cover art by Gene Mollica. Jim C. Hines is a fellow Writers of the Future winner, who has published four novels in his "fairy tale princess" sequence, three novels and a collection in the Goblin Quest universe, a stand-alone mainstream novel, and a bunch of short fiction. He has also won a Fan Writer Hugo Award for his blogging. Libriomancer is the first volume in his latest series, Magic Ex Libris.
The first-person narrator of Libriomancer is Isaac Vainio. (His first name is likely a tribute to Isaac Asimov, the first of countless SF/F references and in-jokes soon to follow.) Isaac is a book-lover and huge science fiction and fantasy fan, and he is a libriomancer, a rare person who can conjure objects out of the books he has read. He works for a secret magical society called the Porters. Having fared poorly at field work, Isaac now occupies himself as a librarian in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, cataloguing books that may be of use to his fellow magic-doers. In the opening pages, his library is attacked by three vampires, whom he fights off with the help of his pet fire-spider Smudge, a dryad named Lena, and a disruptor-pistol he pulls out of the book Vulcan's Mirror. Lena then tells him that a large-scale battle has erupted between vampires and the Porters, but there are hints that the conflict goes well beyond vampires.
The Battle: Dead Religion is self-published and it shows. The book desperately needed a professional editing job—there are no page numbers, tenses vary erratically, and Alex's brother's age changes from 16 to 15 with significant results (he says he can drive himself to school, but two pages later he's become too young to drive).
Despite these problems, there is an intensity to the narrative that I admire. Also, I think Beers handles the shifts between different time periods quite effectively, and the hints about Aztec mythology are interesting.
The bad news for Dead Religion, however, is that it ran into Jim C. Hines at his most amusing. In the first five pages of Libriomancer, Isaac has to fend off a customer who takes a fire hydrant to his fire-spider by threatening to revoke her Internet privileges. Then we really get a taste of the humor at the heart of Libriomancer when Isaac spots a group of three suspicious-looking people approaching the library:
The trio stopped to study the address of the post office across the street. One reached into her pocket and pulled out a crumpled piece of paper. Her hand glittered like a disco ball in the afternoon sun as she scanned the buildings. She tugged her sleeve over her hand a second later, but that one glimpse was enough to identify them as Sanguinarius Meyerii, informally known as sparklers.If you don't get the joke, Libriomancer is probably not for you; but if it made you laugh, you may be in Libriomancer's target audience. The book is written for people just like Isaac, people whose homes are overflowing with books, people who never tire of visualizing science fiction and fantasy scenarios, people who would love nothing better than the ability to bring something from their favorite books to life.
Is it pandering that Hines targets his book so shamelessly at core fantasy readers, making his hero a fellow fantasy-obsessed bookworm? Um, do I care? I'm having as much fun reading this as I suspect Hines had writing it.
THE WINNER: Libriomancer by Jim C. Hines
Libriomancer advances to the second round to face Untimed by Andy Gavin.
To see the whole bracket, click here.