Grim: Damnation Books, September 2012, 168 pages, cover art by Dawné Dominique. Grim is the first novel by former journalist Joseph Spencer, who has since followed up with a sequel, Wrage. Grim combines elements of a crime thriller and a horror novel with a graphic novel sensibility. The main characters are Heath Grim and Detective Adam White. As hinted by the first names, this is a play on the Batman story. Grim is a very wealthy young man who spends his spare time fighting crime, only the criminals he fights tend to end up decapitated, their blood spattered about to gruesome effect. It seems Grim blacks out during these times, surrendering himself to a beast inside him. In the opening 25 pages, Adam White investigates one of these killings, and Grim comes under suspicion when a neighbor he mentions to White turns out apparently not to exist. Meanwhile, a local crime lord plots against the vigilante doing in his men.
Blood and Feathers: Solaris, August 2012, 364 pages, cover art by Pye Parr. Blood and Feathers is British author Lou Morgan's first novel, followed by the sequel, Blood and Feathers: Rebellion. She has also written a YA novel, Sleepless. In the opening 25 pages of Blood and Feathers, a woman named Iris follows her son into the maw of a set of giant teeth that appeared on her lawn. Then a young woman named Alice meets two strange people, Gwyn and Mallory, who claim to be old friends of her late mother's. When hands emerge from the ceiling and snap her father's neck, Alice bolts, but Gwyn and Mallory quickly return her home. They insist they are friends and begin to tell Alice incredible things she never knew about her mother.
The Battle: Both of these books have attention-grabbing first scenes.
Grim lives up to its title with a very dark opening scene in which Heath Grim returns home late at night, dripping blood, with no memory of where he's been, feeling feverish:
Yet, the reflection staring back at him in the mirror emitted an eerie glow so chilling that goose pimples broke out on the back of his neck and arms. Exhaustion slowed his senses to a crawl, and his eyes blinked shut. His heart raced. Bile crept up his throat.That is a strong initial sequence. Meanwhile, Lou Morgan draws us in with an absurd opening scene that she makes believable, in which a woman's lawn is suddenly filled with tooth-shaped boulders leading to a throat. A throat with stairs. Stairs her son has just gone down . . . That's also good stuff.
The fiend broke its silence. "There's no escaping yourself, my son." The words came out of Heath's mouth, but the voice which said them wasn't his own. It was deeper, angrier.
However, while Blood and Feathers effectively builds on its opening scene, Grim quickly starts to lose its way. There are two decent scenes of a mob boss planning revenge against whoever killed some of his men. But the rest of the opening 25 pages are from the points of view of Heath Grim and Adam White, and all of their scenes are disrupted by unwelcome sidekicks. White has a resentful cop named Sinks trailing him everywhere, denigrating any women around and spouting idiotic lines at White like, "Let me show you how us real cops who don't get our names in the papers every fucking day do the dirty work for glory hounds such as yourself." Similarly, Heath Grim is constantly bombarded by wisecracks and lame puns from a Voice in his head, which sounds like his dead friend Craig. These sidekicks are unnecessary and unfunny and pretty much wreck the scenes with Grim and White, our two main characters.
In contrast, Blood and Feathers builds intensity through the first 25 pages. First, Alice sees her father inexplicably murdered. Then when she runs away, one of the two men she just met is somehow ahead of her, waiting. The two men tell her that her mother was an angel, a story she of course cannot believe, except that they don't allow her any choice:
"We knew your mother, Alice. We knew her better than even your father did. And we know you. Now it's time for you to know us." He closed his eyes, and the edges of the room suddenly seemed sharper, brighter. Everything grew lighter, and there was a sound like the wind in the trees, faint at first, then louder and louder.I am not a great fan of urban fantasies involving angels, but this is so well presented, it makes me want to keep reading.
As Alice watched, Gwyn unfolded his wings, and every bulb in the house blew out as one.
THE WINNER: Blood and Feathers by Lou Morgan
Blood and Feathers advances to the second round to face A Pretty Mouth by Molly Tanzer.
To see the whole bracket, click here.