Chalk by Paul Cornell

ChalkChalk

by Paul Cornell

Kindle Edition, 206 pg.
Tor.com, 2017

Read: May 5 – 8, 2017

There are kids who went through school experiences like mine who will never watch football, and there are those who end up playing for Arsenal. Okay, who will end up with season tickets. Stockholm syndrome will only take you so far.

Enough about what I am now. That comes later.

Everyone keeps talking about this as a story about bullying — sure, there’s a little bullying here. But mostly, that’s like saying that Hannibal Lecter enjoys an unconventional diet. What happens to Andrew Waggoner is so far beyond bullying — it’s flat out assault (but with a psychological component that matches bullying). After a Halloween dance, Waggoner is forced into the woods by the school bullies and is assaulted. Somehow, his trauma links him to some long-dormant forces who take the opportunity to reassert themselves. One manifestation of the mystical/magical works with (compels? coerces? convinces?) Waggoner to take his revenge against those who permanently scarred him mentally and physically.

And over the next 12 months, that’s just what happens — Waggoner and/or his mystical companion (it’s never clear exactly how much is done by each) exact their revenge — Waggoner vacillates in his commitment to this project, and comes close to stopping on many occasions. In the midst of this, he becomes a writer and makes a friend based on shared interest, rather than just being social pariahs. In short, he starts growing up.

Meanwhile, the ancient forces tied to Waggoner are in open conflict with the dominant, more modern/contemporary, forces/beliefs. The school — and the students’ lives — become the major battleground for them, the final conflict coming on the anniversary of the attack that changed Waggoner’s life forever.

I kept seeing the school as the school from Sing Street (except, in the West Country, not Dublin — but roughly the same era), which I know is inaccurate, but I couldn’t stop myself. Pop music plays a large role in the story, and as it’s set in the early 80’s I didn’t have to google most of the songs (there were a couple of tunes that didn’t make it to Idaho that long ago) — which was a plus for me, and probably most readers.

You can tell (well, you can guess) that Cornell and Waggoner had similar experiences in their early lives — the language he uses to describe the bullying speaks to that. But more than that, the way he describes how the bullying shaped him, both then and when Waggoner reflects on those events from the vantage point of adulthood, resonated with me, and will with many readers.

The characters — bullies, victims, other children, or adults — were all wonderfully constructed. I’m not sure that I liked any of them (including Waggoner), but I was drawn into this world, and was very invested in what happened to each of them.

This was intense, gripping, strangely something (I want to say beautiful, but that doesn’t seem right) — there’s a je ne sais quoi about Chalk that inspires and repulses at the same time. I know I haven’t done a good job describing this book — I’m trying hard not to ruin anything for future readers. It was one of the more affecting, compelling books I’ve read this year. Cornell does a masterful job of mixing our reality with his fantasy — as he’s shown in the Shadow Police and Lychford books — this time you add in a layer of childhood horror and wonder to that combination.

This is something special, you won’t read much like it.

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4 Stars

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The Story of Lucius Cane: Book One by Vanya Ferreira

The Story of Lucius CaneThe Story of Lucius Cane: Book One

by Vanya Ferreira

Kindle Edition, 27 pg.
Vanya Ferreira, 2016

Read: February 23, 2016

This first installment is a tale of a couple of atypical takes on supernatural staples.

It’s London in 1794 and we meet a different kind of vampire (for reasons that are sort of explained), but except for one little quirk of personality, he seems like your typical pre-Victorian Vampire. The quirk does seem to save lives, so it’s endearing.

Jack ‘The Hound’ Estenborough is lycanthrope-ish. A former pirate, now loanshark (and his own leg-breaker). A man as synonymous with violence as he is with body hair.

The two are manipulated into a showdown, and face-off in a knock-down, drag out fight which is the kind of thing everyone who watched a Lon Chaney flick as a kid wanted to see.

This was a quick story, so there’s not a lot to say, not much time for character development or anything like that. It wasn’t the most skillfully told story, but it got the job done and kept you reading.

There was a good chunk of info dumping with one character, where he only hinted at things for the other. Obviously, the treatment of the other primary character was better — but I didn’t mind the info dump too much, the title tells you the story’s not about The Hound, so no need for gradual reveal — also, it was a fun, quick info dump.

Ferreira made some odd vocab choices — some words (especially in idiomatic phrases) that are almost, but not quite right. But when someone living in Serbia writes in English, I figure that’s a risk you run — and it’s never too distracting.

There were a few questions left by the story, but you can tell that Ferreira has an answer ready for them, he just needs the space to relay them. That, and the cliff-hanger ending, demand a series of these stories (as does, the title, I guess) — or a novel. I don’t care which, as long as I get to read it.

Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this story by the author in exchange for an honest review.

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3 Stars