The Second Death, by T Frohock

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Publication date – March 29, 2016

Summary: For Diago Alvarez, that’s the choice before him. For unless he wants to see his son Rafael die, he must do the unthinkable: Help the Nazis receive the plans to the ultimate weapon.

And while Diago grows more comfortable not only with his heritage, but also with his place among Guillermo’s Los Nefilim, he is still unsure if he truly belongs amongst them.

In a frantic race to save the future of humanity, Diago is forced to rely on his daimonic nature to deceive an angel. In doing so, he discovers the birth of a modern god—one that will bring about a new world order from which no one can escape.

Review: Frohock has entertained us previously with her other two novellas in the Los Nefilim series, stories of immortal beings standing between angels and daimons, of Diago and Miquel and their relationship in 1930s Spain, and the events that surround and complicate their already complicated lives. Now the third installment of the series, The Second Death, picks up really only hours after the previous novella finished, throwing readers immediately back into the action and not giving the characters even a chance to catch their breath.

You’ve really got to feel sorry for Diago here, with his life seeming to get worse rather than better after having pledged his loyalty to Los Nefilim. Now both he and his son are kidnapped, Rafael held hostage to ensure that Diago complies with Engel’s commands to acquire a weapon that reputedly could put an end to all wars. Seeing members of Los Nefilim go rogue convinces Diago that this time he’s really on his own, that he alone must foil Engel’s plans and escape with Rafael, before the balance of divine power shifts entirely.

Action and intrigue and the names of the game here, and the pulse-pounding pace barely lets up for a second. Happily, Frohock starts off the whole thing by giving a bit of a recap on what happened previously in the series, so as short as they are (only a little over 100 pages per novella), readers don’t have to go back and do a reread to ensure they know where everyone stands. Very beneficial in a story that’s as complex and full of twists as this one, and far better than having characters awkwardly do recaps along the way.

Though to be honest, I’m not opposed to rereading such a wonderful series at any point, and the story is one that has stuck firmly in my mind since I read the first one so many months ago.

One thing that stands out to me every time is the way the power and magic works through song. The descriptions are beautiful, breathtaking, and so easy to picture and feel. Maybe this is in part because I’m somewhat musically inclined myself and I find it very easy to envision the colours of notes and the way sounds can play powerfully off each other, but mostly I think it’s a testament to Frohock’s clarity of writing. Reading her work, I rarely find an unclear scene or fuzzy descriptions. It’s so easy to get lost in such vivid writing.

I can’t be sure, but I certainly hope that the series will continue in the future. A few plot threads have been left dangling, in particular the whole situation with Moloch and Alvaro and the whole “new god” issue. I’m definitely interested in seeing how that develops and plays out. In addition, there’s also the power play going on between Principalities, divine guardians (of a sort) of different countries, which is part of what led Engel to make his move and for Garcia to be so willing to between Guillermo and follow Engel in the first place. Knowing the time and place of the story makes it easy to see parallels to the lead-up of the second World War, but adding the angels and demons and the like makes it all the more interesting, provides a different perspective and additional layers to the whole tumultuous situation, and I, for one, want to see it all play out.

Long story short, if historical dark fantasy is your thing, if you enjoy plays and twists on Judeo-Christian mythology, if you want a wonderfully complex story that demands little but delivers much, then the Los Nefilim series is one you should definitely seek out. It’s hard for me to pick my favourite, because they all have appealed to me on various levels, and I’ve enjoyed them all equally and highly. The Second Death deals more with the forgiveness than the previous two, and justice versus vengeance, neither of which come across as heavy-handed or peachy, but even if you find yourself disagreeing with the conclusions that characters arrive at, there’s no end to the dark entertainment in the pages. Most definitely recommended to fans of dark fantasy!

(Received for review.)

Without Light or Guide, by T Frohock

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Publication date – November 3, 2015

Summary: Always holding themselves aloft from the affairs of mortals, Los Nefilim have thrived for eons. But with the Spanish Civil War looming, their fragile independence is shaken by the machinations of angels and daimons…and a half-breed caught in-between.

For although Diago Alvarez has pledged his loyalty to Los Nefilim, there are many who don’t trust his daimonic blood. And with the re-emergence of his father—a Nefil who sold his soul to a daimon—the fear is Diago will soon follow the same path.

Yet even as Diago tries to prove his allegiance, events conspire that only fuel the other Nefilim’s suspicions—including the fact that every mortal Diago has known in Barcelona is being brutally murdered.

The second novella in T. Frohock’s Los Nefilim series, Without Light or Guide continues Diago’s journey through a world he was born into, yet doesn’t quite understand.

Thoughts: By this point, I’m no stranger to Frohock’s writing, and I know fairly well in advance that I’m extremely likely to enjoy what she does. And given that the previous novella in this series, In Midnight’s Silence, tripped all the right triggers with me, I was very eager to get my hands on the sequel and continue with Diago’s story.

Without Light or Guide doesn’t disappoint. Picking up very shortly after where the previous novella left off, Diago’s loyalty to some of the Nefilim is still uncertain, to the point that even though those closest to him believe that he won’t betray them, Diago himself is unsure. His heritage is against him, his history is against him, the fact that he feels unwelcome makes him pull away further, and really, I feel for the guy, because that’s a lousy situation to be in. And when people who used to associate with him start turning up dead, he appears even more suspicious in the eyes of those who already weren’t inclined to think the best of him. And Diago’s father, Alvaro, beckons to Diago for purposes unknown…

As terrible as it is for Diago to be stuck in the middle in a completely different way than he was last time, it was also interesting to see how he copes with it all. The people most important to him believe him him, as I mentioned, which provides a point of stability when doubt plagues him, but we get to see some of the internal struggle as he battles with the push and pull of various expectations. And it’s not so much that he feels temptation to side with daimons as much as it is that he feels the urge to fall back on old habits and run from the things that are causing him problems in the first place, even if that means leaving good things behind. Maybe it’s a little bit of me forcing my own issues on a character, but I see in him a man who wants very much to reconcile so many parts of his life and keeps getting shot down.

It was the major scene with his father that really got to me, in that regard. Diago wants, in a way, to put some things behind him and help Alvaro despite their awkward history, and then when Alvaro betrays him once again… It was the kind of thing that hit very close to home with me, because I’ve experienced that pain of reaching out to someone again and again and being disappointed every time, to the point where you have to eventually turn your back on family and see them for the flawed individuals they are. You owe them no loyalty when they repeatedly betray you.

I mention this for a reason beyond just the personal: one of the marks of a good author is their ability to make you feel. Even if you haven’t been in a similar position to Diago’s, you can’t help but have your heart ache just a little bit during that scene, and with the following emotional rise as Frohock dips a toe just a little bit into the cheesy side of things and has the power of love save the day. Evocative prose bring it all to fantastic life on the page, and you feel every up and down as the story flows along and Diago’s journey continues.

I love this series. Frohock’s storytelling shines as she tells a story of redemption and love and faith, all wrapped together with angels and demons and music and vivid history. It’s a series with a low level of investment and such a high payoff that if you enjoy any of those things, or just enjoy dark fantasy in general, then you’d be foolish to overlook it. Without Light or Guide is a brilliant follow-up to In Midnight’s Silence, hands down, and I’m already eagerly anticipating visiting all the characters again in the next installment.

(Received for review via the publisher.)

In Midnight’s Silence, by T Frohock

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Publication date – June 23, 2015

Summary: The fate of mankind has nothing to do with mankind…

Born of an angel and a daimon, Diago Alvarez is a singular being in a country torn by a looming civil war and the spiritual struggle between the forces of angels and daimons. With allegiance to no one but his partner Miquel, he is content to simply live in Barcelona, caring only for the man he loves and the music he makes. Yet, neither side is satisfied to let him lead this domesticated life and, knowing they can’t get to him directly, they do the one thing he’s always feared.

They go after Miquel.

Now, in order to save his lover’s life, he is forced by an angel to perform a gruesome task: feed a child to the daimon Moloch in exchange for a coin that will limit the extent of the world’s next war. The mission is fraught with danger, the time he has to accomplish it is limited…and the child he is to sacrifice is the son Diago never knew existed.

A lyrical tale in a world of music and magic, T. Frohock’s In Midnight’s Silence shows the lengths a man will go to save the people he loves, and the sides he’ll choose when the sidelines are no longer an option.

Thoughts: I have such a soft spot for anything to do with fallen angels. I’ve had a fascination with them for years, pretty much since I was in my teens, and so am just a touch predisposed to enjoy stories involving them. Add in male/male romance, and you pretty much have something that trip a couple of my biggest triggers in the best way. Knowing Frohock’s writing, and knowing those two things, I figured I was going to love this novella even before I started reading the first page.

Diago is a man torn between two worlds. With both daimonic and angelic heritage, he’s loyal to neither, remaining as neutral as he can while still supporting Miquel, his angelic lover who is bound to thwart daimons. It’s a fine line to walk, and it doesn’t come easy. But when Miquel disappears and Diago’s mysterious past comes back to haunt him, he finds himself unable to remain quite so neutral as everything hits hard and close to home.

Characters like Diago are great to read, occupying that great space between insider and outsider. In remaining neutral, at least officially, he allows the reader an opportunity to see both sides while choosing neither. Even so, though, it’s fairly clear early on that he favours the angels more than daimons. Perhaps because of Miquel, perhaps because he just generally disagrees with daimons but can’t bring himself to make that his official stance, I can’t really say. Even so, most of the story wasn’t about a man caught in the middle. It had more to do with personal salvation, with acceptance, with facing your past and acknowledging who and what it made you, with sacrifice and responsibility. How the past can catch up to you no matter how much you try to outrun or deny it, and sometimes that turns out to be a mixed blessing rather than an outright curse. There are so many of these little themes that add up to a strong message, and not a word wasted as the story gets told.

It’s worth pointing out that I love the subtleties in the way the author handled angels. They are immortal beings, yes, but they don’t hang around in the same body for hundreds of years. They can be killed. And when they die, they’re reborn into new bodies, to keep living. (Another good trigger tripped, there; I’m a sucker for reincarnation.) The new bodies bear scars and injuries from the previous body, and it’s established that some angels who can’t handle the idea of a new life with such disfigurements will choose to be enslaved by daimons instead. Which sounds shallow and selfish, until you think that some of them might have been in the reincarnation cycle for centuries, and have faced torture, and wanting an escape to that is nothing to be chosen lightly. This isn’t a major plot point within In Midnight’s Silence, but it speaks to the large amount of worldbuilding that Frohock put into a novella that would still have been fantastic even without the extra detail.

In Midnight’s Silence is dark without going over the top, poignant without being rigidly moral. And considering some of the themes involved, such as sexual consent or taking responsibility for someone else’s actions, that’s actually pretty impressive.

This is only the first part of an ongoing story, and I, for one, and eager to read part 2 already! Frohock has started something wonderful here, the perfect balance of dark and hopeful, draws a distinction between religion, faith, a spirituality right from the get-go; it’s unique and brilliant and, for all that it’s short, it has some reread value if you’ve got an interest in religious mythologies. It’s hard to escape the lure of the web that Frohock has woven, and I’m not inclined to try. As I said before, this novella trips all the right triggers, and  suspect it will continue to do so as the story expands.

(Received for review as part of a book tour.)

GUEST POST: My Favorite Fallen Angel, by T Frohock

T Frohock is a wonderful author and a great person all around, which is why I was thrilled to be part of the blog tour for her new novella, In Midnight’s Silence. As part of the blog tour, she was good enough to write a guest post for Bibliotropic, talking about her favourite fallen angel.

Gosh, and I have to pick just one …

This is a difficult exercise, because whenever I’m asked about fallen angels, I generally whip out one of my copies of Paradise Lost, then I get utterly lost in the beauty of Milton’s language. Then I revert to The Book of Enoch and become overwhelmed by the sheer number and functions of the angels. Now two hours have passed and I still haven’t written a blog post. So in the end, I switch over to the Internet and plug a random search, and today’s winner is …

… [drum roll please] …

We’re going to go with my favorite fallen angel on film and that is Michael Piccirilli’s Asmodeus in the Australian movie, Gabriel. The story is rather simple: the fallen angels and the heavenly angels fight over the souls trapped within purgatory, which is portrayed as an urban hell filled with abandoned buildings, decrepit trailer parks, and soup kitchens where some of the homeless are actually angels hiding from the fallen. In order to move through the city, the angels have to take mortal form. You can tell the fallen angels from the Heavenly angels by the colors of their eyes.

220px-Gabrielposter The entire film is shot at night. There is a lot of fighting, because both Michael and Gabriel were warriors, so the narrative fits. You will endure some moralizing over free will and the right to choose one’s destiny, but not so much as to interfere with the fighting and dark urban fantasy feel of the flick. It’s a gritty [grimdark, if you will] take on angels and death, much like The Prophecy, which I also loved, because, hey, Christopher Walken.

In Gabriel, Asmodeus runs a brothel where he enslaves other angels and mortals, who he forces into prostitution. Piccirilli gives a chilling performance as Asmodeus, turning the fallen angel into a psychopath with a cunning tongue. Asmodeus is incredibly vain, and he chooses to live as one of the fallen in order to satisfy his carnal desires.

One of the best scenes in the movie has Asmodeus unwrapping bandages from a woman’s face. Asmodeus has been performing plastic surgery on her to make her look like him. The narcissism of his experiment lies in his argument that everyone should have free will, yet he—like God—intends to recreate mortals in his image. It was a brilliant flip on the narrative, and one of the creepiest scenes I’ve seen on film.

The Asmodeus of legend, though, wasn’t really a fallen angel. He was a demon, who appeared in the Book of Tobit, which is part of the Catholic and Orthodox Biblical canon. In the Book of Tobit, Asmodeus was in love with Raguel’s daughter Sarah, who was a bit hard to marry off, because on her wedding night, Asmodeus would appear and murder her prospective husband before the marriage could be consummated. The angel Raphael helped Tobias drive Asmodeus away so that he could consummate his marriage with Sarah.

Although the line between demon and fallen angel gets blurred, I had no trouble setting that aside to watch Gabriel, and Piccirilli’s performance really makes it worthwhile. I also loved Andy Whitfield (Spartacus) as the angel Gabriel. If you’re into eighties and nineties urban fantasy flicks, you’ll probably enjoy Gabriel. Then you can come back here and tell me about your favorite fallen angel.

tfrohockT. Frohock has turned a love of dark fantasy and horror into tales of deliciously creepy fiction. Her other publications include everything from novelettes to short stories. She is also the author of the novel, Miserere: An Autumn Tale. Her newest series, Los Nefilim, is coming from Harper Voyager Impulse and debuts in June 2015 with the novella, In Midnight’s Silence. She can be found on her website and on Twitter.

Many thanks, T, for the guest post, and the really interesting look at a movie that I now want to watch!

For the record, my favourite fallen angels are Semjaza (whose name popped into my head as a teenager; I didn’t learn for years that it was the name of a fallen angel), and Penemue (He taught men to understand writing, and the use of ink and paper). Fallen angels have fascinated me for a long time, which is one of the reasons I was so eager to ask for a post about fallen angels for the blog tour.

Stay tuned for a review of In Midnight’s Silence, coming later today!

The Broken Road, by Teresa Frohock

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Publication date – September 21, 2014

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) The world of Lehbet is under siege. The threads that divide Lehbet from the mirror world of Heled are fraying, opening the way for an invasion by an alien enemy that feeds on human flesh.

Travys, the youngest of the queen’s twin sons, was born mute. He is a prince of the Chanteuse, nobles who channel their magic through their voices. Their purpose is to monitor the threads and close the paths between the worlds, but the Chanteuse have given themselves over to decadence. They disregard their responsibilities to the people they protect—all but Travys, who fears he’ll fail to wake the Chanteuse to Heled’s threat in time to prevent the destruction of Lehbet.

Within the palace, intrigue creates illusions of love where there is none, and when Travys’ own brother turns against him, he is forced to flee all that he has known and enter the mirror world of Heled where the enemy has already won. In Heled, he must find his true voice and close the threads, or lose everyone that he loves.

Thoughts: Normally, I say I’m not much for novellas. For years I overlooked them, arrogantly figuring that they were somehow less good than a novel because they contained fewer words. (By that logic, short stories must be entirely without redeeming quality…) But recently I’ve come to appreciate them for what they are; whole and complete self-contained stories crammed into a smaller space than a novel, and that takes no small degree of skill to pull off well.

And an excellent example of this would be Teresa Frohock’s The Broken Road.

The story centres around Travys, born mute in a society where the keepers and users of magic do so through song. Not being one to just sit back and accept that he’d never live up o the legacy of his mother or be the equal of his twin, Travys forged his own path to magic and learned to channel fragments of ambient sound around him into a voice he could use. The magic-users, known as the Chanteuse, are tasked with holding together the threads of the world, but now the threads are fraying and horrific destruction is upon Aquitania as twisted insectoid invaders from another reality, the Teraphim, seek to break through and seize the world as their own.

And if that concept doesn’t pique your interest, nothing will.

Twice now Frohock has written something involving multiple planes of existence and a twisted take on magic and religion, and I’ve loved both things. I’m a bit of a sucker for anything with a multiverse, so I was predisposed to liking it right from the get-go, but in saying that, I would be fawning over this story even if that wasn’t a particular interest of mine. The Broken Road is intelligent, thought-provoking, and doesn’t cling to convention for convention’s sake. Like Travys, this dark fantasy tale carves its own path and strikes a beautful balance between the grotesque and the enlightening, destructive darkness and hope. If you’re a fan of nightmare imagery that manages to be disturbing without being reliant on an abundance of blood and guts, then this is the novella you should be reading.

As is often the case, my main complaint with The Broken Road is that it isn’t a full-length novel. The worlds that Frohock has built are fascinating, realistic, and combining the best parts of dark fantasy and post-apocalyptic modernity. I would love to read something longer set here, or just a more in-depth version of Travys’s story as it’s presented here already. But I find myself thinking that about just about every novella I’ve read lately, and I don’t hold that against the story or the author. What’s already here is a tightly-woven tapestry where no word is wasted and no moment passes idle. It’s a beautiful story with characters both sympathetic and enigmatic.

And there are unanswered questions and speculation about certain events, which makes me wonder if frohock has plans to revisit the world later on and expand a little bit further. I certainly hope so. There’s something about the way that she writes a dark world with glimmers of light speckled throughout that really appeals to me, on an almost visceral level. It’s entirely a matter of personal taste, so your mileage may vary, but I really enjoy the atmosphere and tone of this novella. Not one of the fantasy worlds I’d like to live in (I can do without reality decaying around me, thanks), but one that’s definitely worth taking a literary vacation to.

Long story short, if you like dark fantasy and haven’t had the pleasure of experiencing Frohock’s writing yet, then start with this. It gives you a taste of the magic she can work with words, and will leave you craving more. The Broken Road leaves my hands highly recommended, and more certain than ever that Teresa Frohock is an author worth keeping an eye on.

(Received for review from the author.)

Miserere: an Autumn Tale, by Teresa Frohock

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Publication date – June 21, 2011

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Exiled exorcist Lucian Negru deserted his lover in Hell in exchange for saving his sister Catarina’s soul, but Catarina doesn’t want salvation. She wants Lucian to help her fulfill her dark covenant with the Fallen Angels by using his power to open the Hell Gates. Catarina intends to lead the Fallen’s hordes out of Hell and into the parallel dimension of Woerld, Heaven’s frontline of defense between Earth and Hell. When Lucian refuses to help his sister, she imprisons and cripples him, but Lucian learns that Rachael, the lover he betrayed and abandoned in Hell, is dying from a demonic possession. Determined to rescue Rachael from the demon he unleashed on her soul, Lucian flees his sister, but Catarina’s wrath isn’t so easy to escape!

Thoughts: There’s something I want to get out of the way here: I almost didn’t read this book past the first chapter. It started out seeming like a big mess, like the author didn’t know if she wanted to create a fantasy world or an alternate earth. Real-world mythology and religion (or rather, religious organizations all co-existing peacefully without any mention of actual religion) existing side-by-side with magic, fictional places mentioned alongside real places. It felt like a mess, like the author was perhaps banking on nobody having ever heard of an angel named Mastema or a place called Walachia, instead just hoping they’ll consider it all a part of the fantasy.

Then chapter 2 hits, and you realize, with a jump to the modern real world, that things aren’t actually as messed up as they seem, at least not when it comes to the world that the novel takes place in. It’s revealed that there are layers of reality, worlds in addition to our own, and that the veil between then sometimes gets thin enough to allow people to pass through from one world to the next. Not an original concept, I’ll grant you, but it did explain why mentions of real and fake places went hand in hand. There was a method to the madness, and it renewed my faith in the novel and made me want to keep reading.

Heavy with Judeo-Christian-Islamic mythology but still inclusive of any other belief system you can think of, Miserere takes place in Woerld, the plane of reality that’s one step closer to Hell than we are. The real action takes place around Lucian, who escapes the clutches of his power-hungry sister Catarina, the woman who’s working with a Fallen Angel to acquire yet more power and to take over Woerld. After his escape he meets Lindsay, a young girl who passed through the veil from our world into Woerld and who has become, in an instant, his protege. But Catarina’s not the only one looking to bring Lucian back. The forces of God, believing Lucian to be a criminal in exhile, are after him too. But conspiracy runs deep, and even those who claim to follow the light may have a sinister purpose.

What started off so chaotically ended up making a lot of sense by the end, and the story had a great deal of depth to it that isn’t always easy to come by when you’re essentially saying that God, Heaven, and Hell are real. Miserere was far from bible-thumping; it had quite a good message of inclusion, acceptance, and tolerance for the fact that even when people pray to different gods they’re still essentially praying to the same powers of goodness and light. Frohock plays with mythology in a wonderful and compelling way that makes you desperate to keep turning pages. The characters are richly detailed, well defined and interesting, and even though you’ve got adversaries who are working for the forces of evil, they remain three-dimensional and don’t simply become caricatures.

Frohock’s got some real talent here, and I was very impressed to find that this was her debut novel. This is normally the kind of quality you get from people who’ve been around the block a few times, so to speak. If this is Frohock’s starting point, then I’m very excited to see what she’s going to do next.

When all is said and done, the real reason this book lost points with me is because of the beginning. First impressions are important, and I know I can’t expect everything to be revealed within the first ten pages, but it sat so wrongly with me until I forced my way through what seemed like a poor and unpolished opening that I can’t help but have that impression colour my final review. I can only caution others to not be so thrown off when they read it. But in spite of a shaky start, the book turned out so much better than I thought it was going to, and this is one I can definitely recommend to those who enjoy a little world-crossing in their fantasy novels.

(Received for review from the published via NetGalley.)