Legends Of Urban Fantasy: The Vampire

We’ve been talking a lot here about Urban Fantasy in books, television and movies. So I thought it might be time for us to take a closer look at the creatures behind the stories. Let’s start with the oldest – if not the scariest – of them all: The Vampire.

In modern times, the vampire legend has been derived from Bram Stoker’s 1897 classic, Dracula. Anne Rice, if you will pardon the pun, literally became the Queen of the Damned. Rice’s many books introduced us to Lestat, Marius, Louis, Jesse, David and a whole host of characters.

With the arrival of the 21st Century came a new, younger take on vampires. Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series focused on a young teen, Bella Swan, who falls for a much older Edward Cullen.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

From Stoker’s original through Meyer’s works, these books were adapted to the big screen with varying degrees of success. Some were fantastic while others were fantastically terrible.

In between, we’ve had the Hammer films with Christopher Lee playing Dracula from 1958 until 1973. Peter Cushing was usually cast in the role of Van Helsing in these films.

Vampires: Origins

But where did the vampire legend originate?

Vlad The Impaler is thought to be the original vampire.

Vlad Tepes

Most lay the origin of the vampire at the feet of Vlad Tepes, or Vlad the Impaler. The Romanian Prince was indeed a ruthless man on the battlefield back in the mid-15th Century.

And the legends of his drinking the blood of the Turks he’d impaled on the battlefield certainly sound vampirish. But Medival Europe feared vampires long before Vlad started skewering his defeated enemies in Romania.

Two centuries before, when the “Black Death” killed an estimated eight million Europeans alone, vampires were blamed for many unexplained things.

Mass burials and a lack of experience with seeing what happens when exposed human bodies decompose led to unwarranted fears. Blood flowing from mouths and noses of the dead and noises coming from the corpses sparked fears of the undead feasting on the living.

To keep a corpse in its grave, iron spikes were driven into the torso. And now you know where the stake in the heart aspect of vampire lore comes from.

However, vampiric creatures were roaming the Earth way back in ancient Greece. Empusas, creatures who transformed themselves into a beautiful woman to lure young men that they could feed upon, might be the first known blood-sucker in history.

For whatever reason – the power of being able to control another’s will, the allure of being a sexual creature or extended life – the vampire continues to both terrify and captivate our imaginations.

Who Wrote The Vampire Best?

Clearly, the two front-runners in the literary world are Stoker and Rice. Rice has created a vast universe spread across time and the globe and filled it with a variety of vampires and humans.

But Stoker’s original continues to withstand the test of time and is the work all vampire books are judged by. Stoker laid the foundation and the canon for the vampire genre.

For now, we’ll have to say Stoker remains as the best of the best. Despite the many adaptations of his original manuscript, no one has quite fully captured Stoker’s original masterpiece. Although, one director came very close not so long ago.

Best Vampire Adaptation

1922’s Nosferatu

The first attempt was made in 1922 by F.W. Murnau. Nosferatu was a silent film out of Germany that took seven years to finally debut in the U.S.

The name Dracula was nowhere to be seen in the film as a copyright issue forced the character to be named Count Orlock. But the Stoker story was definitely there.

Bela Legosi was Dracula in 1931.

Two years later in 1931 the adaptation of the stage play starring Bela Legosi as Count Dracula was released. If Stoker wrote the book on Dracula, Legosi wrote the book on portraying the cursed count for the next six decades.

Christopher Lee’s run as Dracula added Hammer’s flare to the legend. Frank Langella’s turn as the Count in 1979 was also well done.

But in 1992, in Bram Stoker’s Dracula directed by Francis Ford Coppola, Gary Oldman nailed Dracula/Prince Vlad in a way that will be hard for any actor to surpass.

1992’s portrayal by Gary Oldham just might be the best Dracula ever.

Just ask Luke Evans who did quite well as Vlad in Dracula Untold (2014) despite the movie itself disappointing at the box office.

So for now, we’ll have to crown Oldman as the Crown Prince of Dracula with Coppola acknowledged as having come the closest of all directors to fully telling Stoker’s original.

Tell Us What You Think

Do you agree or disagree? Tell us who you thought was the best Dracula, who wrote the best vamp story in a book or on the screen.

There’s no right or wrong answer, just enjoyment of an old legend that has ingrained itself deep into our collective psyche.

UF Contributor Stanley Gray: Book An Urban Escape

Reading a book offers a wealth of opportunities to explore not just the worlds that exist, but also those realms that formed themselves in the magical mists of the mind. One of the most powerful tools at our disposal in an era of darkness and cynicism is a book.

Because a book is a gateway to hope and diversity. It is a place where arcane secrets become accessible and anyone can beat the odds. Sometimes novels allow us to look inward. Or afford us a chance to gain a different perspective on the world just outside that narrow space behind our eyes.

Sometimes tomes give a chance to probe the invisible. Piercing the veil of the shadows that linger just at the peripheries of our perception like some nagging toothache that remains impossible to ignore. Sometimes we encounter strange people, settings, or events that force us to challenge what we know is real.

An Urban Fantasy book provides a needed escape.

An Urban Fantasy book provides a needed escape.

Hi There, I’m Stanley

Speaking of strange people, many of you may not know me. I’m Stanley Gray, and I like to think I’m an author.

Mostly, I just pretend, because, dang it, I love to tell stories. I have written and published many works over the last few decades, a few of which have won some awards.

The first time I realized I loved writing and existing on the fringes of that pesky thing we call reality was in the first grade. I doodled with crayons about the naughty things I wanted to do to my mean teacher. I got sent home from school.

In a strange way, what I learned from this is that stories have power and that I can get out of the boring banalities of life if I tell a tall enough tale. But, I digress.

You don’t want to know about me. You want to know why reading or creating urban fantasy stories is a wonderful and noble calling.

What Makes A UF Book A Great Escape

The great thing about the urban fantasy genre in particular is that it integrates the real world with the world we all wish existed. All stories do this, to some degree. But no other is so explicit and powerful in the way this juxtaposition occurs.

Many of us, or, if we’re honest, most of us, have harbored a fleeting wish that we could read someone’s mind or cast a spell to fix a problem. We intuit that there is a world just out of reach that coexists with us while remaining separate, its own distinct entity, and we want to reach out and touch it.

Urban fantasy allows us to explore that secret chamber in our minds.

Police aren’t likely to start using werewolves or mages as independent consultants any time soon. Or ever. But by imaging the impossible, we begin to expand our own awareness of what is possible.

We can begin to examine our own paradigms in light of the metaphors that are rife within the genre. And that, my friends, is truly magical.

Reading offers a wealth of opportunities to explore.

Thank you for me giving me the unique privilege of being one of your guides on that journey. It is a humbling honor to be invited into your heads and homes.

 

Book Review: Down a Dark Hall

Let’s drift a little bit from the core of Urban Fantasy into a dark, supernatural, boarding school fiction. Down a Dark Hall is getting a lot of buzz lately, because it will be released as a movie in 2018.

The novel follows a lovely young woman called Kit who’s mother is re-marrying. She is sent to the exclusive Blackwood boarding school while the newlyweds enjoy their honeymoon. She finds out, once her parents have left, that only four girls are this year’s class. The only adults are the headmistress, two teachers, a housekeeper, and a cook. All are cut off from their cell phones and other modern convenience. Then, strange things begin to happen.

Lois Duncan's 1970s novel, Down A Dark Hall, is coming to the big screen this summer.

Down A Dark Hall

Down A Dark Hall’s IMDB page reads

Kit (AnnaSophia Robb), a difficult young girl, is sent to the mysterious Blackwood Boarding School when her heated temper becomes too much for her mother to handle.

Once she arrives at Blackwood, Kit encounters eccentric headmistress Madame Duret (Uma Thurman) and meets the school’s only other students, four young women also headed down a troubled path.

While exploring the labyrinthine corridors of the school, Kit and her classmates discover that Blackwood Manor hides an age-old secret rooted in the paranormal.

Positives and Negatives

I’m not going to bother doing positives and negatives. This is a near-perfect novel. It is creepy, and it is frightening. There are supernatural elements. It has a mystery. It has a touch of girl bonding, romance, and family drama. Each has its small place.

Frankly, I will re-read this novel to remind myself how to build a scene, because it does a durn good job of keeping you reading. It is at least a four out of five for fun and a five out of five for story construction.

Spoilers

This isn’t a gore fest. There just isn’t any of that rot in here. This is plain scary, without the torture. It is aimed at youth, clearly, it is a girl’s boarding school. But, adults should find it a wonderful novel without the sex and gruesome death of the more adult-oriented ones.

I really like the treatment of ghosts in this novel. They apparently have a ‘well-trod path’ to Blackwood’s door. There are good ghosts and bad ghosts, but it isn’t the ghosts who are truly scary. It is adults who take advantage of helpless children to make their fortune.

You have enough clues to get the ending, but you probably won’t guess it till Kit does.

4.5 stars for a very good novel.

Dark Shadows: Ultimate Urban Fantasy

A gothic soap opera that was a hit with teenagers coming home from school.

Dark Shadows ran on daytime TV from 1966-1971.

If you were old enough in the late 1960s to watch Dark Shadows you enjoyed one of the earliest entries into Urban Fantasy on television. The show ran from 1966 through 1971 and was billed as a gothic soap opera. (I was sneaky enough at age 5 to find ways to watch without my parents catching me.)

Every day at 4 p.m., about when teenagers were getting home from school, that eerie theme song would begin playing. And make no mistake about it, those teenage viewers were the demographic that made up Dark Shadows largest fan base.

Dark Shadows Starts Slow

The show got off to a slow start. It started out as the story of Victoria Winters, an orphan, who travels to Collinsport, Maine. Victoria seeks to unravel the mystery of her past. Those early episodes spent excessive time introducing the characters and their backstories.

Victoria came to Collinsport to work for the Collins family. Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, in self-imposed exile within the walls of the mansion for 18 years, her widowed brother Roger Collins, her daughter Carolyn Stoddard and Roger’s son, David.

It wasn’t until late in the first season (1967 to be precise) that the show finally found its stride. The series embraced the supernatural, introduced Barnabas Collins and, as a result, it really took off.

The Vampire Barnabas

Dark Shadows took off when this vampire arrived in Collinsport, Maine.

Jonathan Frid as Barnabas Collins.

Collins was a cousin from the U.K. come to visit. But we would soon find out that he was much more than that. Barnabas was an ancestor of Elizabeth and Roger, cursed to be a vampire by the witch Angelique. We also see an interesting connection to young Miss Victoria.

Barnabas’s struggles to free himself from his curse. He also battles the continuing intrigues of his witch tormentor and this made for a great series to watch. It can still be found in syndication and even on DVD.

Note: When I have $350 lying about to spend frivolously I’m getting this amazing boxed DVD set: Dark Shadows: The Complete Series. The series started out in black & white and transitioned to color. To me, the black & white episodes were better as that medium added to the gothic feel.

Moving To The Big Screen

In 1970 a big screen film, House of Dark Shadows, followed by 1971’s, Night of Dark Shadows, was released. To allow certain actors to be available for these movies, their characters were written out of the TV show, including Jonathan Frid who played Barnabas. The missing characters, a disastrous storyline that flopped and the fact that the teenage viewers weren’t the ones making the buying decisions that advertisers were looking to influence, led to the demise of the series in 1971.

Still, for fans of urban fantasy, indulging in 1,225 half-hour long episodes of this classic is a treat. Unlike most of the soaps from back then, Dark Shadows is the only one to have all of its episodes preserved.

Ignore Burton’s Box Office Bust

For younger readers, the original series is nothing like Tim Burton’s 2012 adaptation. Seriously, it seems like Burton lives to mess up old classics. (Hello, Planet of the Apes, 2001: Charlies and the Chocolate Factory, 2005: and Alice in Wonderland, 2010) Burton tried to make a comedy and it flopped. The original is wonderfully dark, scary and full of urban fantasy and all of its familiars.

The Return: A Western With A U-F Twist

One of the pleasures of exploring the genre of Urban Fantasy is discovering just how many other genres incorporate UF within. Not to mention the great surprise when encountering a western novel that includes UF in it.

Western thriller with a heart of pure Urban Fantasy evil.

Jim Christina’s, The Return.

Recently I posted about UF in the realm of Peter Pan by way of John Leonard Peilmeier’s, Hook’s Tale. Set in the same century but located on another continent is Jim Christina’s, The Return. This great western novel incorporates urban fantasy at its heart.

In the interest of full-disclosure, Jim and I collaborated on a western novel (sorry, no UF in this one), The Last Lonely Trail. We’re also co-hosts of a radio show, The Writer’s Block, on LA Talk Radio. But, the Return was the first of Jim’s many westerns that I read. I was immediately captured by the supernatural element included in the story.

Murderous Dark Angel In Western Thriller

Using characters Christina introduced in earlier works namely, The Hunter and Jeff Stryker, a pair of trackers in the Arizona/New Mexico area, Christina sets the pair on the trail to hunt down the Deacon.

The Deacon has killed a man in Alabama and has come to the west. But within the Deacon is a darkness, the Dark Angel (the title for the first half of the book), who is growing stronger and stronger. The hunters believe they have put an end to the Deacon, cashing him out in lead. In the second half of the book (entitled: The Return), where most of the urban fantasy elements are apparent, they head off to aid an old friend in Louisiana.

But they discover the Dark Angel has returned, even stronger and much more evil than before, in the guise of the Preacher.

Two men battling a supernatural force across the southern half of the United States with cowboys and gunplay? Now, that is some right fine urban fantasy if you ask me. So give Christina’s, The Return a read and see if you agree with me.

Monster Hunter Memoirs: Grunge – Book Review

Monster Hunter Memoirs: Grunge by Larry Correia and John Ringo

Monster Hunter Memoirs: Grunge by Larry Correia and John Ringo

I held off on buying Monster Hunter Memoirs: Grunge for quite some time. It came out back in August, just as I was settling into the homeward stretch on War Demons. So I made myself wait. I promised myself that I would read it when I finished my own novel, as a reward. When I finished the first draft a few weeks ago, I promptly bought myself a copy and devoured it.

For those who aren’t familiar, the book is set in the world of Larry Correia’s blockbuster Monster Hunter International series. The series mostly centers around Owen Zastava Pitt as he joins Monster Hunter International, a band of redneck libertarian mercenaries from south Alabama who hunt monsters. The series is pretty much exactly as awesome as that makes it sound.

Bestselling author John Ringo wrote this entry, however. After the editing job turned into a bit more than just editing, Mr. Correia became a co-author.

Fans of both Mr. Ringo and Mr. Correia will love this book. Unfortunately, I only really fit into one of those categories. I have not read much by Mr. Ringo before, but what I have read I have only moderately enjoyed. I did, however, enjoy this book quite a bit more than I have enjoyed Mr. Ringo’s other works.

The problem I tend to run into with Mr. Ringo’s works is that largeish portions of them come off as either lectures or preaching to the choir, depending upon your political inclinations. I’m not particularly fond of either. I understand quite well why this has brought Mr. Ringo a massive audience – I’m simply not a huge fan of it myself.

With that said, this book exhibits considerably less of that than other works of his that I’ve read. And what it does have comes off less as a direct lecture to the reader and more of just showing the main character’s personality. I found that much easier to stomach. Also, when Mr. Ringo isn’t lecturing to me the book is generally a heck of a lot of fun.

On the other hand… even though it’s assembled as a novel, the book reads more like a collection of short stories strung together than like a typical novel plot. I guess that fits with the “Memoirs” theme, but left me a bit unsatisfied.

All told, I’d give it three and a half stars – but existing fans of Mr. Ringo would probably add an extra star on top of that.

[Originally posted on my personal blog]

Book Review: Sidequest – In Realms Ungoogled

Sidequest's protagonist knows something is off, but not exactly what or why.

Frank J. Fleming’s Sidequest.

Early on in the film Shaun of the Dead, there’s a hilarious scene where a hungover Shaun stumbles into the local convenience store to grab a soda.

The repeated sight gags are all the signs of the ongoing zombie apocalypse that the character doesn’t recognize. There are smears of blood on freezers, citizens fleeing in terror, and dead bodies.

Simon Pegg’s Shaun is so wrapped up in his own world that he scarcely notices any of the goings-on.

Frank J. Fleming’s Sidequest is a bit like that, in that the protagonist, Terrance Denby, is for the most part oblivious to the strangeness of the world around him. He’s focused on his job as a computer programmer, and his highest aspiration in life is to score a copy of the latest multiplayer online game. Staff meetings consist of sacrificing virgins to faceless tentacle monsters, his boss is a real monster, and there’s a volcano on the edge of town. Something seems amiss, but Terrance can’t quite put his finger on it.

Can you bring chips to the sacrifice?

One day during his commute to work Terrance decides on a lark to see where an unmarked drive leads – the road not taken, literally taken. He emerges into what is quite-obviously a fantasy straight out of Tolkien or Terry Brooks. A few moments later, winged fairies present him with a sword and welcome him to a new reality.

The caul removed from his eyes, Terrance begins to see the strangeness in the world around him. Eventually he’s moved to do something about it. But what can a bespectacled computer geek do about vampires menacing female clubgoers, spider beasts hunting children, or his girlfriend’s strange occupation?

“I’m a Sister of Torment,” she explains. “We’re a group of women who serve the Darkness.”

Despite all this, Shannon is a loveable, perky geek girl. She just wears black plate mail and shows up to dates stained with blood. We won’t discuss her behavior during Mario Kart, though …

Can Terrance keep the girl and save the world? And for Pete’s sake, will he ever find a copy of Legendary Quest? You’ll have to read and find out!

Sidequest in a nutshell

If I had to make an elevator pitch for Sidequest, I’d call it The Matrix meets Lord of the Rings. There’s more than a dash of humor, and parts of the book are laugh out loud funny. This is understandable, given Fleming’s background writing humor columns. In spite of the humor, there’s a lot of heart, too, and some melancholy introspection at the end.

My only quibble is a minor one. Terrance is oblivious to what’s going on at the beginning of the book, but as things progress he becomes more proactive instead of reactive. The transition feels like it takes too long, and at times it seems like amazing things are happening and his reaction amounts to, “Huh. That’s interesting.” But the resolution and payoff are more than worth the wait, here. All in all, I loved the book and look forward to any follow-ups!

Urban Fantasy Movies Available on Netflix Streaming April 2018

Need some urban fantasy movies to fill your time with?

Good news! We’ve put together a list (accurate for April 2018) of all the Urban Fantasy movies on Netflix right now. I make no promises to their quality (especially since Netflix nixed the star rating system!) but here they are:

Queen of the Damned

The Queen of the Damned movie poster

Ann Rice’s vampire novel comes to life in this 2002 film starring the late Aaliyah. Vampire Lestat wakes from his slumber during a heavy metal concert – and quickly takes the group over to become its lead singer.   His music awakens the Vampire Queen Akasha. The film received generally negative reviews, but as a film version of an Ann Rice novel, I can’t leave it off this list.  Queen of the Damned is rated R and is 1 hr 41 min long.

Bright

Bright movie poster

Of course Bright is on this list! Netflix’s original Urban Fantasy movie won’t ever slide out of availability, which is a big bonus. Will Smith stars in this 2017 film about a police officer in an alternate universe where humans and fantasy creatures live side-by-side. His new partner is an Orc, and they must work together to find a dangerous weapon that threatens everyone, human and fantasy creature alike. Critics hated this film, but many UF fans loved it. Check out Urban-Fantasy.com’s review of it here. Rated TV-MA, 1 hr 57 min long.

Stardust

Stardust movie poster

Stardust is one of my favorites, and one of the few stories that I’ll admit to the movie being better than the original book! This is more of a fairy tale urban fantasy story, so if that isn’t your thing, maybe pick something else. Very little of the movie is spent in the “real world”.  It instead follows young Tristan as he crosses the wall in his hometown to come to the magical world of Stormholde. A shooting star has crashed to Earth, and Tristan’s lady love wants it as an engagement present. Imagine Tristan’s surprise when he finds out that in Stormholde, stars aren’t hunks of metal and rock – they’re beautiful women. But he isn’t the only one after the star. Soon he finds himself facing off with witches and Princes to save Yvaine, the beautiful constellation who only wants to return to the sky. Charlie Cox, who has come to later fame as Matt Murdoch in Netflix’s Daredevil, stars in this fun and engaging romp opposite Claire Danes. Other fun cameos include Dustin Hoffman as the sky pirate Shakespeare, Mark Strong as the evil prince Septimus, and Michelle Pfeffier as Lamia, the Queen of the Witches. Rated PG-13, 2 hr and 7 min long.

Beautiful Creatures

Beautiful Creatures movie poster

Beautiful Creatures is a 2013 movie set in the south. Small town boy Ethan is planning his escape from rural South Carolina when he meets Lena, a girl he’s been seeing in his dreams. Soon they become friends and a magical locket causes them share memories of the Civil War. Secrets, magic, and small town drama are hallmark traits of the film.   The movie is based on the novel by the same name written by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. Rated PG-13, 2 hr and 4 min long.

The Brothers Grimm

The Brothers Grimm movie poster

Brothers Grimm is another one for the fairy tale Urban Fantasy sub-subgenre. This is a period movie, not a modern one. I enjoy the twisted fairy tale horror elements of it, but it seems to generally be a love it or hate it kind of movie. The Brothers Grimm travel all over the land, performing fake exorcisms and other cons to earn their bread. But when they encounter real magic and a real curse, they’ve got to find their courage and do more than just pretend to save people. This Terry Gilliam film stars Matt Damon and the late Heath Ledger. Rated PG-13, 1 hr 58 min long.

The Curse of Sleeping Beauty

The Curse of Sleeping Beauty movie poster

The Curse of Sleeping Beauty is a 2016 fairy tale style urban fantasy movie.  Male lead Thomas sees the beautiful girl Briar Rose in his dreams. But when he tries to kiss her, he wakes up and is plagued by terrible headaches. Then he inherits a mysterious garden after his uncle’s suicide, and there he finds mystery, magic, and terrible demons. Rated TV-14, 1 hr 29 min long.

Solomon Kane

Solomon Kane Movie Poster

Solomon Kane is another period UF film that perhaps leans into the traditional fantasy genre. This 2006 movie based on the pulp stories of Robert E. Howard is an origin story, about how Solomon Kane gives up his live privateering and rescues a little girl. This turns him into the Puritan Avenger that many of us know and love. The film generally has mixed reviews, and was originally meant to be the beginning of a trilogy. Rated R, 1 hour 44 min long.

American Fable

American Fable movie poster

Here is our Urban Fantasy Thriller for the list. American Fable was released in 2016.  An eleven year old girl finds a man who can grant wishes hidden in a silo. Does she make the moral choice, or does she put her family first? And then other fairy tale creatures come into the mix. No rating, 1 hr 26 min long.

Spectral

Spectral movie poster

Here we skirt a little bit into the vicinity of Sci-Fi with Spectral, a 2016 film about a special-ops team trained to fight the supernatural. Much of the movie centers on special glasses that allow the soldiers to see the evil apparitions, and creative modern weapons using iron. Rated PG-13, 1 hour 47 min long.

Ghostbusters

Ghostbusters movie poster

This classic needs little introduction, and honestly, if you’ve never seen it watch it first. Three parapyschology professors open their own ghost hunting company when they lose their funding at the University. Their business, Ghostbusters, operates out of an old firehouse in New York. A doomsday cult and its destructive god soon threaten the city, and they are the only ones who can save it. Rated PG, 1 hr 45 min long.

Gallowwalkers

Gallowwalkers movie poster

In this 2012 Wesley Snipes movie, a cursed gunman and his new warrior sidekick must defeat a horde of zombies. The twist is that the gunman’s curse brings back all his victims from the dead. Gallowwalkers has a very low rating, but the concept is kind of cool. Let us know in the comments what you think of it if you decide to watch it. Rated R, 1 hr 30 min long.

Trollhunter

Trollhunter movie poster

This is another film I greatly enjoyed watching, and if you’re a fan of fairly low magic/low supernatural Urban Fantasy settings, definitely check this one out. Trollhunter is a 2010 Blair Witch Project style movie following a collection of university students investigating terrible animal attacks in Norway. Soon they start to follow a man name Hans around, and discover that he is a secret troll hunter working for the Norwegian government. What starts out as a typical day of troll management turns into a hunt when several dangerous trolls leave their territory and Hans must take care of them. This film hits just the right amount of tongue-in-cheek adventure. Make sure you watch the interviews with the politician at the end. Rated PG-13, 1 hr 47 min long.

My Babysitter’s A Vampire: The Movie

My Babysitter's A Vampire movie poster

This is a PG-rated, YA kind of Urban Fantasy movie. My Babysitter’s A Vampire later launched its own TV series by the same name. Nerdy high school freshman Ethan isn’t deemed responsible enough to watch his little sister on his own, so his parents hire a babysitter. He soon realizes that not everything is right with the babysitter his parents picked. Then they both must stop an evil plot to resurrect a cult of really bad vampires. This Canadian horror comedy clocks in at 1 hr 25 min.

 

Have you seen any of these? Does Netflix have any other Urban Fantasy movies that I missed? Which ones are your favorites? Leave a comment and let us know!

Book Review: The House With a Clock In Its Walls

A newly-orphaned boy comes to live with his uncle. Along the way, he learns that magic is real and that terrors thought long-dead roam the night. It’s not Harry Potter, actually, but John Bellairs’ The House with a Clock in Its Walls. First published in 1973, the novel follows the adventures of Lewis Barnavelt and his uncle Jonathan, a warlock who has more bravery and heart than actual power.
House fairly well drips with gothic overtones, though the book is set in post-World War II Michigan. References to Charles Atlas and mail-order Sea Monkeys might be a bit idiosyncratic these days. But the core story remains simple and well-crafted enough for readers young and old. This is a great book to read in the fall and early winter, as Bellairs’ methodical prose brings Lewis’ world to life. You can practically feel the leaves crunching under your feet.

Lewis the brave

In his portrayal of the young protagonist, Bellairs makes good use of timeless themes, but Lewis never comes across as cliched. He’s the new kid, the one who lives in the house with a weird uncle. He’s the last one to be picked for baseball. But he’s not a pitiable figure in any way. The arc of his growing courage is one of the highlights of the book.
The overt weirdness that the story engages in (particularly early on) can be a bit off-putting. The resolution is well-explained, ties up the loose ends, and most important, feels earned. There is a real sense of peril as the characters realize that the intermittent ticking of the mysterious clock in the walls is a countdown.
Armed with wits, guts, and a bit of magic, Lewis, Jonathan, and Mrs. Zimmerman the friendly witch are able to endure against the forces of darkness and save the world. House kicked off a massive eleven novel series that remains approachable today. I dove into the books as a child, and more recently was able to read it to my son. He enjoyed it much as I did when I was his age.

Coming soon?

It’s also interesting to note that this fall we’ll be getting a film adaptation. From what I’ve seen in the trailer, they’ve captured the gothic overtones of the book very well. I was a bit uncertain about the casting of Jack Black as Uncle Jonathan and Cate Blanchett as Mrs. Zimmerman. In the book, Bellairs wrote the characters as in their fifties, if not older. However – Jack Black seems to be a good fit for the alternately serious and goofy Uncle Jonathan. Cate Blanchett could probably deliver an Oscar-caliber performance reading the phone book. Fingers crossed! Once the film comes out, we’ll have a review for you as well with a compare and contrast.

Obsidian Son book review

I’m angry at Shayne Silvers over Obsidian Son, book one of The Temple Chronicles. I’m angry because I spent a night reading this book when I should have been working. I have too much of my own writing to do to go down this rabbit hole. Still, I greatly enjoyed Obsidian Son.

First of all, Nate Temple is a great character. Unlike so many of the men in current Urban Fantasy, he’s not whiny or emo. I do have to admit that at the very beginning of the book I worried that he would turn into a hipster douche. And he does, in fact, carry shades of that. But only shades, and Silvers takes the character to a far greater depth. But it’s not just Temple himself. The supporting cast really breathes life into the story. Gunnar the werewolf and Indie the “Regular” stood out to me, in particular.

One thing I find particularly fascinating is the way in which Silvers incorporates several themes that I also hit upon in War Demons, while still writing a book that’s vastly different than what I wrote. It’s always fun to see similar subjects approached in new ways, and I really enjoyed Silvers’ touch on the topic.

The plot didn’t carry many surprises, but that never bothered me. At every turn I enjoyed the ride well enough that I didn’t mind a predictable destination. And one particular plot twist that I half-expected from the first quarter of the book never happened – thankfully. I might have taken off a full star if it had gone down that way. Sometimes the paths an author doesn’t take matter as much as the ones he does.

This is easily a five out of five star book. If you love urban fantasy – especially the kind with solid, masculine leads, Obsidian Son book is for you. Personally, I can’t wait to dive into the rest of the series.

[Cross posted from the original on my personal blog]
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