My rating: 4 of 5 stars
It has looked so far to be a year of exceeded expectations.
When Innsmouth Free Press sent me a copy of this book to review I wasn’t expecting a great deal from it to be completely honest. A press release sent along with the book mentioned a bit of the history and, rather than being a new publication, this is the first print release of a book originally released in 2007 as an eBook only.
A lot of people are currently reexamining the place of eBook only publishers and print-on-demand publishers in our society. Originally such publications were seen as “vanity” presses, because whatever else the mass-print-publishing industry may do, or not do, it acts as a quality filter of sorts. It may reject perfectly good books, and occasionally let pure tripe slip through, but on the whole it manages to weed a lot of the wheat from the chaff. Traditionally then those who sought publication through non-traditional channels, particularly to the point of self-funding, did not get the “indie cred” enjoyed by independent musicians, artists or movie-makers, but were rather seen as second-rate hacks incapable of securing a real publishing deal – because often they were.
So it was with this attitude, outdated though it might be, that I approached the urban fantasy thriller Fraterfamilias. What I instead got was catapulted into a very well developed world, populated by real people with extraordinary problems.
The first, and most important, feature of this book is the characterisation. The book is written from the perspective of several protagonists, and one very creepy and well-written antagonist, and despite the peculiarities of some of them they were all believable and for the most part likeable. In no time at all you really begin to care about these characters and are stuck wondering what will happen next, and what their real history might be. I connected so much with these characters and was so interested in uncovering more and more of their background that I found I couldn’t put the book down, and that alone puts it in rare company in my own collection – up with books such as Jim Butcher’s Dresden series, the early Laurell K. Hamilton’s and my William Gibson’s.
There weren’t any astoundingly new ideas here, in fact the central premise may well have been lifted entire from the Highlander series of novels, though slightly altered. What sets this story apart is the colour and loving detail brought to these ideas, this world, and the characters than inhabit it.
The book isn’t perfect however. Some of the situations seem a little contrived, and there were some relationships in particular that strained credibility; such as the readiness with which Jonah and Ballard, the interpol agents were able to accept the advanced age of Kedward and his brother Paul despite it being completely outside reality as we know it. Pushing even more at the boundaries of believability were the incredible leaps of logic that Jonah had to take to work out on his own, to the point of absolute belief, that he was the great grandson of Paul Farrell.
Despite this however, the characters and story is so engaging that the reader finds themselves able to suspend disbelief through the discordant notes and keep turning the pages, onward to the next revelation, and so on through the entire book.
The only real gripe I had by the end of the book was the feeling of disappointment I got when I had finished, when I knew there was no more to be read. So much was set up in this book, so many issues unresolved and character arcs unfinished. The main antagonist himself, known as the Inquistor and the Dominican, amongst other names, is perhaps the most fascinating character in the entire story and yet, despite being a dark and overarching influence on events, filling the other characters with fear and pushing events to suit himself, he remains mostly ineffectual and has very little real impact on the events at all. We are also left with a bit of a cliffhanger, with Paul riding off towards Seattle to lose himself and Kedward in custody, looking for a way to escape the men in white coats.
It seems quite obvious that what was planned here was a series of Urban Fantasy books, with a world so detailed and believable that it rivals the greats of the genre, and even better; is populated with all too human monsters instead of dipping into mythology for vampires and werewolves to distance the horror from ourselves a step.
Unfortunately, this book will have to go up with Firefly on my list of great works that could have been. Like Firefly, it is a wonderful start to a series full of dangling plot threads, fantastic history and evil antagonists ready to pursue our heroes wherever they may flee until some promised showdown sometime in the distant future, and like Firefly it is unlikely ever to come to fruition. Amongst the acknowledgements of this book is the note that one of the two credited authors here passed away of cancer in 2007, and so it seems unlikely that this series will continue, impossible for it to continue with the same authors in any case.
I think, in the end, this is a great loss to all of us genre readers, and I know I personally will be haunted for a great while by the ghosts of what might have been.
This was a great story, and deserves a place in any collection. If, like me, you’ve become a fan of the rapidly growing contemporary fantasy genre, treat yourself to something refreshingly different and give this novel a try. You wont regret it.