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Urban fantasy to be praised! (spoiler-free)

By Rob van den Berg, member

Aug 15, 2019: I have been a follower of for a few years now, since book one. After years of following it, I have finally decided to take the time to write a review. I will keep this review as spoiler-free as I can, because the works are more enjoyable that way. I will use the term Hellskitchensink to refer to the collection of works.

So what is Hellskitchensink? It is urban fantasy, meaning that it is our world, but with extra fantastical elements, hidden under the hood. In this regard, it is similar to Harry Potter. That means that although magic, gods, and other such creatures exist in various forms, there is no public knowledge of this. It is like a shadowy underworld, in a way, though not completely seperate.

The works of Hellskitchensink are all in the same setting, although they start in seperate places, only to join later. There are 6 long books with a seventh being published in parts, and there is a collection of short stories. Some of the later are only for supporters of the patreon, but those are not required to understand the story.

The world of Hellskitchensink is our own, yet with a fantastical twist. Various fantastical creatures, as well as mythical ones, exist within it. Although the same beings are used as characters as in mythologies and folklore, they live and interact within a modern world that has mostly forgotten them. This hiddenness is an important element, but is not perfect, it can be threatened, broken, and ignored in various ways.

I won’t delve too deep into the main plots, because I do not want to spoil. I will say though that the some of the main plots contain the threat of catastrophic events, and the main characters attempts to stop them.

The stories are engaging, and often contain unexpected twists. The colorful characters are interesting, yet believable, at least in the context of the plot and the setting. Most notably to me was the style of writing, that is often entertaining and interesting, even in the smallest details.

The fact that it occurs in our world, means that it it recognizible, and various ideas and ideals do end up being discussed. Values like life, caring, ambition, fairness and sacrifice tend to be discussed and used in the story that makes both the story and the values seem to come alive. This applies not only within the story, but in a larger context as well, in both philisophical and sometimes even political ways.

Is there anything not to be liked? To be honest, there was a moment a few books in that I was worried about the direction the plot went in. However, now I think this has been done in a good way, that also breathed some new life into the setting. There are also many cliffhangers and parts that leave you at the edge of your seat, but feeling actual elements of tension and excitement are good in my opinion, especially in this genre.

So overall it is a very engaging story. It is everything I like about old mythology and folklore, mixed together in a blender, and then given structure again by putting it inside a modern setting pie. I am very much a fan.

Overall: 9.8/10 I just love it.

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Evil? Sign Me Up!

By ElliottThomasStaude, author of Mourners, Abednego, Persistence

Jul 10, 2019: There have been works in the past which address the dubious blessing of becoming a cog in the world of Evil Inc. and its many subsidiaries. In that sense, I’m Not A Monster, It’s Only A Mask probably won’t light any massive new fires, but it deserves attention for its obvious care, tight style, and the sense that we’re on the precipice of a very pretty new IP.

An initial point of note is that It’s Only A Mask apparently plans to have fairly elaborate installations; several thousand words presumably once a month. This may be good or bad, depending on the reader’s preference for frequency versus size. I find it nice, but that’s very much a matter of taste. A definite sticking point is a predilection for switching tenses at odd times. Some occasions definitely might be employing this for artistic effect, but it was oddly regularly jarring. Unfortunately, with not the greatest amount of material currently available for shaping opinion, this review may not be fully representative of goods and bads within several months of its appearance.

The characters of Sam and Max stand out, both as creatures of conveyance through the unfolding events and as cast members in their own right. Within the very first few seconds of their presence on the stage, the chums make an impact: one a plain paper package with a thing for rockin’ tunes and the other a somewhat-surly creature who takes nonsense from NO ONE. One couldn’t say they’re endearing from the very start, but they wear themselves easily enough warts and all that they’ll almost certainly become personable to the reader with little to no difficulty.

Plot? Well, the plot has not gone particularly far at this juncture, but the shape of things to come has intrigue writ all over it. Scene one: get acquainted with evil-organization-du-jour’s HR department; tone, somewhat goofy; hijinks, a given. Scene two: get acquainted further with evil organization tone et cetera. A pattern, at least at the outset, although it has room to do all kinds of stuff in the fullness of time. However, it is near the end of the second act that . . . shall we say, an aberration in the expected formula appears. One could compare it to being asked by one’s good friend to go and purchase them a collection of silly hats, only to find that the mannequin wearing the second-to-last hat bears a perfect replica of your own face. Perhaps not terribly unsettling in itself, but within the context of its presentation enough to raise the hackles slightly.

In short, don’t know exactly where this one’s going, but those who can withstand the "evil" protagonist archetype ought to keep this one on the radar. Slightly silly, moderately intriguing, quite commendable potential.

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Chromatic Conspiracies Chasing Children (also people getting mulched)

By ElliottThomasStaude, author of Mourners, Abednego, Persistence

Jun 14, 2019: Blacklight is an odd duck. Total honesty: at first, it seemed like it was a superhero work doing everything in its power to disguise that fact – nothing against superhero fiction, but it carries certain expectations. Instead . . . it’s not exactly clear into what bucket Blacklight should get shoved. First, the setting’s an Earth-like locale with countries that have certain obvious parallels to present day but nothing so transparent as simply renaming France to Nonexistentia or some such. It’s not something that falls under “alternate history,” though I suppose you might run into something like the world described therein if the Romans had gotten their phalanxes handed to them by one of their many historically subjugated foes. There’s a bit of mystery, in that there’s an urban fantasy vibe which the majority of people just don’t understand or acknowledge (dead siblings coming back as ghosts and such). A pinch of political bug-ranching here and there. In the final calculus, though, imagine Pokemon where the Pokemon are different exotic matter substances, there are far fewer Pokemon in existence, the act of winning a Pokemon battle is achieved when the other person stops breathing, and you’re a homeless person who never asked to be inducted into an illegal sort-of-sorcerous back-alley cage match fighting lifestyle and who just wants some confidence in getting your next meal. It’s like pogs but with murder, and murder’s about the only way to believably escalate the pogs model in any case.

So far, Blacklight’s marshaling forces to become the best supernatural THING it can be. The cast is a bit odd; main character’s a vagrant youth exclusively haunted by her dead sister, trying to go along and get along in a country where she has difficulty speaking the language, let alone being evenly treated in light of her ethnicity. The one has massive personal issues from her sister and the fact that she’s being dragged feet first into stuff she doesn’t understand, and the other one has massive personal issues on account of being dead. They’re a dynamic duo, sure enough, and it’s interesting how much common ground you can have with someone talking to a floating person that relentlessly teases her and who regularly has to go days without food fit for human consumption. It’s a surprisingly thematically sturdy work; there’s elements of coping with racial ostracism, but it also dives into matters of where one’s planting their roots constitutes “home.” It asks questions touching on the nature of abandonment. When you look into Blacklight, you’re looking into something quixotic in the best way possible; on the one hand, the more traditional sense of lone-understanding where the principal cast has an understanding of a secret world. On the other hand, it asks where one falls when strong conviction rams up against everything our peers say can possibly be true.

So far, Blacklight has thrown a hundred questions into the air and provided very very few answers. As things go forward, hopefully resolution will pick up momentum, but that fifty two pickup of information dump may put some readers off its progression. I find it endearing, but being a weird person on every level that may not hold for everybody. Other than that, though, the tiny snippets of story dispersal might strike a bit of a sour note. There’s obviously the intent to keep people updated on the goings-on of the incredible necromancer sister and her sibling’s antics. However, the decision to make more frequent publishings of smaller quantity gives it a bit much of a start-stop air. Perhaps twice the length of an episode put out half as often will improve other peoples’ enjoyment as well by letting them stay in the action longer. It’s something worth following, but as a binge-inclined individual I prefer my medicine to come in slightly larger doses.

Urban fantasy with kind-of-historical fiction and character driven storytelling is a jam that many will appreciate. Solid grasp of cerebral philosophy. There’s something worthwhile to be had here for a lot of consumers, if they’re willing to supply the patient attention. Weird? Several kinds of weird. And weird will always have a place setting at THIS table.

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