Saturday, 27 August 2016

Glossolalia : A Psychological Suspense Thriller by Tantra Bensko

Glossolalia by Tantra Bensko has the subtitle, a psychological suspense, but I’m not sure this reflects the true nature of the novel. It’s a story that is impossible to categorise and quite possibly the most unique book I’ve ever read.

It’s a complex and surreal story which highlights lots of modern dilemmas, chiefly by using irony and exaggeration. The imagery that Bensko creates is both visual and bizarre. The only way I can think of to explain it is – imagine staring at a Salvador Dali painting whilst on speed because the pace of the novel is almost neck breaking.

Bensko’s protagonist is a character called Nancy. It’s quite difficult to get a real sense of Nancy as, due to her fragmented mental state, she is a very unreliable narrator. She is being used as a pawn by a group called the Neverminds, who are basically running a mind control programme. Nancy has been split into compartments by the Neverminds so that she is three different personalities. They accomplished this by traumatising her as a young child and then keeping her medicated.

The novel works on the premise that the world is controlled by an alliance of the US government, church and big business, who use mind control to ensure that the world is run as they see fit. The glossolalia of the title is a language used by the powers that be to create a hypnotic effect. Hence once they hypnotise someone they use the secret language to control their behaviour. Bensko offers us a world where power corrupts. Nancy works for her Uncle Geoff, an agent of Nevermind and the owner of D-CIDE, an unscrupulous pesticide company. The chemical XXX which is used in the pesticide is known to have killed both humans and animals but the corruption within the establishment is such that Geoff is given the job of investigating chemicals that are harmful to the environment.

Geoff colludes with the charismatic Reverend Terry Crank who has incredible power within the church despite being a sexual deviant. He is also an agent of Nevermind and uses his position to control and eliminate any opponents of the status quo.

The levels of corruption run so deep it’s hard to know who is part of the Nevermind conspiracy and who is actually a genuine character. The main anti-Nevermind voice is an activist called Elias Brandon who runs an online blog exposing wrong doing. He is so shrouded in mystery and bizarre however, it just adds another layer of distrust and confusion.

Nancy also has an online friend called Jeff who, when he visits her turns out to be a sinister childhood associate with hands fashioned to look like flamingos, which he then uses to control her mind. There is a love interest called Julio who again seems like a shadowy character which makes us doubt his authenticity.

There is no doubt that Bensko is a talented, intelligent writer and she successfully gets us to question everything by making us doubt our own perceptions. She maintains control over her writing despite taking it to such surreal heights that her readers have no choice but to suspend all reality.

I suspect that Glossolalia will appeal to a niche audience who will absolutely love it. The problem I had is that I didn’t really get it and this was more to do with me than the actual novel. It’s a bit like some people love Terry Gilliam films whilst others are left feeling out of the loop. I’m not sure if my inability to connect was cultural because the book is very American or caused by the fact that I’m quite conventional and couldn’t immerse myself fully into the madness.

I would definitely recommend that you give Glossolalia a try. It’s a brave and unique story and Tantra Bensko is an assured writer. I’m willing to bet that if you connect with it this novel may well turn out to be one of your all time favourites. 

Monday, 22 August 2016

The Sword (The Rise of the Aztecs Book 6) by Zoe Saadia

The Sword by Zoe Saadia is the sixth book in The Rise of the Aztecs series. It had been a while since I read the last one (The Fall of the Empire) but the second I opened my kindle it was like meeting up with a beloved old friend.

All of Saadia’s novels can be enjoyed as standalones but there is nothing that can compare to the sheer joy of following this cast of characters from the beginning. We first met Kuini and Coyotl as children but in The Sword they are accomplished, successful men in their thirties. Along the way Saadia has added more characters for us to love such as Dehe, Iztac-Ayotl, Tlacaelel and more recently Tlalli.

This particular novel belongs to Tlalli and Kuini’s young son, Ocelotl. The novel is set in the city of Texcoco where Coyotl has finally claimed his rightful place as Emperor. Due to the recent battles and regional turmoil, lots of the characters are feeling like strangers in a strange land, particularly Tlalli, visiting the city with her lover, Tlacaelel, who as Mexica’s chief adviser is a dignitary at Coyotl’s ceremony.

When we first met Tlalli in The Fall of the Empire, she was a brave and resourceful market girl but, since being taken as Tlacaelel’s favourite concubine, she has come some way to realising her full potential. She has taught herself to read and write so much so that Tlacaelel is planning to use her as a scribe. However, Tlalli has lost none of her spirited independence and, whilst exploring the city at night she stumbles across information that essentially prevents Coyotl and Tlacaelel’s plans from being thwarted.

The plot centres on the eponymous sword which belongs to Kuini, the Chief Warlord. The sword has belonged to the Warlord since he was a young man and has taken on a symbolic meaning for a lot of people who associate it with the Warlord’s success. In fact, many people are convinced that the sword has magical powers. When the sword is stolen it threatens to destabilise everything Coyotl, Kuini and Tlacaelel have worked for and it becomes a race against time to find it and those responsible for the theft.

The situation is made even more threatening because the Warlord’s young son, Ocelotl is also missing, caught up in the theft of the sword. In Ocelotl we see the mirror image of the boy Kuini who we first met in The Highlander. Ocelotl doesn’t fit in in Texcoco where he is constantly compared to his more conventionally accomplished twin. He is considered too wild and ill-disciplined but during the course of the novel proves himself to be his father’s son. The Warlord’s concern for and relationship with his son also serves to remind the reader of his human side despite his ruthlessness as a warrior.

My favourite character in the previous novels has been Dehe and she doesn’t disappoint. Tlalli is almost like a younger version of the now settled and respectable wife of the Warlord. We see Dehe mostly through Tlalli’s eyes and it’s gratifying that she has grown into a kind and wise woman. This is particularly in evidence in her treatment of the Warlord’s other wife and Coyotl’s sister, Iztac-Ayotl. Iztac makes a terrible mistake that Dehe helps her to cover up and, although I partly wanted Iztac to be exposed, it made me love Dehe even more for not doing so.

As with the other novels of the series, one of the themes of the story is the lasting effects of colonialism. Even though most of the battles are over and Tlacaelel is building a strong Mexica Empire, resentments are bubbling under the surface as the people feel the loss of their independence and cultural identity. Tlacaelel is a strategic politician and he has almost realised his vision of a cohesive empire under the rule of his own emperor, Itzcoatl and Coyotl. However, he naively believes that eradicating the Tepanecs from history and elevating one God to unite the people is the answer. He is surprised when Tlalli recounts events from her own Tepanec perspective and, although he advises Coyotl to get rid of dissenters, he fails to see that resentment will still remain waiting for the right moment to surface. It’s particularly interesting when we compare this time of 1431 to the present day and realise that most of the world’s problems stem from resentments and anger over land, religion and culture. It seems that we are still dealing with the consequences of colonialism.

One of the many things that make Saadia’s novels such a delight to read is the attention she pays to history which lends the stories enormous credibility. Her writing skills bring this period alive from the way she describes the busy market places to the intrigue that takes place around the palaces. Superstition plays a strong part in this story especially where the sword is concerned. Saadia manages to convey the power it represents in such a way that I got so caught up in her words I came to believe it was magical myself.

Saadia also imbues her story with heart-stopping tension especially surrounding Ocelotl. As he tries to escape from the hired killers who have stolen his father’s sword I genuinely feared for his safety. Likewise when his father embarks upon a spectacular sword fight with the leader of the thieves, my heart was in my mouth.

There are so many things to recommend about this book that I really don’t know where to start but one of the great things about Saadia is the way she allows females to shine in a very male dominated world. Her novels are always filled to brim with excitement but at the same time thoughtful and steeped in history. I can’t remember a series I have enjoyed more and am really looking forward to downloading the next instalment.

Friday, 5 August 2016

The Family Line by Laura Wilkinson

The Family Line by Laura Wilkinson is an unusual but gripping story set in the near future. Wilkinson cleverly uses her novel to construct a world that acts as a cautionary tale of what could become of us if we fail to mend our ways.

We are introduced to the main character, foreign correspondent Megan Evens, in a prologue where the independent, sparky thirty something is trying to escape a militarised Muslim area to return to London. The impression is immediately created that Megan is a tough, no-nonsense, driven woman.

These are qualities that serve her well when she finds herself a single mother and opts to return to her family home in Wales. Her life is turned upside down even further when she discovers that her young son has a hereditary condition called AMNA and without a bone marrow transplant he will not survive into adulthood. Megan determines that she will stop at nothing to find a genetic match for her child but in doing so uncovers life changing family secrets.

Wilkinson separates her novel into three parts: the present, the past and the future. During the first part (present) of the novel, we are given clues that the world has been dramatically altered, for example there is food and water rationing and restrictions on travelling. However, it is not until the second section (past) that we learn the truth. The ‘past’ is told from Megan’s mother, Elizabeth’s, point of view and she describes how in 2025 a plague wiped out 50% of the UK population which has unspeakable ramifications for both Elizabeth and the unwitting Megan. The final section (future) of the novel sees Megan travelling to Romania with her mentor, friend and fellow journalist, Jack North, in an attempt to unravel the past and find a bone marrow match for Megan’s child.

I found the novel to be extremely dark and in places truly disturbing. My favourite section of the novel is the ‘past’ and it is in this section that Wilkinson’s writing evokes terrifying imagery in the way she describes the onset of the plague. She presents us with a realistic scenario where infestations of rats, some as big as small dogs, act as the harbinger of the terror that is to come. The terrible suffering that the people endured is also made heartbreakingly real by Wilkinson’s vivid imagery.

What I particularly like about Wilkinson’s novel is the way in which she explores very relevant issues by taking them to their extreme potential trajectory. For example, the plague is a man-made one created for warfare that is somehow released. The rats are breeding because of the amount of waste people discard and they consequently spread the plague like wild fire.  There are also climate changes causing droughts and floods brought about by mankind’s selfish disregard for the environment. After the plague, people determine to be more mindful of the problems they are causing but, little more than thirty years later they are already neglecting the environment once more and the suggestion is the whole 2025 catastrophe could be repeated.

As a result of the plague, the population is massively depleted and a ‘breeding frenzy’ ensues. This leads to women who are past natural child bearing age or infertile seeking out donated eggs. As egg donation becomes big business, poor countries become exploited as young women and girls are offered money for their eggs. The consequences of this are dire as none of the donors are checked for any health implications. Wilkinson raises the question of whether it is a woman’s right to bear a child just because she wants one. The idea is taken to its extreme when we are presented with the grotesque image of a pregnant woman in her seventies.

Wilkinson also explores the guilt associated with hereditary conditions. AMNA is a disease where females are the carriers and males the sufferers. However, this is made even more complex because not every mother will pass it onto her sons; it’s a random condition that can skip a generation or strike just one boy in a family. If this were the case, would you risk having children and how would you live with yourself if you passed a life limiting, terrible disease onto your child. Wilkinson touches upon genetic engineering and the question of where it would stop. If we used it to eradicate potential illness is it not then human nature to become even more demanding in a quest for perfection?

Another question raised by the novel is the impact of nurture over nature. Although nature dictates our physical attributes and weaknesses, nurture can be just as life limiting. Megan has been nurtured by a mother who is defined by secrets. This has had a disastrous effect on their relationship as Elizabeth has seemed emotionally absent to Megan. Megan herself is a cold, aloof character who, despite her passion for social justice, doesn’t give of herself emotionally. Her relationships with others seem functional rather than warm and caring.

I really liked The Family Line; I found it interesting and thought provoking. My only slight criticism is that because the book has such a dark and uncertain tone throughout, the ending, when it comes, seems a little bit neat and tidy. That being said, lots of readers do prefer books with a definitive conclusion.

The Family Line is not a light summer read but it is a thoughtful and well written story of where we could all potentially end up. If you like a novel that is unusual and makes you think, then this one is for you.