1421404339208“I inhale sharply, hear my booming heart,

Imagine it’s one of Vox’s Hearts pumping

Light across the city and within me,

Bringing with it a rushing ecstasy.

I forget that my name is Virgil Yorke.

I forget that I am not a city,

That I am not Vox. I become the streets,

The sky and everything else in between.”

Aquila. Corvus. Cancer. Three Hearts substitute for a sun that burns black, bringing power to the eternally light-deprived citizens of the city of Vox. Ghosts haunt the street, clawing at headlights. Prometheus, liquid light, is the drug of choice. The body of young Vivian North, shining brightly with unnatural light, has no place on the streets. And when Cancer is stolen, it falls to ‘hero’ cop Virgil Yorke to investigate.

But Virgil has had a long cycle and he doesn’t feel like a hero. With his last case burned into his mind’s eye, he senses a connection between the glowing girl and the stolen Heart. Aided by his partner, Dante, Virgil begins to shed light on the dark city’s even darker secrets.

Haunted by ghosts and chased by his addictions, which will crack first, Virgil or the case?

Dark Star is hardboiled science fantasy of the finest kind, immediately compelling. It is an epic poem about a flawed cop fighting against the darkness. Rich and atmospheric, it is a story you’ll never forget.

About the author:

Oliver Langmead was born in Edinburgh and now lives in Dundee. He has an LLB in Law, and an MLitt in Writing Practice and Study, with a distinction. He is also part of industrial electronica outfit, Surgyn, recently back from their US tour. In his own words, he is ‘occasionally seen behind a midi keyboard or shouting into a microphone, but mostly behind a regular household keyboard, agonising over word order.’

* * * * *

(Disclosure: I received an electronic ARC from the publisher for review purposes.)

Let’s talk first about Langmead’s audacious decision to write his debut novel in the form of an epic poem. I have to confess to being unfamiliar with the form, and my potential appreciation was further hampered by the fact that I read the novel on my Kindle using an over-large font (all the better to not have to get out my reading glasses, my dear), which messed with the way the verses are intended to appear on the page. Still, it didn’t slow me down in the slightest. One might argue that the use of an epic poem form was unneccessary, as the story would flow just as easily in verses or in conventional prose form; but then, one could also argue that Langmead’s achievement both satisfies starved poetry fans and demonstrates an astonishing facility with words and storytelling.

Either way, it’s a kick-ass story.Think Bladerunner (I wonder if the character of Rachel is a nod to the aforementioned movie), only much, much bleaker. In this world, light is currency, light is a drug, light is treasured and elusive. The darkness is both metaphorical and real (this story is noir in all senses of the word), all-pervasive and claustrophobic. The thought and detail that goes into realizing this perpetually black world – print books are an extravagance when most “writing” is in braille, there are no days but only ‘cycles’, and even the cattle have evolved into strange, blind, albino creatures – is razor sharp. Langmead makes no secret of his influences in naming two main characters Virgil and Dante, and indeed the hellish atmosphere is almost palpable, leaving me breathing deeply and turning on all the lights by the time I got to the end.

This is the third title I have reviewed from Unsung Stories, the first two being the outstanding The Beauty by Aliya Whiteley and Déjà  Vu by Ian Hocking. With the addition of Dark Star, Unsung Stories is cementing its burgeoning reputation as a publisher of intelligent and provocative speculative fiction.

If you like poetry (especially epic poetry) – you need to read this. If you like classic noir detective stories – you need to read this. If you like imaginative science fiction/fantasy – you need to read this.

Purchase links:

http://www.unsungstories.co.uk/dark-star-by-oliver-langmead/

http://www.amazon.com/Dark-Star-Oliver-Langmead-ebook/dp/B00UJH7LQU/

 


A woman and her young son flee to a convent on a remote island off the Breton coast of France. Generations of seafarers have named the place Ile de la Brume, or Fog Island. In a chapel high on a cliff, a tragic death occurs and a terrified child vanishes into the mist.
The child’s godmother, Maggie O’Shea, haunted by the violent deaths of her husband and best friend, has withdrawn from her life as a classical pianist. But then a recording of unforgettable music and a grainy photograph surface, connecting her missing godson to a long-lost first love.
The photograph will draw Maggie inexorably into a collision course with criminal forces, decades-long secrets, stolen art and musical artifacts, and deadly terrorists. Her search will take her to the Festival de Musique, Aix-en-Provence, France, where she discovers answers to the mystery surrounding her husband’s death, an unexpected love—and a musical masterpiece lost for centuries.
A compelling blend of suspense, mystery, political intrigue, and romance, The Lost Concerto explores universal themes of loss, vengeance, courage, and love.

* * * * *

Author Helaine Mario excels at evocative portrayals of settings, with many a lavish description of the French landscape and cityscape. Equally compelling are the descriptions of the music, with classical performances comprising an integral part of the atmosphere and plot. Mario is a mistress of the slow reveal, with each layer of intrigue being uncovered at a carefully measured, tantalizing pace.
For this reviewer, the nit picks are minor. The disability motif is laid on a little thick – there’s a one-eyed cat, a one-armed man, a three-legged dog – and the author is overly fond of knocking people out, with four chapters or sections ending in unconsciousness for the viewpoint character. Still, these need bother only the pedantic. Readers who enjoy mystery and thrillers will not be disappointed, classical music aficionados and Francophiles will be delighted, and there’s a fair bit to keep romance readers happy as well.
The Lost Concerto is due for release by Oceanview Publishing on July 1, 2015. An advance review copy was provided via Netgalley.


In October 2013, we made a decision as a family to give dog fostering a go. I’ll admit that I was somewhat selfish in my reasons for wanting to foster dogs; we had been thinking about getting a companion for our Staffordshire bull terrier, Hermes, but the cost of keeping another dog plus the potential negative consequences if he failed to bond well with a friend of our choosing were holding us back. The rescue group we work with covers most of the costs (food, equipment and vet bills), and if our dog and the foster clash badly (it hasn’t happened yet, touch wood), we can always move the foster dog to another, more suitable carer. So as well as making a positive community contribution, fostering seemed like a good way to dip our toe in the waters of being a two dog household.

Gunner and ScooterSixteen months and seventeen puppies and dogs later, and we’re hooked. Every time one of our fosters gets adopted and we wave goodbye to them, it is both a wrench to our hearts and an intensely rewarding experience knowing that we’ve helped save doggy lives.

Of course, there are downsides. It can be frustrating being kept awake all night by a fretting puppy, cleaning up inside ‘accidents’ or disposing of a pair of shoes that were perfectly good 15 minutes ago until a teething canine got hold of one. But the biggest downsides come from the humans. If you’re considering adopting a rescue dog and you don’t want to get the carer’s hackles up (dog metaphor deliberate), here are a few tips on what not to say.

I sent an email half an hour ago and nobody’s got back to me. Why are you so slack? Don’t you care about finding a home for these dogs?

We’re not paid 24/7 to stand by for your email. In fact, we’re not paid at all. Rescue volunteers have jobs and families and other commitments, and in between all of that we’re feeding the dogs, walking the dogs, transporting dogs to and from vets, driving on 12 hour round trips to collect death row dogs from country pounds, attending to the screeds of paperwork required by local, state and federal governments… Besides, you might just be the twelfth applicant for this dog, and we have to respond to the other eleven before it’s your turn.

Why do they cost so much? Surely if you want to save these animals, you should be charging less, or giving them away.Shelley in flower pot

Two reasons – one is that animal rescue is expensive. The money rescue groups collect in adoption fees doesn’t begin to cover the costs. Even although nobody is getting paid, and even although we get donations, and reduced rates from sympathetic vets, there are still food bills, vet bills, and transport costs. Collars, leads, food bowls and bedding need to be provided to foster carers. One dog alone coming down with parvovirus can cost thousands of dollars to save. When you adopt a dog from a registered rescue organization, then by law it will be desexed, vaccinated and microchipped, which is more than you will get for the same price (or higher) from a pet shop or breeder.
The other reason is psychology. We want each adoption to be successful, and don’t want to see dogs bouncing back to us because owners can’t afford to keep them, or only adopted them on a whim. This is much less likely to happen if adopters are willing and able to hand over $400 – $500.

We’ve changed our minds – we’re not coming to meet the dog after all (usually said an hour after the agreed meeting time).

See “we’re not paid to do this” and “we have lives too, you know.”

We love the look of Fifi and think she would be perfect for us, but we won’t be ready to have a dog for another couple of months. Can you hold her for us?

Short answer – no. Long answer – the longer we keep dogs in our care, the more expensive it gets, and the more dogs are put down by pounds because they don’t have the space and we don’t have the available carers. Snarky answer – don’t start looking for a dog until you’re ready to own a dog. It will only end in heartbreak for you if you fall in love with a dog you can’t have, and wasted time for us (also see “we’re not paid to do this”.)

I love dogs, but I had to give my last one away because it got too big/I had to move/my girlfriend didn’t like it.

We understand that sometimes life throws curve balls that you didn’t see coming; we fostered a beautiful dog formerly owned by a family who had fallen upon hard times and could no longer afford to keep her. They did the responsible thing and gave her over into foster care, and I was honoured to be able to have a hand in finding a loving new home for her. But some of the reasons people give for getting rid of their pets are clearly foreseeable or downright frivolous; puppies are going to get bigger, landlords are quite likely to say “no pets”, and who did you commit to first, the girlfriend or the dog? At this point you have to ask yourself – do I really love dogs, or do I just love the idea of dogs?

What breed is she crossed with?

A legitimate question on the surface of it. However, whatever breed the dog is listed as is usually the pound’s or the vet’s best guess. The only way to guarantee a dog’s parentage is through pedigree papers from a registered breeder, or a DNA test. As most of our dogs are unclaimed strays rescued from pounds, we’re extremely unlikely to have either of these pieces of paper.

Oh yes...this is surely the face of a killer.

Oh yes…this is surely the face of a killer.

…because I don’t want a dog with any staffy/rotty/heeler/chihuahua/[insert your breed prejudice here].

And I understand your concerns. Not all breeds are going to be suitable for your needs – otherwise we wouldn’t have so many different dog breeds. And we can’t guarantee that the dog you’re thinking of adopting won’t show any of the undesirable traits you’re seeking to avoid (they’re living creatures, not second hand cars). Can’t guarantee…but can give a pretty good indication. During their time in foster care, we’ve exposed them to a lot of situations they’re likely to encounter as companion dogs, so we can tell you most, if not all, of the things you need to know about their tendencies and temperament. But if that doesn’t convince you, and purity of breed is still a deal breaker, then I recommend you purchase a dog from a reputable registered breeder, or adopt a dog from a breed-specific rescue group.

…because staffies/rotties/heelers/chihuahuas are aggressive dogs.

OK, now I am no longer humouring you. That’s just illogical. Dogs have been bred for thousands of years to be companions to humans. Yes, some breeds might have been selectively bred to encourage a prey drive, or to be wary of strangers, thus making them good guard dogs. However, having an entire breed that is indiscriminately aggressive towards humans would be wildly counter-productive.

I want a dog, but not one that barks or digs or chews. And not one that sheds, or that isn’t house trained, or that is likely to knock stuff over – I’m very house proud, and don’t want to be cleaning up messes all the time. I work 50 hours a week, so I won’t be able to come meet any dogs until the weekend. What have you got for me?

A goldfish.