On Friday I finished the book Blood and Bullets by James R. Tuck. I’d like start this review by mentioning that James is a local author for me. One of my writing group members, Matthew Quinn, is personally familiar with him. Before picking up the book I had emailed James with some questions about his experience with being published traditionally. He was incredibly gracious with his information and quick to followup with my emails.
According to James, from the point of writing the book to the time of publication was 14 months. Which 2 of those months were for the writing process. As like most of us, he collected many rejection letters over those months until finally being picked up by Kensington Books. Which is an incredible turn around. I’ve mentioned Brandon Sanderson a lot around here. It took him 8 years before his first book, Elantris, was published by Tor.
So I’d like to say congratulations to James on his three book deal.
First, the hook.
He lives to kill monsters. He keeps his city safe. And his silver hollow-points and back-from-the-dead abilities help him take out any kind of supernatural threat. But now an immortal evil has this bad-ass bounty hunter dead in its sights. . .
Ever since a monster murdered his family, Deacon Chalk hunts any creature that preys on the innocent. So when a pretty vampire girl “hires” him to eliminate a fellow slayer, Deacon goes to warn him–and barely escapes a vampire ambush. Now he’s got a way-inexperienced newbie hunter to protect and everything from bloodsuckers to cursed immortals on his trail. There’s also a malevolent force controlling the living and the undead, hellbent on turning Deacon’s greatest loss into the one weapon that could destroy him. . .
Told in first person POV, Deacon Chalk is suffering from what I’m calling, “The Punisher Syndrome.” He lost his family due to a monster attack and now has vowed to exterminate them all. He has guns and lots of them. And a fully decked out safe-house ready to stave off even the most dangerous foe.
What I enjoyed:
The Nosferatu. Granted, they weren’t actually in this book. But the characters have a conversation about one nesting in the Atlanta Zoo. He describes them as big, hairy, bat-like creatures that just live to feed. A lot of vampire lore shows Nosferatu as being the most monstrous of the vampire types, but I enjoyed just how far he took it. It is my understanding that he wrote a short story about this encounter called, That Thing At the Zoo.
I was also drawn to the side character, Larson. A kid who is trying to hunt down vampires but has no clue what kind of world he’s getting into. He has the book smarts, but not the practical experience. He is like the main character from Kick-Ass. He has an idea of what he’s trying to do, but just needs that right momentum and a bit of time to come into his own.
Unfortunatley we don’t get much time with the character as the book is told from Deacon Chalk’s point of view.
What I didn’t enjoy:
Two major points here.
First, is that I feel as if the book had a lot of padding to get the word count up. Throughout the book were several passages that reiterated the same concepts within just a paragraph of each other. Deacon spends a page and half telling us about his car. What seemed like the end of that thought he writes, “I drive it because I love it.” Then we get another paragraph more on the car and it ends with, “And I love it.”
Yes, we gathered that from the first time you said it. Maybe this is a minor quibble. But those things really stick out to me.
Second is the fact that the character Deacon Chalk is a Mary Sue (follow the link there if you’re not sure what that is.) I was constantly taken out of the story because of how much of a wish-fulfillment it was. Matthew mentioned to me that James does not shy away from the fact that Deacon is based on himself. And it shows.
Deacon has no real flaw. He is a bad-ass at everything he does. Everything he has is the best and he knows the best for everyone. I don’t mind an author basing a character on himself. But give me the dirty with the good. I want a fully rounded character.
It came down to the point that I could begin to predict the outcome of situations. The first ocurrance, and for my example, happens on page 69. Deacon and Larson are going to a drive-thru sushi place. They pull up to the speaker and then–
Leaning on the door, I spoke into the round speaker. “Hello, Katsumi, how are you and your honorable father tonight?”
In that moment I knew Deacon wouldn’t have to pay for his meal. I was tipped off from the fact that he knew the person by name and their father well. Two pages later and we get this–
I had helped [her father] get her back, and ever since then they never let me pay for sushi.
Heaped on top of that was the fact that Larson had never had sushi before and said he didn’t want any because he didn’t like raw fish. Deacon pressured him to try it. Again, I knew that Larson would discover that he actually did like it. And it happened just like that. Why? Because the main character gave him the food. And the main character knows the best for everyone.
I think James missed a great character and opportunity in Larson. For reasons stated above. He had a real struggle and the potential for growth in the story. In fact, he did have growth. But we really didn’t have a chance to examine it and get into his head to see it. And that was a disappointment to me.
Blood and Bullets is something I’ll liken to an 80’s action movie. Lots of violence, guns, sex appeal, and all around bad-assery. With very little substance. And hey, many readers are looking for just that. Which is exactly what they’ll get from this book. I’ve got a friend that would probably really enjoy it.
As for me, I need more from the characters in the story. Something deeper to hold onto.
In the end, I have to remember that this is Jame’s first book. His freshman effort. He’s got two more books coming out and will have many more after that, I’m sure. He’s going to grow a lot and I’m always excited to hear when someone is able to get a book deal. We should never forget that finishing a novel is one of the hardest things a person can do. And James did it.
His second book, Blood and Silver, is slated for August 2012. It looks like Lycanthropes are on the order for this one. So, again, if you’re looking for more bullets and bad-assery, pick it up!