Manifesto UF

 Manifesto UF is that latest anthology I managed to squeeze a story within. Therefore, I have an investment in this review. To keep it honest and fair, I will only write about my five favorite stories in this volume and share some of the inside details of my story, Bloody Red Sun of Fantastic L.A.

Personally, I love short fiction. I enjoy writing it, and even more, I love reading it. The best part of an anthology is that I get to sample between ten and thirty authors, some more experienced and some newer, and see what worked for them. Getting published in an anthology isn’t easy, each author has brought their best offering. Plus, if you want to learn how to write better, reading anthologies is a way that has helped me a lot.

What is Manifesto UF? Horror/Dark Fantasy author Tim Marquitz and Tyson Mauermann (Book reviewer at Speculative Book Review) collaborated on forming the quintessential definition of Urban Fantasy. They hit the bullseye. What is inside are vampires, werewolves, angels, wizards, dragons, demons, undead, and other forms of the supernatural all living together in our modern setting. Tim and Tyson have made it undoubtedly clear that this is not Paranormal Romance.

Before I spotlight my five favorites, I need to say it was very difficult to pick from the twelve stories I’d loved greatly. This anthology has twenty-six stories, of which I thought half were amazing, and the other half very enjoyable. These were my favorites, I’ve listed them in no particular order.

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I’m an Animal. You’re an Animal Too by Zachary Jernigan

I’d read I Am Legend by Richard Matheson and Salem’s Lot by Stephen King and since then haven’t found a vampire story that I could fully get into. Here’s one. It was brilliant. Zachary Jernigan’s tone set this one from the beginning, the story was ripe with frustration and uncertainty, and in the end delivered perfect meaning to its title – I’m an animal. You’re an animal too.

Naked the Night Sings by Theresa Frohock

Of the dragon stories, this was my favorite. Theresa tells of a musician who was almost good enough to be somebody, but not quite. Failing yet another audition by a margin, a mysterious woman promises him a worthy gift in exchange for retrieving a simple gift for her. She offers him the duende, a deep knowledge of the dark sounds, if he would only retrieve a small bit of yarn that is being kept by a dragon. The flow of the writing is so impossibly good, I will re-read this one again someday.

Nephilim by TSP Sweeny

I had a hard time deciding between Betsy Dornbusch’s Chains of Gray and Nephilim. The determining factor; I connected better with Sweeny’s fallen angels.

Here on Earth, there are fallen angels, and then there are Fallen angels. Dantalion is one of the fallen, and while waiting for Judgment, he works for a pharmaceutical company that recently lost an experimental drug. It’s an experimental drug with a side effect that gets people really freakin’ high. Not surprisingly, it’s turned up as a new street drug being coined Nephilim. This was a complex story with good attention to detail.

Front Lines, Big City by Timothy Baker

Timothy Baker is becoming one of my favorite new authors. Three times we’ve been published together, and each time his stories get better. His world prompts that the United States has survived its 2nd civil war. Both sides of the broken United States employed sorcerers to get the job done, but after the war, the winner decided that sorcerers were too dangerous to keep alive. This is the story of two surviving sorcerers…or maybe only one…

There were two other stories devoted to modern day wizardry, both of them were good, only Tim Baker’s was my favorite. It was the tone and atmosphere Timothy Baker set that took the story up a notch higher for me. Timothy’s story carved a deeper dread, and a sense of foreboding along with a genuine human element that the other two tales just couldn’t quite touch.

Blessing and Damnation by Wilson Geiger

As I’ve said, it was an incredibly difficult task narrowing down my five favorite stories in this anthology. Blessing and Damnation is told from a demon’s point of view, and expertly done. A superior demon had gone rogue, escaping hell and has gone rampaging through our world spreading an infernal disease. He is intentionally trying to break the peace between Heaven and Hell. The powers of Hell order another demon to rise and stop the stronger demon. I closed the story with a grim smile, appreciating the paradox.

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Now, because it’s the only chance I have to share insights, I’ll leave little tidbits about how I built my story.

Bloody Red Sun of Fantastic L.A. by Jake Elliot

Although the story took its title from one of my favorite songs by The Doors, there was a deeper reasoning beyond The Doors getting their start in downtown Hollywood. Los Angeles is the City of Angels, the sun is our nearest star, and Hollywood is the City of the Stars—this story has overt symbolic relevance to a little bit of all of that.

My inspiration for this story came from Westin Ochse’s brilliant short story, Hollywood Villainy, which offered a soiled and ugly picture of Hollywood’s nightlife. I’d hoped to describe Hollywood’s diversity and shine, even if it’s still a bit tarnished. I feel successful in painting a vivid picture of the historical street corner of Hollywood and Vine.

My protagonist is the Arch-angel Michael (Mikael,) who I envision as a cold servant of God. A lot of people don’t realize that angels were created without freewill and their sole purpose is to serve God. This does not give Michael a warm personality. In fact, I imagined his view of humanity with considerable apathy.

Ba’al, the demon, is my antagonist. I built him like Christian history and mythology make him. A friend told me they’d felt more sympathy for Ba’al than Mikael. My response was “Me too, the poor guy totally got the shaft.” Each character represented the diverse extremes of law and chaos. It was all those poor bastards getting crushed in the middle I’d hoped someone would recognize, but so far, the poor huddled masses have no sympathizers.

My ending is totally Dues ex Machina. Some will think that is a bad thing. For my story to observe the religious connotations of Angelic behavior, (assuming they are real,) then Mikael is only a messenger. I felt the ending was right, and I will say no more. I wish not to spoil anyone’s fun.

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Beyond the Veil by Tim Marquitz

Tim Marquitz sent me this book around the time it was released. Tim knows to anticipate an honest review from me. On GoodReads, his was not a ‘rounded up’ four-star, it’s an “I can’t quite give it 5-stars” review.

Although this is book 5 in the series, there are a lot of ‘first times’ to mention. This was Tyson Mauermann’s editorial debut. For those who don’t know Tyson, he is ‘the’ book reviewer for Speculative Book Review– and here I have an opportunity to critique his work– heh-heh. The editing was 5-star quality in Beyond the Veil. (Now Tyson, for such nice words, I expect a 5-star review for my next book. Insert cheesy smile here.) In all seriousness, the editing was nearly flawless––a good editor makes a great author look perfect. Tim’s money was well spent.

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This is also the first Demon Squad book to have Carter Reid’s masterful art for its cover. This cover screams what will be found inside––lots of action is coming––enough that Frank should hide and save his bullets. Frank looks grittier than ever—the cover fits the book. Again, Tim’s money—well spent.

Here is a first for me too. Normally, I avoid self-published books because the quality is often-times amateurish. Shot from the hip and usually without proper editing, self-published books are frequently nightmarish. Of course there are exceptions. Tim Marquitz is one of them but Tim is not new to the publishing world. Due to the grim nature of his series, I think he has made a wise decision in leaving traditional publishing.

Tim’s expertise is shown by the pros who’ve gathered to help produce a book at this high of a quality. Now, what is inside the book?

Beyond the Veil is either the best written, or the best edited in the series to date, perhaps both. This is the 5th book in the Demon Squad Series, a series that began with Armageddon Bound. If you love Dark Fantasy, stop reading this review, go buy the first book. The story changes dramatically in Beyond the Veil, and I’m not going into the back story – we are five books deep. In fact, I’m going to avoid speaking of the plot entirely. If you’ve read book four, you know where book five needs to go.

Let’s talk about characterization. As we expect with Frank’s narration, this story is rich with sarcasm and colorful metaphors. This was one of the attractions that caught me in Armageddon Bound, and it is consistent throughout each book. Sadly, yet understandably, as Tim’s writing abilities have sharpened, so Frank’s lewdness has also been shaved away. Frank’s inability to keep it in his pants (or at least his hand) was a character flaw that burned Frank as a memorable anti-hero. Here in book five, Frank loves boobies as much as ever––he’s just stopped slobbering so much. Frank has grown considerably.

Frank is an anti-hero. I don’t normally read books where the hero is a borderline villain. We see more of Frank’s anti-hero behavior in this book, more so than in any of the prior books. Still, he possesses enough conscience that we can forgive him and keep cheering him forward. His actions are quite ‘uncool’ in the very beginning of this book, but I will leave it for you to decide if Frank is worthy of your forgiveness. I’d probably done the same thing if given the same circumstances. Luckily, my wife probably won’t get nabbed by extra-dimensional fugitives on the run from God and Satan, but if it does happen, rest assured, I’ll follow Frank’s lead.

The imaginative quality of this story is right on par with earlier books in the series. Tim’s vision of magic is easily malleable and its use is enjoyable to read. His delivery is visual––as is expected by us who’ve traveled this deep into the story.

So with all this great stuff to say, why didn’t I give it 5-stars. I enjoyed this book greatly, but in the end, it just didn’t hit me like ‘At the Gates’ and ‘Armageddon Bound.’ My connection to this story wasn’t as strong.

Most readers will disagree, but I thought there was too much action. I was loving the interaction between Frank and Longinus—and then AMBUSH! Or, Frank is having great dialogue with an alien woman, learning more about the world, and DRAGON ATTACK! Frank is sniffing out clues and “IT’S A TRAP!” (Shamelessly, I quote Admiral Akbar, and that particular scene was very important to the plot.) Some readers will see the constant action as a good thing, especially younger readers who don’t appreciate well-written and long-winded dialogues. They will disagree with this critique the strongest.

Don’t read too far into what I’ve said. I expected a high energy action novel and Beyond the Veil is just that. There is a fight around every corner, and at the scene near the 80% mark–awesomely executed. I felt the action-to-story ratio was a little off for my personal tastes—that is the how and why of 4-stars.

All the same, Tim Marquitz has hooked me for one more future read. I hope this review is helpful to whoever found it. If you like a darker story, start with book one—it is still my favorite in the series. Know this journey is daring.