Greyborn Rising by Derry Sandy
This book was published by Caribbean Reads Publishing (which, full disclaimer, is also the publisher of my books Musical Youth and Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure). But I’m not carrying water for them when I say this paranormal adventure was a delightful read. It was gripping from beginning to end and chock full of elaborate magically dark goodness and good people fighting to save humanity (of course). I hardly know where to start. Maybe with the good people who make up the uneasy alliance of ‘heroes’. The remaining members of a decimated house in a very old order (secret society stuff) watching and guarding like the Watchers (Highlander) or the Talamasca (Anne Rice worlds), a soucouyant and apprentice soucouyant, a shape shifter of some sort, a clairvoyant, dog and dog like beings, an underworld king, a university student with the gift of tapping in to what ever supernatural power she needs, a child ghost, another child ghost, a former trans prostitute cum vampire, some machine gun wielding humans, a dead obeah man and former enslaved man. That’s just some of the people and other beings in this fast-paced, high stakes novel. There’s also a sentient house.
If Greyborn Rising sounds like it throws the supernatural kitchen sink at the story, it kind of does; but it never feels cumbersome. Yes, it’s a lot of twists and turns and especially characters to keep track of – sometimes diluting my emotional reaction to the loss of this or that one. But generally, as the plot thickened, I remained intrigued by the action and the otherworldliness of it, and came to care and root for the characters. That’s because despite the action, the writer takes time with the character moments. Does some of it feel convenient, contrived – characters displaying a new trick just when the plot needs it can feel a bit deus ex machina-ish, author positioning the characters just so for this or that purpose – yes, that feeling is there now and then but not so much so that it made me roll my eyes. And in fact the book seems self-aware on this point, occasionally having the characters mirror the skepticism and incredulousness it seems to understand that the reader might be feeling.
The larger issue, if one were looking for one, is the information dumps, which can bring things to a stop even though the information is interesting and gets the reader and characters caught up. There is a lot happening over centuries and across worlds, and short of turning this in to a multi-book epic, which it still could be, the writer fits the story in to 300 and some pages, which means that some things that might otherwise unravel are explained.
“Ma’am, the legend of the soucouyant is an old wives’ tale born out of the old-fashioned gender oppression of unmarried women of a certain age. It is unacceptable in modern society. This is my poor blind grandmother and to be quite honest, you’re scaring her,” Kamara replied, placing an arm of support around Kat’s shoulders as she donned her cloak of university-conditioned indignation.
There is even monologue-ing from the villain which is a bit of a cliché of the genre. Another cliché, the obvious flaw in world domination plans: that once you kill everyone you have no one left to rule – glad a character pointed that out because this book is too smart to ignore the obvious.
A plus of the novel is its descriptiveness – I could nitpick some of the characterization of women, but they do go from doing recon in sexy clothes to being fully a part of the action.
Speaking of, the action sequences are really well done, vivid and visual, and not at all chaotic considering how much is happening; and you feel the stakes. Sometimes, the beautifully descriptive tips over in to the wildly evocative and then tips a bit far in to overwriting. Maybe. Could be it’s just lush writing. “Rain assaulted the slate roof with a sound like muffled drums. In the fields, the tall stalks of sugar cane whipped the low night sky, the frenzied lashings occasionally silhouetted against the undulating horizon by violent flashes of lightening” – atmospheric as hell but maybe the “undulating horizon” was a bit too much. Maybe. In general though, I liked the horrifically vivid descriptions – “the amorphous black mass clung on, expanded and enveloped the shadow’s face like a snake attempting to swallow a meal that might in time prove to be too large. A violent struggle erupted.” I want to quote the whole thing but I’ll jump to this. “An eerie, keening wail erupted and Kamara did not know whether it was a wail of agony or triumph nor did she know which of the struggling anomalies was sounding it. …The shadow continued to try to pry its attacker off, but it was a fruitless struggle and soon the Shadow’s arms went limp and the wailing stopped.” It is writing like this that gives this paranormal adventure shades of gothic horror.
I especially love how the book uses and twists the lore of the Caribbean – the mythical/supernatural lore I grew up on – in to something feverishly fresh. I like how it plays with the lore which includes appearances by zombies, jumbies, lagahoo, soucouyants, vampires (not called vampires). And I loved that the story wrung genuine reactions out of me. I literally exclaimed “Oh my God” when the zombies showed up. I let out two “ews” when one demon, as compelled by another, literally ate itself to death. At one point I was like “wait, there are walking trees too?” There weren’t but close enough. So many inventive set pieces and battle sequences, that the story never fails to surprise (including one betrayal I probably should have seen coming but didn’t) and enthrall.
Final verdict: I like this book. It is so fun with its dark humor, gore, heady pace, tight plot spaces, effective characterization. Some favourite lines which can communicate better than I the delightful fun and strangeness of it all:
“Long walks on the beach, eight glasses of water a day, and no caffeine.” Voss replied, still wearing a plastic smile. “You look pretty good yourself.”
“The house has a dark sense of humor, last night I wanted a steak dinner and I opened the door and there was a dead rotting cow pinned to the ceiling with a pitchfork.”
“Rohan fought violently but the situation was impossible, for the umpteenth time this week he was going to die.”
“For a moment the dog looked at him quizzically as if it thought he was completely insane.”
“She felt like now was a fine time to entertain a full panic, and so she panicked.”
“But blood drinking was still her birthright, and shapeshifter blood, filled with power, was like a peppered steak of some exotic meat.”
“Imelda handled the truck like a professional getaway driver who had six kilos of cocaine in the boot and the Trinidad Police on her rear bumper.”
‘“And I’m heading home. It’s almost noon and I’m still in my nightgown,” Imelda said as she shouldered her assault rifle and made for the door. “See you soon, Jonah?” The last was more a command than a question.’