Ryonna’s Wrath by Christian Kallias – 4/5 Stars

Ryonna's Wrath (Trials) by Christian Kallias
‘Ryonna’s Wrath’ (not ‘trials’) is the new name of this novella, as far as I know.

Fundamentally, Ryonna’s Wrath is about Droxian female alien Ryonna’s attempt to break into the maximum security prison Hellstar to save her son Jax, who we can assume has been wrongly imprisoned. However, the story also has a few parallel plots running, where Ryonna will learn about the circumstances that led to the ruination of her family. Along the way, she meets a friend called Alix, a friendly, helpful, and indispensable part of her team. Ryonna’s friendship with Alix is troubled by a vision she had of his death at her hands – visions she sees that are due to her unique ability of foresight that activates when she becomes acquainted with somebody.

It was engrossing reading about the pickles Ryonna got herself in and seeing how she would be able to get out of them. The theme of torture repeated a few times, but was written about in different ways so it didn’t bore. The technologies were colourful and simple to understand, and for this reason it made the action scenes flow seamlessly. More than one action scene reminded me of the video game Metal Gear Solid, which was well adapted.

The dialogue was always engaging, and sometimes a bit of personality leaked through: ‘Now we’re square puke wise.’

Criticism: the ‘voice’ of the story, while a signature style of the author’s, did not vary much between characters leaving the reader with people that sounded the same when they spoke, lending confusion as if the story was a narration; though an enjoyable one.

There could have been more depth to the story. Some of the prose was a bit simplistic and one-dimensional, perhaps because it was from Ryonna’s point of view and because all she wanted was revenge or justice. And crucially, you didn’t get to know how Ryonna breaks her son out of Hellstar, arguably the main point of the story. I don’t think the author left it to the reader’s imagination. Likely, this will be covered later on in his novel series, but throughout I thought I was going to get some follow-up in this novella as to all the plans Ryonna made. As a result of the lack of depth, I didn’t feel justified giving it the full 5 stars, but it was a fine point to make.

Some of the scenes were too similar to Metal Gear Solid, in that I could make a direct connection between characters of the video game moving, fighting, or manipulating others; drop to one knee, shattered glass, battling a mech with a lot of jumping around, and a main character’s fate. Nonetheless, it was engaging and some ideas were new, or new enough, like the light-blades.

Ryonna’s Wrath is like a Star Wars novel, but without the political and techno babble, and fused with fantasy instead. Aside from any preconceptions I might have had about the novella, I found the writing to be exciting, fast-paced, and intriguing. It brings forward the visual technology and the movement of action scenes with clarity. I liked seeing Ryonna in action, and some of her battle scenes and struggles were borderline epic. I did prefer his novel Earth: Last Sanctuary, but I would read from this author again. Ryonna’s Wrath is a quick nugget of thrills and excitement, so if you’re looking for a short space opera read then this should quite easily satisfy your need.

Christian Kallias’ website

The Unlucky Man by HTG Hedges – 4/5 Stars

The Unlucky Man by HTG Hedges

I don’t know what my expectations were for The Unlucky Man – I was looking for something dystopian, dark, and that I hadn’t read before – and believe it or not that’s what I got! I’d classify it as an urban dystopian fantasy with supernatural and thriller elements. Ultimately, it’s about ordinary man John Hesker who is talking with best friend Corg when a body smashes on top of their car. They’re questioned by an investigator called Whimsy, who is a man only half-interested in what they are saying and seems to ask his questions ‘on a whim’, so he was well-named. However, it’s not long before the dark elusive organisation called Control will send its most accomplished assassin Wychelo (like a witch with dark unnerving pools for eyes) to kill Jon and therefore hide its secrets. When a disturbing supernatural force is injected into Jon, he goes on the run, over Old Links bridge where there is no law and only savagery awaits.

Well, HTG Hedges has an eye for atmosphere and setting, which places the reader into a three-dimensional world that brought clarity and richness to every description of setting, and was applied consistently throughout. I’d say this was the best feature of his writing, and made me feel as if I was reading something new or rare. The writing from 76% captured me fully, immersing me into complete disorientation, which was the intention, into a graphic hell that was also somewhat pleasant on the senses to witness.

Criticism: it took me a while to remember who the villains were, especially their names and what distinguished them, because they had small parts and mainly from the point-of-view of Jon. Closer to the end there was a touch too much background information on the villains, which though missing before to add mystery, was inserted a little late in this relatively short novel. Third-person omniscient was used to re-shine a light on the villains at 67%, which though I worried the plot was crumbling at this point it did actually put things back into perspective where they had been missing in the car-chases and well-directed action scenes. Third-person and first-person point-of-view was mingled, which lent the story inconsistency and did become more noticeable as it progressed. On that same note, the author was adept at using first-person to add depth, colour, and contrast that I haven’t seen before when reading from first-person POV, but his use of third-person omniscient from 76% was a display of incredible writing. It seems the author needs to decide on where his strengths lie and how to use point-of-view with consistency to deliver maximum impact. I would have enjoyed this more if it was better balanced as well: two-thirds action and one-third background/conclusion didn’t move events forward in a way that I had hoped.

Overall, I don’t think HTG Hedges’ readers will be disappointed by his writing. The atmospheric descriptions, combined with metaphor, worked consistently well throughout. I was often curious where the plot was going, and when things turned chaotic I was utterly absorbed, with mouth agape. Piecing together the sub-elements of the plot didn’t come immediately to me, but when parts did they made sense and piqued my interest. There’s some terrific writing in this.

HTG Hedges’ Website