Wednesday, September 16, 2009

"Horn" by Peter M. Ball

Title: "Horn"
Author: Peter M. Ball
Pages: 80
Format: Novella
Genre: Urban Fantasy/ Pulp-ish
Publisher: Twelfth Planet Press

Prelude: I decided to add a prelude to each review I write for the kicks of adding a personal angle to the whole reading experience. For one I do like talking too much, but it’s my recent observation that I am becoming a bit too dry in my reviews. “Horn” by Peter M. Ball popped up in my mail the standard for reviewers fashion; I was contacted by the publisher. It’s a good feeling. I wish I could enjoy this novella in one quiet afternoon, but I had to be content with 5 am during my night shift.

What you can expect: “Horn” is a fast and entertaining read, which I can categorize as urban fantasy rooted in the classic pulp fiction, not that I have read much of the latter, but certainly different from the urban fantasy popular now.

Pros: An interesting protagonist, who is older by a decade than most heroines in the genres as well as being a lesbian, which adds a whole new dimension to exploring the story. I enjoyed the world building choices a great deal and the narrative prose fell to my liking.

Cons: The notion that I probably should have read something before the events of “Horn” to immerse myself in the story completely was slightly irritating, but the story presented is understandable. I’d also mention the bestiality scene, although I personally wasn’t affected by it all, but I am jaded like this and perhaps this scene would be tasteless and disturbing to some readers.

Summary: A unicorn in heat can inspire a lot of trouble and doesn’t ex-cop turned private investigator Miriam Aster know the downside to a disturbing event such as Sally Crown’s murder. Called by her former colleague in the force Tim Kesey, and teaming with coroner Heath Morrow, who knows how whacked a case can be with Miriam, Aster submerges in the underground she least wants to communicate with, the magical sort. The beast has been slain, but the culprit behind the unicorn smuggling and the murder remains unpunished, which means only one thing: a painful trip to the past. Even more agonizing, when this past has a name, Anya Titan.

Characters: For me the show was definitely stolen by Miriam Aster, who is the first lesbian I have read about as a narrating character. “Horn” is written by a man, so I couldn’t validate on how accurately the author represented female homosexuality, but to me it was nevertheless a first experience with such a character.

What I find positive here is that her homosexuality is a given fact, which doesn’t take center stage and turn Miriam into a coming-out or struggling to find her place in society protagonist. Sex is only hinted vaguely in Miriam’s past, which leaves her homosexuality as an additional layer to the character. Reading about a woman narrating about a painful relationship with another woman adds a whole new dimension to the law enforcer archetype in urban fantasy pantheon.

Aster is the tough as nails chick, but unlike most urban fantasy heroines, who feel empowered via a mixture of status, a special talent and that irresistible doze of sex appeal, Miriam draws strength from surviving in a male dominated area and building a career in law enforcement, which comes at the expense of great sacrifice. She’s the old dog and gifted sleuth with a dry, raw voice that hides certain charisma a reader most likely would find in a classic 50’s pulp novel. This quality to Aster is what made me pulled me in and see whether she would ignore her better judgment or abide her years of somewhat bitter experience. The inner fight between nobility and self preservation from re-opening old wounds is effortlessly found in between the lines and delivered with skillful simplicity.

The remaining cast doesn’t create the impression of brilliant achievement in characterization, but each and every name popping up brings me to a small era, an accumulation of the 20s and the 50s. Tim Kesey knows how things should be done and he follows his methodology as the strict, but golden hearted officer figure, while heath Morrow is the likeable oddball. Anya Titan is the distressed femme fatale with her own personal tragedy, while Mister Drabble to me embodied that slick criminal mobster vibe.

Story: “Horn” is more or less about the small elements that build the bigger picture than the plot itself. The story is pretty straight forward, which I don’t mind. Following an investigation can be a treat under the right circumstances and such is the case here. Ball’s prose is brisk and reflective of Miriam’s temperament as well as it manages to transport me to an authentic pulp atmosphere, where a certain kind of class hung in the air and in between the lines.

I can’t say that “Horn” is novella that takes pride on its story line. The plot is pretty straight forward and the reader will stick closely to Miriam as she starts from the crime scene moves to suspects and then uncovers the truth, which here is bitter, sad, avoidable and a shame all together blended to create a successful suspension of belief. Favorable here is also the world building, which is subtle and shaded into our own world one magical piece after another. I like the deviation in the belief that pixies and unicorns are loveable creatures and instead here are portrayed as vile bastards. The innocence behind the magical realm full of elves, fairies and wondrous beasts has withered and replaced by the gritty, venomous air that is hovering in our dark alleys.

I did feel that I needed to have read more to truly understand the complexity and depth of Miriam’s pain connected with Anya Titan, but it’s a small subtle tease that doesn’t lead to anywhere. Another element of “Horn” I sense that would cause problems with readers apart from a gay protagonist would be the bestiality scene, though I personally do believe that being impaled on a unicorn’s literal horn is not a sexual act, even if in this novella it served as a reproductive act.

The scene itself is very brief and the details provided do not cause nausea, but they do disturb and this serves a purpose naturally. Thinking about why the author wrote this scene took me to the theme of loss of innocence. Miriam Aster has loved, lived life to fullest. The illusion that life is a wondrous place is shattered once she spirals downwards and life has shown its ugly side. Magic is as real as you and me, but it’s not that sweet escape from the trouble, but a nightmare waiting to feast on you. This scene as disturbing as it is, but hammers the final nail in innocence’s coffin, both in life, in love and in magic.

The Verdict: I would recommend this, because there are certainly themes incorporated here that are usually overlooked or presented in a more acceptable way. “Horn” lurks in the dark spectrums of speculative fiction, where you can expect everything and anything. I’d say this is an excellent read for the brave that wish to push their limits.

2 comments:

Dannie said...

Oooh looks interesting. I love all things pulp fiction, so I might have to check it out :)

Harry Markov: daydream said...

It's pulp fiction as far as my definition for it goes. I am not well versed in that field, so I may have a certain misleading idea.

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