2012; 293 pages. Book #1 (out of three so far) of the King Henry Tapes. New Author? : Yes. Genre : Urban Fantasy; Urban Noir. Overall Rating : 9*/10.
So far, the life of 14-year-old King Henry Price (what kind of parents would name their son “King” anyway?) has been pretty crappy. He sucks at schoolwork, gets into lots of fights, and cusses. A lot. His Mom is going crazy (literally), and his Dad drinks and tokes too much. To boot, he lives in the mucky city of Fresno, California. Can things get any worse, King Henry?
Why yes, yes they can. For instance, your folks just signed you up for four years at some sort of weird academy called The Asylum. Now hop into the car with the strange lady and get going. At least the school isn’t in Fresno.
What’s To Like...
The school in The Foul Mouth and The Fanged Lady has a Harry Potter feel; the vampires could come from a Christopher Moore novel, and the mission could be one of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files. So if you like any of those authors, this is your kind of book. Yet the combination here is fresh and original.
There’s lots of action and lots of wit. And of course, lots of cussing, despite the ban on it at King Henry’s new school. Some habits are hard to break.
There are actually three timelines to follow. The first is “present-day”, with King Henry heading off to a new school. The second is 8 years after that, when he is volunteered for a mysterious mission. The third is another 12 years after that, and consists of an older, wiser King Henry making tapes of his experiences for future generations of students at The Asylum.
The book skips from one timeline to another, but the main one is “The Mission”. And although you’ll meet a fair amount of fascinating characters, there are only three you need to keep track of – King Henry, Annie B., and Ceinwyn Dale.
I found Richard Raley’s writing to be deftly engaging. There’s enough cussing to set the Urban Noir tone, yet (for me) it never got annoying. And the author shows us King Henry with three different levels of maturity in the three timelines. That was really done well.
If September in Fresno is a hellhole, then January is just depressing.
Fresno is always depressing, a mass of consumerism, a growing tumor in the middle of a fertile crescent that can out-produce all the other fertile crescents that have come before. The land around it feeds millions with its rich earth – there’s colors, of fruits and vegetables and cotton and nuts, so much green you see it in your dreams – but inside the asphalt and concrete maze there’s nothing but shades of gray, the splash of tan to occasionally spice it up. Tract-homes, shopping malls, sidewalks and street lamps. (loc. 468. My company has a plant in Fresno. This is a fitting description.)
“Regretfully, Gentlewoman,” Annie B said across our standoff, “Events kept me from returning for a donor. I was unpredictably pushed beyond any limit I’d expect to near.”
“What she means to say,” I translated for the two men, “Is that we beat the crap out of each other. How about you boys back off?”
Annie B rolled her eyes. So did Gentlewoman Moore. Vamps or not, they were still using female shells. “What Artificer Price means to say is that he took extra convincing to agree to help us with our problem, but since he has agreed, he’s under my protection and I’ll be the only one feeding off of him.” (loc. 2429)
The Foul Mouth and The Fanged Lady is a free download at Amazon. The other two books in the series both sell for $3.99 apiece. Richard Raley also offers three short stories, set in the same series, for $0.99 each.
“Know what sounds better than nineteen vampires gasping? Nineteen vampires crapping their pants.” (loc. 4720)
The timeline-hopping may be at confusing at first, but it keeps the narrative from bogging down, and you’ll quickly become accustomed to it. Everything builds nicely to a good ending, despite a slightly-contrived device that we’ll hazily call the Invisible Clone.
I would’ve liked if some of the other characters – T-Bone, Maudette, Boomworm, Plutarch, Heinrich Welf, Asa, etc. – had been developed more. I suppose that’s a sign of a great storyteller. Perhaps they’ll play bigger parts down the road in the series.
TFM&TFL was a pleasant surprise. I’m not big on vampires, nor part of the target audience for Urban Fantasy. But I do like wit, action, and originality, and this book excels in those areas. 9 Stars. Add ½ star if you still haven’t gotten your fill of Vampire stories. Subtract 2 stars if foul language offends you, although the title should’ve clued you in.