Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Chronicles of M - Nicholas Forristal

    2013; 330 pages.  Book One  (out of 6) in the Chronicles of M series  New Author? : Yes.  Genre : Paranormal; Zombies; Dark Fantasy.  Overall Rating : 7*/10.

    For Sam Horn, this is a long-awaited day: it’s his first day of retirement, he’s here at the bank to make a deposit, and he’s feeling good.  For thirty-three years he’s been an agent for various spoiled movie celebrities, catering to their every whim and convincing studios they should put up with his clients’ insane demands.  But that’s all behind him now, and nothing’s going to ruin his day.

    Well, maybe not.  When a gang of bank robbers takes the whole place hostage, things could turn ugly.  But fortunately, Sam’s mastered the art of persuasion during his long career in Tinsel-town.  When his clients won’t be in the latest movie unless they get a gallon jug filled with red M&Ms, a bottle of whiskey made in Scotland between the years 1950 and 1960, and a dressing room with excellent Wifi reception, it’s up to her agent to sweet-talk the studio to feel good about acquiescing.

    It helps, of course, that our would-be robbers are rather dim-witted.  So it’s just another day at the job for Sam.  He just needs to convince them to set the hostages free, give themselves up, all in the belief that the courts will give them a lighter sentence for cooperating so freely.  No big deal.

    It works like a charm, Sam gets a small mention in the news reports, and he once again settles down to begin enjoying his retirement.  So imagine his surprise when he gets a message that someone saw his negotiating skills and wants to Sam to come to work for his company.  The details, however, are hush-hush until he commits.

    Now why would they do that?

What’s To Like...
    The Chronicles of M is the first installment in a 6-book series with the same name.  The series is complete, which is always nice to know.  There's action immediately, although thereafter it becomes somewhat sporadic.  This is a paranormal book, with the primary focus on zombies.

    I liked Nicholas Forristal’s approach to this.  Zombies are generally portrayed as slow-moving, brainless hero-fodder, and that gets old after a while.  Here you’ll learn about the 5-stages of zombie-ism, and maybe even develop a bit of empathy for them.

    I also liked the relationship between the two main protagonists – our hero Sam and our superhero “M”.  Instead of being buddy-buddies from the get-go, things are rather “frosty”.  M’s kind of a butthead, and Sam has few skills to complement his superhero pal.  The story is told in the first-person POV, mostly Sam’s, but a couple chapters are from M’s perspective.  There’s quite a bit of cussing, almost all by M, but hey, he’s just a hot-headed kid, isn’t he?

    There aren’t a lot of characters to keep track of – just focus on Sam, M, Thomas, and Marcus and you’ll be okay.  Don’t be fooled by a cameo appearance by someone named Ned; I’m pretty sure that was a pair of typos that should’ve been Todd.  The settings are similarly sparse – once you get beyond the NYC intro, you’re pretty much limited to the United Hero Defense ("UHD") headquarters and an out-in-the-sticks town called Dead Man’s Bluff.

    The ending is okay, but not spectacular.  Sam decides to sign up with the UHD (well, you knew that was gonna happen, elsewise there’d be no series, right?), and the causes of M’s mood issues are revealed, if not resolved.  There are lots more unanswered questions; presumably these are addressed as the series progresses.  Indeed, the ending felt more like a pause than a climax, albeit at a logical point.  But Nicholas Forristal’s writing skills were sufficient to  keep things from bogging down.

    I sit up in my chair, “Okay, so M is a crime fighter, like a superhero?  And you are his sidekick?  Do you two wear costumes?  Can you fly?”  I let the sarcasm flow out of me.  M is maybe nineteen, at most.  Thomas actually thinks I’ll believe M is as old as I am?
    “Costume?  Have you ever tried to do anything in spandex, or even a suit?  I assure you, it’s no fun.”  (loc. 414)

    An explosion knocks me on my backside.  The door on the left side shoots across the hall and slams into the opposing wall with a thunderous boom.  Fire peeks out of the doorway as black clouds of smoke roll across the ceiling.  A man screams, “I told you not to do that!”
    Another voice responds, “Sorry, forgot the catalyst.”
    “Catalyst?  Are you kidding me?  If you had used the catalyst we’d be dead right now, you idiot!”
    “Don’t call me an idiot, jerk.”
    “Don’t call me a jerk, idiot.”  (loc. 1883)

Kindle Details...
    Chronicles of M sells for $0.99 at Amazon.  The other five books in the series go for $2.99 each.  You can buy the whole series bundled together for $15.94, but that saves you absolutely nothing.  And finally, you can buy books 1-3 bundled together for $6.99, but if you do that, you need to take a remedial math course.

To steal a line from Vonnegut, M is “unstuck in time.”  (loc. 2062)
    There are some quibbles.  While I wouldn’t call the pacing slow, it certainly isn’t brisk either.  We don’t meet our first zombie until 50%-Kindle.  Everything before that is world-building.  This is necessary, I suppose, for the 6-book series, but it’s going to be disappointing to anyone expecting the usual zombie-must-find-brains mayhem.

    The main snag for me was the lack of a main storyline.  The blurb makes it sound like it’s a tale about investigating some zombie killings, and it’s true that there's a plotline involving that.  But it’s almost a story tangent, and from start to finish, it lasts about 10%-Kindle.  Resolving it is neither difficult nor tense.

    All this isn’t helped by a number of side-stories that became a bit tedious.  I counted four of them – the tour of the HQ, the “mad baker”, Marcus’s backstory, and then M’s backstory as well.  Do they add to the world-building?  Yes, definitely.  Do they keep you on the edge of your seat?  No.

    In general, Chronicles of M reminded me of the first Men in Black movie, where Will Smith spends a lot of time trying to figure out what the heck is going on.  But there, a galaxy needed saving.  Here, you have to be content with just figuring things out.

    7 Stars.  I’m unsure how much significance to put on these quibbles.  It could be that Nicholas Forristal intends this first book to simply be an introduction to the rest of the series: get the characters onstage; get the world-building out of the way, and set the tone.  If the next five books are action-packed with compelling storylines, this is a small price (literally and figuratively) to pay.  But if the next five books have more backstories than thrills and spills, then things could drag.

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