Scribbling Scrivener Reads: Hard Day’s Knight by John Hartness

Since I was in the mood for something more comedic for this month’s book review, I decided to pick up the first book in John G. HartnessBlack Knight Chronicles series. Hard Day’s Knight is a brisk, vampire buddy comedy centered around James (Jimmy to everyone) Black. Along with his best friend and fellow vampire private investigator, Gregory W. Knightwood IV, they make up Black Knight Investigations.

I got the impression most of their cases do not involve the supernatural but the case in this first book does.  Set around Halloween, Jimmy and Greg are approached by a teenager desperate to be turned into a vampire so that he can save his family from a witch’s curse. It’s easy to dismiss the kid’s claim until Jimmy and Greg encounter the fourteen-year-old girl who put the curse on the kid and his family. It’s immediately apparent that something is off with her beyond some bored teenager messing around with magic. All hell begins breaking loose once they confront her as they learn a string of kidnapped kids is connected to the demon Baal being summoned. From there the book rapidly progresses toward trying to prevent Hell on Earth from happening.

My favorite part, and where I think the strength of the book lies, was Jimmy and Greg. I loved that while they are vampires, they don’t fit into any of the stereotypes. In fact they fit more in with the nerd/geek stereotype more than vampire although they do have typical vampire enhancements like speed and strength. Also, they aren’t bad guys. And while they became vampires against their wills, they don’t mope about it at all. Instead they have embraced it and view it anything else. Just shit they’ve got to deal with. There are lots of other spins on the vampire trope that I enjoyed including how their best friend is a priest, their special vampire powers are not distributed equally between the two of them, and how Greg stays away from feeding off of people choosing instead to stick with the packets of blood they get from the hospital.

Another thing I enjoyed were many of the supporting characters. Mike, their priest best friend that they’ve known since childhood, is a nice companion to Jimmy and Greg. Because they grew up together, Jimmy and Greg don’t really treat Mike any differently just because of his association with all that is good in the world. Nor does Mike view either of his friends as evil and abominations despite their undead status. I also liked Detective Law even though she does come across as somewhat stereotypical hard-nosed, no nonsense cop. I also found it a little hard to buy into how quickly she accepted being around vampires, fallen angels, and actual witches before encountering demons.

The plot of the book was easy and mostly straight forward although I thought the pacing was a bit too brisk at times for me. I found myself re-reading some parts because of confusing action sequences or because people would just randomly pop in. I know that Jimmy and Greg have only a few days to stop Hell from bubbling up, but I would have liked the book a more if parts of it had been slowed down. The beginning was paced quite well it was once we got into what was going on and who was possibly behind it that things became too frantic and a little hard to follow. Also, I think the brisk pace didn’t allow for the kind of character development I typically like especially for the first book in a series. Jimmy, Greg, and Mike we get a good picture of, which makes sense. It’s the supporting characters like Phil, Lilith, and even Detective Law that would have benefited from a slightly slower pace.

Overall, if you are looking for a fun, quick read with characters that don’t take themselves seriously, except when the situation requires it and even then, Hard Day’s Knight would be a good choice. I’m definitely interested in reading more books in the series especially when I’m in the mood for something light. On a scale of one to five pencils, I give it three pencils.

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Weekly Musing: The Basics Part One – Character

Over the last few years I’ve noticed people seem to have forgotten what the basic elements of a story are. I’ve also noticed certain terms misused by both avid book readers and fans of TV and movies during discussions. At first I dismissed this as people getting terms mixed up in the heat of the moment during a debate. But the more I hear this confusion, the more I pondering maybe it’s not a simple brain fart. Over the next few weeks I’ll be going over the basic literary elements in an effort to help people keep things straight.

First, let’s start with what makes up a story. We’ve got characters, setting, plot, conflict, and resolution. Most of these elements have many components to them which is where I think people get confused and mix up terms. Keep in mind that any information I’m presenting is quite basic and doesn’t apply 100% to every story. Many books exist which don’t follow these “rules” exactly which is what makes it’s fun for the reader.

Let’s start with one of my favorite parts of a story and what I personally start with and that is Character.

Each story has at least one character known as the protagonist. Most of the time it is a human but can be an animal or even an inanimate object. Most people associate the term protagonist as the main character is good. This is regardless of genre and for the most part, stories do revolve around what we would consider a good person.

Many stories have one protagonist whom the story revolves around. However, it’s important to keep in mind not all stories have only one protagonist. Other characters can be used and some novels exist where it’s hard to define who the protagonist is. Usually this happens in an epic series, such as A Song of Ice and Fire, but can happen within a standalone novel. Family sagas are another example where there may be multiple protagonists.

The opposite of the protagonist is the antagonist. Usually this character is thought of as the bad guy or girl as they are trying to prevent the protagonist from achieving something. Again, the antagonist doesn’t have to be human as it could be nature, an animal, or even the protagonist if the story is the character’s internal struggle. Just as it is possible for a story to have multiple protagonists, it’s possible to have multiple antagonists. Perhaps the lead character is facing several adversaries on his or her journey. Or if the story has multiple main characters, each will more than likely have their own antagonist.

One thing I’d like for more people to realize is that although terms like protagonist and antagonist set up a good vs. evil connotation, this isn’t always the case. What it means is we have a main character who has an adversary of some kind. Stories exist in which the protagonist is evil and their opponent is good. These are rare, but they are out there.

Next we move into minor characters. Simply put, a minor character serves to help advance the story along in some way. A majority of stories have at least one minor character. Either minor characters can play a small, ancillary role, such as the briefly seen parents of a protagonist, or they can play a significant role such as a sidekick, advisor, comic relief, eventually dead best friend, etc.

A very important component for a character’s story is determining what point of view in which to tell their story. Most stories use first person or some form of third person whether it’s limited (strictly from one and only one character’s point of view but not using words like “I” or “me”) or omniscient (telling the story via more than one character). Very rarely is second point of view used in which the narrator uses “you” as a way to distance himself or herself from the story.

Generally a story is told from the protagonist’s point of view whether that be first person or third person. However, like everything else in literature, there are exceptions. In One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, the narrator is Chief yet the main character is Randle Patrick McMurphy. In the Harry Potter series, Harry is the main character and the story is told through third person limited. More complicated novels will frequently employee multiple points of views in order for the reader to see the big picture.

 

Although these are some of the basics that go into the character element, it’s easy to see how quickly an author can complicate things. Even turning one of these components on its head can vastly change the complexion of a story before factoring in the other pieces such as setting, the plot, conflict, and resolution.

Weekly Musing: I’ve Got a Crush On You

Ahhh, the stench of soon-to-be-decaying flowers and melted chocolate permeates the air this time of year. Yes, it’s Valentine’s Day. A day meant to celebrate love apparently forgetting that there are actually 365 days in a year, all of which provide a fine opportunity to celebrate love.

I’ve mentioned in the past that I don’t consider myself to be the most romantic of people. But this hasn’t stopped me from having a crush or two or more on a fictional character. I’m not ashamed to admit that since I know I’m in good company and I know it’s not gender, age, or genre specific.

Why is that we as human beings develop crushes on a fictional character? I think the quickest and easiest answer is because the fictional character stays the same. Even the most well-developed character is still static. After all, he or she isn’t subject to the real world on a daily basis and can’t be beat down by life. It’s a comforting thought especially when life is ever changing and the story and characters on the page will always be there.

Either that or having a crush on a fictional character is just plain fun.

I don’t think there’s anything harmful or odd about it. Most people know the difference between real life and fiction and I think the crush, like real life ones, passes. At least it does for me but I’m fickle. In fact I think it might be a compliment to the author because he or she has written a character so likeable that they become likeable.

When we do develop a crush on a fictional character, what is it that first draws us in? Is it the physical description or is it personality? I imagine a lot of it has to do with what we find agreeable in real life. I know for me it’s all about what kind of personality the character has. Write a funny, smart, and somewhat awkward and snarky male character and chances are I’ll be hooked. Throw in a physical description of dark hair and eyes and I’m ready to throw on a T-shirt with the dude’s name on it.

Not really. I’m not insipid.

Or maybe it’s about being strangely drawn to a fictional character the polar opposite of what we would consider worthy of our time in real life. But in between the pages of a book, he or she is worth our time and long after we close the book they stay with us. In a way it’s kind of like “dating” but without the cost of a date and messiness real relationships have.

Does what we find crush-worthy in a fictional character reflect what we desire in real life or vice versa? Ahhh, the classic which came first: the chicken or the egg? The answer probably has a lot to do with what kind of books you read and at what age you started reading them.

For example, most of the books I read as a teenager were not romantic as I wasn’t into that stuff. If the stories did have it, I really didn’t pay attention. It wasn’t until I feel in love in real life that I started paying attention to that kind of stuff. An ah-ha moment happened in which I recognized I seemed to fancy a certain kind of romantic male character.

Which leads me to ponder what if I had always been of a romantic heart and read romance novels, would I have turned out differently? Naturally there are more solid psychological factors that contribute into what we find attractive that far outweigh the influence of a book. Much as it pains to me somewhat dismiss the power the written word can have on life in some instances.

In the end, we all have crushes on a fictional character. Whether it be more of a romantic kind or a type of wish fulfillment, it doesn’t matter. It’s hard not to when an author has worked hard to craft a character and story that resonates with readers. It’s part of the process of trying to elicit from the reader a visceral reaction. So regardless if you have a special real life someone, go ahead and snuggle up with your fictional crush once in a while. Have fun imagining him or her feeding you ice cream in the bath tub.