Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Hold the Dark by Frank Tuttle

TITLE: Hold the Dark
AUTHOR: Frank Tuttle
PUBLISHER: Samhain Publishing
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 53k)
GENRE: Fantasy mystery
COST: $4.50

Markhat is back, with a new case and a new relationship. Hired by the Hoobin Brothers to find their missing sister, he discovers a halfdead cult and a string of victims that spell doom for Martha Hoobin if he doesn’t find her soon. He enlists aid wherever he can – the beautiful Darla, Martha’s employer; a halfdead lawyer; and the name of the deadly and feared Corpsemaster…

It’s no secret that Frank Tuttle is one of my favorite finds since discovering e-books. I’ve found his brand of humor, combined with tight action and horror elements, refreshing, delightful, and absolutely top-notch. His latest offering is the longest of the three Markhat stories currently available, and while I can’t say that it’s my favorite on a pure entertainment value, I have no hesitations in saying it’s by far the most well-rounded, mature story of the bunch. It’s also so far above a lot of what is available in e-publishing, it sometimes makes it hard to go back to some of the other offerings afterward, because nine times out of ten, they never measure up.

The newest Markhat story departs from its predecessors in numerous ways. First of all, it’s longer. We finally get a short novel size portion of Rannit and all its colorful characters, of Markhat and his world-weary determination, of a mystery that gets the time to twist and turn to its dark heart’s content. While previous stories hinted at what a rich world this was, Tuttle’s skills get to truly shine here as Rannit comes to life in ways we didn’t get before. It beckons the reader to step into its pages with style and aplomb, immersing you in such vivid, beautifully written details, it’s impossible to escape until the end.

Another difference lies in Markhat’s romantic interest. Guess what? He finally gets one! One of the first new characters we meet in this is Darla, Martha’s employer, and she is a wry, intelligent woman worthy of Markhat’s attention. While Samhain labels this book a romance, I have to admit I refrain from doing so comfortably. For me, it’s more of a fantasy with romantic elements. Darla plays a definitive role in this, and Markhat’s feelings toward her are quite pivotal to the plot, but it still feels secondary to the overlying story. In a lot of ways, it’s about the depths Markhat will sink to, and how strong he actually is, rather than his feelings for Darla. He reminds me a lot of Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden, actually, though only in all the best ways.

There is one area where it didn’t quite measure up to previous stories for me. The use of humor in the two earlier stories helped balance the horror and fantasy elements, but here, the humor isn’t quite as prevalent. It’s still there, but this is much more fantasy horror, with splashes of funny tossed in to break up the tension. I didn’t find myself laughing as much as I did with the first ones. For instance, the naming of one of the halfdead, Evis Prestley, made me roll my eyes rather than smile. But this is a minor nitpick, and frankly, probably a product of just how much the first ones made me laugh than any lack on the part of the author.

You really don’t have to read the first two books to enjoy this one. It’s a swiftly paced, darkly realized, fantastic world he’s created, with one of my favorite protagonists ever. You can’t miss with Markhat.


9/10 – Darker than previous installments, and the humor was more of a hit or miss than before, but still gloriously readable


9/10 – Sparkling and full-fledged


8/10 – I loved it until the end, the various denouement explanations bordered on convenient and cumbersome

Entertainment value

9/10 – Other than my mild disappointments in the ending, a solid hit

World building

10/10 – Tuttle finally has the length to explore Rannit the way it should be



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