Tales from The Red Sun Village by Mark Swaine (Review)
Rating: 5/5 Link: Amazon
A definite breath of fresh air — Mark Swaine has done an excellent job in putting together three short stories from different genres, plots, tones and characters into a cohesive novel that feels like the ‘Black Mirror’ of anthology series rather than three separate stories in one. Each story in ‘Tales from a Red Sun Village’ start from the perspective of a third person story-teller, whose mission, personality and character slowly begin to embed itself into the overall narrative as the reader delves into each distinct but wonderfully crafted story.
It was an intriguing anthology novel from the word ‘go’ — an amazing experience as a reader to jump between disparate genres, which didn’t spoil the overarching narrative of the story in any way. Due to the unique nature of this novel, I will be reviewing each short story as if it were a separate story in itself, before tying it together into a satisfying conclusion, much like what Mark Swaine himself has accomplished.
‘The Midnight Foot Masseuse’ — thrilling horror short to whet your appetite
What a way to start your anthology piece with a riveting horror short, which gave me quite a few sleepless nights by the way! Mark Swaine nailed the pacing of this story, from the introduction of the main protagonist as a down and out chef that’s just had life take a total dump on him, to his meeting with the mysterious lady under his bed and the good fortune turnaround that occurs from meeting said lady.
Character descriptions, dialogues, backgrounds and motivations are explored in the most appropriate manner — detailed but succint, leaving the reader just enough clues to figure out the rest of the protagonist’s backstory, life and how he found himself in his current position when we meet him in the story. The lady under the bed, who plays such a pivotal role in the protagonist’s transformation, undergoes a transformation herself from a seemingly helpless ghost under the bed, to a fearfully savage beast that satiates itself with the limbs of her victims.
What really carried the day for me, however, is the way Mark Swaine treated the human relationships in this short. Despite it being a short story, one of three within an anthology novel, Mark wrote simply, with clear diction and prose, that helped to bridge the reader’s familiarity and understanding with the characters with such swiftness, that it surprised me how quickly I got to understand the protagonist and those around him within just the first few paragraphs of the story.
An amazing start to the anthology piece — perhaps a genre the author could fully explore as a story in and of itself.
‘Plus a Few Upgrades’ — The best short in this novel, period.
Quite easily the best of the bunch. This story focuses around the newly emerging theme ‘console/virtual game gone wrong’ adventure (think Ready Player One and Sword Art Online) but it’s an amazingly imaginative, dark and thrilling take on the genre. Readers join the protagonist’s journey of discovery of the game, horror at it’s true implications, distraught at the loss of her brother and the sheer determination it takes to overcome a seemingly disadvantages position.
The game mechanics, goals and adversaries are tastefully introduced, described and executed — the overarching narrative teased out in little bits and pieces until the reader gets a full idea of the project and what’s at stake for the protagonist near the end. Again, mature writing, pacing, diction and grammar are key in delivering this short to the readers. Mark clearly has the knack of telling stories, as much as the main storyteller of the anthology series does, and it translates into a beautifully descriptive piece of adventure, blood and revenge.
The game that the piece centred on really drew me into the story, along with the powers and upgrades that the protagonist was able to access as she made progress through the game, as well as the different environments she found herself in before facing distinct and separate bosses, each with their own backstories, each with grey morality — you knew they were the enemy but there is purpose behind their motives, rather than just being ‘plain evil’.
What a piece — definitely would recommend the author to flesh this out as a full novel sometime in the future. I would pay good money for that!
The Child’s Ward — The knot that ties together the overall story
Finally, the satisfying conclusion. Although this was my least favourite short from the three novels, it doesn’t mean that it wasn’t good. It was an incredibly visual novel, a classic fantasy that was given a good twist near the end in order to attach itself to the main story — giving reason for the third person story teller to visit said ‘Red Sun Village’ and to provide the children the weapons they need in order to survive the hoard.
It was a story that made little sense, but yet made it a satisfying tie in to Kamui Li’s purpose at the Red Sun Village and sheds a little light on the history of the mysterious story teller from afar. It definitely requires two or three reads to really wrap your head around what actually happens in the story — but it’s worth it for all the details that you pick up, the way that Hashimoto tries to fight back against the forces of evil and how it provides the perfect ending to the anthology series as a whole.
A definite read but I recommend the first two stories over the last one any day of the week.
One word — wow! I’ll definitely be looking out for more of Mark Swaine’s works in the near future. Perhaps making one or two of these short stories into full novels? Regardless, a definite recommendation in my books and one that readers of all backgrounds, tastes and preferences would love to have in their library.