Chris M. Arnone
Genre: Contemporary Fantasy
Number of pages: 325 print
approx 299 ebook
Word Count: 103,000
Cover Artist: Cassandra Whitney
Gabriel Drake had royally fouled up his life. Before his wife died, he was wealthy, respected, and loved. He pissed away the small fortune he and his wife built, drove away his friends, alienated his family, and even took a few precarious steps on the wrong side of the law. He lost his way. The world had forgotten the man he was, and then a head-on collision between his Jeep and a tree changed everything.
Death would have been easier. Instead, he’s woken up in a strange place where all the lost and forgotten things and people of our world go to rest. The laws of physics seem to be driven more by magic than logic. Cats fly and talk into his mind. He’s in a place where real power has been trampled under the foot of a maniacal emperor, and Gabriel alone has the power to free these forgotten people from the emperor’s iron grip. Which will Gabriel save: these lost and broken people, or his own shattered life?
The expansive cave was filled with statues. Gabriel was immediately reminded of the terracotta army in China, row after row of warriors guarding the tombs of ancient Chinese emperors, but these weren’t warriors. They weren’t distinctly Chinese, either. They were cyclopean; that was the first thing Gabriel noticed. Rather than two equally distanced eyes, each statue had one large eye right above the nose.
Unlike those Chinese statues, these weren’t uniform, either. Different bodies, faces, attire, genders, and ages of Cyclops made up the horde of stone figures. Dread began to creep back up Gabriel’s spine as he saw something they all had in common other than their lack of depth perception: every carved face was locked eternally in an expression of fear. Stout warriors crouched, hiding their faces. Women with horrified looks stood guarding their children. Gabriel wondered what foul mind could have sculpted such horrors over and over again.
“What is this?” Gabriel asked in a hush, frightened voice.
“I don’t know. I’ve never even heard of this place,” Anansi responded. For the first time since Gabriel had met the manticore, he heard and felt doubt and fear coming from the creature. Zhiyan kept staring at the ground, impassive, as Finkle Prime led him along.
“Who is here?” said a voice from the darkness. It sounded like a young woman, with a bright, luscious voice. Something was amiss with it, though Gabriel couldn’t figure out exactly what.
“Who is that?” Gabriel asked Anansi.
“I asked you first, mortal,” The voice said playfully. Gabriel realized what was wrong. The ‘s’ sounds were extended, like Cobra Commander in G.I. Joe, or like a snake using a human voice. Gabriel couldn’t figure out where it was coming from. It wasn’t in his head. He’d heard enough telepathy to know the difference, but this woman’s voice seemed to bounce and echo around the cave and off the statues that filled it.
“Gabriel. My name is Gabriel. Who are you?” He asked, trying to keep his voice steady.
“Gabriel. So kind of you to visit. No one comes to visit anymore. Zhiyan, he keeps them from me. Now here he is, marching to his death, how fitting,” She said happily.
“Prime, halt,” Gabriel said. The big clockwork man stopped and Gabriel saw Zhiyan with his head still bowed, but his eyes were closed tightly and a small smile crept over his face.
“Oh, shit,” Anansi said, suddenly angry. “Zhiyan, if we live through this, I hope the council draws and quarters your giant ass.”
“What is it?” Gabriel asked nervously.
“Ptolema. Eldest and most vicious of the Gorgon sisters,” Zhiyan finally said, still holding his eyes closed tightly and smiling wryly.
“Gorgons? Monsters like Medusa?” Gabriel asked, half in disbelief, half in growing panic. His mind raced. He tried to think of Medusa’s sisters, but the monster didn’t give him time to remember them.
“What do you know of my sister? She was no monster. She was a sweet, innocent girl. Raped and then villainized. No, she was no monster,” Ptolema said, her voice smooth as silk.
“Don’t look her in the eyes!” Anansi suddenly screamed telepathically. He almost didn’t say it in time.
“I am the monster,” She said, her voice dripping with venom. Out of the corner of his eye, Gabriel saw a woman come out of the shadows and into view. One moment later, and he would have looked at her squarely. Instead, he looked several feet to the side of her, taking in her form using his peripheral vision. She was tall as a man, a bit taller than Gabriel from what he could tell, and she wore a ragged red dress that came almost to the ground. Rather than legs, Gabriel saw a mass of writhing snakes skimming along the ground. She tried to dart directly into Gabriel’s view, faster than he expected, but he dropped his eyes fully to the ground. Her arms gleamed a brilliant, shining gold color, and reflected light from Prime’s shoulder lamps all around the cave. Gabriel wondered if her hair was made of venomous snakes like the stories told, but he didn’t chance looking up near her face.
“Why do you look away, Gabriel? Why do you not meet my gaze? Am I not beautiful?” Ptolema asked, almost pouting.
“No thanks. I’d rather not turn to stone today,” Gabriel said, his voice shaking. He remembered the stories of Medusa, how she turned men to stone with her gaze, and how Perseus destroyed her with a mirrored shield.
“There are worse ways to die,” Ptolema said, all the playfulness, seduction, and beauty suddenly gone from her voice. She was deadly serious. And then she was moving. She was fast, so much faster than Gabriel could have imagined. He leapt out of her way, but only just in time. He felt the wind move past him and smelled her, a waft of rotting flesh and dry snakeskin.
Gabriel scrabbled along the cave floor to get away from the horrifying woman. Tiny snake heads snapped at the air behind his heels. He looked all around for something, anything to fight with, to hide behind, anything.
“Oh, get up, little man. Die on your feet,” Ptolema balked, and then laughed at him, but only briefly. A massive shadow suddenly came over Gabriel, blocking out the light from Prime’s lamps. Fearful of looking up, he looked around and saw a massive paw, like one belonging to a lion that was three times larger than it should have been. A deafening roar filled his ears and Gabriel crawled out from under the creature, seemingly unnoticed. It was almost a giant lion, except it had two equally huge red feathered wings and the tail of a scorpion, its stinger poised to strike some thirty feet up in the air.
Chris M. Arnone’s Top Ten Authors
Top ten authors, huh? This idea was challenging for the same reason I hate websites that ask about favorite anythings as security challenge questions: favorites are ever-changing. I have a favorite novel, but only until I read something better. I have a preferred music streaming service, but only until someone creates something more sophisticated. Eventually, I was able to pick ten authors. You want me to put them in order of preference? Forget that business. So here are my ten favorite authors in alphabetical order. Yeah, I cheated. So be it.
· Margaret Atwood
Atwood is a recent find for me. Looking at my favorite authors last year, I realized most of them were dudes. I hadn’t been steering away from female authors, but after seeing the trend, I decided to course-correct and purposefully went after reading some women. I’ve been reading the MaddAddam trilogy from Atwood and it’s fantastic. Her voice, pacing, and world-building are all top-notch. She’s quickly risen in my ranks and I’m now looking for her books in bookstores.
· Ray Bradbury
Bradbury has an astounding body of work, but it’s really his passion for writing that puts him up on my list. Don’t get me wrong, Something Wicked This Way Comes and Fahrenheit 451 are a couple of my favorites, but he had this intense passion for writing. If he had an idea, he would literally sprint to his typewriter to get it on paper.
· Michael Chabon
Chabon is one of those few authors that can write a metaphor, a paragraph, or a whole damn book that makes me stop and think, “I’ll never be good and that’s okay.” His ideas are diverse, complex, and he’s masterful in his execution. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is my current favorite novel.
· Neil Gaiman
Gaiman does it all and was one of my first loves of literature. I wasn’t much of a reader until after I finished college, and American Gods was my first full-length read out of school. He writes adult novels, YA, children’s, stage, radio, and even Doctor Who episodes. He does it all with style, a distinct voice, and is pretty awesome as a person, too.
· Joe Hill
I’ve read everything Joe Hill has written. He’s actually the son of Stephen King, but I like him better than his father. While I find King great but uneven, Hill has proven to be brilliant with each outing. Locke and Key is a fantastic indie comic book series, I can’t wait for the Horns movie, and N0S4A2 was fantastic. He also gives the best book recommendations via his Tumblr.
· Elmore Leonard
If you want a master class in dialog, Elmore Leonard is your guy. He wrote exclusively crime fiction, but it was never police procedural drivel you see on television. It was smart, sexy, complicated crime fiction filled with grey characters. It was never as simple as good vs. evil. His dialog, though, wow. Nobody writes more natural, intelligent dialog.
· Gail Simone
Every character is the hero of their own story, the star of their own life. This includes villains. Nobody gets this quite as well as Gail Simone. She’s done great work writing comics such as Batgirl, Tomb Raider, and Red Sonja. Where she’s really excelled is writing Secret Six. Here’s a team of villains, but they all have their own complex back-stories, motivations, loves, hates, and principles. Villains are people, too, and Simone really knows that.
· Neal Stephenson
I know I put these in alphabetical order, but Stephenson would definitely be at the bottom of my top ten list. While I adore Snow Crash and really liked The Diamond Age and Cryptonomicon, the man needs a better editor. He now gets away with publishing these massive tomes that could reasonably be cut down by half. That said, what’s there is intelligent, deeply-researched, and amazingly imaginative. He also has a voice that entertains on every page.
· Mark Waid
Waid is primarily a comic book writer. While he writes all sorts of traditional, publisher-owned superhero work, my favorite from him is this unofficial trilogy of work that detailed the fall of superheroes. It began with DC’s Kingdom Come, continued in DC’s Empire, and finished with Boom’s Irredeemable/Incorruptible. They’re unrelated stories, but thematically related. I love comics and superheroes, but I particularly love taking those ideas and turning them on their heads. I love really examining how the pursuits of heroes or villains can be turned or twisted around.
· August Wilson
August Wilson is one of my favorite playwrights. He’s best known for his series of ten plays that portrayed black life in America, one play set in each decade of the twentieth century. He wrote honest, emotional work that freely mixed in a bit of magical realism for the stage as well. I actually got to see Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom performed in Chicago, and it was one my most memorable theater experiences.
Chris grew up in Independence, MO. He attended college at Truman State University where he pursued his loves of theater, music, and the written word. Now, he makes his home in Kansas City, MO with his wife Christy and their four cats.
Aside from writing feverishly, he is an avid supporter of the Kansas City burlesque, performance, and arts communities. He is an occasional emcee, outspoken supporter of LGBTQ equality, and King of the Nerds. No, you didn't vote for him; that's why he's king, not president.