MR. WICKER, by Maria Alexander

22545259Mr. Wicker
By Maria Alexander
Published by Raw Dog Screaming Press, 16th September 2014
ISBN: 1935738666 – 236 Pages – Paperback
Source: Raw Dog Screaming Press

You may recall the fabulous cover illustration of this from when Reading 1000 Lives took part in the Mr. Wicker cover reveal awhile back. Since then Mr. Wicker has earned a 2014 Bram Stoker Award nomination for Superior Achievement in a First Novel. In her debut novel, Alexander draws from mythological sources, particularly Celtic, to form a richly imaginative story that combines elements of fantasy, horror, romance, and historical novels.
In the throes of depression and instability horror writer Alicia Baum succumbs to suicide. Rather than offering any release, she finds herself in a timeworn library before a strange man who speaks of lost memories and a desire born from destiny to have her stay beside him, Mr. Wicker, in this mysterious realm beyond life where he can reunite her with all she has lost. Alicia, despite recognizing this sense of incompleteness within herself that has fueled her mental instability, chooses instead to flee from the uncertain strangeness of Mr. Wicker and his abode. Eternal rest ever elusive, Alicia awakens back to the reality of life, placed in a psychiatric ward under the care of doctors who would never accept her odd experiences.
But, Dr. James Farron has heard child patients in his care whisper in their dreams about the uncanny Mr. Wicker, and overhearing Alicia do the same draws him into serving as her advocate and protector, from her own mind and the corruption of hospital staff. In return he hopes to finally discover the secret to the Mr Wicker phenomena and save his patients.
A synopsis of Mr. Wicker‘s plot simply can not do its intricacies and many layers justice, and too much information can spoil the fun. In a way, Alexander has constructed the novel like a puzzle, and some pieces can be found outside of the novel proper on her website to uncover new secrets and connections. This construction fits well conceptually with the intermixing of genres that Mr. Wicker for the most part manages to handle rather well. She handles the balance between horror, fantasy, and romance rather well, particularly for a first novel. The story was originally envisioned as a film script and the fluidity of events amid the intertwined structure of character-history-reveal shows the marks of this.
My only major quibble is with the extended interlude toward the novel’s end that makes up the more ‘historical’ genre aspect of the novel. Revealing Mr. Wicker’s past, this section is actually one of my favorite portions of the novel in terms of the language and development on its own. But within the whole it ends up breaking the flow of everything around it, not fully integrated into the whole. Personally I can see this historical interlude working well on the screen, but within the book it felt almost a disruptive info-dump of revelation that may have felt more natural interwoven as all other elements of the novel are.
Rather than being the clear-cut villain as I expected, Mr. Wicker is in fact far more complex, full of bittersweet tragedy. The significance of his name will be familiar to anyone who’s seen either of the Wicker Man films or knows that aspect of Celtic history. I particularly enjoyed Mr. Wicker’s corvoid companions. While I knew of their place in Norse mythology, I hadn’t realized that the raven had similar counterparts in Celtic.
Alicia’s allure as a character arises from her opposing dualities. She is drawn alternatively between life and death, between the influence of Mr. Wicker and Dr. Farron, fear of her present mind and desire to reclaim past memories. Alicia has moments of strong independence and making clear decisions, but then also times where she foolishly blunders or shows utter dependence on a male character. Mr. Wicker and Dr. Farron are (selfishly in one case, more altruistically in the other) each intent on claiming her, either as a sort of property or as a case for care, respectively. For much of the novel Alicia permits herself to be defined in this way, but she ultimately reaches her own self discovery and road to follow, so I’d encourage any readers at first put off by this to stay with the story.
While extremely likable as a character, Dr. Farron is rather predictable and one dimensional, as are the secondary characters of the novel, particularly another doctor who serves as the moral opposite of Farron. To be fair, the unique development of Alicia and Mr. Wicker could also arise from this story’s origin as screenplay, where development of more than a couple characters is simply not recommended.
Ultimately fans of dark fantasy who enjoy a touch of mystery and romance will find Mr. Wicker worth a look, an intricate Celtic knot that Alexander has woven quite well for a debut. I think a tale destined from the start for the page rather than the screen will even more deeply reveal her magic and talent for storytelling.

Disclaimer: I received a free advanced reading copy of this from Raw Dog Screaming Press in exchange for an honest review.

Seduction, by M.J. Rose

15802432Seduction, by M.J. Rose
(The Reincarnationist Series Book 5)
Publisher: Atria Books
ISBN: 1451621507
384 pages, hardcover
Published May 2013
Source: Goodreads First-Reads

Rose has written several thrillers featuring the theme of reincarnation. What drew my interest to this was the inclusion of French culture and the paranormal, so I thought I would give this a try. After winning the giveaway for this new novel by Rose, I discovered that it features the same main protagonist as her previous one, so I found a copy of that to read. Sadly, I probably would have liked this more if I hadn’t done that.

One characteristic of these stories is the use of multiple plot lines that span different time eras that converge together at the end by virtue of the reincarnation theme. A difficulty of Rose’s previous novel was that she also included a present day political thriller into this mix as well, causing the work to lack focus. Here, this is improved, but at the same time, it loses the large-scale significance. As the continuation of the story of the protagonist, Jac, it also runs into the difficulty that the previous book deeply explored the link between memory and smell in relation to the perfumery business of Jac’s family. Here, a great deal of the magic achieved in Rose’s writing in this perfume-memory link is lost, the thread being replaced by the paranormal, occult themes related to the séances of Victor Hugo while on the Channel island of Jersey in exile.

In this paranormal theme Rose again shows her ability to compose some really beautiful prose. She is great with words, she crafts a decent thriller filled with mystique and some chills. However, the major problems I had with her last book in characterizations and achieving a believable voice for different time periods/cultures remains a defect in “Seduction”. While the present-day characters are rendered well, those of the other time periods are far less so, particularly Celtic characters from BCE in passages with word choices that simply appear anachronistic and jarring – albeit not ‘spoken’ in dialogue, it makes the overall tone of these chapters indistinguishable from those set in the present.

What really caused me to enjoy this less than the previous novel, however, was that the overall structure and reincarnation themes that are the central crux of the entire work were already familiar to me. If I had read all the other novels in the series I cannot imagine what new insight this would present. But for those that really like that formula, I guess they will love this just as much as Rose’s other novels. While her last novel piqued my interest with the poetic discussions and history of fragrances to balance out the reincarnation ‘preachiness’, the paranormal aspects in “Seduction” just weren’t strong enough in atmosphere or creepiness to catch such interest from me.

Two  Stars out of Five