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Friday, February 29, 2008

"Happy Hour of the Damned" by Mark Henry

Official Mark Henry Blog
Order “Happy Hour of the DamnedHERE
Read An Excerpt HERE
Read Reviews of “Happy Hour of the Damned” via Darque Reviews, The Fantasy and Sci-Fi Lovin’ Blog + Urban Fantasy Land

Let’s be honest here. In the subgenre that covers urban fantasy, paranormal romance and supernatural mystery, there are just way too many books to choose from anymore. I mean seriously, with new series starting seemingly every week, how are readers supposed to know which ones to read and which ones to avoid? Sure, you have the heavy hitters like Laurell K. Hamilton, Glen Cook’s Garrett P.I. novels, Jim Butcher, Kim Harrison, Simon R. Green, Patricia Briggs, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Charlaine Harris, etc., but what about newer authors? How can we tell which ones are worth the time and the effort? Frankly, I don’t have a definitive answer, but sometimes it just comes down to sheer luck ;)

Take for example Mark Henry’s debut novel “Happy Hour of the Damned”. I was aware of the book, but the main reason I decided to review it was because the author personally contacted me and sent out a signed ARC. And also because he’s a fellow Washingtonian :) As far as the actual novel, “Happy Hour of the Damned” sounds like any other typical contemporary supernatural fantasy you can find on the market today, complete with a female protagonist who narrates in the first person, a mystery investigation, and other common tropes. Factor in a cover that I was not very impressed with, and it’s safe to say that I was not expecting much from Mark’s debut. Which is why “Happy Hour of the Damned” was such a wonderful surprise.

For as generic-sounding as Mark’s book may be, “Happy Hour of the Damned” actually turned out to be one of the most daring and refreshingly distinctive urban fantasy novels that I’ve ever read…and it all starts with the writing, specifically the author’s ability for flair. For instance, the first-person narrative of Seattleite Amanda Feral, our heroine, is presented as her own personal memoir and comes adorned with hundreds of amusing footnotes—kind of like Jonathan Stroud’s The Bartimaeus Trilogy or Susanna Clarke’sJonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell”—numerous insets including drink recipes & DJ set lists, excerpts from supernatural-operated publications like Otherworld Weekly, and even her own author acknowledgments ;) Stylistically, you can expect the writing to be snarky, hip, full of clever plays on words & coined phrases—e.g., deadutantes, flesh-junkie, heterodead, post-mortem elegance, crittery, etc.—and uproariously funny, but don’t mistake humor for wholesome family fun because Amanda is quite the foul-mouth. Which brings me to the characterization, particularly Mark’s authentic portrayal of a vain, fashion-savvy bitch in advertising exec Amanda Feral whose voice was just spot-on. Of the book’s supporting characters like gay vampire Gil, the slutty zombie Wendy and Liesl the succubus, not as much depth is provided, but the author does a good job of imbuing everyone with their own distinguishing traits.

Conceptually, there’s nothing new about having supernatural entities like vampires, zombies, werewolves, and whatnot existing alongside humans and having their own hotspots in nightclubs and bars. Just read one of Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake novels for that idea, but Mark Henry does take it a step further with the aforementioned magazines, their own newspapers, a reality TV show—Undead on Tape—a spa, and even a 12-step group! He also plays around with a couple of mythologies like having two types of zombies: the ones that most people are familiar with—mindless, flesh-eating monsters referred to in the book as ‘mistakes’—and made zombies, which are individuals who have received ‘the breath’, like Wendy and Amanda. Basically, made zombies are just like humans except for being undead, unable to heal—which makes things difficult for someone as beauty-conscious as Amanda :)—and only able to consume flesh & alcohol without developing a severe case of diarrhea. Other interesting ideas is a Hell that’s quite different from the one we probably imagine in our heads, a succubus training camp, and the creepy reapers.

Story-wise, “Happy Hour of the Damned” follows Amanda Feral as she plays Nancy Drew in trying to find her missing friend Liesl. Along the way, readers will get to see Amanda’s life before zombification, how she was made into one of the undead, relive her very first meetings with her supernatural friends (Gil, Wendy, Liesl), and learn of their own origins which are presented as ‘Interludes’. On top of that, Amanda will also stumble onto a diabolical plan to take over the world that involves zombie mistakes, the frightening Elizabeth Karkaroff, and Starbucks… Of everything mentioned, including the writing, the characters, the presentation, and the plot, I’d have to say the story was probably the weakest link. For one, the flashback was a bit too long, the pacing uneven at times, and the world domination plot was kind of silly & flawed. Still, the story was a lot of fun and provided gratuitous amounts of sex, black comedy, and surprisingly graphic violence :) In fact, as a whole I would describe “Happy Hour of the Damned” as Sex in the City meets Shaun of the Dead meets George A. Romero

In the end, Mark Henry’sHappy Hour of the Damned” once again proves that you can’t judge a book by its cover. It also shows that there’s a lot of life left in the urban fantasy subgenre, and even though it’s getting harder to differentiate between all of the releases out there, Mark’s debut firmly demonstrates that there are still authors who can bring something new to the table. I just hope the novel doesn’t get overlooked because I really want Mark’s series to succeed so I can read many more volumes in the Chronicles of Amanda Feral which continues in “Road Trip of the Living Dead”…


SQT said...

This is a book you can't judge by the cover. It is totally unique and I loved it.

Harry Markov said...

I knew Starbucks were up to no good and now they plan to take over the world. Grr that makes my blood boil.

Anyways I know Mark through his blog, not the strongest way to know a person, but one thing is for certain. He is funny! I want that book and I plan to get it!

Tez Miller said...

Thanks for linking to my review at Urban Fantasy Land, and have a lovely day! :-)

Anonymous said...

No matter how good it is, I personally don't like this subgenre. It's just a matter of taste. However, kudos to the author/publisher on the book title.

Robert said...

Thanks for the comments everyone! Tez, you're more than welcome for the linkage :) Scott, fair enough. To each their own!

Anonymous said...


I liked the review. Enough that i'm gonna pick the book up later today. Don't know when I'll get to it but it sounds fun.

Since I just started Reaper's Gale, it could be awhile ;)

How's the fam? Is is cold over there? Up here in Toronto its colder than hell!

later bud!

Angela/SciFiChick said...

I have the ARC as well.. I'm hoping to get around to reading this soon, as I've heard so many good things!

Chris, The Book Swede said...

This sounds very interesting. I'm messing around with a SF short story (myself) which I found myself inserting footnotes and editors remarks.

It's a bit of a strange combination though -- a serious, death-filled SF ... with editors rambling. It's quite funny :D

Will try to get hold of this, contact the Powers That Be. Good review.

The Book Swede

Robert said...

Reanimanted, I'm glad you're trying out the book. Definitely let me know what you think of it when you get a chance! I know it might take a while ;) "Reaper's Gale" is looong. Heck, I was hoping to finish it by today, but I'm not even half done with it yet!

Angela, I think you'll really enjoy it!

Chris, I'm sure Mark would be more than willing to hook you up. He's a pretty nice guy :) Your short story sounds pretty interesting btw. Keep me posted!

Wendy said...

Since I first heard about this book, I've been really curious about it and I can't wait to read it. It sounds like one I would really enjoy. :)

Kimberly Swan said...

Great Review Robert! I really loved the characters and all of the humor (even through the gory am definitely looking forward to more.
Thanks for adding my link! :)

Anonymous said...

Good review. Can't wait to pick up my copy of the book.

Robert said...

Wendy/fantasygirl, hope you enjoy the book when/if you get a chance to read it and feel free to share any thoughts!

Kimberly, thanks :)

Ondrej from Top Ten Books said...

Thanks for the book suggestion.

Good Reading said...

One of my favorite books!

Anonymous said...

I bought this book for a dollar... I bought it because I thought it was going to be awful, and I wanted a good cheap laugh. I was not dissappointed... I read a lot of awful books. I do it knowingly and on purpose because of how hilariously terrible they are.
Mr. Henry kind of tried to make it a good book. But he can't seem to make and keep a character to their morals, and too often he relies on luck to get them out of a bad situation. Which is the mark of a bad writer.
There are two more books, that I know of, in this series, and I plan to read both of them. Hopefully they too will make me laugh until my sides are sore.


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