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Thursday, April 4, 2019

SPFBO FINALIST: Out of Nowhere by Patrick LeClerc (reviewed by Lukasz Przywoski & David Stewart)

Official Author Website
Order Out of Nowhere over HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Patrick LeClerc makes good use of his history degree by working as a paramedic for an ever-changing parade of ambulance companies in the Northern suburbs of Boston. When not writing he enjoys cooking, fencing and making witty, insightful remarks with career-limiting candor.

In the lulls between runs on the ambulance --and sometimes the lulls between employment at various ambulance companies-- he writes fiction.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Healer Sean Danet is immortal—a fact he has cloaked for centuries, behind army lines and now a paramedic’s uniform. Having forgotten most of his distant past, he has finally found peace—and love. But there are some things you cannot escape, however much distance you put behind you. When Sean heals the wrong man, he uncovers a lethal enemy who holds all the cards. And this time he can’t run. It’s time to stand and fight, for himself, for his friends, for the woman he loves. It’s time, finally, for Sean to face his past—and choose a future. A story of love, of battle—and of facing your true self when there’s nowhere left to hide.

CLASSIFICATION: A humorous urban fantasy.

FORMAT: Out of Nowhere was self-published by the author in 2012 and as a first book in The Immortal Vagabond Healer series. It's available in an e-book and paperback format. 

The book counts 260 pages and is divided into 38 numbered chapters. The cover art was done by Rebecca Kemp. 

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS (Lukasz): If you’ve ever watched and loved Forever, chances are you’ll enjoy Out of Nowhere. While not entirely similar, both stories focus on an immortal character working in a medical field. Despite long lives, both characters haven’t turned cynical. They share a dryish sense of humour and the need to help others.

Sean Danet works as a paramedic. He’s immortal, and he has a gift - a healing power. As amazing as his powers might be, they don’t make him any money. He has to work, and he’s chosen a profession where his healing power is useful. He uses it discretely and in small doses. Unfortunately, during one intervention he heals the wrong man. Soon, someone starts to ask questions about Sean and attacks his beloved ones. That won’t do.

I liked Sean as a character and POV. Despite ages of experience as a soldier, a healer or a witch, he still believes in humans and tries to help them whenever he can. He appreciates good food and good company. While he probably wouldn’t win MasterChef, Sean has strong opinions on cooking:

“I have definite views on garlic. The garlic press is a tool of the devil, garlic powder is for the lazy, and the jarred stuff is an abomination. If you can’t be bothered to chop it, you don’t deserve garlic.”

He doesn’t take direction well, and that’s why he appreciated his job - he can do pretty much whatever he needs to get the patient to a better place, so long as he can justify his actions after the fact. Faced with adversity, he uses his brain rather than muscles. He’s smarter and sneakier than his opponents. 

Side-characters and Sean’s love interest feel well rounded, although not really three-dimensional. A sexy friend, an asshole work buddy who throws gay jokes fit well in the story and are fun to follow, but they don’t feel real. That said, I enjoyed paramedics’ banter and stories from the interventions. Not much happened during the first half of the book, but it read well. 

The second half is much tighter and brutal in places. A well-crafted combination of humour and drama keeps the reader’s attention, lending moments of honest excitement to the story. 

The plot is not without its flaws. When you look at things critically the beginning is slow and focuses on things that don’t move the plot forward (but that doesn’t mean I didn’t like it). I don’t buy the antagonist’s motivations and the way the author resolved the conflict felt a bit anticlimactic. And too tidy.

The overall light tone makes it a quick and entertaining read. It’s not perfect (especially plot and conflict-wise), but I found the experience pleasurable. I’ll definitely read the sequel.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS (David): I used to watch a show called Lost Girl about a succubus embroiled in a complicated Fae world. She had a human sidekick and lots of sex. It was an all right show, watched because, at the time, there simply were not that many fantasy shows on television. Game of Thrones hadn't blown the doors off of the possibility yet. Patrick LeClerc's Out of Nowhere reminds me of Lost Girl, not so much in its themes, though it too is urban, paranormal romance, but because it is neither good nor particularly bad. It's a solid piece of writing that feels like the urban fantasy equivalent of a James Patterson novel - it's easy to read but I've already forgotten about most of its characters and plot (in fact I just had to look up what the main character's name despite finishing the book yesterday). 

Out of Nowhere is about Sean Danet, a man who can heal at a touch, and who is subsequently immortal. He can't heal himself, so how he can retain immortality is but one of many plot holes never explained. He can heal others so that their cells regenerate, and so has a cat of indeterminate age, but is unable to heal even a hangnail in regards to his own. Sean works as a paramedic, where he can use his powers without drawing too much attention to his supernatural self. As he has learned in the past, people fear what they can not explain, and so he keeps his secrets close. During a routine broken ankle call, Sean unknowingly heals the descendant of a man whose family swore a blood oath to kill Sean some time back in the misty past. This sets in motion the plot of the novel, which is basically Sean killing anyone who comes near him. He meets an ancient languages professor named Sarah, whom he falls in love with, and that is basically the book. 

What I liked about Out of Nowhere is the obvious medical knowledge imparted on the text. LeClerc knows his EMT terminology, which he should because his bio says he worked or works as one still. This comes off in the text, and I wonder whether he might have been better off simply writing a book about an EMT. The supernatural stuff works in context, but I'm not sure it adds anything outside of the history portions sprinkled throughout the text. Sean is constantly reminiscing about some war or some woman from the past, despite his memories suffering from longevity problems. The history portions are interesting, and there is an authenticity feel to his combat descriptions, but I also had issues with this. Sean is constantly remembering historical figures as though he knew them well. He speaks of famous authors and generals as though he had tea with them weekly, and this might be believable once or twice in his long history, but not constantly. How many of us regular folk walking around are in touch with famous world-shaping types in our daily lives? I'd wager almost none, but Sean seems to have constantly been intimate with many. His healing powers might make this relevant if he weren't so touchy about keeping them secret. 

There are also some sexist and racist bits in Out of Nowhere that had me cringing as I read them. At one point in the novel, Sean asks himself if he's sexist, then goes on to explain that he is but that it's ok because he's the protagonist. The way he looks at women throughout the entire book is uncomfortable, to say the least, and while he isn't outright comparing them to fine cuts of meat, he might as well be. Similarly, there is casual racism sprinkled throughout that probably makes sense in a real-world context, I would assume LeClerc has encountered this almost non-stop in his time as a medic, but that doesn't mean it needs to make its way into a book. Authors have the power to create better worlds, particularly in fantasy, and so unless the book is specifically about racism or has themes of it, which this does not, I see no reason to pepper the text with even occasional racist slang. I might only have noticed this because I'm particularly sensitive to it, but it bothered me, as did the overt homophobic nature that rode right along with it. 

CONCLUSION (David): What I see in Out of Nowhere is an effort by an author either new to novels or new to writing in general, and as such it's not a bad effort. I read through it, which I can not say for every entry into the SPFBO 2019 contest, even the finals, but had it been any longer than its 260 pages, I might not have. LeClerc is smart to keep this one short.

SPFBO Final Score - 6/10



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