Welcome to the Working for the Mandroid stop on Benjamin Kane Ethridge's blog tour for Black & Orange, hosted by Pump Up Your Book! If you're new to the site, welcome! We hope you'll take a look around and see what else we have to offer. To learn more about Benjamin Kane Ethridge, you can visit his website here. In 2010, he won the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in First Novel for Black & Orange and regularly collaborates with Michael Louis Calvillo.
Now on to the review!
Black & Orange
Benjamin Kane Ethridge
Bad Moon Books (2010)
Adult / Dark Fantasy / Action
I’m a wuss. I think that’s a statement I’ve posted here a time or two, but it stands to be repeated. I like scary books for the most part, but I’m still a wuss. Despite being classified as a horror book, I didn’t find Black & Orange scary. Odd? Sure. Disturbing? Absolutely. But scary? Not really. Black & Orange is a well-written, complex book with dark themes and lots of action. It just wasn’t for me. Often times it just became too much and I had to walk away to clear my head before I could dive further into this bizarre and disturbing world that Ethridge created.
The large picture within Black & Orange involves the Church of Midnight attempting to open a permanent portal to an alternate world where their counterparts, the Church of Morning, reside. In order to do this, the Church of Midnight must find and sacrifice the Heart of the Harvest – a human who temporarily embodies some sort of otherworldliness - each Halloween until the portal is opened wide enough to put in a support structure. Two people, Teresa and Martin, are nomads assigned to protect the Heart of the Harvest each year. They are descendents of people originally from the other side or the Old Domain, and have the ability to project “shades” and other protective measures using their minds. This is the story of the one Halloween that could potentially open the barrier for good and all the crazy things that happen in the four days leading up to October 31.
Meanwhile a lot of bizarre craziness is happening inside the Church of Midnight and a few ambitious young Bishops. The Priestess of Morning arrived the year before and is causing a lot of trouble even though she’s meant to be there to help the Church of Morning. Teresa is dying from lung cancer. And instead of just one Heart of the Harvest this year, Teresa and Martin have to protect and care for four.
From the moment Black & Orange opens, the book jumps right into action and rarely slows down. Even the Nomads, who are supposed to wait around in a cheap motel for a few days until the Hearts of the Harvest are delivered to them, manage to make a compelling story while also demonstrating their power and building three dimensional characters out of Teresa and Martin.
Ethridge handles multiple storylines, weaving them in and out of each other, deftly and without it ever seeming to bog down the pacing. Towards the end, as some storylines merged together, a few of the smaller, less important character arcs seemed to get left behind, but by the end, all the characters seemed to have a satisfying ending. The final third of the book went non-stop with a small interlude as the figurehead of the bad guys, Chaplain Cloth,
There were, of course, things that I did not like, not because they were badly written but because of my own personal preferences. There are several very long and graphic sex scenes that involve brutal violence and disturbing imagery. I didn’t feel that it was necessary for character or plot development to go as far as Ethridge did, but that’s me being squicked out, not the author being a bad writer. There’s a character who I guess can best be described as a hermaphrodite that I felt uncomfortable reading about, not because the character was a hermaphrodite but rather the attitude and manner in which the character was formed and treated.
But there are some things I really did enjoy. Chaplain Cloth – the otherworldly being in charge of opening the portal between this world and the other – has an army of pumpkin-headed demons that are incredibly creepy and funny at the same time. The supernatural powers imbued in both sides, naturally in the nomads and through the consumption of special seeds by Church members, were interesting, different and well explained, both in conception and in action. The scraps of the other world that Ethridge offers are also very creepy and interesting, though I wish I could have spent more time in this weird twisted otherworld.
Other than the few things that disturbed me on a personal left, I think I was most disappointed in the lack of explanation behind who and what these Churches were, how they connected to our world and how this all began in the first place. There’s mention that Chaplain Cloth and his followers have been working on opening the portal for thousands of years, but how did it start? How did people from the Old Domain get to our world in the first place? Who is ultimately behind the church and pulling its strings? Everyone seems to have a master, but no one really picks up that mantel on the side of the bad guys.
There is little mention of the world outside these characters, who all have supernatural powers or a connection to a supernatural group. Only towards the end are regular human beings really brought into the story and that’s just as collateral damage to show how ruthless the bad guys are. I wish the story felt more grounded in our actual world instead of feeling like it was somewhere else that just happened to reflect our world.
But in the end I have to go back to the actual quality of the book. Ethridge is awesome at action sequences and there is a lot of action in Black & Orange. He’s capable of suspense and creepy ideas, but I never really felt connected enough to the story to find it as effect horror. His characters are three dimensional in all of their insanity, and he has a lot of original ideas that I don’t think I have seen before. Other than a few moments in the end where seemingly dead characters came back to life with no explanation and some vague metaphysical conclusions, it all makes sense, which is really impressive for such a fast paced story with a lot of details that wrap around each other.
So in the end, Black & Orange is a good book. It just wasn’t for me.
Dark and complex action with lots of well-developed characters and plots that twist together; original ideas and dark imagery; disturbingly graphic sexual scenes and lots of detailed bloodshed
* Rating based on quality of the book, not my personal opinion or reaction to the content due to acknowledgment that this book obviously wasn’t written for me.
I received a copy of this book from the author as part of the Pump Up Your Book blog tour. The opinion is my own and hopefully the author will accept that he might have just scarred me for life a little.