Welcome to my stop in D G Lamb's blog tour for his Driven to the Hilt series in anticipation of the release of the third book! You can find all the blog tour action here on Storystorming.wordpress.com, which will culminate in a Facebook party for all you speculative fiction fans.
I am reviewing the first book today. This should be a good introduction to your enjoyment of this action-packed science fiction series! (Gotta say too, I love that cover! Suspenseful and intriguing!)
"And many other challenges have driven me to the hilt since then."
Joshua may be only eleven, but he has experienced things few others have experienced. First, his father dies amidst allegations of aiding space pirates. Second, his mother encounters the most dangerous creature on the planet of Cypress Grove. Third, Joshua finds himself battling the unthinkable horrors of the Swamp, where even the most intrepid adventurer dares not wander.
And that's just the beginning. As Joshua fends for himself in the Swamp and the underworld of New Cincinnati, he learns resourcefulness and courage, and faces moral questions that change and define him in ways he never expected. He also hears whispers of things happening beyond his planet...
I'm so glad I read the preface. The author explains some of the "dynamic formatting" in his book, particularly the use of ellipses, spaces, and other techniques to influence the pace of dialogue and action. If I had not read the preface, these stylistic elements might have been distracting or confusing, but, having familiarized myself with the author's intentions, I found that the elements enhanced the story. Most intriguing was the slow-time effect. In movies, slow-motion scenes add to the intensity of the action. D G Lamb has adapted that method for reading by his unusual use of the afore-mentioned stylistic elements, which I enjoyed immensely, as it allowed me to imagine the action in a very film-like way.
This book was refreshing and intriguing in that it is a survival story set entirely on a new planet. I'm a fan of survival stories, and this story described local flora and fauna, cultures and sub-cultures, settings and histories as though it were a real planet. There are discussions of off-world events, but the entirety of this story takes place on Cypress Grove.
Joshua is a relatable character. He behaves so maturely that he seems older than his eleven years, which is very much in keeping with how adaptable and resourceful real eleven-year-olds are in difficult circumstances. Still, his age shows through in his emotional processing, as he sometimes turns tearful in situations where an adult man might simply turn impassive or aggressive. That said, he's still one tough kid.
The spidervipers of Cypress Grove are creepy, and they love to eat. Especially humans. There are scenes in here that are definitely not for the squeamish and, while I didn't feel that the story dwelt on the gore, it certainly didn't shy away from the reality. The descriptions of the effects of spiderviper venom and the aftermath make me glad that these are fictional creatures.
There is some coarse language, specifically: six uses of d*mn, ten uses of words with "ass" (including one snappy exchange that made me laugh out loud), and twelve uses of h*ll. It didn't bother me and it underscored the rough nature of the underworld.
Drugs and the drug trade are mentioned. Joshua has no interest, though he does encounter a Swamp edible that acts like a stimulant upon him.
Joshua has a scary run-in with a pimp, whose purposes for Joshua can only be dubious. The details of the pimp's trade are not spelled out, but the reader is certainly aware of what's going on. And (yay!) the pimp doesn't win the encounter.
When it comes to self-preservation, Joshua has to make some choices that no eleven-year-old should have to make. Readers may not agree with his decisions but I found them realistic, given the life-or-death situation. We see Joshua struggle to keep some kind of moral bearing while having little or no adult guidance.
What I particularly enjoyed
The descriptions in the book are vivid with detail. There were moments when I truly could see the Swamp or hear the rumble of the train or feel the tingling rainfall on my skin. From the technical details of playing stickball to the lush flavors of various culinary creations, the world came alive with sensory detail. It is this imagery that helped to immerse me in the story.
Example: Time slowed almost to a stop. Joshua could see raindrops exploding off the top of the revolver and [the man's] outstretched arm and hand, fractured bits of water moving away in lazy, rotating, uneven twinkles.
Joshua is a relatable character. Sometimes he schemes up brilliant plans to improve his quality of life, and they don't always work out. I resonated deeply with his good intentions gone so very wrong. (We've all been there!)
Estanod and Aberly offer encouraging glimpses at adults who aren't morally bankrupt but who, like Joshua, are caught in the midst of problems too big for them to solve. I think Estanod is my favorite character. He really is trying to do the right thing and he has compassion for Joshua, but his ability to help is limited.
Speaking of adults, I really need to know more about Hobo. He is like a ghost in this first book--coming and going, with a vigilante feel about him. It's obvious he's shaping up to be a major player in the plot. But is he worth trusting?
Mystery. It drives every story and certainly this one. Not only do we root for Joshua in his every-day attempts to survive, but we need to know more. What really happened to his father? What is the leadership of New Cincinnati hiding? Who are the real movers of the city's underworld? And what is further out in the Swamp? I am intrigued and look forward to learning more.
If you enjoy reading about wilderness survival on a new planet, political intrigue and conspiracies, and mysteries from the past, you will definitely enjoy Driven to the Hilt: The Deepest Cut. The book does not "read young" at all, so older readers will enjoy Joshua's adventures (and misadventures). With a balance between the grittiness of real life and the resilience of hope, Joshua's story offers more than just an entertaining escape, but an inviting illustration of the sorts of moral choices we all make. Who do we want to be? What defines us? Are there things more important than mere survival?
For author interviews, visual-emotional tours of Joshua's world, character interviews, and much more, hop over to Storystorming.wordpress.com to find the blog tour directory!
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I write YA/adult fantasy & sci-fi that explores fantastic new worlds, with stories that burn through the darkest realities with hope and redemption.
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