HEAVEN'S FALLING--ASCENSION

By Garry Charles

Reviewed by Steven Pirie

“Let us pray...

“Lord, give us this day Garry Charles's medication...

“That we may sleep safely in our beds...”

Virgil Kain, PI, is brutally murdered. He wakes in Limbo to discover he has been 'taken before his time', and that such an event is likely to be catastrophic for Heaven, Earth, and all that lies between. Kain, together with such unlikely associates as Lucy, the devil, and Damien, Lucy's rather large and uncompromising demon minder, must use his PI skills and brawn to discover who is behind his murder and just what he/she/it is up to. Thus may all of creation be saved, and so begins an oft time gory romp through Garry Charles's vision of the afterlife.

“Save us, Lord, from Garry Charles's afterlife...”

From the outset, Charles has set himself something of a challenge. These main players are initially anti heroes in the extreme. We quickly learn that Kain, in his distant past, in other lifetimes, was indeed the biblical Cain; he who murdered Abel, his brother, and who raped his mother, Eve. One of our first introductions to Damien sees the demon engaged in, shall we say, less than delicate sexual intercourse with a far from attractive sounding woman, and which ends with the demon casually chopping up his 'lover's' body. Lucy is the devil, with all the negative connotations such a biblical character tends to evoke within people, although in this case it must be said she appears the most benevolent (and attractive) of the bunch.

It's a deliberate challenge, one that Charles recognises. There are a number of places throughout the story when he works hard to redeem his characters. For example, all are given tender moments, particularly when striving against harm to children. Kain is seen to help a lost child very early on in the tale, so keen is Charles to allow us the glimpse of Kain's heroic, caring side, to give us a first person protagonist we can root for and not hide from. When Kain shows restraint as Lucy first offers him a sexual relationship, surely we are being shown he's grown from what he was before. There is also the scene of forgiveness between Kain and Abel, all designed to show us Kain is not a bad chap after all; in the past a bit misguided, perhaps, but not a lost cause.

“Help us to do unto others before they know what's hit them...”

This nice stuff works to some extent, but the effect is hampered by the apparent zeal with which all his characters leap to lop bits off their adversaries. Genghis Khan? Vlad the Impaler? Girlies compared to these guys. In fact, this distinction between their caring and brutal sides seems so absolute in that Kain and company barely show any feelings at all about the brutality they impose upon their opponents; cruel, they are, even by demon standards. Surely real heroes agonise over their enemies' fate. That Garry Charles's afterlife is a very violent place indeed means there's plenty of free rein for this brutal side to appear the dominant trait in his characters.

“Forgive us for all our scenes...”

The book begins quite strongly. This afterlife is hardly like any I've visited (in books, of course; I make the point of avoiding the afterlife in person if at all possible) and I was drawn to its uniqueness. I do feel it lulls a little towards the middle where it felt like I was being steered quite linearly from scene to scene. The author says to his characters, “Here's a problem”, and they duly solve it (usually by beating it up) and then await the next. At times it didn't feel as if these scenes/problems were leading to ever more insurmountable ones, as if we were on level ground heading leisurely towards the climax rather than struggling uphill. This may be a consequence of the novel's length--that together with the next instalment, Charles feels comfortable in not pushing the pace onward too fast, that there's plenty of time to do so later in such a long work. And if that's true he may have a point.

Along the way, we are taken on brief interludes as each newly introduced character's story is told. These are generally short and do provide interesting distractions from the main narrative. They are also used well to flesh out how/why we are where we are in the tale from a historical viewpoint.

“We beseech thee, oh Lord, please hide Garry Charles's sword...”

I must stress the gore. There's plenty of hack and slash in Heaven's Falling, and if you like your fiction with a narrative of ubiquitous severed heads and splattering brains; if you like to feel each thrust of the sword's rib entry and hear the crunch of broken bone underfoot, then you will be satisfied here. Of course, there is a vein of dark humour running throughout, so clearly Charles is saying don't take things too seriously, but never-the-less the scenes are very brutal in places. Faint of heart be warned.

“For ever and ever, and then a bit...”

The denouement, while satisfying in that a chapter of Kain's life/death is most certainly closed, only partly fulfils the premise set out at the start, that is, that Kain must 'find his murderer and get to the bottom of things' to save Heaven and Earth. Instead, the ending of Ascension is unashamed in steering the reader into Redemption, the next instalment of Heaven's Falling coming soon from Hadesgate Publications. Kain must go deeper to find his answers, following the angel Gabriel to God knows where, if the clues are to be realised. This, of course, is no great crime. There are lots of books which work this 'loosely ended series' idea very successfully. The danger can be that the reader sometimes feels cheated rather than coerced into buying into more of the story. I think the fact that Charles does provide a 'firm' ending, even if perhaps not entirely the one first advertised, means this is not the case with Ascension. Thus I'd lean towards feeling invited into Redemption rather than feeling unduly pushed.

“Blessed be the critics, lest they be slashed and burned...

“For Garry Charles looks a bit of a hard bastard...

“And thus is it cramped hiding under my stairs...”

In future print runs, there will be no foreword by the Pope, no glowing endorsement from the Archbishop of Canterbury. Indeed, it's unlikely even the local vicar is seen regularly around at the Charles's crypt for tea and muffins. What I'm saying is, if you're a God Botherer and Bible Basher this is probably not the book for you. If you like a good demonic yarn, and don't mind blood on the carpet, then quite likely Heaven's Falling will do you nicely.

The artwork by Paul Cox, that of the cover and the small number of internal illustrations, catches the eye nicely, and apart from a repeated grammatical error that really should have been caught by the editors, the production in Heaven's Falling is very good.

Overall I felt it was a decent read, and no doubt I will pick up a copy of Redemption when it comes out to follow the story through to its (presumably) final ending.

“In that, may God help us all...

“Amen.”

Heaven's Falling--Ascension by Garry Charles. Tpb, 379pp, £11.99. Published by Hadesgate Publications.

Website: - www.hadesgate.co.uk


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