Take a Trip Outside Your Time: A review of ‘The Corridors of the Dead’ by Jonathan D. Allen

What’s news for horror writer Paul D. Dail

As I am trying to get finished with my teaching year, this past week (and then some) has been pretty busy with final grades and unfortunately pretty light on the writing front.  It’s been everything I can do just to keep up with the blog.

[I’m hoping this will also serve as a reasonable excuse as to why many of you haven’t seen me around your own blogs.  I’ll be back soon.]

Otherwise, I’d like to announce that Blaze McRob was the winner of the autographed copy of Forest of Shadows that Hunter Shea was offering in his guest post two weeks ago.  While it was a random name drawing, Blaze is a regular commenter here, so I was pleased to pull out his name.

What does the future hold?

Next Friday may be my last post.

As I may have mentioned before, the annular solar eclipse (pictured here) will be best viewed in the United States in my small Utah town of about 300 people.  Law enforcement officials are predicting as many as 40,000 people will travel to southern Utah for the event. If the end of the world doesn’t happen (I’m hosting a Solar Apoca-clipse party) or I’m not killed by some crazed fanatic, I plan on posting something about it next Friday.

But without further ado…

From Amazon.com:

In a time long before humans walked the Earth, a mysterious being known only as The Lost Aetelia crafted an elaborate series of Watchtowers, along with their resident guardians, the Aetelia, to watch over the operations of the Universe. In time, a rebellious group of these Aetelia came to Earth in an attempt to challenge the established structure of the Universe. A bitter war ensued, and these rebels, who had come to be known as Watchers, disappeared from human history.

The time of the Aetelia – now known as angels – is returning. After a fateful night of violence, Artist Matty DiCamillo finds herself drawn into this world by a mysterious savior, who becomes a driving force in Matty’s new life.

Both driven by and fighting the words of prophecy that lay out her destiny, Matty, her lover Kristy, and her best friend Daniel, follow this mysterious savior on a journey from Northern California to Las Vegas on a path that crosses through the boundaries of time and space.

As Matty struggles to understand her new destiny, she discovers that her mysterious savior may not be who she seems to be, and that even the denizens of the twilight world that she has entered have no idea what lurks behind the stage dressing of their reality. Matty finds herself not only racing to rescue the woman she loves, but learning that she herself could be the cause of the Universe’s day of reckoning.

Even though Urban/Dark Fantasy is not normally a genre wherein I dwell, overall I enjoyed The Corridors of the Dead, and I look forward to picking up other books related to this series. A good story can break out of the boundaries of a genre, and Allen has succeeded in crafting a fascinating premise.

I’ll expand on that shortly, but first I did have a couple of difficulties with the novel.  This is a little tough seeing as I know the author (I interviewed him last November-click here), so please excuse me while I excessively justify my opinions.

The first one probably ties in to why I don’t read much in the Fantasy/Sci-Fi genre.  There were a couple of moments in the novel that felt like the author was intruding to give the reader an elaborate backstory, and sometimes it was a bit much for me to take all at once.

I have a hard enough time keeping track of the details of my own reality, so I found myself having to check back to see who was whom… and why are they fighting again?

But again, I feel this is common to the genre.  I still don’t really get half of what was going on in Dune.  And as this was the first book in a series by Allen, I’m sure I’ll see it play out as the series continues.  I just wonder if some of the information could’ve waited for other parts of the series.

The second area where I struggled was unfortunately with the main character.  But for this, you have to understand that I teach at a performing arts high school, as well as having worked with troubled teens.  I see many kids that will be the Matty DiCamillos of the world in not too many years.  Some of them are kind of hard to love.  And I work with them every day.  So I had a hard time wanting to spend my free time with Matty in the beginning section of the novel.

However, whether I liked her or not, she was definitely real (and the early brash abrasiveness either toned down, or I just got used to it).  I know that the story has been criticized for voice–and it is heavy–but personally I thought the first person narration by Matty worked very well.  Especially when you consider the ending, which I won’t spoil here.  And again, having worked with girls like Matty (just in their younger years), Allen captures the personality quite adeptly.

And after the news report early on in the story about the imminent demise of the world via a comet the size of Texas, Allen takes us on a journey that definitely kept me hooked (if a little confused 🙂 ).

Speaking of the journey, props to Allen for providing a very visual journey.  When stuff is happening, it is definitely happening, popping off the page (or screen depending on how you are reading it).  Several weeks after finishing it, I still hold many images in my head from the book, both scenically and action-wise. I can’t talk about many of these scenes because they are wrapped in spoilers, but I will say that Allen has created a world both familiar and foreign as the characters travel “through the boundaries of time and space.”

I’m guessing on some of these influences, but there were landscapes (and moments along the journey of tense, uneasy camaraderie) which were reminiscent of King’s The Dark Tower series.  I also had a sense of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, except for grown-ups.  And maybe even hints of ‘The Matrix.’  But even given these potential influences, Allen still makes the story his own.

Hell, there’s even some ‘Seinfeld.’  You’ll just have to read it to get that one.

And that’s my overall recommendation.  If anything here, either in the Amazon description or my review, piqued your interest, pick it up.  I think you’ll enjoy the trip.

And currently listed at just .99, you can afford the price of the ticket.

What do I want from you?

Have you read The Corridors of the Dead?  What did you think?

If not, what have been some of your favorite Fantasy novels?  (Be prepared for me to say that I probably haven’t read most of them, but I’m always up for a good recommendation.)

You can find Jonathan D. Allen’s The Corridors of the Dead at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Finally, don’t forget to check back next Friday if civilization as we know it doesn’t end.

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28 responses to “Take a Trip Outside Your Time: A review of ‘The Corridors of the Dead’ by Jonathan D. Allen

  1. I know, it’s a faux pas to comment on a review of my work, but I’m hoping since we know each other it’s a little more acceptable here. Besides, I’m not going to hand out justifications or tear you down or anything like that. In fact, I think it’s a completely fair, realistic review – some of the issues you listed are just intrinsic to the genre (I tried to explain things as needed, there was just a lot to explain – this gets better in book 2), and some are definite weaknesses that I think have taught me a lot. I’m pretty realistic about the novel. It’s not perfect by any means, but I’m still happy that it’s out there, and I’m glad you got some enjoyment out of it. I actually found your comments about Mattie to be really interesting; she evolves by the end of the first book and is quite a bit different by book 2.

    As for the question! Some of my favorite fantasy novels include, as you said, The Dark Tower series; Clive Barker’s Great and Secret Show, Abarat, and Imajica; and CS Friedman’s Coldfire Trilogy. I like a little darkness in my fantasy, as I think my writing shows.

    • I don’t know that it’s necessarily a faux pas, especially as I would consider us colleagues (as well as friends) with each other’s best interests in mind.

      As I was writing the review, I did wonder if you put so much explanation into the first because you still had much more to put into the second. Definitely genre related. I remember a professor once saying that the die-hard sci-fi/fantasy fans are often reading as much for the world and backstory created as they are for the present plot line. Hey, there’s more fodder for our TESSpecFic genre discussion.

      And glad I hadn’t imagined that Matty changed. I wasn’t sure if I just got sucked in by the story enough to not mind as much or if she changed. Looks like it’s a little bit from Column A, little bit from Column B.

      And interesting that you list Great and Secret Show, which I would’ve always considered horror, but thinking more on it now (and rereading it to my wife), it does certainly have serious elements of fantasy. Again with these damned genres.

      • That’s a really good point about being colleagues. I was hesitant, but had a few things to say. Love the idea of discussing just when worldbuilding is appropriate and how much should be done. Might make for a great new roundtable in the future.

        Definitely not your imagination about Matty changing, and I actually like that comment about there being little heroic about her other than her love for Kristy (who is actually a very, very important character overall). There’s an arc for her, and I wanted her to start at basically bottom. The second book is Matty’s real Hero’s Journey.

        GSSS was my first real awareness of Dark Fantasy and the issue of genre. I had no idea how to describe its genre to friends. I can see an argument for either.

  2. I have Corridors on my Kindle, but haven’t gotten to it yet (I’ve been so busy, I’ve been reading short stories instead of novels these past few weeks). I think I should bump this up on the TBR list.

    Two fantasy authors I bet you’d enjoy are Guy Gavriel Kay and Steven Brust. Superb writing, very smart, lots of great action and characters.

    • Thanks, Jaye. I am always looking for new authors. I will put them on my list.

      And preachin’ to the choir on the TBR list. I bought Aniko’s book on its release. Oh, and I also have “Touched.” Yeah…um…well, you know.

  3. I LOVE when authors write about completely different worlds, and I have a love/hate thing with religion, God, angels etc.
    The book is intriguing to me because of the way the angels are presented with different names and descriptions.
    I remember when the movie The 7th Sign came out–I think that is the one with Demi Moore–I was fascinated because of a passage about angels that was supposedly not in the Bible but a different text. I have no idea if it was true, and I did not care–some things just grab me.
    I can see how having to read about a character that would be difficult to like or deal with in real life could color how you view the book.
    Of course it is on my TBR list–and I hate to say also it will probably be a while until I get to it–BUT–I am looking forward to it!

    • Hey Penelope, I remember liking The 7th Sign, but I don’t remember the part about angels. I’ll have to watch again.

      And with this book, he doesn’t necessarily write completely different worlds. Hard to explain until you read it, but remember what I said about “both familiar and foreign.” Those two words actually apply to the same settings in ‘Corridors of the Dead.’

      And glad you could relate to my difficulties with the main character. I saw another reviewer say that Matty had little else to make her a hero except for her love for her girlfriend. I think that works in many stories. Just a little tricky for me, as I’m sure it is difficult for a parole officer to like “Reservoir Dogs.” 🙂

  4. Good honest review.
    As for favourite fantasy, I’m a sucker for George rr Martin. He’s my favourite. I recently tried Fire Logic, the first book of an classic series by Laurie Marks. Although notable for its depiction of same-sex relationships and it good clear writing, it was pretty boring, at least to me. I dropped it and started up Knockemstiff, by Donald Ray Pollock. I can only describe it as alt-redneck, and it’s awesome. Pollock is up for best novel in the Shirley’s this year.

    • Alt-redneck, eh? You got my interest on that one.

      And I’ve heard lots of people recommend George RR Martin. I’ve had him on my list for awhile now. Thanks for the reinforcement (although I think you might’ve been one of the first people to recommend him to me anyway 🙂 )

      Hope you have a good weekend.

  5. I actually quite liked the Matty character, especially at the beginning. I’m not in your position, Paul, where I mingle with such people every day. I found her refreshing and amusing.

    As for the angels, I never really thought of the angels in Corridors of the Dead in the same light as biblical angels.In the world that Allen built, it seemed like “angel” was just a name applied to these nonhuman beings. I didn’t sense a religious connection. But maybe that’s just me.

    • I can answer some of that. The names and structure are based on a hybrid of Jewish religious tradition and the Enochian magick system, but I modified that pretty heavily. You’re actually mostly right, though, the term “angel” and a lot of the connotations that come with it were applied by humans, who turned the intrigues of these beings into a tradition.

      • The fun part of writing my novel was thinking about the Norse gods like they are just people. (Albeit not human people.) It’s not their fault that humans went and deified them. It seemed like you had the same approach with your angels in Corridors.

  6. Oh, and I second Jaye’s recommendation of Guy Gavriel Kay. His “Tigana” is among my top five fantasy reads.

  7. First of all: YAY! I won the great book from Hunter!

    Now to this week. I will have to read this book. Why? Blaze is in to Angels, time travel, and horror. In fact, I have a PhD in Theoretical Physics and another in Advanced Mathematics. String theory resonates throughout my gray matter. This is right up my alley! Hint, hint: I might be putting out some works in the genre myself.

    Way to go, Johnathan!

    Also, since our esteemed author of the week mentioned some Jewish contributions, I am also working on a Vampire novel taking place in Israel. A friend of mine who wanted to become a Rabbi but was not able to for personal reasons is giving me some great religious background on this. So, Jonathan, there’s another thing for you to think about, sir.

    Great post and side posts!

    Blaze

    • Hi Blaze,

      Hope you check out “The Corridors of the Dead” if you are into all that stuff. As I said, I really only had minor issues with it, and they were for mostly personal reasons.

      You have quite the background, my friend. I think besides horror you should be writing your autobiography. Still looking forward to venturing up to Wyoming one of these days and having a beer or three with you in that karaoke bar.

      Glad you liked the review and pleased you won Hunter’s book. Hope you have a good weekend.

      • Stacey says you buy the beer! Good guy!

        Also, I spotlighted you on my blog, FB, and DarkMedia City. The alternate universes are next.

        Blaze

        • Much thanks, my friend. I saw an email about something, but honestly haven’t had two seconds to look at it yet. Fortunately, today is the last day of school, so I’m looking forward to a much more open schedule.

          And looking forward to your spotlight. I’ll be sure to shine the light right back on your blog this Friday.

          Oh, and just let me know before you give out my information to too many alternate universes.

  8. This book sounds right up my alley. Great review. Makes me
    Want to read it and see how close my opinion is to your, Paul. Especially as I read
    Scifi/fantasy most of the time with a little horror and mystery thrown in occasionally. Some of my favorite fantasy novels are “the Hero and the Crown” by Robin McKinley, “The Deed of Paksenarion” by Elizabeth Moon, and the Elvenbane series by Andre Norton and Mercedes Lackey. I don’t think you if you would like the first and last but I do think you would dig the Elizabeth Moon series.
    I like dark fantasy but George RR Martin is just too depressing. SOMETHING good has to happen every now and then. One of the best novels ever written, “The Road”, is super dark and depressing but there is still some bright moments and maybe a tiny bit of hope on the end. Martin makes you really really like a character then he does something horrific to them, over and over again. It was too much for me. I gave up after the second book.

    • Sorry for all the typos. Typing on the minuscule touch screen keyboard on my phone=lots of errors.

      • No sweat. Although I don’t have any internet on my phone (or at least I don’t use it), so that’s mostly a mystery to me. And thanks for the recommends. I would suggest you read Jonathan’s book and then we’ll talk about it more. It’s only .99 for e-readers. I’m sure he’d appreciate it, too 🙂

        And I’m kind of funny about my depressing stories. I guess they can’t be too realistically depressing. I loved The Road. Very bleak, but I was just sucked in. However, I hated the movie “Million Dollar Baby,” and I really struggled with the book, “The God of Small Things” by Arundhati Roy. Both beautiful stories, but just a little too real. Of course, on the other hand, one of my favorite books to teach my freshmen is “Of Mice and Men” even though I still cry at the end. But as a Language Arts teacher, there are so many amazing things about that small book.

        Anyway, thanks for commenting, Kodi.

  9. What I like most about you, Paul, is how you lay things out clearly and without being antagonistic. You point out weaknesses in craft with a great deal of tact and empathy. Not everyone is capable of doing that, and as a writer, I appreciate those who can.

    First, congrats on winning, Blaze!! Jealousy is now my middle name. 😉

    My first impression was also that there was a lot of back story in The Corridors, but knowing that this is part of a series allowed me to just relax into the flow of detail. King’s Dark Tower series struck me the same way, so I figured this is part of the genre. You raise a good question in my mind: should the quality of craft be ‘measured’ differently based on genre?

    Things to ponder…

    • Thought I’d jump in for a quick snippet. I personally feel that quality should be present regardless of what genre an author writes in. Boring is boring: plain and simple. Before I get boring, I’ll say, “Have a great day!”

      Blaze

    • Hi Aniko. Thanks for the kind words. I try to be tactful with all books I review, but especially when it comes to the book of someone I would call a friend. I actually really sweated this one. This electronic communication can be so frustratingly personally impersonal. And I remembered that you had reviewed Corridors, so I went back to your review. Your reminder about the series helped me come to terms with my “difficulty,” and hopefully opened up another dialogue with Jonathan about world building in general.

      I don’t know that we necessarily measure the quality of the craft different, but there are certainly different focuses of the craft based on different genres. As I mentioned, sci-fi/fantasy are generally heavy on setting, but you could say the same about historical fiction. Horror and crime stories are more plot driven. Literary fiction is character. Of course, as we’ve discussed, there is definitely a bleed-over (says the horror writer). And as a reader, there is also personal taste.

      Anyhoo, rambled more than I intended. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Hope all is going well for you.

      • I have also found it difficult to review friend’s books, even when my criticisms are really minor. Of course, I also found it difficult to review a stranger’s book that was full of obvious manipulation of characters by the author. I try to keep in mind that reviews are for the readers. If there is something I wish I’d known, I want to make sure to lay that out – but do it as kindly as possible because I know the author is going to read the review, too.

        Quality is quality, you are right about that. I am wondering if I have genres on a sliding scale of quality in my own mind. “Oh, that book is in X genre, it can have more obvious flaws than one in Y.” Nah, I guess not. If that were the case I might not have had that issue with the review I mentioned earlier. Quality writing will tell an engaging story without yanking the reader or the characters around. Anything that gets in the way of the story, especially incredulity that the characters would behave that way, should be called out. As nicely as possible!

        Things are going better for me – I had a nasty bug, but I finally feel like me again! Yay!

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