Black and Orange by Benjamin Kane Ethridge – review

9654818Black & Orange is a dark fantasy/horror novel that creates a whole new mythology for what Halloween is really about. As the blurb says:

Forget everything you know about Halloween. The stories are distortions. They were created to keep the Church of Midnight hidden from the world. Every October 31st a gateway opens to a hostile land of sacrificial magic and chaos. Since the beginning of civilization the Church of Midnight has attempted to open the gateway and unite with its other half, the Church of Morning. Each year they’ve come closer, waiting for the ideal sacrifice to open the gateway permanently.

This year that sacrifice has come. And only two can protect it. Martin and Teresa are the nomads, battle-hardened people who lack identity and are forever road-bound on an endless mission to guard the sacrifice. Their only direction is from notes left from a mysterious person called the Messenger. Endowed with a strange telekinetic power, the nomads will use everything at their disposal to make it through the night alive. But matters have become even more complicated this year. Teresa has quickly lost ground battling cancer, while Martin has spiraled into a panic over being left alone. His mind may no longer be on the fight when it matters most… because ever on their heels is the insidious physical representation of a united church: Chaplain Cloth.

This book won the Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a First Novel in 2010.

The first problem with this book is that every character is a fuck up in some way or another. While that’s fairly accurate to reality, we need some reason to feel connected to the characters and I didn’t like, sympathise, empathise or want to root for any of them. I wanted them all to die horribly. But that’s not the real problem with this book.

Each Halloween there is a temporary opening between our world and the Old Domain, and the Church of Midnight wants to make the opening permanent and join with their counterparts over there, the Church of Morning. Why? It’s never explained.

To keep that from happening, there are two Nomads, whose job it is to protect the Heart of the Harvest, a person or persons that crop up every year and have the ability to further open the portal. Why? Who are they? Why are there only two Nomads? No idea. None of this is ever addressed.

The Church of Midnight is beset by power struggles and internecine war because every member is a dickhead and the two Nomads are beset by problems because one of them is dying from cancer. And they’re both dickheads.

The idea behind this story is really cool. The potential for this whole new mythology is excellent. But it’s never developed. Too much of the book was taken up by pointless personal agendas, while the real story of what was actually happening and why was largely ignored. This is a novel that really needs some backstory woven into it.

It is excellently written, and the central idea surrounding the real reason behind Halloween is very interesting. There’s so much good stuff here, it could have been a great novel, but failed on too many fronts for me.

Without giving too much away, the huge lack of explanation that’s really needed to fully appreciate the story includes: What’s the Old Domain? Why are the Churches of Midnight and Morning always trying to align? Why are there only two Nomads against hundreds in the Church of Midnight? What’s so special about The Heart? Why does it happen every year? Who is the Messenger? And so on and so on.

It was too hard to engage fully with the story as there was so much that didn’t make sense or wasn’t well enough explored. The whole thing is a clear analogy for heaven and hell, god and the devil, basic good versus evil stuff, but it was all too nebulous and undefined.

There was also a lot of what seemed to be sexual wish fulfillment on the part of the author. There’s one scene of sexual violence that seems completely unnecessary. The violence is both ways and largely (though not entirely) consensual, but there was no real reason for it or an explanation of why it was important. Again, another example of something not well enough explored in the story.

This is a great idea and excellent writing, but seriously could have used a few more drafts and edits to clarify the story. Anyway, Sergei Lukyanenko’s The Night Watch series did this story way better already.


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About Alan Baxter

Alan Baxter is a British-Australian author who writes dark fantasy, horror and sci-fi, rides a motorcycle and loves his dog. He also teaches Kung Fu. He is the author of the dark urban fantasy trilogy, Bound, Obsidian and Abduction (The Alex Caine Series) published by HarperVoyager Australia, and the dark urban fantasy duology, RealmShift and MageSign (The Balance 1 and 2) from Gryphonwood Press. He co-authored the short horror novel, Dark Rite, with David Wood. Alan also writes short fiction with more than 50 stories published in a variety of journals and anthologies in Australia, the US, the UK and France. His short fiction has appeared in Fantasy & Science Fiction (forthcoming), Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Daily Science Fiction, Postscripts, and Midnight Echo, among many others, and more than twenty anthologies, including the Year’s Best Australian Fantasy & Horror (2010 and 2012). Alan also writes narrative arcs and dialogue for videogames and wrote the popular writer’s resource, Write The Fight Right, a short ebook about writing convincing fight scenes. He has twice been a finalist in the Ditmar Awards.

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  1. Pingback: My holiday reading – The Word – According To Me | Alan Baxter – Warrior Scribe

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