When an author submits a book for review to me, the one thing that I ask is that they let me know if there is any strong sexual content. By that, I don’t mean a standard sex scene, or even an erotic sex scene, that I can handle. However, what I take issue with is the more, shall we say, extreme type of sexual content – such as torture, rape, bestiality and, um… scat. And no I’m not talking about the music genre – google it at your own risk.
I really just don’t enjoy this, it’s not for me. When I first started getting into Anime and Manga, a friend of mine showed me some hentai stories and personally I found a lot of disgusting (let’s just say I’ll never look at an octopus the same way). For me, rape and torture should be put across as a despicable act to horrify the readers, not be put across as a sexual fetish.
So when I was reading Underneath the Draconian Sky, I was a little dubious about it if I was being honest. But I did promise a review – and the author, Dale M. Chatwin was a reasonable enough guy when we talked via email, so I gave it the benefit of the doubt. So today here is my review of Underneath the Draconian Sky, a Steampunk/Fantasy/Horror novel that delves into the depths of insanity and depravity. Those with a weak stomach may want to look away now!
About The Author
Dale M. Chatwin was born in Warwickshire in 1988 and grew up in a small town called Sedgley located in the Black Country. He part wrote his first novel at the age of 14 titled Destiny and Death, a vague pastiche of The Body and Dreamcatcher by Stephen King with elements of his own folded into the mix. But writing has been a passion and lifelong dream of his since before then. At 19 he moved to Southsea in Hampshire to gain some independent experience in life, and as a result of his time on that island (many short stories and poems later) he produced his first complete novel at the age of 24: Underneath the Draconian Sky which is available in paperback and eBook on Lulu and Amazon. Now after realising his dream of becoming a published author, Dale M. Chatwin is on a mission to expand and perfect his craft as a writer.
The link to his author central page: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Dale-M-Chatwin/e/B005Y4GT9S
For a novel that is so brutal in its content, this cover is surprisingly gentle. It almost leads the reader into a false sense of security – which I don’t know if it was intentional or not, but that’s an interesting technique if so.
When 1107 is hired by saloon proprietor Sylvester Claproot to exterminate a group of escaped residents from the Bachman Gardens Institute for the Criminally Insane, it all seems like a run of the mill extermination: capture, torture and kill. He soon finds himself plunged into a brutal world of sexual lust, unhindered violence and where the fringes of sanity are lost to the winds of time. At the heart of this dark tale is the story of one man's acceptance of his own demise and his journey into a chaotic world where he is forced to chase his death across a brutal dystopian landscape. It is a novel that will keep you reading until the Sun scars the horizon.
What I liked
1107, also known as The Guy is an interesting anti-hero – the kinda “shoot first, forget the questions” sort that Clint Eastwood made popular. He’s a brutal, no nonsense kind of mercenary that likes to get the job done however possible – and some of the stuff he does would make Jack Bauer cringe! Whilst I personally don’t enjoy these type of characters, the world he inhabits is a cruel and unforgiving one, so I could accept the brutal things that he did to an extent. That being said, he did show some signs of humanity every so often so he wasn’t completely a monster.
I also have to give particular praise to the world of Underneath a Draconian Sky. As previously mentioned, the world is a mix of Steampunk, Sci-fi and even Fantasy. Normally, if you mix in too many genres, it can sometimes make the world a little too over the top and unbelievable, a trap I myself have fallen into. But the elements mixed in here work well and create a nightmarish hell – with dusty deserts, rusted industrial areas, dirty streets and decedent, corrupted religious ideology. It is a place that has no place for kindness or meekness, ruled by alien creatures that are pretty much dictators. It builds a dark and creepy atmosphere that puts you at unease pretty much the entire novel.
The story is both straight forward, but also quite complex at the same time. We follow The Guy as he tries to track down the High Occultist, who is the “Big Bad” of the story. There is a lot of build up to this character prior to meeting him, which worked well. Along the way, we learn a little more about the history of the world and the characters. It was good that the book didn’t give too much away at once so that we only learned a bit at a time, this helped paint a gradual picture of the events and created an interesting story.
All in all the plot works and sets up a nightmare of a trip where the fragility of the human mind is explored in horrific detail. However, there were some issues I had with this that I will explain in the next section.
What I didn’t like
Now, I have no problems with stories being disturbing or having disturbing imagery – in fact I like it when a story leaves me in a disturbed state of mind. However, what I did find hard to take was the amount of strong sexual content involved. Practically every other chapter involved someone being raped, tortured or worse. As I’ve said in my intro, I am not a huge fan of stories that put across rape and torture as a sexual fetish. And whilst I’m not saying that Underneath a Draconian Sky is anything like that, I do felt there was too much of this.
The major problem I had was that a lot of it was unnecessary and just put in just for shock value. The plot had already set a disturbing element, but this extra content just seemed to detract from that in some way and make it feel more mean spirited then it needed to. Plus, most of it I found was out of context and didn’t really do anything to help the scene. A lot of it could have easily been cut out and it would have preserved the nightmarish themes and atmosphere. Not only this, but I think it could also put off a lot of potential readers. Which is a shame as there is a good story underneath, exploring the themes of insanity and the dark side of human nature – but it kinda gets lost in all the rape and torture. And that’s just the stuff I can tell you about!
As you probably guessed by now, this book is NOT suitable for young readers. Also, I don’t recommend reading this whilst you’re eating. I made that mistake when reading it at lunch and I couldn’t finish my sandwich!
PROS (Sky’s the limit):
- Main character is pretty badass!
- Disturbing atmosphere.
- Mythos of the world nicely thought out.
CONS (Draconian tactics):
- Overly sexual context undermines the otherwise good setting.
- Relies too much on shock tactics.
- Totally unsuitable for younger readers.
It’s a good story with some nightmarish themes and disturbing imagery – but the extreme sexual content and unnecessary torture undermines it somewhat and takes away from the tension. Not one I’d recommend to someone with a weak constitution, but if you like your stories dark and atmosphere tense then you’ll most find this one an interesting read.
FINAL SCORE: 3/5