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Vipers (Veins Cycle) Paperback – September 7, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
Add ambitious evil spirits to a marathon game of Grand Theft Auto and you have this breakneck made-for-the-movies celebration of bloody carnage and black scheming. An unscrupulous developer's plans to build a mega-casino near the ruins of an abandoned mine hinge on using an unsafe dam to get the land cheaply. Unfortunately for him, his plans have run afoul of a pair of warring supernatural entities who aren't shy about manipulating serpents, online gamers, local stoners, and Russian gangsters to get what they want. Plot takes a backseat to action, and readers unfamiliar with 2008's Veins will have to play catchup, but fans of summer blockbusters will be happy to crunch popcorn through the car chases, explosions, and brutality.
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Binge reading the entire Veins Cycle from beginning to end is highly recommended. Since the books are short novels, you actually feel like you have time to read them, and can make significant progress in one evening.
I’ve wanted to read these books for a long time, as I’m a big fan of the author’s short fiction, but the third and final novel, Vortex released in November 2014. Now I’m glad I waited. I was able to consume them all at once, with no break—except for a few hours of sleep when I dreamed about avenging angels, and a burning coal mine pit that if left unchecked could ignite the world in a Biblical apocalypse.
Veins, Vipers and Vortex are great books, and though hard to classify, I’ll call them modern fantasy set in the environs of a rural Pennsylvania coal mining town. Imagine the movie/graphic novel, Constantine, crossed with the movie/novel No Country For Old Men.
Yes, there are gangsters, angels, petty criminals, an Indian wise woman, a young man searching for path in life, and hit men—but most importantly in this case, a hit woman. There is a heist gone wrong, and supernatural factions that have been manipulating people for years as they advance their separate agendas to destroy the world. Are evil angels causing all this? Or are they not angels at all, but rather Native American spirits of the Okwe tribal mythology trying to protect the land? It all depends on which character’s point of view you’re in.
Who are the good guys? I don’t truly know. Who are the bad guys? Not sure. I certainly hated some of the characters, and enjoyed reading of their deaths, but nothing was black and white. The author wrote this next statement about the Veins Cycle and I love it: “The books are about the limits of human perceptions and the things we see when confronted with unknowable forces. That’s what fascinated me at the outset, and it’s was I endeavored to explore over the course of the three-book cycle.”
Vipers had more horror elements than Veins, and the opening chapter was incredible. The book just plowed ahead and went in some crazy directions. The books are deep, but are also so filled with awesome action and compelling characters. I think I read them so fast I didn’t ponder the big questions enough. That might be a reason to read these slowly, so you can savor the expert prose and the concepts. I still keep thinking about the whole Veins cycle in this order: end, middle, beginning.
Veins kicks off the cycle, and Vipers takes it to new heights, then Vortex explodes onto the page and proves the journey was utterly worth it. The books just get better and better.
In the end, it was the writing—the brilliant characterization and original plot—that made Veins, and the subsequent novels work so well for me. I wanted to see what happened to Axle, Sam, and Bird. I have images of them burned into my imagination, and the original illustrations of the characters in Veins added to the “wow” factor for sure, making Veins even more cinematic in my mind’s eye.
Days later, I keep thinking about the story and the characters, where they began, and how their storylines came to an end. After writing this post, I want to read the books again.
Again, the artwork is superb and once or twice I caught myself flipping ahead to see which image was depicted next. I started asking myself why more books don’t take the time and do this? We’re used to images on the cover guiding our internal pictures of characters so why not pepper the book with them? After reading this, it felt as if every other book is somehow cheating me. Oh well. This is probably a personal preference but the artwork really pulled me deeper into an already rich story. Both Connolly and Gerasimos Kolokas (artist) should be congratulated!
There's barely a pause in the timeline. Vipers opens with a character new to the oeuvre, Dalton Davies, fleeing the suicide of his girlfriend and running into a nest of copperheads. Then the reader is thrown back into the original story. The first police cruiser arrives to investigate the car crash from Veins, finding the local wildlife feeding off the bodies and the area awash in snakes. The events of the first book have released something deep within the old mine pit and the vipers are running from it, causing a string of snakebites that twist through the story in a similar fashion to the timeline twists from Veins.
Many of the same characters return. There's the Russian mobster, Kirill, trying to re-order his life after his real estate dreams convulsed into a nightmare. Mercenary Sam Calder somehow survives the collapse of the pit wall and she's not happy. The main characters, Axle and Bird, have been changed into skyborn legends and are coming to terms with their new forms while learning of the emerging thing in the mine. Even the Dodge Vipers (pun clearly intentional) make a reappearance, inviting another car chase across rural Pennsylvania. And warring supernatural beings guide the action as Sam, Axle, and Bird fight to save or destroy the viper with the truck-sized head.
The intricate layering of time that was so fascinating in Veins is less apparent in Vipers. The characters are solidly realistic although some aren't likeable, and perhaps too much time is spent developing some low-lifes who get bumped off in a subplot at the one-third point. A fair assumption is that the subplot becomes major or a central theme in the series' next installment, which is eagerly awaited. Connolly has proven himself a reliable writer, and while set-up for the next book is preferably kept to a minimum, with trust established between reader and writer, it's fair game here.
The publisher, Fantasist Enterprises, delivers a truly professional presentation. Almost all books published today, whether ebooks or in print, include some minor (or not-so-minor) typographical or proofreading errors, but Vipers is a happy anomaly and remarkably error-free. As well, the cover and internal illustrations by Gerasimos Kolokas are both attractive and stunning.
The intensity remains almost the same driving force. Snakes take the central creep-out role and deliver in a huge way. Horror readers really cannot lose with Vipers. Or Veins.