Book Review: The Night Before by Alexandra Engellmenn

Today, I shall be r51pCDvDhL5Leviewing Sky Ghosts: The Night Before, a short story that takes place in Alexandra Engellmann’s Sky Ghosts universe. Alexandra was kind enough to send a copy as a freebie in return for a review, and as always, I was happy to oblige.

Background: Russia’s Alexandra Engellmenn is both a full time author of fantasy and action, and a visual artist. She has many homes across the web, all of which can be a
ccessed through her homepage, http://www.engellmann.com/. Her Sky Ghosts series is at its heart an Urban Fantasy tale, and as per the best examples of the genre, combines a healthy mix of action, comedy, mystery, romance, and more besides.

The Good: As has been mentioned, The Night Before is a short story. With a word count of around 13,000 words, Alexandra herself has described it as a being designed to be a 1 hour read. Now, I actually finished the story a little quicker than that, but I will concede that I do tend to read quite quickly, so I’d say that 1 hour is about right. This works as a positive not only for the tale on show, but for the series as a whole. You see, the shorter word count means that there is no chance of the story outstaying its welcome. It also means that it’s perfectly placed to be a jumping on point for anyone that’s curious about the Sky Ghosts universe.

The story focuses on Pain; a brash girl with a darkly playful side and a penchant for violence. As a short description, that doesn’t really give too much away other than maybe bringing up some similarities with a couple of other heroines in modern fantasy literature. Don’t let that fool you though. Alexandra’s writing is such that Pain is truly brought to life on the page. Sure, she’s prone to bouts of brutal violence, she’s rebellious, and she’s far from a clean-cut good guy, but there’s something wonderfully intriguing about her. The Night Before gives you just enough of a glimpse into her as a character to make you want to learn more, and that is where the first novel in the series, All For One, comes in. If you have any love for this type of character, you’ll want more.

When it comes to action scenes, the pacing is important. From a personal standpoint, I also find that the more violent a scene is, the more careful the author needs to be in how they deal with writing. Thankfully, the action in The Night Before is stylistically very strong. While Pain runs amok over her adversaries, Alexandra takes us on a very smooth ride. She strikes a good balance between describing the action as it unfurls, and leaving just enough left unsaid to let the mind fill in the blanks.

While the action comes thick and fast, that’s not all the story has to offer. The small ensemble of characters that are introduced all get ample time to put their personalities across in their varied interactions. In terms of Pain and Marco, the two characters that receive most screen time, this amounts to a combination of their inter-personal relationship and a touch of their core values. Given the short word count, Alexandra achieves a fair bit in this respect, and that is deserving of some praise.

The Bad: There is very little to say here. In part, whether you enjoy this story or not will depend on your tolerance for violence. For me, I have no objection to this, but if you prefer something where the body account doesn’t pile up pretty quickly, you’d probably do best to give this one a miss. I would also say that, while the supporting cast each have their moments (albeit in varied lengths), Pain does overshadow them somewhat. The thing is, she has a very strong personality, and the story is about her, so that is to be expected to a degree. It would have been nice to perhaps see a little more of Jane or Peter, but this is only a minor quibble. After all, it’s pretty easy to check out both All For One and Marco if you want more.

Final View: A quick, easy read that acts a decent introduction to the Sky Ghosts universe, and gives a good taster of Pain as a lead character. If you aren’t put off by violence and brash behaviour, this is a perfectly fine way to spend an hour of your time.

Final Score: 5 / 5

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