Book Review: Compendium by Ellen Curtis

Details from Amazon:

Compendium

Product Details

Compendium – the debut novel from Engen superstar author Ellen Curtis is finally available internationally! Read the three shorts that propelled Curtis into stardom: "The Tourniquet Revival," "At Midnight, the Dawn," and "Falling into Fire!" Explore the Engen Universe like never before, and even gain early insights into Engen Books’ newest series, Infinity. Available now at a special discounted price!

Initial Thoughts:

I know Ellen from conventions (and from her time doing a webshow I appeared on) and from being an author in Newfoundland (she’s with Engen Books), so after reading a short story she did in Light/Dark (which I enjoyed) I picked this up at Sci-Fi on the Rock and finally got a chance to read it (in my defense I have been reading a lot of comic books). I like to support local authors and of course I enjoy getting books signed and speaking with the author about their work. Also of course I like short stories (have at least 3 more collections of them to read). I’ll note here that I liked how there is a short preface that introduces the idea that the story themselves are part of the Engen world (and I like the character Matthew, pretty sure I know who that’s supposed to be). It was clever and a unique way to start a collection.

Main Points:

Since this is a short collection (which isn’t a bad thing at all, I like short) I’ll do each story individually (As it’s impossible to talk about short stories with revealing  details…SPOILER ALERT!

The tourniquet revival, very good story. Lots of action, well developed characters, creepy villains, good atmosphere. A kidnapping with a supernatural/cult twist where I found myself excited and drawn in. I do have to point out though what I felt was a small error. Kat thinks "her next decision would haunt her for years to come", it’s a nice phrase but I can’t see how it fits in with the story. While things don’t turn out perfectly (what horror story does?) I really don’t see how anything she did in the next moment could have been any different, how it would have helped. The guilt part makes sense but the shooting when she opens the door makes sense to me, I just wonder if this line was missed in editing, I’ll try to ask the author about it sometime.

At midnight the dawn, a nice story with an unexpected twist. To be honest though I found this to be the weakest of the collection, I think the issue I had was that while it starts off really nice (What are these two teenagers up to? Why are they stealing? What are the details of this gang?) it goes downhill once they are captured. The whole demon/angel angle is thrown in abruptly and I felt that the powers/mythology/history was not given it’s due. I know it’s a short-story but I think this one could have done with at least another 4-5 pages to delve into the characters and history. This one seemed a little rushed or possibly maybe only a second or third draft (in my experience 4-5 drafts is the minimum for anything).

Falling into fire, my favorite of the collection. Here’s a great line near the start, "The staccato crash of running pierced the hall, annihilating any silence that had previously existed here".  I love conspiracy theories/sci-fi/military experiments gone awry. A good action-packed stories, nice characters and really interesting ending, I hope she’ll return project Aisli sometime. I also enjoyed how at the end we’re not entirely sure what happened, a little mystery can be a good thing. Once more though I felt this story to be cut short a little too soon, I certainly would have liked some more back-story and the characters, the institution and the experiment.

Final Thoughts:

Ellen is obviously making most of her main characters female in this collection, which is fine. I can certainly relate to being able to write your own gender easier and I would also agree there are not enough strong female characters in fiction (or most stories period). Ellen has a way with words, she uses phrases I enjoy and her writing is often eloquent and clever. She also makes me look up words, which is always a good thing (especially if you’re a writer like me). I do have put out a small criticism, why do the story titles not have any words capitalized? (I added capital letters above just to illustrate) I know it seems very nit-picking but I couldn’t help it, just something I noticed.  Overall I give this a strong recommendation (for readers 14+) and 7.5 out of 10. I’m looking forward to reading Ellen (along with Matthew and the other Engen writers) short stories in Sci-fi from the Rock Returns (also from Engen), hopefully I’ll finish it before the convention in May.

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