Tag Archives: Andy Remic

Book Review: Return of Souls by Andy Remic

I won’t be reading anything else by Andy Remic. I didn’t care for most of his first Tor.com novella, A Song for No Man’s Land, but it got interesting right at the end. Unfortunately, Return of Souls doesn’t deliver on what little promise its predecessor held. Instead, it doubles down on everything I didn’t like about the first book in this planned trilogy and adds a heaping dose of blatant misogyny that makes it a deeply unpleasant read.

Spoilers at the end, so beware.

Once again, we’re following Robert Jones through his time in World War I, only he’s come somewhat unhinged since the events of the first book and we’re now navigating his deteriorating mental state and his journeys through a sort of dark, war torn Wonderland, still pursued by the walriders that were introduced in A Song for No Man’s Land. Though all his friends died in the last book, this time around Robert is joined by a mysterious young woman named Orana who also seems to be running from the walriders. I’m sure that there are other things going on in this novella (I think I remember Bainbridge’s ghost showing up at least once), and I still get the feeling that Remic has some point that he’s trying to manfully make about war or something, but all of that is eclipsed by the sheer disgustingness of Robert’s relationship with Orana.

I mean, come on.

First off, Orana is barely even a character at all. Instead, she seems to be a sort of generalized embodiment of Remic’s ideals of womanhood, created to both tempt Robert and to motivate him to new acts of chivalrous heroism. Over and over again, Orana is described in infantilizing and fetishistic terms as childlike, naïve and in need of protection. When Robert and Orana finally have sex, even Robert feels as if he’s raping her, and indeed it’s difficult to understand exactly how this strange child-woman in need of rescue could be truly consenting. Either way, it’s gross to read.

But, wait! It gets worse. After about a hundred pages of detailing Robert’s creepily paternalistic relationship with Orana, the final revelation of the book is that Orana was a walrider all along and was, I guess, using Robert Jones to help her reach her home? Or maybe she was just tricking him deep into walrider territory? Or maybe Orana’s transformation really is just a misogynistic commentary on the inherent duplicitousness of women? I don’t even know, and it’s hard to care very much. Robert Jones is a highly unlikeable and, frankly, boring character, and honestly, by the time I got to the end of the book I was just ready for it to be over. Unfortunately, there’s no real ending here, just this major revelation and a sort of teaser for the trajectory of the final book in the trilogy, which I just don’t think I can bring myself to read.

I’d like to say that it’s not Return of Souls, it’s me, but I’m having a hard time even thinking of reasons why other people might enjoy this title. Its pace is slow, and its prose is only workmanlike. Its horror elements are sloppy, and its fantasy elements, drawn from real-world mythology, are poorly researched and badly implemented. Robert Jones is a character in turns profoundly dull and remarkably despicable, but he’s at no point enjoyable to read about. There’s no humor to speak of in the book, no spark of fun or joy to speak of; rather, it’s just unrelentingly dark and almost nihilistic in tone. But, hey, maybe that’s your thing. I won’t be back for more, though.

Book Review: A Song for No Man’s Land by Andy Remic

A Song for No Man’s Land is a dull, depressing slog of a novella that never seems to figure out what it wants to say. For all of its short length, it seems to drag on interminably before finally sputtering to a stop right when things seemed to almost start to get interesting. It is the first book in a series of at least three, so perhaps that can be forgiven, but I’m not sure I care enough about Robert Jones to want to come back for more.

The story alternates fairly rhythmically between Robert’s time as a soldier during World War I and his childhood in rural Wales, but neither setting is particularly compelling. Robert’s time in the war is characterized by pretty run-of-the-mill WWI imagery and tropes while the flashbacks to his youth are mostly concerned with introducing the story’s mystical elements. However, the use of Scandinavian mythology (the hulder) seems out of place in a story about a Welshman as well as in a story about WWI. I’m not averse to the idea of forest spirits being upset or angry at the destruction of war (that would be very Princess Mononoke), but it seems an odd choice to co-opt the forest spirits of a neutral country where there was no actual fighting during the war. Alternatively, the forest spirits could be a reference to some similar German creatures, but that still doesn’t explain what they would be doing hanging around in Wales while Robert Jones was a kid.

The other characters introduced never manage to come truly alive, though Bainbridge comes closest. Instead, they’re all simply passing through, and they don’t even seem to have much impact on Robert, much less on the reader. Even Robert’s supposed friend, George, appears abruptly in the final quarter of the book only to come to a senselessly tragic end that left me wondering why he was introduced at all. The only women mentioned are either decidedly subservient figures (mothers, a sister, a nurse) who exist only to coo over or fuck the men in the story—well, mostly just Robert—or they are the demonically horrific Skogsrå that has apparently been menacing Robert Jones since he was a little boy.

The horror elements of A Song for No Man’s Land are sadly underdeveloped. The abovementioned appropriated mythology is made regrettably generic, and the monsters themselves are left largely to the reader’s imagination. I believe that Andy Remic was trying to rely on building a horrific atmosphere and crafting a feeling of terror through language, but his workmanlike prose is just not up to the task. Furthermore, the decision to replace vulgarities with “______” is described in an introductory note as a hat tip to the time of the book’s setting, but it comes off as coy, distracting, and frankly confusing as it’s often not clear what the censored term ought to be. This choice might have made sense if the overall tone of the writing was made to feel antiquated, but in a book that is otherwise modern in its style it just feels like an on the nose anachronism.

One of the reasons I read all of Tor.com’s novellas is because doing so encourages me to read outside my comfort zone and try new things that I wouldn’t normally pick up. Often, this has paid off big time; it’s been nice to discover several new authors to follow, and it’s interesting to read stuff that isn’t my usual cup of tea. Unfortunately, this time it just didn’t work out that way. A Song for No Man’s Land might be a great story for the right reader, but I just couldn’t like it.