This is a guest review by Travis Letteer. Sarah is up to her eyeballs in novel and not up to a chapter of Elf Blood, so since it’s review week here it be.
Once We Were Human, http://www.amazon.com/Once-Were-Human-Commander-ebook/dp/B0065KXHPY/ref=sr_1_7?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1379343999&sr=1-7, by Randall Farmer is the first in The Commander series. An Urban Fantasy/Alternate History set in the 1960’s it is a book I probably never would have tried if it wasn’t free. The first taste is free, is a very accurate description of my reaction to this book. After reading it I quickly devoured the rest of the books published in the series and waited impatiently for each of the next ones to come out, until the last book in the series came out a couple months ago. (So those of you who hate authors who leave series incompleted, no names mentioned, of course, need have no fear)
Randall Farmer has created a dystopian series that is rather dark but still manages to convey that human perseverance can bring you out on top, no matter how hopeless the situation may seem. The book is written in first person and the world building is developed mainly by looking directly through the eyes of Carol Hancock, the main character. A wife of a minister she contracts Transform sickness, transforming her into an Arm, a rare type of female Transform that must kill and suck energy from other Transforms to survive. Hancock as a main character is an anti-hero with strong similarities to Ringo’s Mike Harmon.
The Transform Universe is built slowly as Hancock discovers and explores it herself, Farmer borrows liberally from ancient myth, and then has the characters attempt to explore and explain ancient myths as earlier outbreaks of Transform sickness. Beast men, monsters, Xena type warrior women, and various super powers become plausible and believable through the unfolding of the Transform Universe. The unfolding of each new twist is built onto the last, making a tight-knit and believable alternate world.
Throughout the series Hancock struggles and slowly succeeds (this is not readily apparent in the first novel) to reconcile the differences between her newfound serial killer, rapist, torturer tendencies and her morality brought over from her pre-Transform life. As a result the first book in the series is rather dark with just glimmerings of possibly imagined light in the distance, while by the end of the series she has emerged into admittedly rather shadowed light.
The books are inappropriate for younger readers, if they were movies they would be rated R for language, violence, and adult content. While sex is frequently mentioned in style reminiscent of Heinlein it is not described. The author manages to paint vivid pictures of practically every other aspect in the book with rather stark descriptions that accomplish this without detracting from the tension or flow of action.
Randall Farmer took a concept that wouldn’t normally rivet my interest and left me sleep deprived the next day, because I stayed up entirely too late reading to find out what happened next. In addition he accomplished the seeming oxymoron of writing a dystopian series that leaves the reader a confident believer in human exceptionalism. Possibly it is the gallows humor and rather dry wit of the main character that lightens the dark content, possibly it is the subtle thread of anti-government libertarianism winding through the books, or the bigger than life characters struggling with bigger than life problems; but whatever the reason he leaves the reader with a sense of hope and the firm belief that whatever your problems, if you try hard enough it will get better.