Review: The Boy in Red by E M Holloway

The Boy in Red coverThe Boy in Red (UK link, US link) is the fourth book in E M Holloway’s The Sum of Its Parts series. It’s undoubtedly my favourite in the series, but it will probably only make sense if you’ve read the other three books first. There are a lot of references to the events of the previous book and characters show up without any real introduction (even though an introduction might have been a helpful reminder in the case of characters who only played minor roles in the earlier books).

In this book, Puck and his werewolf pack face a sorcerer who has heard of Puck’s reputation as the formidable “Boy in Red” (a reputation he earned based on his actions in the previous books) and decides to test his skills against him. This sorcerer casts spells that torment the pack as a sort of game to see what Puck’s reaction will be. Puck just wants to protect his pack, but the sorcerer is putting other people in danger and someone has to protect them too, even when they’re people Puck can’t stand.

On top of it all, Puck has to cope with going to school and dealing with an asshole teacher who seems determined to make Puck’s life hell. With all the magical attacks, this mundane issue could be the final straw.

I mentioned that this book is my favourite so far and that’s largely because the characters are established and have settled into their relative roles. This book jumps straight in with the plot and there is a lot of plot. The first book of this series felt as much like a murder mystery novel as a supernatural adventure and this book comes back to that. Puck has a puzzle to solve to figure out the sorcerer’s identity, to track him down and to find a way to stop him, and lot of this feels like a crime novel and the questions keep you turning the pages to find out the answers.

There’s also a lot going on in this story, with various plot threads that are all connected but that also feel strong individually, such as the conflict with Nealy. Here we have a very human conflict surfacing in the form of lawsuits and lurking, which is a stark contrast to the rest of the action, and which brings out a different set of reactions in Puck.

These events also bring out a response in Puck’s PTSD. This book, like the others in the series, deserves points for the careful handling of this difficult issue. Puck suffers from PTSD following the events of the first book and it’s clear the author put a lot of time and effort into research because Puck’s symptoms feel very real. This book explores the impact of his PTSD in a deeper way than some of the others and includes Puck starting therapy to deal with it.

There are a lot of characters in this book, with Puck front and centre as the protagonist, but with the rest of Puck’s pack, Puck’s father, a local magic-expert, others at school and their families, some teachers, the werewolf-hunters in the area, contacts Puck has from the previous book, law enforcement officers, and so on, until there are a lot of people involved. There’s a reason why I thought a bit more introduction to some of the minor characters might have been helpful because there are a lot of people involved. It can get quite complicated, but the interplay of all these different people makes the story feel very real.

Definitely my favourite so far in the series, but as I said, if you’re new to these books you should probably start off at the beginning to save yourself a lot of confusion.

Author Interview – E M Holloway

Please start by telling us a little bit about yourself.

I’m 35 and I’ve been writing as long as I can remember. The first thing I solidly remember writing was a story about a cruise ship crash that I wrote in fifth grade. I think I must have been a pretty morbid ten year old. I live in Arizona although I wish I didn’t, and I’m going to be married this December to my girlfriend/zucchini of ten years. I have three cats and one dog, all rescues. I once named a pencil Mr. Universe.

The Way Out is Through coverNow share a little bit about your books.

I have so many of them! Modern fantasy, or fantasy that takes place in a mostly real world setting with a few twists, is my favorite jam. I write some soft sci-fi, although I’ve never been good at hard sci-fi because of how technical it can get. I’ve also written some classic fantasy (with dragons!) and even some real world drama. I love a good mystery. Almost all my books have some element of mystery to them, because it’s my favorite kind of plot. Creating characters is my favorite part of writing, which is probably why I wind up with so many in each story!

Some of your books started out as fanfics. How do you go about converting a fanfic to an original book?

When I see a fanfic and think “that could actually stand pretty well on its own”, the first thing I do is try to change everything I can. The story’s location, characters’ gender or race or career, any major plot point that doesn’t need to be specific. Can that car accident become a drive-by shooting? Can that woman who died of an illness have fallen down her stairs instead? Since my fanfics tend to have a loose approach to canon in any case, that’s often enough change to make it an original, although the real alternate universe fics are the ones that are easiest to convert.

What’s the biggest difference between writing fanfic and writing original fiction?

Having the characters already set up is by far the biggest. I mean, I love creating characters, but it’s always nice to just sit down with them all created for you, and you can just throw them into fun situations to see what happens. Fanfic is less demanding, and I don’t just mean because it doesn’t have to pass a publisher’s muster – you’re building off accepted characters and tropes, so there’s just less to explain. You can slap ‘soulmate AU’ or ‘dystopian setting’ on the label and know that your readers are going to come in with knowledge about what you’re writing, so you don’t need to include five thousand words of exposition about what a soulmate AU is or how it works. Sometimes when I’m converting I have to stop and really look at what I’m writing and ask ‘is a non-fandom person going to know what the hell I’m talking about?’

Do you have a favourite character in your books?

Puck, from The Sum of its Parts, will probably be one of my favorite characters forever. I absolutely love writing “that normal guy in amongst a bunch of supernatural scary creatures” – it’s one of my favorite tropes. Especially when that normal guy is by far more dangerous than the supernatural creatures.

How about a favourite moment?

Hands down, when Connor comforts Puck in the hospital after his father is hurt. Favorite moment in that whole series. I just love the two of them and their relationship so much in that moment.

Is there anything that’s surprised you since getting published?

Not really? I’m sorry, that’s sort of a lame answer. But I’ll probably have a different one if I ever get picked up by a major publishing house. 🙂

Are there any authors who particularly inspire you?The One You Feed cover

So many! So, so, so many! But I’ll try to limit it. Madeleine L’Engle, Susan Cooper, Jim Butcher, Bruce Coville, Neil Gaiman, Isaac Azimov… et c

If you could sit down for a chat with any author, living or dead, who would it be and why?

I’m gonna say Roald Dahl. His books are so amazing, such a great combination of childish whimsy and true horror. I’d love to get a peek at his thought processes. Plus I’ve heard he was kind of a jerk in real life, which means he and I would probably get along really well. =D

What are you working on at the moment?

Right now I’m working on converting The Boy in Red, which is the fourth installment of The Sum of its Parts. Plus I’ve been trying to get one of my other works, The More Things Change, published by an actual publisher instead of by me, heh. I’ve also been writing a lot of fanfiction lately for the Malec fandom! I can’t get enough of those cuties.

You can find E M Holloway’s books on Amazon.