My words are shattering glass
Smashed beneath the weight of my grief.
A flickering flame,
I have to keep it safe
But I won't whisper your name,
Not when I should shout it.
But even in this fumbling silence
Sometimes I catch the scent of you
Burning in my veins
Souls, you say, are their own coordinates.
You are the binary star system I navigate by,
Even when I'm blind in the dark,
So the when doesn't matter
Or the where or the how,
Because I know I'm coming home
The long way around.
Where to find KJH Cardinalis online
Talystasia: A Faerytale
by KJH Cardinalis
(5.00 from 1 review)
Talystasia stands divided. An ancient wall runs down the city’s center, and for centuries, the Lorens and Telyras have vied for dominance. But their endless feud is not the only schism that runs through these pages. Loyalties are fractured and hearts and minds are divided. Will Andreas Telyra and Roselia Loren triumph on the war grounds within, or will they succumb to the cycle of violence?
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Smashwords book reviews by KJH Cardinalis
on Oct. 18, 2014
The Feel-Good Story of the Year!
In high-school, it was a sort of mark of honour to read Dante’s Inferno. There is something in the human psyche that takes a perverse pleasure in being disgusted. This book makes Dante’s Inferno look like amateur hour Hell. It’s arguably the most pornographic thing I’ve ever read—and I don’t mean that in the usual way.
This is a stroll through a modern Hell, an industrial Hell—the kind that Dante could never have imagined. The industrial revolution gave us meat factories, death camps, chemical warfare, radiation poisoning and a whole slew of other atrocities undreamt of in earlier epochs of human history. It also gave us a laundry-list of other evils that take on a more familiar, banal form: a 9-5 world where people are utterly replaceable, cogs in corporate machines, where abandonment, built-in obsolescence, and a general malaise of indifferent malevolence rule all. And most of all … denial. We hide it behind perfectly manicured lawns, fake smiles, and cheerful advertising jingles.
If the damage caused by humanity’s insatiable lust for power served as the mortar for a city, you would have Slum. The collective psychic soul-damage of the 20th and 21st centuries, on loop, forever.
A little under a decade ago, I discovered the absolutely terrifying auditory landscapes created by Industrial music pioneers Throbbing Gristle back in the 1970s—in particular their 1978 masterpiece of awfulness, Dead on Arrival. TG used found-sounds—everyday snatches of conversation and background noise from day to day life, and repurposed it into the most frightening music you will ever hear.
What TG did for music, Shawn Montaigne has done for literature. This is everyday life, repurposed into something utterly nightmarish. After you read this book, I guarantee that nothing will feel safe. I literally can’t walk into an Italian restaurant again without feeling nauseous. A black car with tinted windows makes me shiver. A mother talking about changing a baby’s diapers sounds sinister. A landlord giving an apartment tour makes me cringe. A metro ride makes me sick. Sex is disgusting. Random sights, sounds, smells, that before were total banal are now stomach-turning. The light falls a certain way on the pavement and I want to curl in a ball and hide.
You won’t sleep for a week. And the worst of it is, you’ll almost enjoy it. This isn’t the urge to jump. This is the urge to fall. You’ll feel disgusted with yourself for turning the pages. And still, you’ll keep on turning them, and wonder if that means that you too carry this horror inside your soul. You’ll only have to read it once, because the words will be scarred onto your psyche. Then you'll put it away, and tell yourself you'll never read it again. But now and again, when you think nobody's looking--including your own conscience--you'll pull it out and flip to a random page and read something awful, because you just can't stop yourself.
on July 18, 2015
There's a quote in the Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis, where a horse tells God, who takes the shape of a lion, "Please. You're so beautiful. You may eat me if you like. I'd rather be eaten by you than fed by anyone else."
That quote pretty neatly sums up my personal feelings on divinity, and also nicely frames Angel. This is not a book which paints a cozy, soft, safe picture of faith. It's grounded firmly in the real world and all of its harsh injustice. The malevolence of humankind is not excused here or diluted in any way. Instead, we see a universe where God was faced with a terrible choice--a choice between a solipsistic, hellish existence or a world where human beings were granted the freedom to do terrible things--but where love, real love, could exist.
In such a world, hope, beauty, love and redemption are sometimes every bit as terrifying as the harsh cruelty of the world itself. Divinity itself must walk a harsh and uncompromising path, because that's what it takes to save a compromised soul in a compromised world. Human malevolence, after all, can be relentless, and it takes real resolve to stand against that. Divinity allows free choice, but it defends free will. And it does so with a relentless will of its own.
That kind of salvation, as imposing as it might be, has its own stark beauty, a matchless magnificence--the kind that Lewis was talking about. Montaigne's story is as disturbing as it is assuring, which is why it works. It doesn't contradict the horror of my daily experiences. It doesn't ever once say that the evil in the world is ok because it was part of some divine, unassailable plan. It never tells you what to believe in--just to believe in the highest in yourself and those you love.
And best of all, this tapestry of ideas is woven out of a very human story about an unlikely and tumultuous friendship between two men who couldn't seem less alike at the start of the story. By its end, they have discovered the highest in each other, and re-discovered it in themselves. I'll leave you to find out how.
Otoro Queril: Saeire Insu Executioner
on April 10, 2016
If you have read Melody and the Pier to Forever, Book 1 (if you haven’t, what are you waiting for?), you will recall the massive cliffhanger at the end. In the Epilogue, we get our first real look at the evil empire that Necrolius Anaxagorius has created. We find out that Necrolius is having people shipped in from all over Aquanus so that he can consume their souls and consign them to an everlasting hell.
On the docks, there are executioners making examples of those who fall out of line. Reading the epilogue, I couldn’t help but think that their victims were the lucky ones. They were able to move on. They were saved from a fate worse than death. Death is not the enemy.
… Not a very popular opinion.
And that’s where Otoro Queril comes in. This book follows the story of a man assigned in secret by Conor Kieran to those very chopping blocks. Every day, he executes hundreds of innocent men, women and children as an act of mercy. He does it to save them from being devoured by a monster that will enslave their souls.
Like Melody’s other side-story, Sole Survivor: The Story of Kaza of Theseus, this is a grim, bleak book which delves into the horrors of a fascist regime and doesn’t attempt to spare the reader’s sensibilities. There is a lot here which hearkens to the death camps of Nazi Germany. But whereas Kaza dealt with the initial shock of fresh trauma, this story visits characters who have been so long submerged in it that they’ve passed into a completely different mindset. There is significantly less internal monologue here than there is in Kaza or Montaigne’s other works. This bleakness is a reflection of the inner numbness that sometimes arises in the wake of long-standing trauma. The characters in this story never accept the world around them or the direness of their lives, but they have adapted. This is a challenging mindset that is not often explored in fantasy.
The other standout aspect of this book for me is the exploration of the ultra-thin line between evil and benevolence. On the surface, Otoro’s days are spent engaged in the exact same malevolent actions as his fellow executioners. But because his intent is compassionate, he transmutes cruelty into mercy. He actually injects holiness into unholy acts. Actions like these on some level redeem a world where evil is possible, because forms of holiness such as these could not exist in a universe that is all goodness.
When you live in a world that’s rife with darkness and violence (like Otoro’s, and like ours), it is hard to find hope in something that is only gentleness and light. The mind rejects it, because it doesn’t believe it can be real—and even if it is, it lacks the force and commitment to combat evil—which uses every tactic to its advantage. For this reason I believe that hope in a frightening world must itself be frightening.
And that’s Otoro Queril. And that’s why I love this book.
If you do decide to read it, I highly recommend you read the other books in the series first! Otoro Queril: Saeire Insu Executioner is a side-story to Melody and the Pier to Forever. Read Melody and the Pier to Forever books 1 and 2, and also read Sole Survivor: The Story of Kaza of Theseus. You could read Otoro as a standalone, but you’d be pretty lost. The other books give you the context you need!
Random Chance and the Paradise that is Earth
on June 30, 2016
Random Chance and the Paradise that is Earth is a difficult book to describe. In many ways, it feels like a snippet, a slice of life—one of a myriad adventures of the eponymous main character. And that’s a good thing. Much like a TV pilot, this book drops you into the middle of Random’s life. It makes you curious about his past and anxious about his future, and you find yourself eager for the next episode in his unfolding story.
There are two “halves” to this story. The first part follows Random as he makes a narrow escape from the ruthless Oligarchy that holds dominion over the solar system. The second part follows his visit to Vesta where he meets up with Mia (Random has girls in many ports, but this one is special) and acquaints her with his best friends—who are both AI programs.
Without giving a lot away, there is something for everyone here. Suspense, politics, more than a dash of romance, and plenty of fun and philosophy. Vesta is an intriguing, beautiful and unusual place. Reading about it, you find yourself wishing you could explore it further, or visit it yourself—and you immediately find yourself trying to envision the rest of Random’s universe—all those worlds just waiting for you to discover them. And because Random’s solar system is so delightful, you end up all the more caught up in his story, which at times is a desperate, frightening struggle for survival. That such a fascinating world is subject to tyranny fills you with outrage.
From a philosophical perspective, this story delves into the nature of intelligence—and moreover, different kinds of intelligence. It asks a lot of questions: Are human beings really fundamentally “good?” Is intelligence our greatest survival trait, or is compassion? Does intelligence necessarily refer to computational abilities, or could it encompass a broader definition? Where does consciousness come from—and what about conscience? We typically define “intelligence” in AI as the ability to learn and decide. Is that ability fundamentally linked to the development of a moral compass (or vice versa)? If so, when in their lifetimes do human beings truly acquire intelligence—and how?
One great thing about this book is that it asks the questions but it doesn’t hit you over the head with firm answers. Instead, it presents you with a vision of the future—a set of possibilities—to use as a lens to think about complex topics.
In short, it’s great sci-fi. The emphasis is on “if.”
And there is so much “if” left to explore. I can’t wait for Random’s next adventure, and a chance to explore more of his universe—and delve deeper into the many questions his first adventure raises!
The Angel's Guardian
on June 22, 2017
You know how sometimes when you're reading a book, there's that "secondary character" that you just love? They're as fascinating to you--or more fascinating--as any of the main characters, but you don't see nearly enough of them. You have a thousand questions about them, and you never get a single answer.
Well, this book is sheer wish fulfilment. It's an entire novel about one of those characters that doesn't get nearly enough time in Shawn Montaigne's series Melody and the Pier to Forever. It's the story of Yaeko's guardian, Elizabeth Finnegan.
***On that note, I want to mention that if you haven't read the first couple of books in the main saga of Melody and the Pier to Forever (at the very least, book 1), you will be super confused by the end of this book, like someone has dropped you down the rabbit hole without explanation. If you've read the others however, you won't have any questions, you'll simply have caught up to the present. ***
This is the story of Elizabeth's past. In Melody Books 1 and 2, you probably noticed that she's down-to-earth, pragmatic, and has an astonishing ability to roll with the unexpected changes in her life and the huge expansion of her universe. As it turns out, she wasn't born that way, and she went through hell to get to that point. In short, this is actually the story of how Elizabeth became Elizabeth.
The other reason I would say this book is about wish fulfilment is because in a literal way, it is--it is about the fulfilment of Elizabeth's own wish. But
more than that, it is about the fulfilment of her destiny.
Do you ever wake up in the morning knowing with every fibre of your being that you were meant for something better? Something specific. Something that is so much a part of you that in many ways it is you?
I wake up that way every day. And every day, I know that my destiny is impossibly out of reach. Not impossible like a job that's hard to get or a love that's hard to find. The kind of impossible that results from being in the wrong darn universe.
I loved reading this book because that was what Elizabeth went through too, every single day. She also woke up each day knowing she was meant for something better, something specific, but for her, gradually that something materialized into something--someone--in her own world. That someone was a beautiful young violinist named Yaeko Mitsaki, a celebrity from Japan. At first, what she feels is most akin to a fangirl obsession (I say that without disparagement, having once travelled quite a distance and faced many obstacles to meet my own hero), and a pressing need to meet her, but after a horrific accident kills Yaeko's family (as readers of Melody and the Pier to Forever know), the exact shape of that desire becomes clear--she realizes she is and has always been destined to be Yaeko's new mother.
Even though she has an indirect personal connection to Yaeko through her new friend Isao Akimoto, Elizabeth struggles each day to believe that she actually will meet Yaeko, and even though evidence is presented to her through Izumi's extraordinary prophecy, Elizabeth can hardly conceive of the possibility that she really will achieve this destiny. Being meant for something and being able to actually fulfil one's potential are two very different things. There are no certainties in life. And as it turns out, this destiny also literally is tied to a different universe. Thankfully, so is Yaeko.
If you've read Melody, you already know how things pan out. In any case, this is a book about faith and fortitude in the face of the unknown and the seemingly impossible. And as someone who can relate closely to Elizabeth's single-minded focus, I know how painful and difficult it can be to struggle with the clash between internal certainty that something is meant to be and external uncertainty that it ever possibly can be. So I am greatly inspired by Elizabeth's example, and as someone in my 30-somethings, I also found it refreshing and reassuring to read about someone in her late 30s whose life finally collided with destiny after long years of darkness.
Will I be as lucky as Elizabeth? I don't think so, but it still reassures me to know that she probably would have given the same answer in my shoes at one point of her life, maybe even at the same age I'm at. Regardless, perhaps the true lesson is that it is the will to destiny that forges one’s identity, not destiny itself.
Frankly there is already enough writing, especially in the fantasy genre, where we have a brave but uncertain hero with destiny thrust upon him. The entire world is certain of that hero's role, but he feels lost in it, and maybe doesn't want it. If he gets something wonderful from it, he questions whether he deserves it at all.
This story is the inverted version of that. Here, the universe is the world of uncertainty, and the hero knows absolutely she deserves the wonder and beauty she discovers in her life—long before it arrives. This is why she is able to roll with the changes so well. Her life doesn’t become more bizarre, even if appears so. In a way, quite the opposite—it becomes more natural, more her own, a truer fit for her authentic self.
Also, this should really be more than a footnote, but I want to add that it was great to read more about Isao Akimoto as well, who likewise gets short shrift in the main saga. Isao is a fascinating person in and of himself, and his friendship with Elizabeth is arguably the most interesting relationship in the story. Though they live in different countries, they have keys to each others' houses and are incredibly close and consistent in their friendship, melding their lives in as many ways as possible. As with the other relationships Shawn Montaigne writes about, I find myself saying, "Why can't I find this in my life?"
The bottom line is that if you've read Melody and the Pier to Forever, you can't miss this novel. Like the other "side stories" in this series, this one should be front and centre in your reading. When I struggle with my own faith (and I do quite a lot), thinking about Elizabeth sometimes helps me get through dark days. I think she will help you too.
Angel: Book Two
on May 21, 2018
When I read Angel, Book 1, I thought it would be a standalone novel. It ended with quite a cliffhanger however, so I was thrilled and relieved when I found out it was getting a sequel.
I won’t go much into plot details on Book 2 since doing so would result in spoilers for Book 1. I will simply say it involves the first mission of an angel who returns to earth, tasked with saving a teen girl who is being abused by her family and community.
The world featured in this story (and its predecessor) is not far removed from our own. It is complete with all of its horrors, and unlike many other religious or spiritual works, this series does not sugarcoat any of them. God in this universe is not omnipotent, and evil does not fulfill some sacred purpose. There is no palliative to lighten the blow, no platitudes to take the edge off. Even God sometimes is helpless. Evil is recognized for what it is: evil.
So when I say I wish that I lived in this world, you know that there is some potent light to match the darkness. Light here takes the form of friendship and chosen family bonds which transcend life and death. The vision of heaven presented here is a tapestry of souls interwoven from the threads of lives well-lived. Here, people still face challenges even after death, but they do so in the company of their spiritual kin.
An omnipotent God (as is a fixture in so many faiths) is a God for children—a parent who can reassure a crying child that “all is well.” He represents power by proxy. Even if He refuses His children their prayers, He is someone to negotiate with—someone who can take responsibility and alleviate that burden from His children.
But a God who is not omnipotent is a God for adults. Those who inhabit His universe must acknowledge their own limitations, because they must acknowledge His. That God will never deny comfort and aid when possible—but such a God sometimes needs aid and comfort as well. Such is the God of Angel: Books 1 and 2.
Themes of detachment often pervade religious works. Angels go their own way after their missions are complete. God uses a light, impersonal, uninvolved touch. The dead transcend the need for bodies, for substance, for the trappings of the finite.
Both volumes of Angel—but particularly this one—are a direct refutation to such a philosophy. Characters in this book expect abandonment, because it’s what they’ve been taught. They rage at God for not helping enough before remembering that God too sometimes rages helplessly at their sides, and they expect their angels to walk away once their missions are complete. But salvation in Angel’s universe is found in choosing attachments, not shedding them, in bridging lives together, not simply passing through them. Heaven is literally built from the connections of souls, and the universe is an ongoing collaborative effort between man and God. The finite merits the love of the infinite, and the most meaningful relationships are personal and tangible. They require that their participants, both mortal and divine, confront each others’ pain—and helplessness—with true empathy and compassion. By definition, that means making the harrowing choice to share firsthand in another’s suffering. Sometimes that is the only way to help.
Night in any world is black, but in this one, the dark is acknowledged, not denied. And the stars shine all the brighter for it.