Meet J.P. Moore, genre-bending master of the dark and horrific, author of Toothless.
Not that I would have ever thought that, having encountered him first on Twitter, where he is truly a gentleman and a wit, to boot.
I was first enticed to listen to Toothless after following JP on Twitter, where I read a tweet he wrote which went something like this (and I paraphrase):
"So, you take issue with the historical inaccuracies in my audiobook Toothless. Was it the zombies or the demons that annoyed you more?"
Or words to that effect. How I laughed. And, accordingly, I had to get this book.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I get into it, expecting something lively and comic in a brutal, undead monsters sort of way. It is not.
Toothless is anything but comic, except in the blackest sense, but it is brutal, and it is utterly brilliant.
Moore sets himself a raft of challenges in setting this story up, not the least of which is the difficulty of making his main character - the eponymous Toothless - an undead warrior who draws his power by slaying the living, as his demon master leads his fell legions across medieval Europe. Martin was a Templar knight, and his jaw is hacked off in battle by the demon who kills him. When he is reanimated, his mortal memories fleeing his frail shell, he is given the moniker Toothless, and is set to destroying the living, combatants and innocents alike.(Artwork Copyright Scott Purdy 2009)
In this, Moore has his second task: to engage the listener with this lead character who cannot, by any means, speak. I was expecting some contrivance to allow Toothless a voice, but Moore plays the hand he has dealt himself with sheer determination, never once bowing to the lure of dark magic or telepathy to allow his anti-hero communication. In doing so, he reminds us of just how cheap talk really is. Toothless doesn't need to talk. His actions are everything.
Moore takes this tragic beginning and spins it out into a tale of woe, loss, despair, and the dauntless face of human courage despite insurmountable and indescribable odds. Toothless struggles with his guilt and grasps desperately to the fleeting memories he still holds of his lost wife and daughter. In these memories, in the loves he knew as a man, are the seeds of his redemption, and therein lies the story of Toothless.
What really kept me coming back to this book, however, was not the originality of the blended genres or even the need to know how Martin's final quest is resolved, but simply Moore's command of the English language. The writing is simply superb, painting the bleak yet inevitable collapse of civilisation before the Black Yew in infinite shades of mist and grey, scoured with blood and decay. Moore wraps his words around your ears like a fog, swirling to reveal the dying world in awful, sorrowful slivers. I was constantly drawn into the sheer poetry of Moore's prose, often paying more attention to the words themselves than the actual story.
The audio production is crisp and clean, and Moore's dry narration is well-suited to the dark, brittle tale he weaves.
If anything, I found that the story was in places a bit slow to progress, but the excellence of the writing more than made up for this small failing - one which, I'm sure, could easily be remedied in the editorial process.
I rate Toothless at 4 Stars out of 5, with a 5 Star Special Award for Awesome Prose.
Yes, I can make awards up if I so desire. See, I just did.