Book Review: Fade to Black/Bled White, by L.T. Vargus and Tim McBain
by E. Branden Hart
In our eighth issue, you met L.T. Vargus, author of the fantastic novel, Casting Shadows Everywhere. Since then, L.T. revealed that the novel was actually authored by two people: herself and Tim McBain (described on L.T.’s website as her “special man friend”). In addition, the writing duo has released two new novels, Fade to Black and Bled White, both part of what they are calling The Grobnagger Chronicles—a planned five-book series.
L.T. provided me with a copy of Fade to Black in exchange for an honest review. I read it, then bought it, because if I posted a certified review on Amazon, I would get the second book in the series for free—immediately.
Best. Deal. Ever. Because here’s my honest, five-word review: These books are fucking fantastic.
Here’s the longer review:
Jeff Grobnagger has it all. Oh wait, that’s not true. Jeff Grobnagger is actually kind of a cynical bastard who just wants to be left alone with his cat, his wheat grass, and his seizures that make him black out and travel to a dark alley where a hooded man kills him over and over and over again. It’s kind of complicated, and when Jeff “fishes out” in a grocery store, a man named Glenn comes to the rescue, beginning a relationship that will make Jeff’s life everything he doesn’t want it to be—but maybe exactly what he needs.
See, Glenn recognizes that Jeff is actually doing some sort of astral projection—and it’s something that members of a couple of magic cults really get into. And Glenn knows about these magic cults because his daughter is really into them—or she was, before she disappeared. Together, Glenn thinks he and Jeff can team up to get to the bottom of things, and that’s cool with Jeff, because Glenn has a pretty rad house and cooks up a mean omelet, so, whatever.
The story gets a little complicated after this, and any further summarizing wouldn’t do it justice. Instead, I’ll tell you how I felt when reading these books: it reminded me of watching the first two seasons of Lost, which my wife and I did in a marathon binge that resulted in us both ignoring personal responsibilities for a couple of weeks. The key similarity is this: Vargus and McBain have created a complicated, organic universe that has a life of its own. The authors provide answers to questions as they come up, but the answers just lead to more questions, until the reader feels like he is on a fact-finding mission. And it’s wonderful. The momentum in this book is staggering—I read Fade to Black in a few days, read Bled White in two, and plan on staying up all night when the third one comes out to read it in one sitting.
Make no mistake: these are not standalone books. If you try to read Bled White first, you will have absolutely no idea what is going on. This is definitely an epic where each novel depends on the ones that came before: read them all, or don’t read any of them.
All that being said, the joy of these books is that they are so much more than just a story about magic, good food, and tasty beverages. Jeff Grobnagger is a hero for anyone who has struggled to become the person they are. And while he’s a reluctant hero, aren’t we all, in some way, reluctant to become the person we’re meant to be? As the story proceeds, we get to watch Jeff face his own personal demons, and while he may not slay them, he at least befriends them, recognizes them for what they are, and, by the end of Bled White, has started to use them to his advantage.
From a technical perspective, the books are fairly solid. I did spot some typos throughout Fade to Black; Bled White seemed to have fewer. At one point in Fade to Black, there was a shift in tense that, while an obvious mistake, killed momentum in an otherwise fast-paced scene. There were a couple of places where I felt one of the characters said something contrary to their typical dialogue, but you could easily argue that I was reading it wrong.
The books are both filled with quotable phrases that will make you think as much as they’ll make you laugh. Layered between all the mythology and magic and Jeff’s depressing outlook on life are some truly hilarious moments: empty bags of Funyuns rolling down the street like tumbleweeds, Jeff pleading with his mysterious attackers to “stop trying to kill me as soon as possible” via a post-it note, and Glenn’s lamentations about his cat’s eating habits are just a few examples. It’s a refreshing change from protagonists in similar novels who take themselves all too seriously—and authors who do the same. Vargus and McBain are playful, and it pays off: the humor in the book is precisely timed and keenly self-aware.
Fade to Black and Bled White are an engaging opening to what I expect to be a truly epic adventure. It would not surprise me at all if someone picked up the film rights to this series: in the right hands, it could be an incredible movie. But for now, I’ll be satisfied with following Jeff and Glenn on the page—especially once the next book in the series is released.
You can find out more about “The Grobnagger Chronicles,” and the authors themselves, in our interview with them in this issue.
E. Branden Hart is Executive Editor of EmptySinkPublishing.com. He lives and works in San Antonio. His fiction has been published in Toasted Cheese Literary Magazine, Calamities Press, Down in the Dirt Literary Magazine, and Shades and Shadows: A Paranormal Anthology, which is available on Kindle and in paperback by XChyler Publishing.