Monday, May 3, 2021

Phantoms of Ruthaer: Chronicles of Damage, Inc. by Jason MacDonald and Stormy McDonald


Did you love Scooby Doo as a kid? I loved Scooby Doo as a kid. I loved the gang coming into town, finding something they didn’t expect and figuring out what it was. I loved the running, the hiding, the constant threat of danger.  I loved the risks. I loved the danger. But then I grew up a bit and realized that, while the concept of the Scoobster was, and always will be, awesome, the danger needed to be a bit more real and simply removing a mask wasn’t always enough to solve a problem. I wanted MORE danger. I wanted some fighting. I wanted…

Something I thought I was never going to get.

Enter Stormy and Jason MacDonald and their new book Phantoms of Ruthaer. Ok, so PoR isn’t quite as goofy as Scooby was. That’s okay. I’m not as goofy as I was as a nine year old either. I think. Well, probably. Maybe? I mean…


Look, I’m just the reviewer. This isn’t about me, okay? STOP LAUGHING!!!

Or sumfin’...

All goofiness aside, Phantoms is an intense ride. There is a lot of action here and the one time it really lets up I found myself swept into laughing hysterically, and I mean that literally. Have you ever had that moment when everything around you was terrifying and then something that’s really only a little bit funny happens and you’re laughing so hard that you almost give yourself a concussion? Yeah, that was me. I didn’t know a book could do that to you. I got a similar feeling while watching Saving Private Ryan at the theater. That was sights and sounds and a book is just words and imagination. Well, maybe not JUST but you get what I’m saying…

Yeah, I’m going with “totally immersive experience” because I read that in an interview with a game developer once and, not only is it an accurate description, it sounds cool too. So now you can officially say you read something cool on my blog. Hold on…

You are reading this… Right? Anyway…

There was something in the acknowledgements (I think) about how Phantoms started out as a ghost story set in a fantasy setting. I think I screwed that quote up, but that was the jist of it. The point is that it’s easy to see in retrospect. The fog, the mysterious disappearances, it just makes sense that it started out as a ghost story. The thing is it’s so much more than that. 

Phantoms is a story that just keeps on giving. There is a lot going on. The backstories of the characters are well thought out and actually apply to what is going on in the story. Seriously, one of my pet peeves is when an author goes into a character’s backstory and it has nothing to do with what I’m witnessing happening in the book. That’s not the case here. Everything has relevance to the story we’re reading and helps to move it forward.

The thing that makes Phantoms better than Scooby Doo is that the action sequences are far more intense and the consequences of them are real. This is a story that you can feel in your gut. When the blood starts to fly and things start to do, you’ll say my my,

Or sumfin’.

I’ve reviewed books by McDonald and McDonald before, and they've always given me epic battle scenes. They always hit the mark between too technical (seriously, read <i>The Chronicles of Amber</i> if you’ve never fenced and tell me how easy it is to follow the sword fights) and some of the no-detail stuff I have read in other places. They give you enough details to be able to follow along and make it easy enough to be exciting. That’s what makes it fun to read.

I was watching The Curse of Oak Island: Digging Deeper recently and they interviewed Kevin Burns, the creator of the show and he said something that was both profound and totally unsurprising: Any story is about the people in it, the FAMILY in it. That’s really the feeling you get from the Damage, Inc. crew. There are no blood ties between them, but they’re closer than a lot of blood families are. These are people who have been through the ringer together and they’re ready to go again. They want to go again. It’s the feeling you get at a gaming table with your buddies. Everyone wants to do their part. Everyone expects everyone else to do their parts. But it’s not just that. It’s that you knew everyone else WILL do their part.

And that’s what makes a story like Phantoms work. This is a family and they’re here to take things apart if that’s what they need to do to accomplish their mission. Damage, Inc. is a good name for them. It’s not like they MEAN to damage things, it’s just that sometimes a character’s gotta do what a character’s gotta do. 

Of course it wouldn’t be a good Scooby Doo story if there wasn’t a hidden villain. It’s not really a spoiler to say that there is one here because it’s obvious from the beginning that the team isn’t sure who or what they’re fighting. All they know is that something is killing people and there is fog. Lots and lots of fog that only comes at night. It’s spooky and scary and part of that immersive experience that I wrote about earlier. There’s actually a bit of overlap here, as I wouldn’t be surprised to see Phantoms reviewed on a horror blog.

Being the nice guy that I am, I’m not going to mention the fact that my boy Jasper wasn’t in this book. That would be a low blow, especially as this is an awesome book without him. I’m not in the least bitter or pouty at all. Really, I’m not. I’m totally over it.

Bottom Line 4.95 out of 5 Fog Banks It would be five, but they left Jasper out.

Phantoms of Ruthaer: Chronicles of Damage, Inc.

 Jason MacDonald and Stormy McDonald

Parlatheas Press, 2021

Phantoms of Ruthaer: Chronicles of Damage, Inc. is available for purchase at the following link. If you click the link and buy literally anything from Amazon, I get a small percentage at no cost to you.

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