Book Review: Dead Weight: The Tombs, by M. Todd Gallowglas

8178367I’m always nervous when I review something by an author I actually know, because if I hate it the ensuring conversation might be…awkward, although I’m finding that most authors appreciate any honest review, as long as it’s constructive.  Happily, I loved this book and can honestly give it a glowing review with the caveat that some of it was a little confusing, possibly because it’s the first installment in a series.

Dead Weight:  The Tombs is the first in a series of short books about The Faerie War between humanity and faerie.  We won, but it’s a tenuous and scary peace.  This story is set in San Francisco and one of the strongest aspects of the story is that it uses a clear sense of place to convey the vast devastation and social changes that occurred as a result of the war.  When I read that Washington D.C. was a crater, I was annoyed (at the Fey, not at the author).  When I learned that Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley was gone, along with the rest of Berkeley, I was PISSED.

The star of this story is the world-building.  There’s a huge sense of history without labored exposition.  The culture is fascinating – all the little details ring true.  The action is intense and violent and gory in a gritty way.  The main character is presented in the least sympathetic possible light and yet completely wins our sympathy.  He likes movie quotes, as do I.  I was particularly amused by his attempt to fight off a fey soldier by quoting a famous speech from Pulp Fiction, before remembering that the speech consists of made-up scripture, not actual scripture (he has better luck when he switches to The Lord’s Prayer).  Other characters are intriguing but not fleshed out at all.  This is the first installment and it feels like an installment as opposed to a complete work.  It’s a good installment, but you’ll want to understand what you’re getting into before you dive in to avoid frustration.

The reader is thrown headlong into the middle of a complicated, non-liner story without much exposition.  I found the main storyline easy to follow but there were aspects of the beginning and the end concerning identity that confused me.  This might be because I wasn’t paying enough attention, it might be because the writing isn’t clear, or might have been a deliberate choice of the author because more books in the series are coming along with more information and further developments.  This did not mar my enjoyment of the story overall and it made me very curious about further developments.

I loved this story because it was original and interesting, it was gripping and emotionally involving, and it got a lot of work done (in terms of establishing a main character and a complicated world) very quickly and effectively.  It moved fast and was vivid and kept me going from page to page.  I felt like I could see everything happening in front of me – the descriptions were brilliant, and I loved the use of language.  As far as the cohesiveness of the plot, that we won’t know until we get to read more, which I’m looking forward to doing.  I mean, I’m REALLY looking forward to it.  This was one of the most original and exciting things I’ve read in a long time!

Guest Post: M Todd Gallowglas, author of Dead Weight

MTG_HEADSHOT_COLOR_720_facebookToday we’re thrilled to have a guest post from M Todd Gallowglas, author of Dead Weight.  I’ll be reviewing the first installment of Dead Weight tomorrow, but in the meantime, here’s some thought from the author himself about how magic works in his series.  His words begin below the image of his book.


When working on the first draft of what would eventually become DEAD WEIGHT: The Tombs I showed the opening to one of my English teachers. She wasn’t a Creative Writing teach. Rather, she was more of an English Lit. teacher, though, at the time, she was teaching Grammar and Rhetoric of the Sentence. (Incidentally, one of the hardest classes I’ve ever taken.) Our first conversation after she read that draft went something like this (slight SPOILER warning):

Teacher: You have a wonderful imagination, and I love how you seamlessly weave in your own made-up fantasy ideas into the reality of your story.

Me: What made-up fantasy ideas? (I was confused because I pretty much took everything in that first section in Boy Scout’s flat right out of folklore.)

Teacher: Like the prowies.

Then I told her that I hadn’t made up prowies, not even the name. Prowies are one of the traditional names for Red Caps, a type of wicked faerie that maintains its strength and power by dying its hat in human blood, hence the common name, “Red Cap.” She was astounded. We spoke for the entirety of her office hour about the rich traditions of Irish folklore and mythology, and how I needed to make up very little (at least for this story), as my cultural heritage provided more than enough background material.


After that meeting, I went to class. Driving home from school that night gave me plenty of time to think about what my teacher and I had talked about. Now, up to that point in drafting Dead Weight, I’d done pretty well at holding true to the faerie legends and myths that I was putting into the story. However, I had taken some creative license in order to keep things logical and consistent within the universe of my story. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that by doing this, by making everything logical and line up, I was actually doing my story a huge disservice. In all truth and honesty, by doing so, I was actually destroying the integrity of my story.

Not only is Dead Weight a war story, it’s a war story where the enemy is the faerie of Irish legend and folklore. While the faerie have some laws and traditions, these are not even remotely consistent with anything from our world. Science? Physics? Not even remotely consistent for these creatures in their world. What’s more: these creatures and beings carried their own reality with them into ours, so that trying to combat them by our conventional knowledge and wisdom would be, at best, an effort in futility.

I’ve noticed a trend in fantasy fiction where writers, especially newer writers, have taken to making the fantastic elements of their work, especially the magic, work by a set of “rules.” People talk about “believable” and “consistent” magic “systems.” I’d even started down that road in my Tears of Rage books, with the dominions and miracles and such. Here’s the thing…in fantasy, much of the time, we’re trying to emulate the great tales of mythology and legends from our world’s past. The problem with that is, these tales we’re emulating aren’t internally consistent. Magic works not because of some pre-determined set of “rules” or a “system,” but rather because it’s magic – it’s wild and unpredictable and crazy and terrifying because the world our ancestors lived in was wild and unpredictable and terrifying.

So, as I drove I thought some more (I had about a two hour commute from school to home). How much more intense would it be to put our logical rational world up against the chaotic and unpredictable world of Faerie of ancient Ireland? Especially if I stopped trying to change those elements from the old tales and make them logically consistent within the frame work of the story. Yeah, I know doing so runs the risk of violating Sanderson’s first law of magic. Call me a rebel, or a traditionalist, or a traditionalist rebel…all depending on your point of view.

Here’s the ultimate bottom line of what I’m getting to in this post in specific, and Dead Weight as a whole: with a world full of rich traditions of strange, weird, and creepy stories, why are we constantly trying (especially in a lot of urban fantasies) trying to reinvent the wheel? In fantasy, why are we so eager to sanitize the mysterious and terrifying parts of the traditions we’re drawing from to make internally consistent systems? Don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan of many of these works, but I also think we could use a little more of the fantastic in our fantasy. A few more of those stories that really reach back to the traditions of our various mythologies, back when we had no rules because the world was a dark, chaotic, and terrifying place where magic was a wild force of nature, best left alone, because it couldn’t possibly be contained by a set of rules.

Years later, as I’m releasing Dead Weight, I’m doing my absolute best to hold true to the vision of a chaotic jumbled mess of a war between the logical and consistent world of the United States in our near future and the unpredictable and uncontainable world of the faerie of Irish legend.

M Todd Gallowglas wrote his first fantasy story for a creative writing assignment in the third grade. Ever since, he’s loved tales that take the reader to the far future or mystical worlds of his own creation. High school was a convenient quiet place to hone the craft of writing adventure stories…while he should have been paying attention in class. Todd received a BA in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. Throughout his time in the program, several teachers tried to steer him away from writing that nasty “genre” stuff. However, they underestimated just how much his brain was hard-wired for telling tales of the magical and fantastic, and their efforts to turn him to literary fiction came to nothing. Find out more about his books and his skewed philosophy of the world on his website:

Intrigued?  Here’s a link to the book’s Amazon page: