A couple years ago, I wrote about Big Bang Press, an indie publishing press operated by members of fandom that was dedicated to publishing original stories by other fanfic authors. The Kickstarter was successfully backed, and its first book, A Hero at the End of the World, had a couple problems but was extremely entertaining all the same. Now Big Bang Press is back with the last two books of its inaugural three. I got early copies of Savage Creatures and Juniper Lane as a Kickstarter backer and found them to be just as diverse as A Hero at the End of the World—and they do a better job with incorporating female characters, as well. However, they aren’t entirely slam-dunks.
First up, we have Savage Creatures, which was probably the one I was most looking forward to out of all three of Big Bang Press’s inaugural novels. It was described as “urban fantasy noir”, but unfortunately, it needed a bit more worldbuilding to get where it wanted to be. Savage Creatures is about Jamie, a woman with blood magic who can find people through the use of, you guessed it, blood. She runs into Francis, a shifter who’s looking for his twin sister Catherine, and he, of course, hires her. The two of them go looking for Catherine, but get into a lot of trouble…
The book is quite short at about 160 pages—a regular-sized novel would easily be double that, and the extra length would have allowed for so much more detail to be put into the conflict. For one, Francis’s powers are never explicitly detailed, and without knowing what’s going on with his clan, he could be any shifter in any supernaturally-themed series. His clan is matriarchal, so are we in a Supernatural AU where girls actually matter? Or is his type of “shifter” totally different from the ones we’ve seen on TV? We don’t really know. Why did his clan develop to be matriarchal? Without knowing, it makes Catherine’s conflict (and the conflict of the whole story) extremely forced.
Jamie’s powers actually seem unique, but the majority of her time is spent helping Francis and Catherine, and her weak character motivations bring down any interest I might have had in her. Character motivation, unfortunately, isn’t a problem unique to Jamie—Jamie just “feels” like she should help Francis, Francis just goes along with everything his sister says, though he claims he wants to be his own person, and the other characters in the story aren’t fleshed out enough to hook me. It’s very much like a first draft, which is a shame because it certainly had the potential to be something greater. The great majority of the characters in the book were racially diverse, there was no forced romantic tension between Jamie and Francis, and it showcased LGBTQ+ relationships that were as layered and complex as any heterosexual counterparts.
Fortunately, Big Bang Press’s other book, Juniper Lane, had all the racial diversity, the LGBTQ+ relationships, and more. Genre-wise, it’s as different from Savage Creatures as it’s possible to be—whereas Savage Creatures was urban fantasy noir, Juniper Lane is very much literary fiction. Young college dropout Mim Robinson drags herself to her aunt’s house on Juniper Lane after getting out of an abusive relationship. While trying to repair her life, she meets Nadia Bahjat, a chef who had to come back to Juniper Lane to take care of her parents’ house after her dad was diagnosed with cancer. Mim is shy, apologetic, and eager to please, while Nadia is standoffish, rude, and angry. However, after a number of awkward meetings, the two of them strike up a reluctant friendship as the only two young adults on their street.
Premise-wise, this book gets me right where I live (practically literally). I think there’s a very particular subset of millennials who, for whatever reason, have found themselves stuck at home again after college—hopefully not for the same reasons as Mim and Nadia are in this book, but I found it extremely easy to sympathize with their situation. The community of Juniper Lane is described in eloquent, exacting detail, and both major and minor characters are fleshed out so well that you feel like you’re living there, stuck (in a good way) with the street as Mim and Nadia learn to navigate the weird space between being “An Adult” and being a kid.
Beyond that, though, Juniper Lane is about abuse and the aftermath thereof. Mim’s ex-boyfriend, Dell, was an abusive asshole who encouraged Mim to cut herself off from all of her friends and family. Upon finally leaving him, Mim’s unsure of her welcome with her other family members, and she’s only brave enough to go to the aunt on Juniper Lane with whom she hasn’t talked in years. Meanwhile, Nadia’s parents have never been pleased with their daughter’s choice to become a chef and constantly belittle her with backhanded compliments. As Nadia struggles to live up to her parents’ expectations, she has to come to terms with the realization that her parents aren’t the great people they’ve always seemed to be. Next to this, Mim and Nadia’s slow-burn relationship seems like an afterthought, but in the delicious cherry-on-top way. If I had a minor complaint with Juniper Lane, it would be with Dell and with Mim’s family, who never seemed as well-developed or as present as Nadia’s family. Dell and Mim’s immediate family actually never talk to Mim in person, and I felt like the book could have been much stronger if they had.
If you want to pre-order these books (out March 15th) and see how they turned out, you can get both Savage Creatures and Juniper Lane on Amazon! I hope we hear more from Big Bang Press’s marketing team as the publishing date nears—A Hero at the End of the World got a lot of social media advertising, so it stands to reason that the press should start pushing these books soon.