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Literature Review

Horn – Peter M. Ball – Novella Review

Horn – Peter M. Ball – Novella Review

I love a good novella.

A novella is a medium-length piece of fiction. They fall between 15000 to 30000 words in length, depending on who you’re listening to. For the writer, a novella is short enough that plotting is still straightforward and simple, but long enough that you can develop real characters, throw in a few twists, and have some fun describing the scenery, all things you can’t do in the short story form. For a reader, they’re even better. Never long enough to get really boring, they can be swallowed at a gulp, or savoured slowly if you want to linger and enjoy yourself. They’re the perfect snack-size piece of fiction, and I wish to hell there were a lot more of ‘em printed.

“Horn”, obviously enough, is a novella. It’s the first lengthy piece of fiction in print from Peter M Ball, a Brisbane writer who is developing a name for himself in Australian speculative fiction. Throw it at a genre dartboard, and “Horn” would probably stick to “Urban Fantasy”, but in truth, it’s a wicked extension of the noir detective story with a really nasty take on the Faerie stuff that bimbles and wibbles its way through so much modern fantasy writing.

I don’t think Ball actually likes a lot of contemporary fantasy; at least, not the stuff involving unicorns. “Horn” is a perfectly delightful book about a private eye named Miriam Aster tracking down a fairly nasty murderer… or it would be, if Aster wasn’t the reanimated lover of an exiled Faerie Queen, and the murderer wasn’t a sex-crazed unicorn starring in a particularly repugnant snuff movie with an underaged runaway.

There. I said it. The book involves unicorns, rape, snuff movies, and more or less undead lesbian detectives. That should be all you need to know, right there. If you really need more, you are one seriously jaded sonofabitch.

I’m not gonna recap the plot. Novellae are short. If I recap, I don’t leave you with a lot of surprises in the reading, and that would be a shame. What I will say is this: Peter M. Ball has got it right. This book is smart, funny, nasty, and wicked as hell. He gets the noir-ish tone spot on, delivers with action a-plenty, kick-ass characters, intelligent plotting, and good, clean evocative writing. Best of all, he takes a turgidly overused fantasy trope out behind the backyard toilet and puts a dum-dum bullet through its brain, after which he whips out his tackle and pisses all over the steaming corpse.

I enjoyed the hell out of this book, and I’m pissed off that the sequel isn’t in print already. (I’m voting for vampires. Glittery, shiny ones.) Go straight to Twelfth Planet Press and order your copy now.

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About The Author


Dirk Flinthart is a mildly notorious writer, raconteur and sometime rakehell bunkered in the forbidding hills of north-east Tasmania. He's probably best known as an occasionally fictitious character in John Birmingham's books, but the reality is both stranger, and far more coherent. Flinthart's recent works include Angel Rising (with Twelfth Planet Press), Canterbury 2100 (as editor, courtesy of Agog! fiction) and he has a story shortlisted to the 2008 Aurealis Awards. Having just completed his black belt in ju-jitsu and begun his studies of Iaido, Flinthart is confident of surviving the coming Zombie Apocalypse in fine fashion, and expects to continue writing speculative fiction long after the undead have eaten your rich, gooey brains...

Article Information

  • Posted: Friday, June 19th, 2009
  • Author: Dirk Flinthart
  • Filed Under: Literature,Review


2 Responses to “Horn – Peter M. Ball – Novella Review”
  1. Sounds like great fun. I think the novella is seriously neglected as a format, so kudos to Twelfth Planet Press for publishing this. It’s also excellent to see another Brisbane writer hitting the shelves. Nice one, Peter.

  2. You’re right. Novellas are good reads. Sometimes long mystery novels are, too, but once in awhile I get sick of 450 page whoppers, much of which is absolute drivel. I keep thinking of writers like Hammett in THE MALTESE FALCON and THE DAIN CURSE, telling his stories in 250 pages. Now I think it’s the publishers who want windbags like Patricia Cornwell to go on for twice those lengths. Thankfully she seems to be opting for shorter fiction, now. There’s hope yet.

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