Knight in Paper Armor: The Reviews Are In!

Knight in Paper Armor has now been out for over two months (!) and the response has truly blown me away. While I’ve written multiple books, this one has — by far — earned a response like no other.

Here are some of the reviews that have popped up online:

This book hits hard.

Jeanette Andromeda, Horror Made

As bleak as it seemed at times, there was an unyielding undercurrent of hope and light, selflessness and voices that would not be silenced. It brought not only a great balance to the story, but also a great reminder to me as a reader. It’s so easy to get bogged down in the seemingly endless onslaught of negativity, the pain and the suffering, sometimes you forget how much beauty and hope there is amidst it and how powerful those things can truly be.

Tricia, Bookworm Coalition

“Scary, inspiring, and ultimately life-affirming.”

– Dr. Olga Núñez Miret

Knight in Paper Armor is [Conley’s] latest novel and, in my opinion, is not only the most ambitious but also the maturest of his work to date.”

Steve Johnson, Book to the Future

“The story is part sci-fi, part dystopian, part fantasy, and it crackles with the ominous and intense undertone often found in dystopian literature like 1984 or Animal Farm or Brave New World.”

J.R. Alcyone, author of Five Fathoms Beneath

“Conley’s writing style is engaging, smart, and easy. His characters are multi-dimensional and you get a good sense of them having backstories even if you don’t get to delve into many. His compassionate cheering for the underdog is absolute and palpable throughout the story, and he portrays the banality of evil wonderfully. This book is a bit of an emotional roller coaster, and it’s a ride I’d read again.”

Jessica Settergren, No Pithy Phrase

“Like the great sci-fi writers of decades past, Conley uses a future setting to make insightful social and political commentary on contemporary society. At the same time, the story emerges, page by page, paragraph by paragraph, in such an engaging fashion, the underlying social message never supersedes or overpowers the characters or the plot. It is the perfect blend of social relevance with edge-of-your-seat, engaging storytelling.”

Michael S. Fedison, The Eye-Dancers

Knight in Paper Armor is a bright spot in a landscape of despair. I think we can agree that 2020 is not what we were hoping for. This book really gives me hope for the future if our youth grow up to fight even against seemingly impossible odds like Billy and Natalia.”

Liliyana Shadowlynn, The Faerie Review

“Moving, engaging and written with no-holds-barred, this tale is one that mimics reality, both past and present. Thought-provoking, dark, filled with emotional action, this dystopian tale should be a must read for those who appreciate a little mental meat to chew on.”

Dianne Bylo, Tome Tender

Knight in Paper Armor addresses some hard-hitting social issues that make you look at discrimination, differences, and the connection we all have.”

Betanda Shanam, Sascha Darlington’s Microcosm Explored

Thanks so much, everyone, for all your support. Stay safe, stay healthy, and have a happy Thanksgiving.

Knight in Paper Armor

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Billy Jakobek has always been different. Born with strange and powerful psychic abilities, he has grown up in the laboratories of Thorne Century, a ruthless megacorporation that economically, socially, and politically dominates American society. Every day, Billy absorbs the emotional energies, dreams, and traumas of everyone he meets—from his grandmother’s memories of the Holocaust, to the terror his sheer existence inflicts upon his captors—and he yearns to break free, so he can use his powers to help others.

Natalia Gonzalez, a rebellious artist and daughter of Guatemalan immigrants, lives in Heaven’s Hole, an industrial town built inside a meteor crater, where the poverty-stricken population struggles to survive the nightmarish working conditions of the local Thorne Century factory. Natalia takes care of her ailing mother, her grandmother, and her two younger brothers, and while she dreams of escape, she knows she cannot leave her family behind.

When Billy is transferred to Heaven’s Hole, his chance encounter with Natalia sends shockwaves rippling across the blighted landscape. The two outsiders are pitted against the all-powerful monopoly, while Billy experiences visions of an otherworldly figure known as the Shape, which prophesizes an apocalyptic future that could decimate the world they know.

New Pale Highway Updates

Good morning everyone!

So for all you radio listeners out here, I’ll be speaking on the February 23rd show of Portsmouth’s True Tales Radio, brought to the New Hampshire seacoast by Portsmouth Community Radio WSCA-LP 106.1 FM.

Six storytellers, including myself, will tell their real life stories related to Februrary’s theme of “Frontiers.” On February 23rd, I’ll be speaking sometime between 6 and 8pm, ET. For those of you who aren’t in New Hampshire, no worries! You can also listen online through Portsmouth Community Radio’s official website.

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Some great new reviews of Pale Highway have popped up in the last few weeks, and I don’t want to miss the chance to share them with all of you here. First of all, we have this wonderful review by Thomas S. Flowers, who begins by embracing the glorious ways of the coffee bean:

Before I dive into this review, I had to brew myself a fresh cup of joe, to put myself in tune, hopefully, with the ways of Nicholas Conley. The ground bean vapors, I pray, will act as my spiritual guide in writing this review.

…and then delves deeply into the book’s subject matter.

In fact, the “plague” acted as nothing more than to keep the momentum of the story, to keep motivations rolling towards its ultimate conclusion. The real story is in the tired, tragic life of one Gabriel Schist. In that story, we find so much more than the arc of one man’s life, we also find perhaps a “highway,” if you will, pointing us toward deeper, more meaningful questions, not about what we’ll wear this weekend on a date, but rather, questions of what we’re doing with our lives, how we’re treating those we love and strangers alike, who we are spending time with. In the immortal words of Henry David Thoreau, “It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?”

As if that wasn’t enough to have me smiling for weeks, Catherine Rose Putsche had this to say:

It is not often that my own words escape me as I try to recount the beauty, the true understanding of such a devoted man who struggles to hold off his own real-life manifestations to save everyone around him. Conley, has created a memorable, life-like and loveable protagonist who will stay with me for a long time and I have no doubt that this story will have an impact and raise awareness to each and every reader out there who has lost, or is losing someone in their lives’ to this despicable disease, as I and so many others have.

Finally, we’ll stop here with a review from Ms.Nose in a Book:

I absolutely loved it and enjoyed it and look forward to reading more from this author as I really loved his writing. I give this book five out of five stars. If you are a fan of Science Fiction or this book sounds interesting to you, definitely check it out. I know you won’t be disappointed!

I really can’t even begin to emphasize how amazing it is to see how deeply people have connected with this book, to know that something I spent years picturing in my head, working on, and agonizing over has finally found its roots in the world, and is growing.

Hope you’re all having a great weekend, and drinking lots of coffee.

P.S., though I didn’t think that any video footage had been taken from my Dover Library visit, it appears that at least one clip came out of it, which is a nice surprise:

KIN, by Kealan Patrick Burke: The Story After the Story

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With some degree of variation, almost every slasher movie ends with the same scene.  It’s a scene that we’re all too familiar with.  A climactic moment that has been permanently etched upon our collective subconscious.  It’s a a common trope, a sequence that has become so familiar that even those who’ve never watched a horror movie know this scene by heart:

Once the carnage is done and all of her friends have been killed, the lone survivor – always a girl, usually a virgin, usually covered in blood and either sobbing or desensitized – stumbles away from the defeated killers, and she finally escapes from the horrific place she’s been trapped in.

That’s how all slasher stories end. It’s how they always end.  The basic formula has varied little since Tobe Hooper’s classic ending to the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and one of the more recent movies in that franchise – the 2006 prequel, Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning – pulled out a surprise ending by deliberately subverting the audience’s familiarity with this famous sequence.  Still, for the most part, slasher movies tend to follow a pretty steady formula.  Sure, sequels happen, but these sequels will usually repeat the same formula with little connection to the prior entry, and usually with a brand new cast of teenagers for the killer/s to slaughter.  Lather with blood, rinse, repeat.

There’s a lot to recommend about Kealan Patrick Burke’s excellent 2012 novel, Kin.  It’s terrifying, moving and uniquely put together, with masterfully-worded prose and a storyline that absorbs the reader’s full attention like a sponge.  But the immediate thing that sets Kin apart, from the very beginning of its opening paragraph, is its take on the famous bloody girl running away sequence.

Unlike most slasher films, which end on this sequence, Kin makes the intriguing choice of setting that sequence at the very beginning. 

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Burke’s novel opens up with Claire Lambert, the only survivor of her friends, who after being tortured by the Merrills – a psychopath family with cannibalistic tendencies, ala Texas Chainsaw‘s Sawyers – escapes from their clutches half-dead, naked and bloody. She stumbles into the road, where she is picked up by a boy and his father – a father all too aware of the potentially dangerous consequences of his actions, but unable not to help. Now, tensions are ramped up. The Merrills know they have to get out of town fast, but first they have to quickly kill anyone who could testify against them.

As all of this goes on, Kin also introduces two parallel storylines that eventually tie into the main narrative. In one, a waitress with a dark past is brought back to her old life by an unexpected visitor. At the same time, a soldier—fresh out of Iraq and plagued by PTSD—finds out this brother was one of the victims of the massacre that Claire escaped from, and he readies himself to engage in a vengeful war against the Merrill family.

Kealan Patrick Burke, author of Kin.

Kealan Patrick Burke, author of Kin.

Kin begins where other stories end—after the slaughter, after the war, after the pain has already been inflicted—and it tackles the questions that any such violent incident would undoubtedly raise.

Seriously, what happens after the girl gets away from the psychopaths? What happens to the homicidal, cannibalistic family that accidentally let her escape, now that she’s surely going to tell the cops? What happens to the girl, who would have to be pretty damn traumatized by this point? What happens to her family, who now has to take care of her? And what happens to the innocent people who picked her up and saved her? If the family wants to get rid of all the evidence, are the father and son also at risk?

By asking these questions and placing this post-slasher scenario inside what is essentially a Southern Gothic novel, Kin brings new depth to a tired genre. It shakes up the format, explores characters that could’ve been stereotypes, and brings a full scope of emotions to the proceedings; yes, this novel is scary and yes, it’s violent, but it’s also a novel that isn’t afraid to create characters that the reader deeply cares about. It’s a book that can both grab your heartstrings and then rip them out in the next moment.

At its core, Burke’s Kin is a novel about the pain, stress, anxiety and devastating grief that follows a traumatic event. It shows what happens after the scars are inflicted, and how the pain of trauma has a residual effect that trickles down through one’s life and impacts one’s loved ones. Every violent action has consequences, and Kin pulls back the curtain on the aftermath.