The Imaginary Realms of
Gilbert M. Stack

Subtitle

Jan Stryvant

Jan Stryvant

Jan Stryvant is the pen name for John Van Stry which he uses for writing books with violence and multiple sexual partners situations. Frankly, I've read books under both his names and don't see much of a difference. His books are fun but tend to share a set of weaknesses. For the most part, they come out too fast (i.e. need another draft before publication) and have too much sex for too little reason. Yet the plots are engaging and he has a lot of good ideas so they make for enjoyable light reading. 



Shadow

I enjoyed this book but I’m not quite sure what to make of it. On the most superficial level, it’s a super hero novel—but the tone is very different than most super hero stories I have read. On another level, it’s a novel about a criminal working his way through the underworld on his own terms. In yet another light, it’s the story of a young man who suffered terrible abuse as a child getting his life together—even if the life he constructs is far from typical. All of that may be reading way too much in Stryvant’s narrative, because mostly this is a tale of pretty tough super who has sex with just about everyone he meets. He has so much sex that it gets in the way of the story and takes up space you would have liked to have seen devoted to other aspects of the tale—especially the fight scenes and the development of the bad guys so that they could have become three dimensional. That being said, we do get to follow Shadow through several years of his life and watch him grow and evolve as he finds his place in the world. It’s an enjoyable journey and one that I might read again in a few months.

The Valens Legacy

Black Friday by Jan Stryvant

The first book in the Valens Legacy series is a fast-paced fun novel. Sean Valens is a struggling college student who learns the hard way (when bad guys try and kidnap him) that everything he thought he knew about his world is wrong. His father was a wizard who was killed because he was messing with the balance of power in the supernatural world by trying to free lycanthropes from their slavery to human sorcerers. If he wants to stay alive, Alex has little choice but to try and pick up where his father left off and bring his dream to fruition.


Stryvant’s plot depends heavily on lycanthropes which is a shame because he doesn’t do much to differentiate the different were-animals from each other. This is, in fact, the greatest weakness in the series. There have been a lot of very good books written with lycanthrope characters and the best of them work hard to make you feel the beast within the infected characters. Stryvant just uses the lycanthropy to justify Sean’s supernatural abilities and to excuse him for assembling a harem. All the animals come off as barely different shades of vanilla ice cream.


That weakness aside, however, this is a very fun book with a good supporting cast and a pleasantly developing mystery. I read it eagerly and was happy to go on to the next book when I finished. I’m waiting on the fourth book now and will gladly read that one as well. If you want a light fun adventure series, Black Friday is a good place to begin.



Perfect Strangers

The second book in the Valens Legacy series is more of the same. Sean Valens and his girlfriends are trying to stay alive while they maneuver to discover his father’s legacy. There’s quite a bit of action and the tone is fast and lighthearted. If you liked the first book you’ll enjoy this one also.


My biggest complaint of the second book is the way Sean learns magic. It’s a cop out. Obviously Stryvant’s plot would have hit a few speed bumps if his hero had had to take off a few years to learn the ways of wizards, but to have him go from no knowledge to making never before seen breakthroughs in days is a bit much. It seems to me it would have required much less suspension of disbelief for Sean’s father to have put all of these pieces together but been killed before he could use them to liberate the lycanthropes. But it’s a small complaint. The book is still a lot of fun.


Over Our Heads

In the third book of the Valens Legacy we finally get to see the start of the great revolution that will (hopefully) end with the freeing of the lycanthropes. This remains a fun series and I was glad to learn that more books are coming. Big things are happening in the world as Alex’s mastery of magic grows and he begins to take the war to the wizards who have been hunting him.


I found a lot of humor in Stryvant’s making fantasy roleplaying games an important entry on the resume of future revolutionaries. It’s actually a nice addition to the storyline because Sean needs brain power to help him figure out how to make his father’s dream come true and he’s a college student so how many great military and tactical minds could he have access to? But I can’t help but chuckle. I started gaming forty years ago and while I have learned a lot in researching parts of my world, it never occurred to me that “revolutionary” was a job that gaming was training me for—and yes, we did play our share of wars and revolutions over the decades.


Head Down

The fourth book in the series is easily the best yet. Sean and his growing cast of mates and friends are deep in their struggle to free the lycanthropes from slavery to the wizards. There’s a nice mystery developing around the special place of werelions in the world of lycanthropes and a great subplot involving the assassin that killed Sean’s father. The action is fast paced and easy to read. It’s a likeable series with engaging characters and a pretty tight storyline.


Yet my biggest complaint remains. There are almost no differences between the different species of wereanimals other than superficial ones. Cheetahs are fast, lions sleep around a lot, etc. I think that a series in which lycanthopes play such an important role ought to do the creatures justice by permitting the werebeasts to be different from each other. I also think we need to see lycanthropes struggling to control their beasts. Laurell K. Hamilton pulls this off extremely well. Stryvant doesn’t appear to be interested in the issue and I think it hurts his world building.



When It Falls

The fifth book in the Valens Legacy addresses one of my two principle complaints with the series. I don’t know if this is a retro-fix or was planned from the beginning, and I don’t care. Stryvant provides a workable explanation for the incredible magical abilities that Sean has acquired over such a short period of time. There is still far too little stress on the beast within the lycanthropes for my tastes, but ultimately that’s the author’s choice.


This series is engaging and I greatly look forward to each new volume, but the books also feel rushed, which explains why I keep giving them 3 or 4 stars. Stryvant needs to slow down a little and take the time to seriously revise/polish his books. While I’m sure all of his fans appreciate getting a volume of the series every six weeks or so, I always find that giving yourself a little time for a serious rewrite vastly improves the quality of the novel. So I like the series quite a bit. The characters are diverse and interesting. The action is well thought out. But they could be substantially better if the writing wasn’t quite so hurried.


Stand On It

The final book of the first arc of the Valens Legacy really disappointed me. It started on a good note, picking up with the battle that the last book ended on as our heroes try to beat back the attack on their compound and save Sean Valens. Then it got even better as two serious problems were set up for Sean’s wives and friends to resolve if they were to save his life and preserve the cause of rescuing the lycans from slavery. Unfortunately, roughly half way through the book, all of this started to fall apart as the author apparently got tired of writing and decided to resolve these serious problems in totally unsatisfactory ways. These quick endings to the two main crises (one of which literally qualifies as a deus ex machina) freed Stryvant up to spend the last third of the novel in wrapping up all the current loose ends to set the stage for the next arc of the story. There was absolutely no tension—unless you count the large number of sex scenes that did nothing to advance the story. The whole last half of the book gives the impression that Stryvant had grown tired of writing this arc and wanted to finish it as quickly as he could. This should have been a lot better.


Vegas Rules

I’m trying to figure out why I enjoy this series so much. This isn’t as easy as you would think because there are a lot of weaknesses in these books: the different types of were creatures are barely differentiated from each other and all seem basically human with the ability to change shape; only a couple of the characters are well developed; the hero has a growing number of women falling over themselves to have sex with him and pledging their love despite the fact that there is nothing charismatic about him (I guess we can always say that’s part of the magic of being a lion were); the hero is almost never actually challenged; and the overall feel of each book is that it was rushed to market a couple of revisions too early.


Yet for all of that, this is an enjoyable series and I look forward to each new book. They are generally fast paced, and the plans of action for each new encounter are usually well thought out. The overall situation (were creatures fighting for freedom from slavery from the wizards) is fascinating and the author does a good job of getting into the heads of the villains. It’s enough to make the series a lot of fun.




Desperate Measures

Stryvant made great strides in this novel for allowing his hero Sean to make a rare mistake. He misjudged a situation badly with the potential to cause tremendous trouble for his growing revolution. The moment of totally believable fallibility greatly strengthens this series. There have been too few of them. When the enemy can surprise your heroes, real tension develops and makes the whole series much more enjoyable.

Secret Treaties

Stryvant succeeds in significantly upping the tension in this series by bringing the U.S. Federal Government into the plot. It turns out that the government has known about mages and lycanthropes from the beginning of the nation and thanks to the Treaty of York has basically ignored the activities of mages so long as they leave U.S. citizens alone and maintain the “silence” so that everyday Americans do not find out about their existence. Lycanthropes were accepted as the property of mages which makes sense seeing as the U.S. accepted black slavery in the country at its founding. However, the war between the lycanthropes and the mages is becoming louder and some mages have abandoned the silence and committed atrocities in their efforts to kill Stryvant’s hero, Sean. Sean’s responses to these provocations are increasingly brutal. The U.S. can no longer sit on the sidelines, but it’s still not clear who they will support in the ongoing war. I still haven’t made my mind up as to whether or not I like how the government is handled by Stryvant. It forced me to exert a little extra suspension of disbelief. But good or bad he still increased the tension in a way the mages have failed to do over the last few books. And with different factions in the government wanting to handle the lycanthrope/mage war in ways that promote their own interests—not necessarily the good of the country—there is room for a lot more tension in future books. We’ll just have to wait and see if Stryvant can pull it off.




It Ain’t Easy

Stryvant builds a lot of tension in this novel which is a major improvement over the last few. The President has decided to meet with Sean and the enemies of the free lycanthropes are arranging to assassinate him in such a way that lycanthropes will become public knowledge and America will hunt them down and exterminate them. That tension—watching the plan unfold—puts a lot of stress into the story because it’s by no means clear which outcome Stryvant is working toward. This book was a lot of fun.




Red Skies

This is the best novel in this series in quite a long time. Sean is becoming aware of another threat—one posed by demons who plan to invade the earth. He also begins to learn that the timing of his charge to free the lycanthropes from slavery has been determined by the need to prepare an army to defeat the demons. This is credibly set forth and strengthens the series as it begins to appear that some of the stupider moves on the part of the wizards in this series have been made because they are being influenced by fell powers from a different world. Sean does do a couple of really dumb things in this book (like leave the sword that kills demons behind when he goes traveling thousands of miles from home) but overall Stryvant has succeeded in taking this series up a notch.

Demon Days

This was probably the best book in the Valens Legacy series thus far so I thought I’d take a moment to explore not only what I liked about this book, but the series as a whole up to this point. This book stops screwing around and goes heavy on the action, much of which is well done. (As a side note, there was also less of the pointless sex—pointless because it didn’t advance the plot or develop the characters.) The demons are now coming through the gates, and Sean and his lycanthrope army have to fight them. These are pretty good scenes as are the interludes between them in which tactics, strategy and logistics are discussed. There is a tiny amount of politics which also enhances the story. Typically, Sean and his people do manage to show an amazing amount of stupidity in not pursuing as their number one priority the mystery surrounding why a certain type of old ammunition injures demons when modern ammunition does not (I guess they’d rather fight man-to-man with swords than mow the enemy down with helicopter-mounted machine guns) but in the scheme of things, this was a small complaint.


Stryvant also sets up a demon subplot that worked out just the way I thought it would without actually getting there by the means I foresaw. That was also nicely done. The ending has me quite anxious for the next book, which hasn’t happened in a while, and that was the deciding factor in lifting this book to a four star rating.


As to the series as a whole, I feel that this second arc has not been as strong as the first arc but has still been enjoyable. I think the primary weakness in recent books comes from the extreme ease with which Sean has solved most of the problems. Note that this latest book presented a challenge he could not easily resolve and it greatly enhanced my enjoyment. My biggest continuing complaint with the series is that twelve books in, becoming a lycanthrope is still like putting on a suit of clothes. Occasionally reference is made to this lycanthrope type being stronger or faster, but I never “feel’ the lycanthropy. Lycanthropes even talk to their beasts once in a while, but it all seems way too friendly and rational to me. In my opinion, the best lycanthrope stories have the beast released in a painful transformation that overwhelms the human’s rational mind and makes them a monster. Strong willed humans learn to control the beast to some extent, but they still have to fight against the beasts’ hungers and passions. Lycanthropy is a curse! But not in the Valens Legacy. There it’s more like a great new jacket you found at the store that you can put on or take off at will with no downside whatsoever. I’d very much like a result of this demon war to be that the beasts inside the lycanthropes begin to be break free making all of these characters far more interesting.

Simple Things

This novel may be the best of the Valens Legacy series to date. Sean is stuck in the demon realm where he meets a lioness who has been trapped there for about fifteen hundred years. Together they develop a plan to try and get back to the earth again. On the way they are forced into a detour which presents some genuinely interesting possibilities not only for future adventures in this arc, but for whole new arcs. Yet that isn’t the part of the book I liked the most. On earth, the supporting cast takes over and tries to continue fighting the war without their leader. We get to see Adam, the most likeable of the lions introduced this far, carve out a role for himself in Sean’s army and we get to see several small players step into the spotlight as they finally figure out that steel and iron bullets hurt the demons and work to get serious supplies of said bullets. At the same time a demon king steps into the action and seriously increases the threat level as the demon realm seeks to feed on the humans. To round things off there are a couple of future plot points dropped in place that promise lots of good action in the next novel.


So I want to be clear, I liked this one a lot, but I feel compelled to point out that problems continue to multiply in the basic structure of Stryvant’s world. One is that every woman we meet is not just willing but anxious to join a polygamous union and none of them ever seem to suffer even a hint of jealousy. Not only is that totally unrealistic, it also bypasses some excellent storyline possibilities. Jealousy is a powerful motivator and I’d like to see it rear its ugly head to sabotage some of the progress that our heroes and their allies are making in fighting the war. Having someone you like have a problem everyone could empathize with will only strengthen this series.


My other complaint is one I should just admit is never going to get better. If there was any doubt left, it is now perfectly clear that becoming a lycan is little more than putting on a shirt with magical powers. We get thousands of new lycans in this book and there are no problems at all with their transformations. There is, in fact, no downside to becoming infected. They act as if they are perfectly normally human without even the slightest hint of an animal nature. It frankly is unclear why every person on the planet isn’t begging to become a lycan. They are stronger, faster, heal magically, and probably live longer too. I think this is a huge lost opportunity by the author.


This last is not a complaint, but a suggestion. I imagine that for religious reasons and simple bigotry there are a lot of people who will be angry that lycans and magic users have outed themselves. I also think that there are many people who would willingly (if stupidly) side with the demons. We’ve been given glimpses of these people, but I suggest that thousands of people with protest signs picketing Sean’s house and generally making nuisances of themselves would be a good subplot for future stories. And that’s just one idea of how to use such feelings…

Trying Times by Jan Stryvant

Trying Times starts out a little weak with a villain who is less than two dimensional, but it gains strength as the novel progresses and sets up an intriguing problem that will have to be resolved in later books. First, the two dimensional villain…


Stryvant quite correctly figures out that not all the country is going to be happy to discover that lycans are everywhere and that thousands of military men and women are being converted to fight the war with the demons. So Stryvant shows us this by creating a preacher who goads his followers into attacking Sean and his people. The preacher is every bad stereotype of a protestant minister that you’ve ever seen on TV rolled up into one. He’s a bigot that’s been looking for the “right” group to hate. He takes sexual advantage of every pretty female in his congregation, telling them that God wants them to have sex with him. He’s a coward who justifies his cowardice (like his evil deeds) as God’s work. And he turns on his own flock to “save” them from the lycans when his idiocy gets them in trouble.


I’m not opposed in principal to idiot villains, but I think Stryvant missed the boat here. It isn’t hard to imagine that an honest preacher might fear what is happening in the U.S. and blame the lycans (who are quite visible) instead of the demons (who are not so visible). Had the preacher been more honorable in his fanaticism that would have made for a much more dangerous and insidious villain. But hey, it’s Stryvant story and ultimately these are his decisions. I’m just glad that we quickly moved on to other things because the problem with foreign governments, for reasons both strategic and corrupt, starting to move against Sean is well thought out and far more interesting than the cartoonish preacher’s efforts.


The war is going to have to move to Europe where there are plenty of signs that the demons have made inroads with the magic users and now with key government figures, but how exactly Sean and his crew will handle that is beyond me. I very much look forward to seeing how Stryvant handles it.


I also want to credit Stryvant for killing off one of the better supporting cast characters. This was a shocking and painful loss and I thought he dealt with its aftermath well. The cast is big enough to absorb quite a few of these deaths, but it’s never easy for an author to kill off a beloved character. Stryvant deserves praise for his handling of the situation.


As always, I’m looking forward to the next book.





Fire Starter by Jan Stryvant

The fifteenth book in the Valens Legacy is mostly a transition novel. Our heroes are preparing for a major escalation in the war with the demons and still trying to get a handle on many lingering problems on earth—especially in Germany. The novel read quickly and I enjoyed it, but I’m writing this review a few weeks after I read it and there were no moments that dramatically stand out in my memory. Still, fans of the series need to read this one and will be glad they did.




Wives Tales 1 Roxy and Jolene

This volume collects two short stories, each focused on a different supporting cast member of the Valens Legacy series by Jan Stryvant, and I found the tales surprisingly effective. Each elaborates on an event in the past that has been referred to numerous times in the series and the stories lived up to my imaginings of these events. The first explains why the Sheriff of Las Vegas hates the goblin Sawyer. And the second shows why Jolene felt the need to take revenge on her old school friends after she returned from India. In the latter case, Stryvant has me clamoring for a follow up story to show what happened next. I find this sort of collection often leaves me underwhelmed, but these were two quick reads I thoroughly enjoyed.



Wives Tales 2 Daelyn & Roberta

This volume has two more short stories about the supporting cast of the Valens legacy. It’s not as strong as the first collection capturing less emotion and less action, but if you enjoy the series, they’re worth your time. The first explores how Sean’s too-tall dwarven wife became the skilled mechanic she is and really tells the story of a coming of age experience giving a little “humanity” to a character that has been far too two dimensional up to this point. The second story tries to do the same with Sean’s Sorceress wife, Roberta, but it didn’t work for me. It tells how she seduced the lion, Sampson, and eventually had a child with him, but I didn’t feel like it was a particularly flattering tale. It didn’t make me like her more or really enhance my interest in the character. Still, these are very quick reads and if you like the series you’ll want to give this latest volume a try.


Wives Tales 3 Peg & Cali

This latest volume in this series offers two more short stories giving background information on Sean’s wives. It’s the weakest of the three so far. I suppose that is to be expected in that Stryvant obviously decided to tell his most interesting stories first. By the time we get to volume three it feels more like he is checking off a line on his “to-do list” than it does that he is telling a story that has been bursting to get out of his imagination. This is a shame. There are plenty of backstory tales to tell in this series that I’d like to hear about, it’s just that these two weren’t among them. Maybe Stryvant’s next short story collection should focus on the older generation. He could explore important topics like what drove Sean’s father to risk his life inventing a magical item that protected lycanthropes from silver. Or he could explore how Sean’s parents met and in doing so give us a little more information on how Sean’s non-human blood might affect him moving forward. He could also give us a glimpse of Sampson’s efforts to keep Sean alive through his childhood. If he wants to go a little further afield, Sean’s father-in-law, the Sheriff of Las Vegas, and the goblin, Sawyer, are the two most intriguing supporting cast members in the series. I’m sure there would be plenty of stories to tell about the two of them. I guess what I’m really asking for is stories that will enrich the series because they need to be told. This volume didn’t accomplish that goal.