Review: Dante’s Journey

Posted: July 20, 2010 by in Books We Like (4/5 single_star) Meta: J.C. Marino, Fantasy

Because we are the benevolent Book Gods that you have to know, love, and worship, we have a treat for you today. A review AND an interview. Without further ado, we present JC Marino, author of Dante’s Journey.

Welcome to EBR John, thanks for doing the interview. We like to start things off here by giving authors a chance, to in their own words, tell the world how elite they are. After all, to be a guest here at Elitist Book Reviews you must be. So lets have it.

I used to work at Digital Equipment (affectionately called DEC, for those of you who remember). The mentality there was to never toot your own horn, but to let the product do the talking for you. Ahhhhh… sweet memories. If I WERE to toot my own horn, not that I would… I would say that I’ve lived a lot of life and have done many things out of my comfort zone. I’m like Frank Sinatra. I’ve been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn and a king. I’ve also been a Soldier, a Security Specialist, an AI Knowledge Engineer, a 3D Animator, an Information Security Engineer, an eDiscovery Engineer, and now a Novelist.

How about a little bit about yourself and your background?

Well, I was raised in a typical Boston, Italian-American Catholic family through the sixties and seventies. Typical in some ways… not so typical in others. We were sort of like the Sopranos… you never really knew where you stood in the family dynamic. I joined the Air Force as soon as I was of age, dropped out of school, and left. Fast forward six months… I’m walking around an F-111 in Mt Home AFB, Idaho at 2:00 AM, and realizing what I now have to do… GO BACK TO SCHOOL. From that point on, I went to school to learn what ever I could. I eventually left the service, became a Software Engineer specializing in Artificial Intelligence, got a job with DEC, and moved to LA. In LA, I learned something from an admin person I met at work. Everywhere else in the country, an admin person who wants to write is an admin person who wants to write. In LA, he’s a writer who’s temporarily working as an admin person. In Hollywood, you’re not defined by what you do for work; you’re defined by your dreams. This admin person got me hooked on to continuing my education, but not in software engineering… rather in where my dreams were: writing. So I continued my education at UCLA in creative writing and story-telling. That’s why, today, I’m NOT an out-of-work AI Software Engineer… I’m a NOVELIST.

Would you tell us the story of your road to publication? What was a particularly challenging moment in getting your book published?

This is as long a road as the DNA strand of a Jurassic Park dinosaur. I’ll try and keep it at the Reader’s Digest level. I started out in screenwriting. After years of getting my work optioned, working for producer wanna-bees for years for free, I decided to switch to novels. I discovered one thing from Hollywood (and those wanna-bes)… if you want to get anyone interested in your work, you’re going to have to let them know that you’re bound and determined to do it with or without them.

So, after several bouts with the huge publishers, I looked into the smaller independent ones. I read a lot about them (thank God for Google). I made a list of the top five I was interested in, and sent them a questionnaire. The ones with the answers that showed a good fit for what I was looking for, I called. I got it down to one (Star Publish) and thus, started the publishing side of the fence… then came editing… cover art… etc. Each one of those steps is a story in and of itself, but like I said… the Reader’s Digest version.

Did you struggle with retaining your own artistic integrity balanced with remaining true to the original subject matter? What were some of the ways you accomplished this?

If you asked me this in my days as a screenwriter… the answer would be YES. A producer (or director or agent or manager or…) would actually say how much they loved my screenplay and how they were going to make the deal of the century with it. BUT, this is how WE are going to have to change it. I always remember the Skipper on Gilligan’s Island when I hear how “we” have to do something. “Wow… you certainly went from WE to ME in a hurry.”

Of course, I did all the work (sometimes over years)… made the changes that I told them wouldn’t work. Then got blamed when what I said wouldn’t work didn’t. But, as for the experience with Dante’s Journey, and my novel writing experience with Star Publish, there was no such struggle. The thing about Star is that most of the people in it are also writers. They bend over backwards to keep the voice of the writer alive and well. With the smaller independent publishers, there are advantages and disadvantages. One of the big advantages is that the writer gets the last word on where the story goes.

What about Dante’s Inferno inspired you to write Dante’s Journey?

I was born and raised Catholic, as well as going to Catholic school (for eight years). I can’t say this for the whole Catholic faith, but a lot of the teachings in the school I attended was about sin and the wrath of God. When I joined the military, I was really out of my element. I got to know a lot of different kinds of people and realized that the Italian Catholic Bostonian view of the world was just a small part of the whole.

I eventually got a major thirst for other religions and faith. One night, on armory duty, all alone, I read a book called The Worm that Never Dies. It was about Hell and scared the HELL out of me. It eventually led me to reading more and more about faith, Hell, and sin. I found Dante’s Inferno and, though I don’t believe Hell is physically like that, I do understand the symbolism. I was fascinated with the text and story. The whole nature of sin thing got to me. What is “sin” anyway? I remember an old Outer Limits episode where an alien void of emotion asked a human being to explain “love” to him. How do you do that? Sin isn’t defined by action alone. It can’t be. For everyone that kills for money, there’s someone else who kills to save a child.

Anyway, Dante’s Inferno always stayed with me, so when I moved to LA, I started writing the screenplay version. It was originally written for Bruce Willis and had a very “Die Hard” feel to it. But the characters evolved and the feel eventually changed to what you see now.

What were some of the challenges you faced in creating the characters Dante encounters during his Journey?

As I said above, the original idea behind the story was more for a Bruce Willis “Die Hard” type. At that time, all the characters were made up and based on your typical archetypes. I can’t say exactly when it happened, but I eventually thought to make the name of the main character a variation of Dante Alighieri… thus his name ended up as Joe Dante. That’s about when I had the revelation to give most of the character names some variation as the character names in the original work. Then, I thought, why not actually base the characters themselves on the characters on the original.

So… Dante Alighieri is Joe Dante, Boston PD; Hector (the reluctant warrior from the Trojan War) is a Hippie draft dodger with the heart of a fighter; Beatrice (the original Dante’s true love) is Joe’s wife; Filippo Argenti (Dante Alighieri’s mortal enemy) is Argenti the drug dealer who had Joe’s family killed; Socrates is, well… Socrates. But you get the idea. Then I went back to storytelling 101… conflict conflict conflict…

So, the dynamic relationships and motivations became more mysterious and conflicted. In the original, Virgil was Dante’s tour guide because Dante loved and respected Virgil’s work in life (Virgil was a poet). But in Dante’s Journey, Joe and Virgil don’t even like each other at first. They’re forced to work together. Joe wants to find “justice” for his family’s murder. And Virgil needs to get Joe out of Hell for mysterious reasons… or does he?

What past experiences in your life helped shaped Dante’s Journey?

Eight years of Catholic school. The funny thing is… when you know something and have known it for most of your life, with no thought of even keeping it a secret, you automatically think everyone knows it to. So many people know so many things without realizing other people don’t. Someone who grew up around horses on a ranch, for example, when first going to the city and talking to a stranger would probably assume they also know about riding horses. But to someone like me… a city kid… my only exposure to horses is something to bet on to win, place or show. There were so many parts of my life that I just took for granted and thought nothing of it. The way Joe grew up was similar to me, so it was fairly easy to write for that character. Growing up Italian Catholic… doing my time in the military… the conflicted feelings you have with family… etc.

DANTE'S JOURNEY is worthy of a recommendation and will be enjoyed by those with no prior experience with Dante and his journey (others may nitpick).

What can you tell us about your future projects? What is coming down the pipeline and when?

Ahhhh… for that, you can go to my website. I saw a movie a while back, titled “Memento”. To me, movies like this are what story-telling is all about. It gets the audience involved by telling the story backwards, showing them what it’s like to have short term memory loss. I was inspired to write a story about a rare medical condition and tell it through the eyes of the protagonist. My next novel, “Everything but the Face” is about a gallery owner who’s attacked and left with a rare condition called Prosopagnosia, or face-blindness. To her, everyone has the same horrific empty, expressionless face. In other words, everyone looks the same. She has to solve the murder of her boyfriend, stay one step ahead of the killer, keep her paranoia of the suspicious police at bay, and confront her inner demons. As “Dante’s Journey”, the story is told in the first person (through the eyes of the protagonist). It was necessary in order to get the reader to feel what it’s like to have this disorienting condition. Who is she talking to in any given chapter? We don’t know. We only know who they say they are. So, who can a woman with trust-issues trust when everyone looks exactly the same?

What do we have to do to get cameos in one of your future books?

It depends… do you want to be the good guy, bad guy, mentor guy or victim?

(Steve likes to be the victim, Nick likes to be the bad guy. Just like in real life)

Is there anything you would like to add or say to our readers?

I think anyone who read/liked the original Dante’s Inferno would love Dante’s Journey. It will be fun for them to see the updated characters. And those who haven’t read it, but are interested in religion (the concept of Hell… the nature of sin… etc) and/or fantasy will also enjoy it. It’s sort of like how Smallville is to Superboy. It’s great to see the updated characters and how they’re different from the original, but it’s also entertaining if you’d never heard of Superboy before Smallville. The novel is written in layers and Hell is separated by levels. Similarly, different types of people will enjoy the novel for different reasons. I think it’s a very unique book as it doesn’t rely on swords, sorcery or magic, but rather the human condition within the extraordinary situation of one man finding himself in Hell. I think the reader will see certain aspects of him/her-self in Joe (or even some of the other characters) and question their own place in the world, as well as their possible place in this particular afterlife. I want the reader to look at the inferno and say “Heck, I could end up in THAT ring.” Plus, it’s a fun book. It’s light enough to keep the reader smiling, yet heavy enough to keep them thinking, guessing, and even philosophizing.

Thanks again for coming John. It’s been a pleasure. We will see you next time around for EVERYTHING BUT THE FACE.

When we first got an email from JC Marino about possibly reviewing his novel, despite agreeing quickly, we were a bit nervous about it. Usually authors that have need of contacting reviewers themselves, and not through a publicist… well let’s just say there is a reason they don’t have a publicist. So when we opened of the package, and saw the goodness of the production quality of Dante’s Journey we already knew we had been mistaken and had no reason to not be super excited about it. We had a complete blast reading Dante’s Journey.

What’s even better, is we had a complete blast talking about it after we had both finished it. No, it wasn’t a bunch of discussions on the NEUROPATH level, but it was fun to sit and talk about how the modern retelling evoked certain parts of the original work of DANTE’S INFERNO.

The main character in DANTE’S JOURNEY is Joe Dante, a half-Irish, half-Italian cop in 1961 who has lost everything. He wakes up in a bizarre place and sets off in pursuit of the man who killed his family. We don’t have to beat around the bush. He wakes up in Hell. Duh!

The character’s dialog is simply fantastic. The phrasing and word usage really points out the time period the book is set in. (Does Hell have a time period? Hm…) While the dialog shines we wanted quite a bit more in various places of description. The book moves extremely quickly, and is pretty description-light in places. While Marino certainly evoked the feelings of despair and tireless torment in Hell, he could have really sunk us into the setting by slowing down a second here and there to really send it home.

Perhaps one of the greatest achievements in this work, is the fact while it is set in Hell, the tale retains a sense of humor and keeps it light. It would be easy for a book like this to fall… no, jump, right into a mire of religious castigation about sin. But it doesn’t. (Whew, Nick just breathed a sigh of relief.) It’s obvious JC Marino has a sense of humor and had a great time writing the book.

The storytelling style used in DANTE’S JOURNEY is one of our very favorites. It swaps between Joe’s life(death?) in Hell and his life before he came to Hell. The juxtaposition of what is going in both realms throughout the book is interesting and keeps the suspense going.

For fans of the original DANTE’S INFERNO there are plenty of things that are familiar, but there are just as many twists. This was a nice surprise. We didn’t want just a modern copy of the story. Marino’s book retains a very strong sense of the familiar and it is fun to see the close parallels to the original, but it is where they diverge that are the best parts of the book.

We should say that despite our familiarity with the original work, a person could very easily pick up DANTE’S JOURNEY with no prior experience to the story and enjoy it. While we had description and clarity nitpicks, we totally give DANTE’S JOURNEY a thumbs up and recommendation.

  • Recommended Age: 16+
  • Language: We were surprised. There is cursing, but not very much.
  • Violence: There are some action scenes, but nothing incredibly gruesome. Hell could have been particularly violent, and there is a bit of it (uhhh eternal torture anyone?) but nothing to be concerned about.
  • Sex: Even in the circle of Hell you would expect it, there is nothing really. Some references is all you'll find.


  • Daniel B. says:

    Read his “inferno,” and I think I'll pick up “Journey,” now. Thanks for the interview and review.

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