It wasn't until I actually started reading Margaret Atwood's The Year of the Flood that I found out it was in fact a sequel to Oryx and Crake, which I...moreIt wasn't until I actually started reading Margaret Atwood's The Year of the Flood that I found out it was in fact a sequel to Oryx and Crake, which I am told is actually a better book. This I didn't find a hardship, because I did actually like The Year of the Flood. And thankfully, it stands alone from Oryx and Crake since it's less a true sequel and more a covering of the same events from the points of view of different characters.
Make no mistake, Atwood's renowned aversion to being associated with the genre aside, this is definitely an SF novel. We've got a futuristic setting of indeterminate timeframe, in which a decadent civilization is about to fall. Its apocalypse is, I'm given to understand, covered in more detail in Oryx and Crake; here, instead, we have a character study of two women involved with a religious sect who preach the coming of the Waterless Flood and who are taking steps to try to survive the disaster along with stores of foodstuffs. Toby is one of the so-called "Eves" of God's Gardeners, drawn into their company despite her own lack of personal conviction, and finding purpose in teaching the children; Ren is one of those children, whose mother eventually flees with her back to the society they'd come from, where Ren eventually becomes an exotic dancer. What happens to both women as the Flood finally occurs forms the overall pattern of the book, winding back and forth between their backstories and on up to the Flood itself.
A lot of this book's character-driven rather than plot-driven, though, which resulted in the overall plot being rather thin. There are decent sequences all throughout, with interesting periodic bursts of outright action as the Gardeners schism in the years leading up to the Flood. Ultimately though things don't so much resolve as meander to a halt. I didn't mind this so much since Atwood's language and worldbuilding were lovely, but others may find that a problem.
Since this book focuses on a religious sect, be prepared for that to drive a lot of the character motivations; they're especially forthright in their abhorrence of eating meat, for example. It fit well with the characters for me, though, and seeing how different members of the Gardeners reacted to their own tenets provided a substantial amount of the character conflicts.
Overall I found this a good, solid read and am looking forward to checking out Oryx and Crake. Four stars.(less)
Tana French came highly recommended to me, and I am pleased to report that that recommendation spoke truth and wisdom. I initially checked this book o...moreTana French came highly recommended to me, and I am pleased to report that that recommendation spoke truth and wisdom. I initially checked this book out from the library, only to decide partway through that yeah, I wanted to actually own a copy. So I returned the library book and promptly bought my own.
French's command of language and imagery was part of the initial recommendation, but what also drew me to this book was its being a police procedural-flavored mystery set in Ireland. And then there's the plot itself: a young boy who was the sole survivor of an assault that caused the disappearances of his two friends has grown up to be a police detective. Rob Ryan's changed his name and worked hard to groom himself into a more refined persona, doing everything in his power to distance himself from his childhood. But a child has been murdered in his old town, and he and his partner Cassie Maddox are assigned to the case. Ryan must therefore choose between revealing his past and risk being taken off the case--or struggling through his own memories as he and Maddox pursue the girl's killer.
There's a great deal to like here. First and foremost I very much respected that Ms. French struck the exact right balance between making her protagonist unreliable and keeping him compelling. Rob is often not a very likeable character; he's selfish in many ways, and his motives about keeping his past secret are tied more into that than into his desire to bring their young victim justice. He makes multiple bad choices, leading me more than once to want to smack him hard. Yet even so, he was vividly portrayed, and at no point did I not want to know what happened to him next.
Cassie Maddox, his partner and best friend, goes a long way to keeping him in check through most of the plot. The chemistry between them--even when it is still at a platonic level--is excellent. It's clear that these two are well-matched as partners, each having attributes the other lacks, making the two of them together stronger than each one alone. Yet I cannot mention Cassie without also mentioning the third major character, Sam O'Neill, who works the case with them. Sam's clearly interested in Cassie, and yet that interest takes second chair to the much more intense relationship she has with Rob. Trust me when I say, too, that Sam's presence in the plot ultimately proves critical.
The book's resolution is hard-won, be warned, and our trio of detectives do not come through unscathed. It's the ending, too, that makes me pull this down to four stars rather than five, just because while I did continue to find Rob a compelling character, in the end I did still want to smack him. Still, though, I very much enjoyed this read. Four stars.(less)
As a regular reader of tor.com, I've seen quite a few book reviews posted by author Jo Walton. Walton has a penchant for picking out books that have b...moreAs a regular reader of tor.com, I've seen quite a few book reviews posted by author Jo Walton. Walton has a penchant for picking out books that have been out for some time--and which, consequently, are currently rather hard to find. Such is the case with John M. Ford's The Last Hot Time.
I previously knew of Ford only as the author of the comedic Star Trek novel How Much For Just the Planet?, and so was quite intrigued by the prospect of reading something entirely different by him. Originally published in 2000, The Last Hot Time is an urban fantasy from just before "urban fantasy" really came into vogue as a subgenre in its own right. Familiar hallmarks are certainly here, though: an ostensibly real-world setting impacted by the rise of magic, fey creatures of various stripes, crimes that have to be solved, humans living in a city occupying a borderland between the real world and the magical, a gritty overall atmosphere, and more.
In this particular case, the setting in question is Chicago--a Chicago profoundly changed by magic and by the re-emergence of Elves into human society. Our protagonist is Danny, who saves the life of the victim of a drive-by shooting, and winds up in the favor of the mysterious Mr. Patrise, who holds power in the part of this changed Chicago that sits between the human world and the magical. Danny, now called "Doc Hollownight" by Mr. Patrise and his other employees, soon learns of the Elf sorceror Whisper Who Dares, who's on the loose in the city--and that he's going to have to help stop him.
There's a lot that's familiar here if you're a longstanding reader of the genre, to be sure. What pulled me in, though, was the juxtaposition of elves and gangster-style characters, which gives this almost more of a feel of a story set in the 30's rather than a more contemporary time frame. What kept me was Ford's excellent prose, and his way of naming elf characters. The aforementioned Whisper Who Dares is an example, and that's even just the short form of that character's name; the full form is Whisper Who Dares the Word of Words in Darkness. I also very much liked the character Cloudhunter Who Keeps His Sisters' Counsel, a.k.a. Cloudhunter, a.k.a. Cloud. Ford's version of elves in general read for me exactly how I like elves to read in any fantasy, urban or otherwise: i.e., elegant, otherworldly, and with a noble lyricism about them that can be either bright or profoundly dark.
It's a great loss to the genre in general that Ford's passed away, but fortunately, he's left behind some excellent books. This one is well worth hunting down if you can find it; I checked it out from our local library, and am hoping to track down a copy of my own. Five stars.(less)