This is the follow-up to Down Station, which I reviewed earlier this year, again kindly supplied to me by my local library. Life got to me a bit, alThis is the follow-up to Down Station, which I reviewed earlier this year, again kindly supplied to me by my local library. Life got to me a bit, all the recent stupid political shenanigans in particular, so I was starting to wonder if I'd actually make my target for the reading challenge this year!
Anyway, the basic premise of The White City and its predecessor is that a bunch of folks from modern day London have found themselves in a mysterious place called Down where things don't work quite as they expect. For starters, there is magic and one of our group ends up being able to change into an enormous bird and light fires with her mind, and secondly the place is inhabited by people who have come from London in other times through portals like theirs.
When we first return to Down, our main characters (Mary and Dalip) are engaged in a plan to try and create an overall map of the place and are both assisted and impeded by Crows, who always seems to have plans of his own. Both Mary and Dalip have made difficult decisions along the way, and fortunately there's significantly less this time around of Mary reminiscing about her childhood in care (which I'd thought could make a fine, but liver-threatening, drinking game in Down Station).
This time around there's also dissension with the group who've come through with Mary and Dalip, with one of them blaming her for an unexpected death, which in turn leads to problems further down the line. Mary and Crows go in search of the eponymous White City, which Crows promises will answer all their questions, only to discover it occupied by those responsible for setting up the portals in the first place. There are definitely answers, but probably not the ones that anyone is looking for, and they set up for further books set in the same universe with a bit of a cliffhanger about what exactly is happening in Down.
Anyway, I wasn't massively smitten with The White City, but it's not the worst thing I've ever read and it kept me interested so there's that. I'll probably check out any future books in this series, but I don't think I'd be buying them directly (rather than via my council tax)....more
Last year, I read the first book in this series (Wake of Vultures) and was absolutely blown away by it - it was definitely one of the best books I rLast year, I read the first book in this series (Wake of Vultures) and was absolutely blown away by it - it was definitely one of the best books I read in 2015 and was also one of the most original. So I'd been waiting for Conspiracy of Ravens to come out for almost a year and finally got my hands on it a little while ago, courtesy of my local library...
This book pretty much carries on from where Wake of Vultures left off, with Rhett having killed the Cannibal Owl and trying to come to terms with who he is as a shapeshifter. All he knows is that he becomes some kind of enormous bird of prey, but initially he's quite concerned that when he's the bird, he doesn't really want to change back and be human again. While in the desert, Rhett encounters another shapeshifter who turns out to be an escapee from a railroad gang which is pretty much functioning on forced labour - Earl is desperate for the Rangers to help him rescue his brother and hopefully also kill the man in charge, who is using various body parts for magical purposes.
Initially reluctant, Rhett is swayed by the idea of dealing out justice and also the possibility that there's a healer in that camp who can help one of his other friends. Earl also helps Rhett to start to get some control over his changes between man and bird, and Rhett eventually infiltrates the railroad camp with a view to putting a particular plan into action. Naturally, because Conspiracy of Ravens is part of a series, things don't go completely as Rhett hopes and so sets up the storyline for the next book.
More great writing, maybe with a little more implied sex than was really necessary, but a total page-turner. I can't wait to see what Rhett does next and I hope Book 3 comes out soon!...more
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, volumes 1-3 I really only got into graphic novels in recent years, but I'm heartened (or possibly concerned, I'm not surThe Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, volumes 1-3 I really only got into graphic novels in recent years, but I'm heartened (or possibly concerned, I'm not sure which) to see them creep across the shelf of my bookcase where they all live as time passes. While it's true that graphic novels don't have to be about superheroes (and if you don't take my word for that, go read Saga or The Wicked and the Divine and see if you're not convinced) some of the best still are...
Which is where we come to talking about Doreen Green, star of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, whose adventures I've been reading with much enjoyment - I recently read volume 3, with collections also having the virtue of gathering together assorted issues of other comic runs which might be relevant (so, for volume 3, an issue of Howard the Duck since there was a crossover).
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is another example of talented writers and artists taking a character and making it their own, much like the current Ms Marvel run which has introduced and developed the amazing Kamala Khan. Doreen Green lives in the attic at Avengers Mansion and has recently started college, but still has time to battle against and alongside a wide range of classic Marvel villains and heroes. To date, by volume 3, we've already seen Doreen deal with Dr Doom, discuss her X-Men fanfic with Wolverine and travel back in time to the 1960's.
For me, the highlight of any issue is the footnotes, which can be found at the bottom of pretty much every page, full of in-jokes and references back to previous events. It's this, along with the liveliness of the writing and sheer obvious pleasure taken by everyone involved in making a viable superhero out of someone with the relative powers of a squirrel, that makes Unbeatable Squirrel Girl such a pleasure to read every time I get my hands on another volume. So, get ready to eat nuts and kick butts! :P...more
**spoiler alert** I recently picked up Gunpowder Alchemy (and its sequel, Clockwork Samurai) in a two-for-one deal that looked like a bargain - I've**spoiler alert** I recently picked up Gunpowder Alchemy (and its sequel, Clockwork Samurai) in a two-for-one deal that looked like a bargain - I've always been interested in reading steampunk which isn't just reworked Victorian London, so these books seemed to be ideal for me. They're both set in China, for starters, around the time of the Opium Wars and both the Chinese and their unwelcome visitors (that'd be mostly the British, but also others from the West, in case you're not familiar with the period) have steampunk-style technology.
The main character is Jin Soling, the oldest child of a disgraced engineer working for the Emperor who subsequently paid with his life for perceived failure to prevent the West from encroaching on China. Soling and what remains of her family are in semi-hiding in a small village, where Soling's mother is dependent on opium and Soling herself is struggling to feed them all. She has taken up medicine as a profession, but even this isn't enough to make ends meet and so she's forced to sell what few possessions they still have in the nearby town - it's during the latest expedition to do so that she's arrested and her family's history comes back with a bang.
Although her father had been disgraced, his work is still being studied and Soling finds that she's thrown into the middle of a plan by the Crown Prince to use the technology her father was developing. This brings her into contact with people she had known as a child: the man she was due to marry before her father was executed, as well as others who had worked for her father. Soling's own reticence to speak her opinions (which is fairly understandable considering her now precarious position and what happened to her father) means that there's a putative love triangle out there, with Soling the centre of attention for both the dutiful former betrothed Chang-Wei and the more rogueish Lang.
Anyway, this is all very much secondary to lots of angsting about her family, a storyline about everyone getting stuck in the nearby fortified town while it's under attack from rebels who are digging tunnels beneath it, and various uses of steampunk ingenuity along the way. Gunpowder Alchemy was an entertaining enough story to keep me reading, but I have to admit I found Chang-Wei a bit too upright and noble for my liking, while Soling had her moments but was overall a little frustrating to root for. Yes, she's probably appropriate for the period and culture, but I found Soling a bit of a wet blanket and would have liked more backbone along the way. ...more
Clariel - Garth Nix Fans of Nix's Abhorsen books have been waiting for a while for him to get back to writing about the Old Kingdom, so news of this bClariel - Garth Nix Fans of Nix's Abhorsen books have been waiting for a while for him to get back to writing about the Old Kingdom, so news of this book and another upcoming (Goldenhand) was surely welcome - these books cover two different periods of that land's history, with Clariel being a prequel to everything we already know and Goldenhand being the further adventures of Lirael and Nicholas.
The main character is the eponymous Clariel, daughter of a master goldsmith, who is also related to the King and the current Abhorsen. If you've not read the other books, this is a world filled with two types of magic, Charter and Free, with the Abhorsen using the former to deal with the Dead when they won't stay put and also Free Magic creatures, who tend to be destructive. Clariel's mother is ambitious and single-minded, focussed on her craft to the detriment of all else, and the family has recently moved to the capital from Clariel's beloved Great Forest. We know Clariel loves the forest because she tells us this repeatedly, as well as telling anyone else who'll listen in a lovely teenage 'nobody will let me do what I want' way.
I'm sure if I'd read this book when I was a teenager I'd have empathised with Clariel and her plight, as she is pushed into dealing with people she doesn't like and meanwhile trying to make plans to run away, back to the forest where she's going to live as a hunter even though she has no money or resources. The one thing that seems positive is that Clariel's parents insist she continues to study Charter Magic, even though it's sneered at by the well-to-do, even though her study of it seems to consist of one trip to visit a Charter Mage, who then ropes her into a plot to deal with a Free Magic creature living nearby.
Things are generally Going Wrong, with the local governor attempting to usurp power from the King who has himself retreated into semi-retirement after the disappearance of his daughter. We later discover too that both the Abhorsen and his apparent heir are more interested in horses and hunting than in doing their job, so the country appears to be in a bit of a mess. Clariel ends up running from the capital after the governor kills her parents, assisted by her cousin Bel (who also wants to be Clariel's love interest, though Clariel is very clear all along she has no interest in either boys or girls that way) and she then spends some time as a prisoner of the Abhorsen himself. Here we see the return of a fan favourite character, the mischievous and double-dealing Free Magic cat Mogget, who helps Clariel engineer an escape as she tries to take revenge on the governor.
Anyway, my overall thoughts on Clariel: to be honest, I'm not sure it's a book I'll want to read again even though I've re-read the other books in this series. I think it's a book that benefits greatly from a knowledge of the universe in which it stands, which is a difficult thing to get around, and I liked the fact that although there was some pressure internally for a romantic relationship to form, this was clearly something the main character had zero interest in and didn't waver on that. In the end, Clariel makes a big mess and effectively has to be rescued by Bel, which I found a bit frustrating and predictable. Anyway, maybe Goldenhand will be more to my liking?...more
Partway through Dark Horse, I found myself hoping that I'd not spent much money on this book because it really wasn't all that good. I mean, I finishePartway through Dark Horse, I found myself hoping that I'd not spent much money on this book because it really wasn't all that good. I mean, I finished it so it wasn't eye-gougingly awful (though it could have used a bit of a copy-edit, for a self-proclaimed award winning publication) but there were things about it that really made me go 'huh?'.
The premise of the book was interesting enough - our protagonist is Rose, a human snatched up from Earth by visiting aliens along with a bunch of other sentient creatures, who forges a friendship with the artificial intelligence that runs the ship she's on in order to escape. Unfortunately, by the time we join the story, much of that donkey work has already been done (the sceptical part of me thinking 'yep, the harder part to write') and Rose is literally escaping from their custody. The AI, Sazo, has also lured a spaceship from another bunch of aliens, one who he thinks Rose will get along with and who have an abhorrence for the kind of treatment she received, but she promises not to tell them he even exists.
Naturally, when Rose is rescued by representatives of the Grih, she is immediately smitten by their captain and he feels likewise. He and his people save her life and take her back to their ship, at which point Rose discovers that in order to help her escape, Sazo has killed the majority of the crew on the ship where she'd been held. He wants access to the systems of this ship too, still not telling Rose that actually the Grih had done the work which led to his invention but that they also banned said work after similar incidents in the past.
There's then some convoluted plotting which revolves around various people trying to get hold of Sazo in order to control him and the ship to which he's linked, and Rose having various mini-freakouts along the way as she tries to recover from the treatment she received in captivity. One thing that didn't impress me was that one of those episodes is seen as a great opportunity for the alien captain to grope Rose's breasts and ask if all the women of her people have big breasts like she does. Seriously, dude, timing? Likewise, when the two of them are stuck together somewhere later with time on their hands, Rose seems to regard this as meaning they really ought to shag now and so they do, because of course their species are physiologically compatible.
Anyway, Dark Horse wasn't the worst thing I've ever read but the issues around consent and whether it's a good idea to trust homicidal artificial intelligences were significant bumps in the road for me. Oh, and Rose makes a real fuss early on about the other lifeforms which have been stolen from Earth with her but then everyone seems to completely forget about them later on. Not a major issue, but it stuck in my brain.
Apparently there are more books set in this universe, but skimming them they all seem to be 'human woman gets kidnapped by aliens, different aliens rescue her, there is sex along the way of fixing some plot issue or other'. Frankly, one was enough. ...more