This is one of the most realistic urban/epic fantasy novels I've ever read. It has the feel of a well-crafted historical novel, except that all the chThis is one of the most realistic urban/epic fantasy novels I've ever read. It has the feel of a well-crafted historical novel, except that all the characters and locations are fictional, and it has a touch of magic guiding the plot. Parker, (recently revealed to be the pseudonym of the author Tom Holt) pays incredibly close attention to detail - the physical, social and economic structure of the city of Perimedeia, the life of the trie that goes to war with them, the crafting of swords, torsion engines and other technology (much of which the author has made himself), fencing techniques, business deals, and more.
The characters are similarly well-written and I like pretty much all of them because they're people driven by motivations that I can sympathise or even empathise with. Although the plot puts some of them in conflict with each other, sometimes making them bitter enemies, I found myself unable to take sides because I understood them too well, I liked them too much, or empathised with both sides of a conflict.
I would liked to have spent more time with some of the supporting characters though, especially Loredan's astute clerk Athli, the shrewd, charming young businesswoman Vetriz, and the strange girl bent on taking revenge on Loredan. Admittedly though, in the case of Vetriz and the girl (who becomes Loredan's student, so that he essentially teaches her how to defeat him), some mystery is required.
If I have any reservations, it's that the detail can slow the pace. I wasn't sure if I wanted to the specifics of using and fixing a trebuchet in the middle of a battle, even though I admired the fact that the novel includes this sort of information. The result is that it comes off as being masterful rather than simply entertaining, although that's not really a bad thing. If you're just looking for a page-turner then Colours in the Steel probably isn't for you, but if you want a better class of novel in the genre, then I highly recommend it. ...more
Thirteen years ago, Harrison Harrison was out on a boat with his parents, and a tentacled monster attacked them, killing his father and ripping off HaThirteen years ago, Harrison Harrison was out on a boat with his parents, and a tentacled monster attacked them, killing his father and ripping off Harrison’s leg. He nearly died from an infection, and in the years that followed he covered up his memories with a more rational explanation than a Lovecraftian monster.
Now Harrison is sixteen and accompanying his mom on a scientific expedition to the little coastal town of Dunnsmouth. Rosa Harrison is a marine biologist who specialises in massive creatures like whale sharks and sperm whales, and her latest obsession is the colossal squid.
Harrison (H2 – Harrison Squared – to his mom; scientist humour) thought tagging along would be better than the alternatives, but Dunnsmouth is set to prove him wrong. The town takes the concept of “parochial” to new levels of creepy. There is no internet connection or cellphone reception (Harrison complains about being “involuntarily Amished”), so there’s no way of calling for help from the outside world. The school Harrison has to attend looks like a giant tomb, he sometimes hears chanting as he wanders through the labyrinthine hallways, and the swimming pool is in a subterranean cave. Some of the staff members look kind of… aquatic. The principal also happens to be the priest of the town’s arcane religion, and while Harrison is “used to being one of the few public atheists in school” he’s a lot less certain about being “an army of one against the One True Faith of Dunnsmouth”. Also, all the kids look weirdly similar, they’re unnervingly quiet, and they’re all white, which is worrying for a mixed-race kid like Harrison in a small town.
And what Harrison’s mom hasn’t told him is that this is the same town where he lost his leg and his father thirteen years ago, and that she’s returned to find the monster that attacked them. This is something that Harrison is forced to discover on his own when Rosa goes missing at sea on their second day. The townspeople don’t seem to think there’s much hope of finding her (or don’t want to), but Harrison is convinced that she’s still alive so he mounts his own investigation. No matter how distorted his memories of the attack thirteen years ago, he knows that his parents saved him, so he refuses to abandon his mother. Along the way, Harrison finds some unexpected allies, including a boy from a race of aquatic humanoids; encounters a terrifying murderer known as The Scrimshander; and finds out exactly how creepy Dunnsmouth’s weird religion is.
I jumped at the chance to read this after reading the novella We Are All Completely Fine, which features an adult Harrison in group therapy with several other people who’ve had to deal with monsters in their lives, including a woman who’d had images carved on her bones by the Scrimshander. That book had its flaws – most notably an unimpressive ending that didn’t do the rest of the book justice – but I was seriously impressed by the characters Gregory wrote, and that was more than enough to make me want to read this book.
It didn’t disappoint; Harrison Squared has a fantastic cast of characters and even the minor ones are well-written. Sixteen-year-old Harrison is an even more enjoyable character than the adult version, perhaps because he’s funnier and more optimistic. He’s got a great sense of sarcasm and is generally a nice, well-rounded kid. He’s so capable with his carbon-fibre prosthetic leg that his disability never seems like much of a disability, although it’s still very much a part of who he is and how he functions. He does, however, have two serious problems – he’s afraid of going in the water, and he has a “volcanic” temper in contrast to his otherwise “calm and analytical” nature. His water phobia has never been an issue in daily life, but of course he’s going to have to deal with it if he has any hope of saving his mom in a place like Dunnsmouth. His temper has been more problematic, and although he’s learned to handle it over the years, the current situation threatens to break his control.
I also loved Harrison’s Aunt Sel, who comes to stay with him after his mother disappears. Selena was initially dismissed as a potential caregiver for being a snooty urbanite with no interest in kids. When she turned up I was expecting her to be an uncaring bitch, but she was superb. She’s definitely not the mothering type, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t care about Harrison; it’s just that she doesn’t show it in any kind of conventional motherly way. She strides in, dramatic and impeccably dressed, effortlessly gets her way with almost everyone, and refuses to take shit from anyone. Harrison eats well if only because she’s used to having the best (lobster dinner?) and he’s warmly dressed on some of his later night-time excursions partly because she finds his one-hoodie style tiresome and is dying to buy him some new clothes.
Sel also doesn’t care if Harrison doesn’t go to Dunnsmouth’s weird school or that he sneaks around at night, which is perfect in these circumstances because it means Harrison is free to do whatever he needs to do to find his mother.
As far as the plot is concerned, Gregory does a better job than in We Are All Completely Fine. Harrison Squared reads like the best kind of YA adventure horror, which is to say that it’s wonderfully fun and creepy, thanks in part to the immense pleasure of being able to root for a character like Harrison. The climax felt a bit abrupt, but no matter; I had a great time with this and I want more books like it. The ending provides the setup for a possible sequel, so I can only hope that there will be one....more
Notable as being one of the very few stories I've read with a transgender character, but there was just way too much romance for me. The cutesy banterNotable as being one of the very few stories I've read with a transgender character, but there was just way too much romance for me. The cutesy banter between the Huntress and the sexy witch completely failed to charm, and I got bored. There's some interesting stuff going on with Rapunzel and other fairy tales, but it gets a bit messy and is dealt with rather perfunctorily while the story lingers on random moments between Adamina and Grete....more
A very strong collection. I enjoyed most of the stories, and none of them left me feeling completely cold. My favourite: The Permanent Collection by VA very strong collection. I enjoyed most of the stories, and none of them left me feeling completely cold. My favourite: The Permanent Collection by Veronica Schanoes. The editor specifically avoided any stories about evil dolls as being too much of a cliche at this point, so the stories explore dolls and horror in all sorts of interesting ways....more
Vacillating between 3 and 4 stars for this one; I'd give it a 7/10. It's a beautifully written story about lush Florida jungle, the joy of swimming, aVacillating between 3 and 4 stars for this one; I'd give it a 7/10. It's a beautifully written story about lush Florida jungle, the joy of swimming, and institutionalised racism. It crosses three generations, starting in the 1930s, when Mayola Williams, a fifteen-year-old black girl goes to get a job at an upmarket "Whites Only" hotel where a Tarzan movie is being filmed. With its crystal-clear water and abundant wildlife, Wakulla Springs is a jungle paradise with a hint of mythical monsters. There's no real plot and not much conflict in this story, but the setting and the characters are strong enough to carry it.
It's a smooth, pleasant read, but I also kept reading in anticipation of the fantasy elements, since this is a tor.com story and was nominated for a Nebula award. However, "Wakulla Springs" can be called fantasy only by the slimmest and most disappointing of margins. Most of it is merely implied, with rumours of monsters lurking in the jungle. There is also something slightly mysterious in the recurrence of gorgeous characters who are tall, tan, powerful swimmers. Then, towards the end, there are two brief fantastical encounters, but their effects on the story are subtle or negligable. The fantasy is interesting, but arbitrary, so even though "Wakulla Springs" is a good story in its own right, it'll be disappointing for many genre fans and seems underserving of a Nebula nomination.
Still, despite feeling completely let down by the ending, the feel and imagery of "Wakulla Springs" stuck with me after I'd finished it. ...more
Meh. A heavy-handed, often simplistic novel, perhaps because it's written for children or teens. The conflict is very neatly divided into black and whMeh. A heavy-handed, often simplistic novel, perhaps because it's written for children or teens. The conflict is very neatly divided into black and white. The polytheistic city of Ansul was famed for its literary and scholarly culture, until the Alds of Asudar invaded, raping, murdering, and wrecking. The Alds are religious extremists who believe that the written world is evil. They destroy every book they can find, kill anyone in possession of written material, and make reading a crime. Seventeen years later, their priests and soldiers occupy the city.
Memer was conceived during the invasion, when her mother was raped by soldiers. She hates the Alds for all they have done - raping her mother, torturing the beloved Waylord of her home Galvamand, wrecking the estate, denying the gods she worships, etc. Galvamand was once a university, and now people bring any books they find to the house for safekeeping. They are kept in a secret room that only Memer and the Waylord can access with magic words. When a famous storyteller and his wife are invited to the city, it signals an opportunity for change.
In this context, all books take on a grand, magical quality, and Memer and the Waylord become grand, liberating figures simply because they love to read and do so in secret. How many times have we seen the glorified reader rebelling against the book-burners (or in this case, book-drowners)? Obviously I'm on the readers' side, but it's an old, boring conflict.
It doesn't make sense either. How is anyone supposed to run a business without writing things down? The Waylord actually suggests that business will suffer or collapse in future, but it's amazing that it hasn't already, or that the Alds have managed to thrive without writing of any kind. This is a quasi-medieval society, so there are no machines to do their record-keeping for them.
Le Guin is taking things a bit too far with the Alds, as well as taking a cheap shot at Islam, on which their religion is based - it's strictly monotheistic although there is a devil, and the Alds touch their heads to the ground four times when they pray. It resembles the more fanatical versions of Islam in its gross intolerance, violence, and the oppressive treatment of women (in Asudar they're not allowed out of the house). Of course Islam is quite different in that it has a holy book, and the first word of the Quran is "Read", but on the other hand the Prophet Muhammad was supposedly illiterate, as all the Alds obviously are.
In terms of narrative, it seemed a decent if bland coming-of-age story for a while. Memer's a strong character, and I still like the idea of a secret library, but as the conflict intensified it got thoroughly boring - too predictable, with too many easy, convenient resolutions. After being just as disappointed with A Wizard of Earthsea, I think I'll steer clear of Le Guin's YA and children's fiction from now on....more