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
Got a full dose of early pulp science fiction with this, and concluded that it's definitely not my thing. Sometimes it's silly in a fun sort of way, bGot a full dose of early pulp science fiction with this, and concluded that it's definitely not my thing. Sometimes it's silly in a fun sort of way, but mostly I just find it silly. Depending on your reasons for wanting to read this, it might also be worth noting that, although all the stories are written by women, only a few of them address feminist or gender issues. Most of them have male protagonists, and some don't have any female characters at all. Which is not to say that I think female writers have a duty to write feminist stories; I don't. It's just that the title of this anthology suggests that the stories will be gender-conscious, when it's really more like a collection of pulp sf that happens to be written by women, without any particular theme. If, like me, you're interested in the gender stuff but you're not really a fan of pulp, it might not appeal to you either....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