Nyx had been better dressed, better armed, and better supported, once: running with her bel dame sisters instead of a cocky boy shifter and a reformed...moreNyx had been better dressed, better armed, and better supported, once: running with her bel dame sisters instead of a cocky boy shifter and a reformed venom addict. Now, instead of collecting blood debt, she was babysitting diplomats and cutting up petty debtors when the First Familes paid her in hard currency. It felt more honest. But a lot less honorable.
This is how we find Nyx at the opening of Infidel, the second book in the Bel Dame Apocrypha series. The Nyx we met at the beginning of God’s War is now just a memory of when she “used to be young, and fiery, and strong. She used to be able to cut off a head in forty-five seconds with a dull blade. She used to be able to drive a bakkie like a demon”. Now, at 38, she is old, tired, and ashamed of the way her life has lost dignity and meaning, although she’s still very much the emotionally dysfunctional hard-ass from book one. Nyx is offered a chance to reclaim the prestige of being a government assassin when a rogue bel dame tries to kill her. A member of the bel dame council asks her to hunt down such rogues and in return, Nyx can have her bel dame status reinstated. The catch is that the rogues are going after the Queen, starting a civil war to bring down the monarchy and give the bel dames power over the country. This will weaken Nasheen, making it vulnerable to Chenja in their ongoing centuries-old war, and Nyx is nothing if not a patriot. Still, it’s a lot for her to handle, especially when she finds that she’s been infected with a strange, debilitating virus that does far worse than simply threaten to kill her.
Meanwhile, Rhys, Khos, and Inaya are living in the prosperous, genteel city of Tirhan, after abandoning Nyx at the end of God’s War. They’ve settled into quiet domestic lives: Khos and Inaya are married, Rhys has a beautiful if scatterbrained wife, and each family has two young children. But both Rhys and Inaya are involved in government work related to the plot that Nyx is caught up in, and you know it’s only a matter of time before she arrives in Tirhan to disrupt if not ruin their lives. Not that Nyx needs much of an excuse; it’s been six years and she still misses Rhys badly, even thought she would never admit it.
Their strange relationship was one of my favourite things about God’s War, after the excellent writing and worldbuilding, all of which made up for a somewhat lacklustre story. In Infidel, Rhys and Nyx are far apart for much of the novel and the writing is good but less arresting. Hurley continues with her excellent worldbuilding, but although Umayma is still an unusual planet, it’s now familiar and less exciting. On the bright side the story is stronger, better paced and more focused. It’s a good book, but less notable that its predecessor.
John Saturnall and his mother Susan live in the small village of Buckland in 17th century England. They have a mythical heritage, beginning with the s...moreJohn Saturnall and his mother Susan live in the small village of Buckland in 17th century England. They have a mythical heritage, beginning with the story of the god Saturnus, who created the first garden where “every green thing grew. Every creature thrived. The first men and women lived in amity together. They knew no hunger or pain. Back then, Saturnus’s people kept the Feast.” From what I understand, the Feast is not just a meal, but an act of worship, a kind of knowledge about the natural world, and a generous attitude toward life. Keeping the Feast is about bringing forth life from the earth, nurturing it, and using its bounty to create culinary pleasures that are shared with others. The First Garden is a paradise of abundance and eating:
Date Palms grew in the First Garden. Bees filled the Combs in the Hives and crocuses offered their Saffron. Let the first Dish be great enough for All to dip their Cups. Let the Feast begin with Spiced Wine…
Kingdom of Strangers is the third in a series of mystery novels set in Saudi Arabia, but it reads very well as a stand-alone. I thought it was great,...moreKingdom of Strangers is the third in a series of mystery novels set in Saudi Arabia, but it reads very well as a stand-alone. I thought it was great, although not because of the two mysteries contained in the plot. These are good, but not as brilliant as some. The real drawcard is the myriad ways in which the extreme social restrictions of Saudi society affect police investigations, as well as people’s personal and professional lives. It’s a place where modern conveniences are juxtaposed with archaic practices. Forensic science and torture are both normal aspects of criminal investigations. Crimes like murder and adultery are punished by public beheading while thieves have their hands cut off. A sword is usually used. However, when a woman is executed, “you don’t cut off her head. You shoot her in the back of the head.[...] If they chopped off the head, it might roll and the burqa might come off, and you would see her face. So they shoot her instead. They sometimes give her the choice.”
Faustus Resurrectus is the debut novel of author Thomas Morrissey, and the first in a planned series featuring Donovan Graham. Donovan, I think, will...moreFaustus Resurrectus is the debut novel of author Thomas Morrissey, and the first in a planned series featuring Donovan Graham. Donovan, I think, will make a nice protagonist for a series of occult thrillers. He’s part scholar, part man of action. He knows krav maga, he’s worked as a bouncer, and he rides a motorcycle. He currently works as a bartender in an upmarket restaurant, so we can probably assume he’s good at talking to people. And he’s got a sensitive side, as he shows when he’s with his fiancée Joann.
Of course, he also knows quite a bit about the occult, religion, mythology, and the Faustus legend in particular, as does his friend Father Carroll. Morrissey makes full use of this. The novel features loads of information about things like the materials used in rituals (from fertility rituals to Satanic ones), the symbolism behind the number 13, and the history of resurrecting people from the dead. Donovan and Father Carroll also discuss the Faustus legend on many occasions, quoting from both the Marlowe and Goethe versions of the story. It’s pretty cool.
Alif is a 23-year old “computer geek with girl issues”. He’s a highly talented hacker living in an unnamed state in the Persian Gulf. He makes money b...moreAlif is a 23-year old “computer geek with girl issues”. He’s a highly talented hacker living in an unnamed state in the Persian Gulf. He makes money by protecting dissenters from state online security in similarly oppressive countries. He doesn’t care what their ideologies are – his clients in include Islamists, feminists, communists, pornographers, human rights’ activists – he cares only about their right to freedom of expression. And he’s exceptionally good at what he does.
Then his girlfriend Intisar breaks up with him. She’s an Arab aristocrat who’s basically been slumming it with Alif, who is only half Arab and has no wealth to speak of. Although Alif ‘married’ her using an online marriage contract for Gulf men looking for sex without the sinful extra-marital aspect, this means nothing now that Intisar’s father has arranged a marriage for her. “Make it so I never see your name again” she tells Alif tearfully. Angry and hurt, Alif takes her request seriously and writes Tin Sari, a computer programme that can identify an individual ‘personality’ through their typing speed, language use, style of writing, etc. With Tin Sari he can prevent Intisar from seeing any of his online activity, no matter what computer or email address she uses. Somehow, Tin Sari works far better than Alif thought possible – it’s a computer programme with ‘intuition’, able to recognise Intisar (and by extension, anyone else) using a single sentence.
Ragnarok is not quite the story that the blurb of my edition implies – a modern retelling of a Norse myth featuring a child living in the English coun...moreRagnarok is not quite the story that the blurb of my edition implies – a modern retelling of a Norse myth featuring a child living in the English countryside during World War Two. Rather, it is a semi-autobiographical tale of a young child reading and re-reading Asgard and the Gods, endlessly fascinated by its stories. The child – known only as “the thin child” – is not the focus of this book, but rather a means for Byatt to write for her “childhood self, and the way I had found the myths and thought about the world when I first read Asgard and the Gods”. In this manner, Byatt not only relates a set of rich, mysterious and beautiful mythical stories, but leads the reader through the musings about reading, storytelling, mythology and religion that occupy her philosophical young protagonist.
Can you compose a review out of quotes? I suppose not, because that wouldn’t be a review, but I wanted to. The Habitation of the Blessed is such a bea...moreCan you compose a review out of quotes? I suppose not, because that wouldn’t be a review, but I wanted to. The Habitation of the Blessed is such a beautiful, beautifully written book that I kept writing down quotes. This book was just unbelievably lovely from the very first line.
Terra Whiteman left me dangling from another cliffhanger at the end of The Antithesis: Book 2α. I was trapped. I had to read the next instalment right...moreTerra Whiteman left me dangling from another cliffhanger at the end of The Antithesis: Book 2α. I was trapped. I had to read the next instalment right away so I clicked my was over to Smashwords and bought the ebook (it’s only $2.99; money very well spent).
(view spoiler)[Book 2β picks up a few days after the end of Book 2α. Qaira is in hospital recovering from his fall from the Archaen ship after his devastating battle with Lucifer. He managed to chop off the Archaen’s hand but also got his entire team slaughtered and would most likely have been killed too if Leid hadn’t come to save him. The battle destroyed half of Sanctum and killed over a hundred thousand Nehel, but achieved absolutely nothing. This is enough to make even Qaira realise what an arrogant, selfish, stupid bastard he’s been and he makes a public apology. When two Vel’Haru come to take Leid back to their home world to be punished for violating the terms of her contract, Qaira caves completely. Devastated at the prospect of losing her forever, he swears to end the conflict and let the Archaens make the Atrium their home if only the Vel’Haru will let Leid stay with him.
The two Vel’Haru agree, and a decade of peace and social reform follows. Sanctum is not just rebuilt but improved upon, with the help of the Archaen’s advanced technology. A slow process of integration begins, and even Lucifer and Qaira manage to work together. Leid and Qaira get married and they live very happily. (hide spoiler)]
Everything is just dandy, but, based on book one, you know that this story can only end in an epic disaster.
Read the full review on my blog Violin in a Void["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Erin O'Neil wants to save the world from being drab and grey with "pretty clothes of her own designs". But then she gets kicked out of fashion school...moreErin O'Neil wants to save the world from being drab and grey with "pretty clothes of her own designs". But then she gets kicked out of fashion school because her designs are too beautiful and enchanting. She discovers that she's not really Erin but a faery changeling named Aisling. The faeries take her and her friend Genevieve to their magical home, The Land of Dreams, where Aisling learns to conjure up pretty clothes just by thinking about them, and you get a description of every outfit.
Aisling decides to try and rescue the real Erin from the evil Shadow People holding her prisoner, but it won't be easy because the faeries and the Shadow People are at war.
Alezair is a super-human soldier from the Nexus, available for hire to powerful beings in the collection of parallel universes known as the Multiverse...moreAlezair is a super-human soldier from the Nexus, available for hire to powerful beings in the collection of parallel universes known as the Multiverse. While on a mission Alezair is attacked, nearly killed and later recruited by a beautiful girl named Leid (pronounced ‘lied’). She takes him to her home in Purgatory, and makes him a member of the Jury, a tiny governing body that oversees the Eternal War between Heaven and Hell.
Alezair is transformed into an even more powerful, near-immortal being called a Vel’Haru. For over a century Leid trains him to be a Judge, whose duties not only include presiding over the legal cases of Archaeans (angels) and the Fallen (demons), but travelling within the Multiverse and executing beings who are in violation of the Code. According to the Code, Celestials are forbidden from directly influencing their creations in a bid to win their souls. This includes things like “demon possession, and even that stunt Heaven pulled with Jesus Christ”.
But Son-of-God stunts aside, Hell has a huge lead on Heaven in terms of soul points, even without Code-violations. Sinful things just tend to be instinctual and neither the threat of eternal suffering or the promise of eternal bliss has proven particularly persuasive. So when lesser demons start committing a few suspicious Code violations, Heaven tries to use it to their advantage in Court, proposing a new law that will have a drastic effect on the Eternal War. Alezair finds himself caught up in a tumultuous time, and he hasn’t even finished his training. He’s also plagued by an attraction to Leid that suggests they once had an intimate relationship. However, she only ever treats him with cool, efficient indifference, revealing nothing about herself, or the history of how the Vel’Haru ended up in Purgatory.
This is a difficult book for me to rate and review, because I’m not quite sure what to make of it. There were aspects of it that I disliked or found odd, but I can't deny that I had a good time reading it overall.
It's got great ingredients for an entertaining read - a feisty, sexy heroine, demonic vampires (with another twist on the vampire mythos), a relentles...moreIt's got great ingredients for an entertaining read - a feisty, sexy heroine, demonic vampires (with another twist on the vampire mythos), a relentless pace and loads of action - but it just didn't work for me. I didn't like Cheryl, the writing got on my nerves, and it has a strong Christian theme which didn't bother me too much but did nothing to win my favour. On the positive side, the plot is serious, and not just a front for a supernatural love triangle, which seems to have become the cliche of vampire fiction these days.
Overall, a decent read, with some very interesting, even entertaining essays, and some dull ones. There wasn't really anything new here for me, except...moreOverall, a decent read, with some very interesting, even entertaining essays, and some dull ones. There wasn't really anything new here for me, except for the anecdotes, stories and reports that Hitchens uses to support his claim. However, although I agree with a lot of what he says, he is (or rather, was) quite a jackass. I felt this way when I first heard him speak, and this book proved that my first impressions were accurate. He's very dismissive of the people and doctrines he's writing against, calling many religious figures names or describing them with demeaning adjectives, and writing off their ideas and beliefs as "nonsense", "rubbish", "pathetic", etc. Again, this is not necessarily undeserved and sometimes it's quite amusing in a snooty sort of way. Hitchens's nickname "Hitch Bitch" really was rather apt.
However, I feel that the frequency with which he uses name-calling is inappropriate for an essay writer. It's unacademic, and often comes across as simply childish. You can't begin an argument with the conviction that your preferred conclusion is correct and then happily deploy evidence in favour of your assumptions. Hitchens writes with the regularly voiced assumption that religion is all total bullshit and God doesn't exist and then often uses that to brush aside religious claims. He doesn't always do it, but he does it often enough to make one suspicious. This is actually the problem I have with atheism in general (I'm an agnostic myself) - it's far too sure of itself, displaying the same intense certainty that I find so absurd in religion. The result for this book is that I didn't quite trust the author, and I kept wondering if he was misrepresenting something to suit his claims.
Consequently, I don't think this book has much power to change the minds of the faithful; it's written for those who already share most of the same beliefs. So read it, if you're an atheist, agnostic or skeptic, but not with blind faith in the author :)(less)
China Miéville said that he wanted to write a book in every genre. Embassytown (2011) is his experiment in science fiction, and more specifically, in...moreChina Miéville said that he wanted to write a book in every genre. Embassytown (2011) is his experiment in science fiction, and more specifically, in space opera. And oh, what a beautiful piece of science fiction it is – elegant, cerebral, audacious. Sf might be the genre of ideas, but many of those once outlandish things have become tropes of the genre, as common and clichéd as love triangles or dark and stormy nights. It’s wonderful then, to read a novel like Embassytown, proving that sf can still push the limits. Not that Miéville ever disappoints in that department.
Candide has the fastest moving plot of any book I have ever read. The story told in this slim novel could easily be expanded into an 800-page epic, bu...moreCandide has the fastest moving plot of any book I have ever read. The story told in this slim novel could easily be expanded into an 800-page epic, but then it would lose its vicious satirical bite. I enjoyed Candide for its relentless, humorous criticism of the philosophy that everything is as it should and everything is for the best, as illustrated by Pangloss’s notion that “the nose is formed for spectacles, therefore we wear spectacles”. It’s the same philosophy commonly espoused in religious contexts – that the world is as [insert deity of choice] wills it and thus everything is good and right(regardless of insurmountable evidence to the contrary).
Young Candide is Pangloss’s ever-faithful student, and clings to this quite stupid optimism despite being the constant victim of human greed and malice. His beliefs do falter as his fortunes fail, but the moment anything even moderately good happens to him he rationalises his way back to optimism. With the rapid pace of the plot however, and Volatire’s droll satire, we can see this philosophy for the delusion it is.