Peter Caswell wakes in a silk-sheeted bed in a luxurious flat in London with only a song refrain running through his head to tell him who and where hePeter Caswell wakes in a silk-sheeted bed in a luxurious flat in London with only a song refrain running through his head to tell him who and where he is. You see, Peter is an assassin, the best in the world, thanks to his ability to blend in anywhere, but he never remembers where he goes or who he kills because of the implant in his head and the timed-release chemicals it contains. And that's just the way Peter wants it. The only thing he allows himself is knowing how many kills he's made and that only by the number of Sapporo beer bottles, out of twelve, with labels turned away, a count done in the moments before he reverts.
And so begins one of the most twisty-turning, heart-pounding, thought-provoking books I've read in quite some time. It would be easy to describe this book as a spy thriller wrapped up in science fiction. Easy, but probably not quite accurate, not to mention too simplistic for such a complex tale. Having never read any of Jason Hough's other works, I don't know if Zero World is characteristic for him or a story that shows him growing as an author, but I will say that what I read left me mightily impressed. It would be quite easy, with such a complex and fast-paced story, for authors to skimp on certain things such as character development or world building, but that's not the case here. In fact, I was completely blown away by how much thought Hough put into creating the parallel Earth on which most of the story takes place. The differences between our two worlds are often quite simple, yet at the same time truly innovative. (Such as opening a door: here we turn a doorknob; on the alternate Earth, a door opens by way of a foot latch. So simple, yet I dare say no-one would've thought of it had the question been posed. I know I wouldn't have. Or expressing appreciation: here we simply say “Thanks” whereas alt. Earth uses “Gratitude.” A subtle, yet powerful difference.*) Yet, those differences are never outlandish or thoughtless or untrue to the story; they feel completely organic to the culture Hough has created. Even the names of the characters populating the alternate Earth are a degree or two away from familiarity for us, yet a natural extension of alt. Earth's evolution. But what makes this world-building so amazing was how deftly Hough managed to insert so much backstory and so many details without any of it ever becoming overbearing or an info-dump. As a writer, I'm in awe. And I also kind of hate him. Just a little bit.
The storyline is told from the perspectives of both Peter Caswell and his alt-Earth counterpart, Melni, which is another way Hough gives us a greater view of the world(s) he's created. The thing is, as developed as Peter is, Hough didn't skimp on Melni's development to achieve that. Melni is just as fierce and dedicated to her mission as Peter is to hers and as the story progresses it peels away the layers of her character allowing us to find out what drives her, what scares her, what makes her Melni. Which is awesome. It's so refreshing to find a female co-protagonist who is neither a fainting wimp nor an aggro female who probably started out as male. Yes, Melni can be vulnerable and, yes, she can be hard-ass, but she never loses her humanity or her femininity. Even his secondary characters have a depth to them that gives the impression that, if Hough were asked to, could step up and become the center of the story without difficulty.
Then we get to the story itself, set sometime in the future, which is . . . complicated. I mean, you start out with an enhanced super-secret spy-assassin, then progress to space travel, wormhole travel, an alternate Earth, and one heck of a conspiracy that sets everything Peter ever knew or believed in on its ear, and you've got a story that can't be easily condensed into a short summary. At least not without giving a misleading impression of what you'll be reading or giving away any number of spoilers. For all its complexity and genre-bending subject matter, not to mention its hefty appearance, Zero World is a fast and engrossing read, sucking you in from page one and only reluctantly letting you go. It's one of those books that will keep you up at night, making you want to know what happens next and then what happens after that. Not to mention you get a bonus novella, The Dire Earth, at the end, allowing you to keep the adventure going when the main novels ends.
So, really, all I can say is if you like books of a sci-fi, spy-thriller, futuristic, alternate Earth, dystopic, action-adventure, military leaning (and who doesn't?), with just a dash of romance thrown in for good measure, I'd strongly suggest you pick up Zero World right this minute. And prepare to have your mind blown.
*About the only weakness comes from the main curse word Hough created. Where we say fucking, alt. Earth uses blixxing. Now, having gone through the arduous process of creating an adequately vivid and powerful curse word myself, I can appreciate what Hough went through to create blixxing and for that I can't fault him. But whereas fuck represents a clear, Anglo-Saxon directness, it's hard to imagine the linguistic path of blix (or is it blixx? I can't remember). I'm sure I'm in the minority with this kind of struggle and I fully acknowledge I am a linguistics geek, making this a petty quibble, but considering this was the only thing out of the entire book that gave me pause . . . that's pretty blixxing good!
I received an ARC through the Amazon Vine program in exchange for an honest review....more
Okay, I really hate Ann Aguirre. I am dead serious here. She writes the best action-adventure/sci-fi/fiction/YA of anyone out there today. To the poinOkay, I really hate Ann Aguirre. I am dead serious here. She writes the best action-adventure/sci-fi/fiction/YA of anyone out there today. To the point where I could literally swallow my tongue out of jealousy whenever I read one of her books. Hyperbole? Nope, not even close.
Horde is the final book in Aguirre's Razorland Trilogy, and what a finale it is! If Enclave was the skeleton and Outpost was the muscles and organs, Horde is the tattooed, punk-ass skin on this most awesome literary creation. Horde begins where Outpost left off: the town of Salvation is under siege by Freaks, the remnants of humanity gone savage, and in order to save the place they've come to love and call home, Deuce, Fade, Stalker, and Tegan must leave their families behind in order to find help in one of the surrounding settlements. But this is no mere rescue mission. Because things have changed. The Freaks are no longer just the mindless beasts they once were; they've become more cunning and resourceful, and in order to save her family and free humans from the threat of these mutants, Deuce will learn to lead an army which has forgotten how to fight. This war isn't just for the sake of her family or the families in Salvation, however. This is a war to save the entire human race, a war that must be won at all costs, and that's a burden Deuce might not be able to carry.
When I started reading this book, I promised myself that I would try to take it as slow as possible, in order to savor it, but I couldn't help myself. Aguirre throws you right into the action and makes it impossible to slow down. Which is probably why I stayed up until 6 a.m. the day I finished reading this. Even as I reached the end and was satisfied every step of the way, I mentally cried because I just did not want the story to end. (I might've also physically cried a little bit as well.) Deuce has been such a fascinating, deep, and rich character from beginning to end, and part of that comes from Ann's writing in that she's allowed Deuce to grow and to change as she learns more about herself as well as the people and world around her. Yet Deuce isn't alone; the supporting characters are all real and tangible individuals, making us care for them even as Ann plays with their “lives,” even going so far as killing someone off in a scene you'll never see coming. The bitch. And I mean that in the best way because it's only the bravest author who'll let a character die in service of the story, regardless of how much an audience might care for that character. With this novel, Deuce, already having come so far from where she started, has to keep fighting uphill battles every step of the way and Aguirre lets us see her weariness, lets us see when Deuce reaches her breaking point and very nearly snaps, feel her terror, her hopelessness, her confusion and despair. And yet she keeps moving, planting one foot in front of the other and in the end manages to come out of such blackness carrying victory on her shoulders. It's a journey that'll wring you out in so many ways, but is so fulfilling you'll want to cheer.
I have a feeling it's only the easily parsable books that are made into movies, those books that can be broken down into tropes and cliches and easily understood themes so that the dollar sign-eyed movie studio execs do a little dance for joy in anticipation of all the money they'll make off a new tentpole franchise.* Take, for example, The Hunger Games. Don't get me wrong, I read the first book and thoroughly enjoyed it as it's a well-written book. But, the thing is, The Hunger Games is also part of a trilogy, yet as much as I thought the first book was fabulous, I still have not read the other two. With the Razorland Trilogy, I couldn't not read each entry in the series even if I tried. The only way would've been to have physically stopped me, because I had to, I just had to find out what happened next. What trouble would next find Deuce, what would become of her relationship with Fade and Stalker, what Tegan would do to find her courage and place in the world. And those things may sound like issues common to any other YA book or series of recent publication, but with Aguirre's writing, there's always a little something extra, a different take or new angle on the situation. There's always more to the story. Out of the YA trilogies that have lately been made into movies or are in the process of being made, of none of them have I read beyond the first book, no matter how good that first book might've been. Though it may sound mean and counterintuitive, I really hope no movie producer or production company purchases the rights to the Razorland Trilogy, because no-one, no script writer, no director, no studio, could do it justice. Bold claim, perhaps, but just read the books and ask yourself if I'm exaggerating.
I'm not sure any of this is coming out intelligibly and I know I probably sound like some kind of squeeing fan girl. You know what, though? I totally am that squeeing fan girl and proud of it. Taut, tight, well-crafted, and often heartbreaking, her books have totally become my book candy, those titles I hoard miser-style, savor even as I speed through the pages, and turn to whenever I need a comforting pick-me-up.
*I had to edit my previous remarks to be a bit less inflammatory. You'll have to excuse them, and me, as when I wrote this review, I was coming off a major "OMG! I've just read the most awesome book in the world, finishing up the most awesome trilogy in the world!" high. In that kind of situation, enthusiasm overrules any restraint or common sense a person might possess, hence the rather bombastic nature of what I'd written. That said, I realize I'm still courting controversy and anger from others with what I've said in my review; however, I stand by my remarks and opinions....more
I read this... hoo boy, many, many years ago, when I was quite young and even at that age, though I'm sure some of the content and context went rightI read this... hoo boy, many, many years ago, when I was quite young and even at that age, though I'm sure some of the content and context went right over my head, I utterly loved this book. So while I can't comment on specific parts of the book (I really need to reread this, but I'm waiting until I can afford to get a "keeper" copy for myself), I can say that My Family and Other Animals is one of those books about eccentric, funny families (like those in Cheaper by the Dozen) that makes you wish your family was just as wacky and entertaining.
BTW the Masterpiece Theater adaptation from 2005 is just as delightful as the book. Naturally, I can't comment on how faithful it was to the source material, but it did seem to capture the casual insanity of Durrell's family and their experiences on Corfu in the months just before WWII. I highly recommend it, if only for Imelda Staunton's performance... but since the beautiful Matthew Goode is in the film as well, I can recommend it for the eye candy. Oh, and the gorgeous scenery doesn't hurt, either--talk about making you want to jump on a plane for Greece!...more
I'm sorry, I know I'm biased as hell when it comes to Terry Pratchett, but even a mediocre Discworld novel is better than most top-shelf novels. SnuffI'm sorry, I know I'm biased as hell when it comes to Terry Pratchett, but even a mediocre Discworld novel is better than most top-shelf novels. Snuff may have a few less-than-great moments, but overall, it's still a fantastic read. Not much of a review, I'll grant you, and perhaps I'll add to it later, but really, it says all I really need to say about the book....more
Like a string of pearls- no, no, that's an imprecise description. Like matryoshka (Russian nesting dolls), each tale within Scorpion Soup draws itselfLike a string of pearls- no, no, that's an imprecise description. Like matryoshka (Russian nesting dolls), each tale within Scorpion Soup draws itself into another, leading the reader further and further down the rabbit hole until you find that you've been looped back to the beginning, where the first story took off. (Not unlike how some say time itself may behave.) Rich and lush, ensnaring the entire range of the human senses through Shah's skillful descriptions, Scorpion Soup invites you to sink into its silk-covered, spice-scented, desert wind-warmed embrace and forget your troubles for a spell.
Reading this collection of interlinked stories might confound some people as they do not follow the typical 'beginning, middle, end' format. Instead, just as one story reaches what would be its climax, it becomes instead the introduction for the next tale. And so on and so on. What is created is a patchwork of ambiguity – fluid, imprecise, unbounded. One might even say sensual. Yet for all their freeform nature, the stories do contain lessons and morals. Nothing strictly defined as one might find in, say, Aesop's Fables; instead, the lessons contained within must be teased out, mulled over, perhaps even come at as though they were epiphanies, scintillating through the mind in brilliant 'ah ha!' moments.
Part of the appeal and success of Scorpion Soup must go, if I'm honest, to the publisher, Secretum Mundi Publishing. As with the other book of Shah's I've read, Timbuctoo, they've crafted a marvelous tome, harkening back to the books published 100 and more years ago. The cover is printed with an antique map of Africa, in all its fantastic “Here be Dragons” glory, with embossed gold lettering on the front and spine detailing the book title and author. Inside, the pages are sewn in (sewn in!) with a burgundy satin ribbon (which matches the burgundy end papers) for a bookmark. As a bonus, with nearly each story a fold-out map has been provided illustrating a piece of geography matching that which is in the story. However, these are no ordinary maps. Instead, as Shah explains in his afterword, the selection of maps are replicas of those conceived and completed by the father and son duo of Willelm and Joan Blaue of Amsterdam in 1665, maps which were light-years ahead of any other cartography of the time. Maps which still contained elements of fantasy in the form of mythical creatures and expanses of empty space representing that which had yet to be explored. As Shah says, each map walks the tightrope between fact and fantasy and, as such, provide the perfect accompaniment to his tales.
Born of a culture renowned for its rich history of fables and legends and raised in a family of master storytellers, not to mention gifted personally with a vivid imagination, Shah has taken all the gifts his heritage, family, and talent have bestowed upon him and put them to excellent use in his writing career. His latest effort is no exception, weaving together fantastical, ingenious, and sumptuous stories into a single elegant and highly readable tale.
Disclaimer: I was given a hardcover copy of Scorpion Soup by the author in exchange for an honest review of his work. I am not acquainted with him in any professional capacity, nor I am affiliated with his publisher, agent, or any other entity associated with him....more
Ah, Flavia, how I do love thee! I still say I'd love to have her as my child, if it weren't for my fear that she would continually get the best of me.Ah, Flavia, how I do love thee! I still say I'd love to have her as my child, if it weren't for my fear that she would continually get the best of me. Her intelligence and perspicacity are terrifying.
Once again, death has come to the village of Bishop's Lacey. However, Flavia's already involved with a dead body, that of St. Tancred, whose tomb underneath the village church (which also bears the saint's name) has become the subject of an archaeological dig. Flavia has managed to insert herself into the proceedings, to no-one's surprise, so her eyes are the first to light upon the contents of St. Tancred's tomb. However, what she finds is not the moldering body of a saint, but the very recently deceased corpse of Mr. Collicutt, the church organist. As always, Flavia, with the help of her trusty 2-wheeled steed Gladys, takes it upon herself to solve the murder, though she's kind enough to leave a few clues for her frequent sparring partner, Inspector Hewitt, to solve. As Flavia unravels the convoluted web of deceit, family secrets, and greed at the heart of Mr. Collicutt's murder, an even more shocking secret is revealed, culminating in a doozy of a cliffhanger ending.
This novel, though it was still filled with Bradley's trademark wit, not to mention an engaging mystery, felt more intimate than previous entries in the series. The connections between Flavia and her family are explored in greater detail, allowing us to see the affection, hidden though it may be most of the time, which exists within the de Luce family. Don't worry, there's still plenty of hissing and sniping between Flavia and her sisters Ophelia (“Feely”) and Daphne (“Daffy”), but there are also some genuine moments of emotional bonding. And this is due to the overarching family drama running through the background of all these mysteries finally coming to a head. As we learned in the previous novels, Buckshaw, the de Luce's family home, actually belonged to Flavia's mother, Harriet. When she disappeared while mountaineering in the Himalayas, Flavia's father has struggled to maintain the large house in the years since. Now, though, those struggles have come to an end: The money's run out and all that's left is to sell Buckshaw and move the family to a smaller place. Naturally, this comes as quite a blow to everyone, none more so than Flavia, who struggles to deal with the loss of the old pile and especially her laboratory, a magnificent space kitted out with all the very best chemistry equipment by her uncle, Tarquin de Luce. Not only is it a place where Flavia carries out her chemical sleuthing, it is her sanctuary, her place of escape when she's suffered at the hands of her tormenting sisters and dreams up gruesome deaths by obscure poisons in revenge. But now, with the big reveal at the end of the novel, what will this all mean for the de Luce's and for Flavia? I can't wait to find out! Bradley has been signed by Delacorte to write five more Flavia novels, which is just fabulous news, as that means they'll be plenty more Flavia adventures to come!
On a side note, I have mixed emotions concerning the news that Sam Mendes has bought the rights to produce five two-hour television movies based on the series. Or, at least that's the plan. On the one hand, Mendes is good at what he does and the fact that he'll be working with a television/mini-series format as opposed to a big screen/movie series one is reassuring. It means more quality control and less chance of things falling apart. On the other hand, I cannot think of any young actress today who could embody the precociousness, the intelligence, the bull-headed, impish, shrewd nature of Flavia and actually pull it off. Not to mention the potential changes a scriptwriter or even Mendes himself might or will make to the story terrifies me. What if they think that the 1950's setting isn't exciting enough? What if they decide to update it, set it in London, or, god forbid, set it in America? Oh, man, I'm going to have nightmares!...more
This is the final novel in Conn Iggulden's violent, bloody, exhilarating, dramatic, masterful series on Genghis Khan and his descendents, focusing onThis is the final novel in Conn Iggulden's violent, bloody, exhilarating, dramatic, masterful series on Genghis Khan and his descendents, focusing on Kublai Khan as he transitions from scholar to warrior to Great Khan of the Mongol empire.
You know, as much as I loved this book and the series, the thing I most took away from the story arc is the confirmation that men are pigs. No, dogs. No, pig-dogs. And I don't mean men as in “the human race.” I mean men as in the gender. Men are the ones who revel in war, who drive their armies across the land because the land they've got isn't good enough. Men are the ones who destroy cities, melting down precious artifacts so they can stare at the bars of pure gold and silver in glee, who set fire to libraries because they don't contain any knowledge they need, destroying generations worth of learning. Men are the ones who kill the men and children in enemy villages/towns, who kill the women but not before passing them around and raping them several times over, keeping them around to act as slaves for a few years before the women finally give out from the abuse. Men are responsible for all the misery in the world.
Anyway, to proceed to the actual review and step off my soapbox: I hate to categorize novels along gender lines, but I have to admit that there are historical fiction novels with storylines aimed more towards men (having more action, war, bloodshed, violence, etc. and less “mushy” stuff) and women (having more romance, personal conflict, drama, basically lots of “mushy” stuff). Iggulden's Genghis series is most definitely a masculine historical fiction series: heavy on the violence, light on romance. However, that's not to imply that characters are cardboard cutouts and no time is spent on character development. Far from it. As with all of Iggulden's previous books in this series, each character is imbued with humanity--the good, the bad, the ugly, the saintly. No one character is ever mixed up with another due to vague descriptors or similar voices.
Speaking of characters, though there are many others in the novel, it's Kublai who takes center stage (naturally). The evolution of his character, from a sheltered scholar to canny general to visionary leader of the Mongol nation, is fascinating to watch. Iggulden lets us peer into the mind of this legendary man, lets us see his fears, his machinations, his strategies and battle plans; only with Genghis did we see this kind of intimacy, their outer strengths as well as their inner fears and doubts. And I believe Iggulden did this on purpose, to forge a link between grandfather and grandson, creator of the Mongol nation and its savior.
For the first time, I actually have a nitpick about one of Iggulden's books, and it concerns the character of Guyuk, who seems to undergo a 180 degree shift in personality. While, admittedly, we didn't see a lot of him in the previous novel, what we did see of Guyuk seemed to imply that he was somewhat happy-go-lucky, willing to go where others led, and not much inclined to put up a fuss if plans seemed to go awry. Suddenly, though, in Conqueror, Guyuk has become a narcissistic psychopath: Things must go his way or else people begin to die. Perhaps it was the delay in him being named Khan that brought about this change in personality, but when he does, finally, become Khan, he remains a bloodthirsty (beyond even Mongol standards) tyrant, so that when his death comes, it's a welcome relief, both to the Mongol nation and to the reader. Perhaps that kind of personality shift is completely natural under such stressful circumstances, but it was still jarring.
Aside from the minor point, once again I was blown away by Conqueror. The power of Iggulden's writing is damn near awe-inspiring and it makes me quite eager to pick up his other series concerning Julius Caesar....more
Agghhhhhh! I've finished it! There's no more book to read!
*pauses for breath, is startled by a new thought*
Agghhhhhh! I'm going to have to wait a yearAgghhhhhh! I've finished it! There's no more book to read!
*pauses for breath, is startled by a new thought*
Agghhhhhh! I'm going to have to wait a year or more until the next book comes out! NOOOOOOOO!
Okay, I will try to keep my gushing and fawning to a minimum, focusing instead on a review of the story. Though I can't promise some fan-girl enthusiasm won't slip through.
This, the second entry in Ann Aguirre's Razorland series, picks up where Enclave left off. Deuce, Fade, Tegan, and Stalker have found sanctuary in the topside settlement of Salvation. Each has found a place with a foster family and a place in the settlement, with varying degrees of success. Though it makes Deuce wary, she finds herself growing comfortable with the care she's given by her foster family, the Oakes, and while she isn't exactly happy spending her days in school when she considers herself full of all the knowledge she'll ever need, she complies as she doesn't want to make trouble. After all, she's already turned a few heads with her Huntress behavior, behavior seen as unwomanly and not in keeping with the strict religious tenets upon which Salvation was founded. But things in Salvation aren't quite as idyllic as they seem. The Freaks, or Muties as they're known by Salvationers, are behaving in ways never seen before. They're becoming smarter... and that is not a good sign for the people behind the flimsy wooden walls of Salvation.
Yeah, I don't think those are gonna hold.
Outpost is a more thoughtful entry in the series than the first book. Don't get me wrong, there's still lots of ass-kicking, especially by Deuce (who finds she has to prove herself all over again to the community--mainly the men-folk, that is), but even with the growing crisis outside Salvation's walls, there's time for Deuce, Fade, Tegan, and Stalker to grow in ways in which they never had the opportunity to grow during their adventures on the way to Salvation. There's more time for drama, confusion, mixed signals, romance, and character expansion. As we watch these kids (for that's what they are, no matter what they've been through or how they see themselves) mature, we delve deeper into their personalities, their pasts, how they think, and their hopes for a future. And though Deuce is at the center of the novel, this book is really where Tegan comes into her own. In Enclave, Tegan was a shell-shocked survivor, barely able to pull her own weight in the group dynamic, needing to be cared for by the others. When we saw her at the end of the book, she was half dead due to the massive injury she'd received to her leg. In Outpost, she's not only survived her injury, she's spreading her wings. She grows in confidence and discovers she has a lot more to offer others than she ever thought. She even finds it within herself to forgive Stalker for how he treated her when she was held captive by his gang, something she swore she would never do.
As with Enclave, the story is a page-turner, and the writing keeps you involved as you await each new development with breathless anticipation. Aguirre has a knack for writing heart-pounding action, yet she's also able imbue her characters with real emotions and depth. Once again, they grow and change, behaving just as real people behave. It's hard for me to express just how much I adore reading Aguirre's novels. My eyes fly across the page, and the pages flip by fast enough to raise a breeze, even though I try to slow myself down in order to savor the story rising up from those pages. All I can say is that if you'd like to get in on this new trend of post-apocalyptic YA novels, but don't know where to start, start with Aguirre's. Pick up Enclave and I guarantee, as soon as you finish it or perhaps even before then, you'll be rushing out to the store to grab Outpost. I'd say Hollywood needs to pick up these books and make it into the next series of blockbuster movies, a la "Harry Potter" and "The Hunger Games," but I'm afraid Hollywood would screw up the magic that is Razorland....more
With this, the fourth entry in Conn Iggulden's masterful series on Genghis Khan, the story has become even larger than before. Though Iggulden tried tWith this, the fourth entry in Conn Iggulden's masterful series on Genghis Khan, the story has become even larger than before. Though Iggulden tried to avoid the, as he called it, “Russian novel syndrom” by introducing a new character on every single page, there are still enough new faces to keep things interesting. And even though the occasional character disappears and seems to have been forgotten, don't worry, you won't miss them for long, once you find yourself swept away by the action and drama of the other storylines.
I remember in World History, when we briefly learned about the “Mongol horde,” seeing those maps that had a big red splotch over the central Asian continent which tapered down to an arrow and that arrow swept over eastern Europe, pointing directly at western Europe. The teacher (and the textbook) droned on about how the Mongols thundered out of Asia and took Russia by surprise, knocking that country and its armies flat before going on to rape, pillage, and destroy cities in Romania, Hungary, Poland, Lithuania, Eastern Prussia, and Croatia. Just as the horde was ready to invade Italy, the Mongols returned home, leaving only smoldering rubble and dazed but lucky survivors in its wake. Yet that information never really penetrated my imagination. I could see how close the Mongols came to taking over the known world, but I never comprehended the actual meaning behind that close-call. Not until I read this novel and saw this campaign of destruction through the vivid writing of Iggulden. This army of warriors, with their never-before-seen tactics and mobile units, if they hadn't returned to Asia, could have taken over the world. Think about that for a moment. No renaissance, not as we know it; no Tudor dynasty, no Elizabethan era; no Ferdinand and Isabella. The ships that traveled to America might not have been headed by Christopher Columbus. We could conceivably be speaking Mongolian or Chinese right now rather than English. The Mongols were that successful. Empire of Silver brings that success to life in the most sensory, dramatic, and terrifying way.
The novel begins three years after Genghis's death and his son, Ogedai, is the heir to the empire Genghis built. But he's not Khan, not yet. He's put off the coronation ceremony in order to build his capital city, Karakorum, an achievement of which his father would've never even conceived and a project which many see as pure foolishness. Unfortunately, Ogedai's delay makes his ambitious brother, Chagatai, bold. His challenge to Ogedai's position reveals a terrible secret Ogedai has been carrying for years: his heart is fatally weak and has been for years. He suffers silently through the twinges and pains in his chest, medicating himself with gallons of wine and the dangerous powder of the foxglove. This revelation adds an air of desperation to the actions of all the brothers, none more so than Ogedai as he broadens the reach of Genghis's legacy by sending out armies into southern China and across the vast expanse of Russia's landscape to the formerly impenetrable heart of Europe.
As with all of Iggulden's novels in the Genghis series, this one is no less action-packed, no less dramatic, no less heart-pounding or pulse-racing. More than any other historical fiction novelist I've read, Iggulden excels at placing us right in the midst of battlefield action. The movements and tactics of the armies, the speed and immediacy of battles, the mud and sweat, fear and blood, the reality of war and death is expressed on the page with such breathtaking skill the reader feels his heart rate quicken and his palms moisten. I cannot stress just how amazing this ability is, both from a reading and a writing standpoint. Yet this kind of kinetic writing doesn't come at a sacrifice to the rest. Far from it. Iggulden has the ability to place the reader into the minds of his characters, allowing us to see their motivations and urges, from the dramatic and sinister, to the quiet moments of family interactions or the wandering thoughts of someone who is bored. Even something as simple as a character suffering from saddle sores is conveyed in an almost poetic manner.
Bottom line, this series started at the top and has maintained its stellar qualities through each succeeding entry. There's been no sophomore slump, no weak link in the chain. Each novel is stellar and if they could be read as stand-alones, I'd recommend picking this one up today. But you'd be missing out on so much, so, please, start at the beginning; pick up Genghis: Birth of an Empire, continue on through Genghis: Lords of the Bow and Genghis: Bones of the Hills before picking up Khan: Empire of Silver (so you can finish with Conqueror). Read them. Savor them. Once you start, I promise you won't want to stop. As the Yorkshire Evening Post put it: “Empire of Silver serves as confirmation that Iggulden's majestic series has developed into an historical fiction master class.” Amen....more
Okay, there's no way I can be objective about this series. I first read these books as an impressionable child (I can't even remember how old I was, bOkay, there's no way I can be objective about this series. I first read these books as an impressionable child (I can't even remember how old I was, but using the publication date as a guide, as well as the ragged state of the paperboard slipcover encasing the books, I'm guessing I was around 10 years old). From the very first moment, I wanted to be Anne, to have that red hair of hers, to stand on the porch of Green Gables and look out over the rolling green fields, to wiggle my toes into the wind-swept dunes of Prince Edward Island. Over the years, I never relinquished my childish fantasy; in fact, I only reinforced it through repeated readings of the novels. And I still imagine that one day, I will travel to P.E.I. I will visit Green Gables and stand on that porch; I will see those dunes and feel the salty sea air in my now-red hair (thank you Clairol).
It's true that not all the books in the series are equal in quality. The first three, I'd say, are the strongest, when Anne is still discovering her world and her place in it. Subsequent books became more prone to flights of fancy and romance, yet, despite that, Anne never lost her power to enthrall and inspire, and although her temper certainly mellowed, she never lost her fire. Frankly, I can't imagine a better role model for a young girl. Anne stood by me on those days when I felt sick, depressed, just downright awful about myself and the world. My first stirrings of romance and how love should be formed around Anne and Gilbert's "courting," even down to their very first moments when she cracked her slate over his head because he called her "Carrots." (After reading that scene, I realized the boy knocking me down in the playground wasn't actually being mean to me, but was expressing that he liked me. Silly boys.) Most importantly, I learned from Anne the importance of being oneself, even if doing so makes you stand out from the rest of the crowd.
In the final installment to Gedge’s Lords of the Two Lands trilogy, the story of the Tao’s family attempt to reclaim Egypt from the Setiu invaders reaIn the final installment to Gedge’s Lords of the Two Lands trilogy, the story of the Tao’s family attempt to reclaim Egypt from the Setiu invaders reaches a thrilling and riveting climax. I can’t say it’s the best book of the trilogy (deciding that would be something of a Sophie’s Choice), but I can say it’s a wonderfully written, compulsively readable finale.
Ahmose Tao, Prince of Weset and self-proclaimed pharaoh now that both his father, Seqenenra, and brother, Kamose, have both died at the hands of those who claimed to be loyal yet ultimately betrayed them, has successfully reclaimed the entire land of Egypt. The last bastion of Setiu rule is their capital city, Het-Uart, a thickly walled repository of Setiu troops and scared citizens. Those impassable walls also held Ahmose’s sister, Tani, Apepa’s hostage these many years, as well as the physical symbols of Egypt’s divinity, the Horus throne, the double crown, the Crook of Mercy and the Flail of Justice. During the long months away from Weset, while Ahmose continues to lay siege to Het-Uart and finish the reclamation of his beloved country, a new center of Egyptian administration is taking shape under the capable hands of Ahmose’s wife Aahmes-nefertari and his mother Aahotep in Weset, both of whom effectively keep Egypt running by organizing and supervising the many small details required to keep a country working. Yet there’s a distance between Ahmose and Aahmes-nefertari which has nothing to do with their physical separation and as Het-Uart finally falls and a final betrayal to Ahmose’s reign comes to light, engineered by Apepa and orchestrated by Tani, Ahmose must decide if seeking reparation for such a awesome treachery is worth the price: the loss of his marriage and love of Aahmes-nefertari
As with the other books, the battle scenes are the poorest part of the novel, suffering from a lack of dynamism as the writing itself remains adroit. The only exception were the scenes describing the sieging of Het-Uart and, later, the Rethennu fortress of Sharuhen, which, perhaps because they were so much more intimate than the other large battle scenes, seemed to have a greater sense of urgency and were infused with a more authentic sense of the chaos which would surround such close-quarters fighting. Where Gedge really shines is in the complex interplay of her characters and their very human reactions and emotions. We see the fragility of Aahmes-nefertari as she tries bring together a nation in her husband’s absence while dealing with the trauma of childbirth and infant mortality; the desperation of Ramose as he attempts to rescue Tani, his idealized love; the cutting-to-the-quick of both Ramose and Ahmose as Tani reveals how she’s changed from the free-spirited girl they both knew years ago. Towards the end of the novel, these full-developed relationships intertwine to create a heartbreaking resolution of the story. That's said, Tani’s story is the most engrossing and the one which is the most vexatious. (view spoiler)[When we finally meet her after being closeted away by Apepa’s side for so many years, we see that she’s no longer Egyptian, but has adopted Setiu manners, to the point of even changing her name to Tautha. Her excuse? She was so long with Apepa, frightened and alone, missing her family, sure that Apepa would execute her for her family’s actions, but instead Apepa treated her with kindness and consideration. Soon she fell in love with him and consented to marry him. So that when Het-Uart finally falls and Egypt is free, she refuses to go home with Ahmose, instead holding fast to her marriage vows and claiming that her duty lies with her husband, Apepa and choosing the people of her husband over her own family. This sort of betrayal and cowardly behavior is so upsetting and abhorrent, it made me agree with Ahmose when he tells her “My only regret is that Ramose did no strangle you when he saw what you had become.” I mean, she even demanded an Egyptian burial for Apepa, using her status as a princess of royal blood to blackmail Ahmose into complying. (hide spoiler)]My horror at Tani’s behavior equaled that of Ahmose’s.
In the end, The Horus Road is a rousing, nail-biting, undeniably satisfactory ending to a trilogy of books which comprise just about some of the best ancient Egyptian historical fiction out there. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Ah, now this is much better! With The Oasis, Pauline Gedge has hit her stride with this story arc in general and her characters in particular. The strAh, now this is much better! With The Oasis, Pauline Gedge has hit her stride with this story arc in general and her characters in particular. The strengths of The Oasis only serve to highlight the weaknesses of The Hippopotamus Marsh.
I mentioned in my review of The Hippopotamus Marsh how the characters seemed to suffer from a lack of realism and I think part of the problem is that that first book of Lords of the Two Lands Trilogy is a set-up book. We meet Seqenenra, the instigator of the story's plot and about whom the main action revolves, at the beginning of the book. However, before we can fully know and understand him and his motivations, he's killed and his active participation in the story is over with, about midway through the book. Then we find ourselves involved with the brothers Si-Amun, Kamose and Ahmose; nominally it's Si-Amun who leads the story line, but then he goes away and Kamose takes his place. Basically, there's so much going on and so many people weaving in and out of the main plot line, it's hard to get a grasp on who these characters really are, what drives them, what they're hiding behind their smiles. However, with The Oasis the focus pretty much stays on Kamose and to a lesser extent Ahmose. Finally we get to see more of these two characters; we get to delve into their fears and hidden talents and discover what makes them tick. Finally we get an idea of who they really are. This discovery also extends to the Tao women. We get to see beyond Tetisheri's imperious facade and see her fears and her weaknesses. Aahotep and Aahmes-Nefertari step out of the shadows and become deeper and richer, more than just mother and widow, wife and sister. Now I can see these people. Now they have become real.
Once again, though, the battle scenes are still weak and underdeveloped. The action is briefly described and hastily done with. However, the tension has been ratcheted up by several notches and there are many scenes which caused me to hold my breath as betrayals and shocking revelations threatened to derail Kamose's attempts to retake Egypt and remove the Setiu stench from his country. Several times throughout the book, I ached with him and felt as exhausted as he when events overwhelmed him. And that is the one constancy between The Hippopotamus Marsh and The Oasis: Gedge's masterful use of language and imagery. She skillfully weaves the ancient history and traditions of Egypt into the story, engaging all the senses and immersing the reader totally. As I noted before, Gedge manages to keep the reader's attention focused in that ancient period by using appropriate language without alienating the modern mindset with stuffy or awkward turns of phrase. Which is why I was quite surprised to find a slip-up. Towards the end of the book, (view spoiler)[ when a few of the princes rise up in rebellion (hide spoiler)], Prince Iasen cries out, in regards to General Hor-Aha, "We are tired of kowtowing to him." (Italics are mine.) Kowtow is from the Chinese ketou which is a combination of the syllables ke knock + tou head. I realize the ancient Egyptians were in trade with many other ancient societies at the time, but would they have used such a word? Even if they would, which I doubt highly, the use of it in the text brought me temporarily out of the story--it jarred me. I think it a better choice would've been the more neutral genuflect or prostrate. I mean, Gedge might as well have written salaam. However, that is the first and so far only error I've found in her novels.
Which is why, in the end, I'm sticking with my initial judgment which placed Gedge head and shoulders above nearly all other ancient Egyptian historical fiction authors.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Let me state, right off the bat, this is an excellent book. It is truly the standard by which all ancient Egyptian historical fiction novels4.5 stars
Let me state, right off the bat, this is an excellent book. It is truly the standard by which all ancient Egyptian historical fiction novels should be measured...for the most part (I'll explain in a moment). The research is impeccable, thorough without being overwhelming and used appropriately (meaning that Gedge knows when to hold back and let the story take over and when to use her research to enhance/explain a scene). No info dumps here! The story itself moves along a brisk pace, the tension and action nicely balanced with more introspective, character-centered moments--it neither drags nor wears the reader out with never-ending action. The language is where Gedge truly shows her talent: the dialogue is beautiful, neither anachronistically modern (thus jarring the reader out of the book's ancient setting) nor so archaically formal that the reader is forced into multiple re-reads in order to decipher what was said; the narrative truly immerses the reader in the sights, sounds, and textures of ancient Egypt, to the point where I felt I could reach out and stroke the sweat-slicked flesh of the characters as they sat under Ra's implacable eye or smell the intoxicating scents of perfumed oil cones as they melted, the oil soaking the gauzy linen sheaths and kilts of the banqueters as they feasted in a stuffy, noisy dining hall. Certain hist. fiction authors who are currently the darlings of the publishing world, whom shall remain nameless here (although I will give out the initials P.G. and M.M.), should take note of Gedge's creative writing ability and follow her most excellent example.
Now to explain the "for the most part" bit from earlier. Bear with me as my one criticism- no, that's the wrong word. How about I say 'problem' instead? My one problem with the book is rather nebulous and difficult to explain. While all of what I've said in the previous paragraph is true, while Gedge brings to life these ancient peoples and places and personages to a degree that is to be envied and admired, the characters themselves, most especially those who are responsible for driving the story, still don't feel as fully fleshed as they could be, as though they're missing whatever it is that would make them jump off the pages and become real human beings. To contrast, Conn Iggulden, whose Genghis series I'm currently reading, has to deal with some of the same issues as Gedge in bringing his characters to life, i.e. taking an historical personage about whom more myth than reality is written/known and creating a real human being from the scraps of truth to be found in such myths and legends. Yet Conn's Temujin/Genghis doesn't just leap off the page, he smashes his way through the flimsy wood pulp and weak ink letters which hold him captive. And the same dynamism is true of all the other characters in Genghis's life: some are weak, some are cunning, some are utterly depraved and despicable, and some are brave, noble, conflicted, innocent, dependable--in other words they are human, with human foibles and human drives. With the characters in The Hippopotamus Marsh I don't get that same sense of reality. Yes, we are shown the motivations of Seqenenra and his son Kamose, their pride and sense of honor, as they chafe under the rule of the Setiu/Hyksos king Apepa; the conflicted outrage of Kamose's twin brother Si-Amun as he traps himself in a no-way-out situation; the wise resignation of Seqenenra's wife Aahotep, the haughty grandeur of Tetisheri, the matriarch of the family, and the lesser motivations of the rest of the family. Yet I never really got a sense of each character's depth beyond those surface impressions. And this is where the nebulousness comes in, as the depth of personality for each of these characters (which I'm sure will deepen as the series progresses) is perfectly adequate (and in comparison to some hist. fiction downright marvelous). Taken in combination with the rest of the elements of Gedge's writing, The Hippopotamus Marsh becomes a work of fiction which is quite astonishing and absolutely amazing to read. So why am I complaining? I guess because I want to go deeper, I want to know more about these characters--Kamose, Seqenenra, Tani, Ramose, Aahmes-Nefertari and the rest--I want them to break free of history's cobwebs, leap off the page and stand before me as they tell me their story, through Gedge's words, much as Conn Iggulden's Genghis Khan did. They seemed too tame, too calm, too remote for such dynamic history taking place around them.
One other quibble I have with the book, which ties in with the issue I pointed out above, is the action, compelling as it was, could've been more dynamic and more compelling to read. Once again, I need to refer to Iggulden as I've been spoiled by him and his depictions of battle, of blood and death, defeat and victory, depictions which are at once gruesome and engrossing. If I can smell the flood waters of the Nile, feel its life-giving mud slither through my fingers and the grit of the desert sand, then I should also be able to see the sweat and fear pouring off a soldier's face, hear the clashing of swords, the crash of shields, the twang of bowstrings, the hiss of blood as it sinks into the baking earth. Yet that never occurred. As with the personalities of the book's characters, the action is surface-level only: I saw the clash, I saw the tactics, the hope and fatigue of the soldiers, the humiliation of defeat, but I never felt the reality of the action taking place. Maybe it's simply due to a contrast in styles between a male and female author (and, god, I hate myself for even thinking that, let alone writing it, as I'm well aware of many female authors who can write kinetic and enthralling action scenes as well as, if not better than, male authors). Or perhaps it's simply that Gedge has so much territory to cover, she didn't feel the need to dwell on the battle scenes. Who knows?
What I do know is the issues I have with the novel are minor in comparison to The Hippopotamus Marsh's overall scope and readability. There may be a few (a very few) books out there which are better (and we all know "better" and "worse" are highly subjective adjectives), but there are certainly a great deal too many books which are worse--pieces of dreck which would have to climb onto extension ladders just to get close enough to reach out and aspire to Gedge's level of artistry....more