The Killing Moon is one of the finest fantasy works I have read in recent times. From its unique world to its representation of religion to the utterl...moreThe Killing Moon is one of the finest fantasy works I have read in recent times. From its unique world to its representation of religion to the utterly human characters, it is utterly brilliant. Jemisin does a wonderful job at slowly building up the world and its complex workings while maintaining the narrative at a steady pace. I haven't had the chance to read a lot of fantasy that is centered around a religion (magic in all its forms is usually treated in a more secular form in most fantasy works), so it was quite a delight to read such a well-crafted fantasy-faith. (less)
On the outset, this is the story of a cautious man, Tony Webster, who has lived an ordinary life, the sort of life he could always keep at a distance...moreOn the outset, this is the story of a cautious man, Tony Webster, who has lived an ordinary life, the sort of life he could always keep at a distance (what he calls a "peaceable life"). It is apt that the story begins with a set of visual memories that serve as comforting placeholders, substitutes for certain key events in his life. Tony recounts the story of his early life with his friends (Adrian, Colin and Alex. Colin and Alex are pretty much the Rosencrantz and Guildernstern characters here. Shadows at the edge of the stage), his awkward first relationship which is tenuously linked to Adrian's suicide, the perfect mundaneness of the latter half of his life until he receives a letter from an attorney. There is some faint nostalgic regret attached to the ordinariness of his life: "I rarely ended up fantasising a markedly different life from the life that has been mine...I'm not odd enough not to have done the things I've ended up doing with my life."
Barnes is brilliant in presenting the imperfections of Tony Webster's recall of events from his past. The narrative evolves around the fallibility of memory and how our remembering of things and events and people is restructured by our false image of ourselves, our personal conceits or shadowed by our unacknowledged feelings towards the remembered things. As Tony remembers while recounting his past, "History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation."
The heart of the narrative rests in the impulsive, unconscious acts of petty cruelty committed casually, offhandedly by people, the effects of such acts, and the unbearable burden of remorse that follows which can never be written off or forgiven. Though I'm not sure I quite like the shocking climax bit before the end, it is a little smudge on an otherwise awesome work. (less)
A sprawling narrative spanning political intrigue, the harsh mechanics of medieval warfare, climate change, the walking dead, dragons, the classic Wes...moreA sprawling narrative spanning political intrigue, the harsh mechanics of medieval warfare, climate change, the walking dead, dragons, the classic West/East dialectic and some other things, A Game of Thrones tries to accomplish a lot. With respect to plot and narrative, it succeeds in places. But the writing betrays it in many other places. Repetition of stock phrases (the Stark motto, the Lannister gold, the Targaryen dragons, the Dothraki code, etc.) serve only to pigeonhole otherwise complex characters and situations into certain stilted, hackneyed positions. Of the characters presented, it is perhaps Tyrion Lannister who shines out best as an individual-in-himself. The others are subsumed within the elaborate web of a plot Martin lays out before us, pieces being moved by invisible hands on the greater board of the world. The plot is a sheer pleasure to follow, however. Unlike the strict clinical precision with which fantasy heroes, villains, creatures and whatnots usually operate, Martin allows his characters the luxury of bad judgement, of acting blindly without forethought, or being stupid. While not the best written fantasy novel out there, it is still a fun read and a very interesting world to explore. (less)
Hyperion is the first book in a four part series which revolve around Dan Simmons' futurescape. A compelling narrative built from six tales narrated b...moreHyperion is the first book in a four part series which revolve around Dan Simmons' futurescape. A compelling narrative built from six tales narrated by pilgrims on a journey to the planet Hyperion (something like the Canterbury's Tales, only with spaceships and a galactic civilization ruled by a Hegemony), Hyperion never fails to engage our attentions. Simmons covers a whole range of possible future landscapes, from the gray industrial world of Lusus to the primitive and still pristinely beautiful planet of islands, Maui Covenant, to the cyberspace 'world' (if it can be called as such) of the Technocore, his narrative covers them all. At the centre of it all is the planet Hyperion and its resident Beast, the Shrike, an alien creature that is for all purposes immortal, indestructible and all-powerful. While a bit on the longer side, as far as page count and the detailing is concerned, it is a grand introduction to Dan Simmons' universe. (less)
Light is a difficult read. M John Harrison tries to weave three seemingly distinct narratives together to a single contained conclusion. I'm still ske...moreLight is a difficult read. M John Harrison tries to weave three seemingly distinct narratives together to a single contained conclusion. I'm still skeptical about the success of his venture. The plot revolves around the lives of three people all on the run from some aspect of their past: Michael Kearney(view spoiler)[, a brilliant physicist who murders women in his spare time (hide spoiler)] ; Seria Mau(view spoiler)[, a mercenary K-Ship pilot (as explained much later in the narrative, the pilot of a K-Ship lives in a tank, sustained by the fluid in it, and is plugged into the ship's structure through a series of pipes. For all practical purposes, the pilot is the ship, or something like that.) with a package she is trying to decipher (hide spoiler)] ; Ed Chianese(view spoiler)[, a has-been adventurer who now spends his days plugging himself into a Virtual Reality environment in a 'twink tank'. (hide spoiler)]
Let's deal with the bad bits first. The Seria Mau narrative is perhaps the best of the three, evenly paced though I faced other difficulties in it. Of the rest, the Ed Chianese narrative advances jerkily towards its conclusion. Michael Kearney narrative is, for the most part, him running around from person to person and place to place (something like a RPG hero). There are places where Harrison's language becomes too garbled with jargon which forced me to either ignore it altogether or read it harder. I faced this mostly in the Seria Mau narrative as it featured the mechanics of ship travel the most of the lot. Another annoying problem with Harrison's overall narrative was his tendency to casually introduce something and leave his larger explanation behind it for much later. He does with the shadow operators thrusting them into the narrative at an early stage without any other explanation as to their nature, and providing one much farther into the narrative. (view spoiler)[He also does this with K-ships, New Men, cultivars, Nastics, etc. (hide spoiler)]
Now for the good bits. For all the problems with jargon, Harrison whips some stunning prose up. He is best describing an environment like Seria Mau's stroll through Motel Splendido or Ed Chianese's time in the New Men warrens. Another nice touch was the subtle repetition of themes. While obvious at times, in case of the cats and some recurring names, it gave a loose, ephemeral sense of connection to the three narratives.
Overall, I wouldn't say Light is a challenging read. It's difficult, plodding through it, true. But there isn't much complex about it. If I read Light again, it would be for the good bits. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
The first of Feist's work to be set in Kelewan, it's a wonderful story of the fate of Mara of house Acoma. In contrast to the focus rapid action and h...moreThe first of Feist's work to be set in Kelewan, it's a wonderful story of the fate of Mara of house Acoma. In contrast to the focus rapid action and historical lore in the Riftwar Saga trilogy, this is an account of the timeless political intrigue of Kelewan's great houses. The oriental touch is a refreshing change from the otherwise known medieval (human and dwarf) and elf (dark and light) models of society usually encountered in fantasy. Overall, a good read. (less)
I've loved every Discworld book featuring the City Watch I've read so far, namely, Feet of Clay, Jingo, Thud!. Guards! Guards! is the first in the ser...moreI've loved every Discworld book featuring the City Watch I've read so far, namely, Feet of Clay, Jingo, Thud!. Guards! Guards! is the first in the series to feature the City Watch (the Night Watch in this book) and its primary characters, Sam Vimes, Nobby Nobbs, Fred Colon and Carrot Ironfoundersson. It also establishes the complex relationship between Vimes and Vetinari that is developed in the latter books.
As such, the plot involves dragons and a cult obsessed with summoning them, a defunct Night Watch that has lost all relevance with Vetinari's policy of legalising the Thieve's Guild, theories of L-Space (Library-space and its transcendence of common space-time), the Librarian, a love interest and things going up in flames (rather reducing themselves to ash in white hot flames). And much more. I'm sure you can connect the dots between all of those to come up with a fairly accurate summary. But then you'd miss out on the zaniness, the puns and the one-liners that pepper the narrative.
I also realised, on finishing the book, that this is probably the first book (I could be wrong here) where we see Vetinari's special form of government explained by the man himself. And also in his actions. Vetinari has always been the voice of Discworld novels to me, the character who most closely embodies Pratchett's take on things. With his intuitive (and elegantly simple) understanding of the mob-mind, its multifarious influences and their checks and balances, and a distrust for any system that relies on mutual goodwill among people as a regulatory force, (as one of my friends put it) he comes off as quite a libertarian for a tyrant. While there is a lot more to the book, the Vetinari bits, few though they may be, were quite insightful. (less)
Finished reading the (supposedly) post-apocalyptic Amnesia Moon which I really liked. Lethem's world-building is similar to these other New Weird writ...moreFinished reading the (supposedly) post-apocalyptic Amnesia Moon which I really liked. Lethem's world-building is similar to these other New Weird writers, Jeff van der Meer and Michael Swanwick. The idea of hinting at a world that is bigger than the protagonists who walk through it, or rather of how any world presented in fiction is a fragmented world (best done in Viriconium, if I remember right). While Lethem has some sci-fi elements to his narrative, most of it is the spiralling journey of self-discovery of the protagonist, Chaos (what a lovely name, no?). Throughout the narrative, Chaos takes up different names, different roles, different personalities depending on the time and the place. It is through this fragmentation of Chaos that we appreciate the complex and, for the most part, irreconciliable relations that lie at the heart of Lethem's world. This is most acutely seen whenever the characters refer to the originary tragedy, the apocalypse that 'ruptured' their world and everyone has their own theory, their own map of how things broke down. Initially, for the first few chapters, the link between each chapter was tenuous enough that each could stand by themselves as a separate story. While the narrative does appear to cohere later, it never coheres to an opaque, self-complete unity. A very wonderful read. (less)
If there is one thing true about the Discworld, it is insanely difficult to hail any single work as the best in the series. Pratchett never fails to a...moreIf there is one thing true about the Discworld, it is insanely difficult to hail any single work as the best in the series. Pratchett never fails to astound with his unique take on things with each successive book. Like other books in the series, Unseen Academicals studies a modern phenomenon within the zany confines of the Discworld. In this case, it is football in the streets of Ankh-Morpork.
The wizards of the Unseen University find themselves forced to agree to a match of football in order to preserve an ancient bequest left them by a patron. At the same time, there is Ankh-Morpork's benign tyrant, Vetinari's attempt to legalise the popular and barbaric sport of 'foot-the-ball' played with a wooden ball which is notorious in the back alleys of the city as a vicious, bloody sport lacking any formal rules apart from the scoring of goals by any means possible. To this effect, the wizards, with Vetinari's support (and some veiled threats) proceed to re-define the structure and the rules of 'foot-the-ball' so they have a chance to compete and retain their bequest. In this, they are assisted ably by an erudite Uberwaldian goblin with a mysterious past, Nutt and his friends. While football forms the heart of the plot, there are sidelights like dwarf fashion, racism (which is a recurring issue in the series), the politics of power (anything featuring Vetinari invariably ends up being about this) and more.
It would help to have read some Discworld books before Unseen Academicals. Though it features a set of new characters, there are references to events from the earlier books and cameo appearances by old characters.(less)
**spoiler alert** Red Seas Under Red Skies takes up the narrative about two months after the events of 'The Lies of Locke Lamora'. Lynch shows us more...more**spoiler alert** Red Seas Under Red Skies takes up the narrative about two months after the events of 'The Lies of Locke Lamora'. Lynch shows us more of his world by setting the action in the island city of Tal Verrarr which lies at the extreme western end of the Therin city states. Where Camorr has its nobility, Tal Verrarr has an Archonate supported by a council of merchants known as the Priori. With this change in environment, the dynamics of the caper also change. The mark for their planned caper is the owner of a gambling house who also functions as a banker of sorts for the merchants. The plot however, follows the first novel in setting up complications that lend what starts out as a simple caper, major political ramifications. The plot develops swiftly leaping from one twist to another. In fact, there are times when the story developed a little too many twists for my taste.
As in book 1, the main narrative deals with the current events involving the surviving duo (Locke and Jean) in Tal Verrarr while alternate chapters serve as flashback episodes dealing with their first few months after leaving Camorr. The characters of Jean and Locke are fleshed out in these episodes and we also see glimpses of the society of Tal Verrarr and its surrounding islands, notably Vel Virazzo, a little coastal town away from Tal Verrarr, and Salon Corbeau, a haven for bored rich folk. The book concerns itself a lot with driving home the callousness, indifference and amorality of the affluent upper class. The central tenets of the Church of the Thirteenth is repeated throughout the book as ,"Thieves prosper. The rich remember." I don't remember reading much about the second tenet in book 1, but it informs a lot of the events in this book. By the second tenet, theft serves a higher purpose than the prosperity of thieves. It serves as a reminder to the rich and powerful of their own mortality, that their wealth and power can be easily stripped away from them. Something to ensure their good behavior.
This is highlighted especially in the second half of the book which has Locke and Jean on a ship with pirates who had attempted to lead a coup against Tal Verrarr a few years before the current events. The events on sea make for great reading and open up a new aspect of the world with its mysterious jungle islands, undersea creatures and of course, pirates.
There is one more (perhaps irrelevant) difference between book 1 in Camorr and book 2 in (and around) Tal Verrarr. Where the Camorri narrative makes constant references to the Elderglass towers that dominate the city with their shifting hues, there is none of that in Tal Verrarr. The Elderglass structures in Tal Verrarr are described as being opaque and non-reactive to light, unlike the Camorri spires. With this lack, there isn't any part here about the ancient Eldren past of the world.
All that being said, the book ends on an uncertain note regarding the possible future of the duo and with a promise with newer (perhaps shinier!) things in book 3 which, I do hope, is out soon!(less)
**spoiler alert** I found what little I knew of the history of Henry VIII's court (all of it gleaned from Shakespeare and trivia) very helpful. Mantel...more**spoiler alert** I found what little I knew of the history of Henry VIII's court (all of it gleaned from Shakespeare and trivia) very helpful. Mantel writes next to nothing about Cromwell's past. There is a sketch on his abusive childhood and ends with him going off to find a war to enlist. Next, we see him in 1526 in the household of Cardinal Wolsey, as his man of business. Throughout the novel, there are scant references to events from his past as an accountant and a soldier, most of them as rumours that Cromwell himself never dispels. Cromwell prides himself in his lack of ancestry. When Henry suggests to him that he may have descended from a line of Welsh royalty, he refuses to acknowledge it. This almost defiant denial of ancestry, of pedigree underscores Cromwell's dealings in his service of the Cardinal and later, in Henry's court. Mantel also plays up Cromwell as a progressive for his time with his sympathy to the Protestant cause, his distrust of the Church's pomp and show, and his keen interest in matters of science.
The central narrative of the book remains the controversial marriage of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII. A pageant of people in history show up in the course of the narrative. Thomas More is shown to be a vain ideologue who despises his wife and tortures heretics, which is a marked shift from the usual depiction of him as a humanist philosopher. There is of course, Anne Boleyn, shrewd and calculating; a far better strategist than her uncles in court, we see her bravado in being conversant with the writings of the Protestant Tyndale (a crime punishable by death by the Church), her instinct for self-preservation in continually denying the King his pleasure before he weds her. There is the Duke of Norfolk with his constant threats to tear the flesh off folk he doesn't like. Later, there is Thomas Cranmer, a mild-mannered monkish type who becomes the Cardinal to break the Church of England from Rome (the Pope is referred to, constantly, in conversation as the "bishop of Rome"). Arching over all this supporting cast, in the initial bits of the novel, we have Cardinal Wolsey who fast became my favorite character. His eloquence, his vanity (there is a marvelous bit of conversation where Cromwell confides he murdered a man in Italy whose soul is in hell "if it pleases the Cardinal"), his immense (he was a big man) sense of the theatrical, all of this comes off brilliantly in Mantel's prose. He also comes off as a shadow father-figure to Cromwell. There is also the King, Henry VIII. But I found it hard to define him as a person, as a character because the King's presence, his whims determine the actions of all others involved. It is as if Henry was more a force of circumstance, a collective sum of all the deeds in his realm rather than an individual. There is the little flitting figure of Jane Seymour, but that is more of a pointer to the next novel in the series, a portent of things to come just like the end where we see Cromwell ride off to Wolf Hall, the seat of Seymours.
Overall, Wolf Hall is an insight into a time of great change. It seems absurd reading parts of it, to think something as trivial as a second marriage could have been so momentous. That it could have affected the lives of so many otherwise indifferent (Cromwell), ambitious (Wolsey) or talented (More) men, making and marring their lives in the process. But then, if Cromwell had been little more than a successful merchant who ran a good house and had his flirtations with heresy, the story of his life wouldn't have been half as interesting. (less)