I was so looking forward to reading this book that I allowed it to jump the queue (and I'm normally a stickler for reading - and finishing - one bookI was so looking forward to reading this book that I allowed it to jump the queue (and I'm normally a stickler for reading - and finishing - one book at a time). I'm glad to say this book delivers more of the same as 'The Last Wish'. The previous book was enjoyable on it's own, but also provided an excellent background for this novel, introducing aspects of the characters and world that added to the story. If you are looking for a place to start, 'The Last Wish' definitely seems to be the best point so far. And both stories hint at a much larger ongoing drama. There are so many things hinted at and so many stories only lightly touched that it makes the world of the Witcher seem vast and eternal.
While 'The Last Wish' is a series of short stories and a stand-alone novel, 'Blood of Elves' is the first book in the Witcher series proper, with events starting after the stand-alone novels (there is a second stand-alone novel - 'The Sword of Destiny' - but it does not seem to have been reprinted recently so the only editions available to buy at the moment are relatively expensive).
The story jumps between the perspectives of several main characters, but rarely linger around the pivotal character of the series - Geralt - for very long. The style of writing reminded me of the Game of Thrones series, braiding the stories of the various characters together in long chapters, each with their own atmosphere. But the story is not quite as gritty and bloody as the Song of Ice and Fire. There is still gore, but there is also room for humour and warmth, and so far Andrzej Sapkowski seems less fond of killing of main characters left and right.
The scenery continues to be evocative (dark pines, white roses, crumbling stonework, bones, magic, water splashing around the horses' fetlocks, head buzzing as if you were swallowing) and the characters still have their own unique, sometimes conflicting, motivations and interests. If this series continues with the same quality as the last two books, I have some enjoyable reading ahead!...more
The problem with being mysterious is that nobody ever gets to be close to you. The Night Circus is a book full of beautiful imagery, and the circus itThe problem with being mysterious is that nobody ever gets to be close to you. The Night Circus is a book full of beautiful imagery, and the circus itself is a wonderful concept. But the characters? I just couldn't connect. I couldn't reliably predict how they would react in any given situation, or picture them in my head doing something outside the storyline, or how they would speak if you came across them in the street. A combination of enigma and divided attention between the many characters in the story meant that everybody seemed distant and I couldn't bring myself to feel strongly for them. Perhaps it would have helped to focus the story on certain characters more (I liked Widget and Poppet - but Bailey seemed a little tacked on), and to look in on them in more ordinary moments instead of only moments of drama.
At certain points, I also found the magic used in the book rather claustrophobic and distasteful. Maybe that was intentional - but all the magicians in the book manipulate people without their consent in all manner of ways that I would find worrying rather than delightful. So even without the influence of the inhuman and creepy antagonists, I found the circus a little sinister.
The circus is, however, a visual delight and would make a wonderful theme for a costume party. I'd be very surprised if it hasn't already been done many times. But overall, although I enjoyed the book, I guess I'm just not a rêveur!...more
I hadn't heard much about the Dresden Files series. I know there are people who like it A LOT. I know I often confuse it with a similarly named webcomI hadn't heard much about the Dresden Files series. I know there are people who like it A LOT. I know I often confuse it with a similarly named webcomic (Dresden Codak). That was the limit of my knowledge.
So when the book popped up a number of times while stalking author's read lists for recommendations, I decided I'd better give it a go. And besides, a grumpy wizard private eye? That sounds pretty fun.
And it is! Well, it's perhaps not for everyone. Don't expect any Harry Potter wizards or tidy Poirot murder scenes. There is a fair bit of horror and blood and... unspeakable things. This is more gritty wizardry, grounded in reality despite the fairies and spells, and the occasional terrible pun. This is much more real. But grittiness doesn't become depressing, and the cranky protagonist still manages to remain somewhat likable despite his flaws - not quite an anti-hero even if he's a reluctant one.
There are still bits I didn't like all that much. The anti-science stuff is a little tired - that magic and science are opposing forces that can never work well together. (Funny that while in this trope the magic usually stops technology from working, but I've never seen the other way around - I guess it would be anti-climactic if you could ward off spells with your mobile phone). It just seems overused, and a bit of an excuse to include quaint old things.
And it's a little bit overly masculine. Most of the ladies are sexy, and openly discussed as potential sexual partners, described in detail, whereas most of the guys are outlines or stereotypes (I think the guy who gets the most physical detail only appears as a corpse). Sure, I don't expect Harry to be measuring up the barman as relationship material, but a little more description would be nice, and help flesh out the imagery when not dwelling on the sexy ladies. I have nothing against sexy ladies, I just prefer more variety in the female characters, and more attention for the guys too.
And - to share a minor annoyance - why didn't he trick that one guy with the empty film cannister? I would have given it a shot!
But despite those few quibbles I enjoyed the story. It's an easy read, and there are some poetic moments and it's not a bad bit of world-building. The descriptions of magic are evocative and the magic itself is varied and inventive. I'll be interested to read more of the series and find out more about the many background stories this first novel hints at....more
I heard of Oliver Sack's death just as I was finishing this book. There was no surprise - any listener of the Radiolab podcast series would have heardI heard of Oliver Sack's death just as I was finishing this book. There was no surprise - any listener of the Radiolab podcast series would have heard of his illness and prognosis - but made the book all the more poignant now that I know that the voice of the author had now been silenced. Or not silenced, not really, but rather constrained to the books and media and memory already in existence, who continue their own separate conversations long after their progenitor has gone.
And this is a conversation book. Readers without a history in the medical industry, like me, might find it a difficult conversation at times - peppered with unfamiliar language both medical and of a differing generation and educational level. But despite this the tone is still warm, and while I might have had a fuller technical understanding if I had constantly leapt for Google, I choose instead to skip past the technical terms and enjoy the narrative, and I think that made it a more enjoyable experience. Radiolab listeners such as myself might find it a little harder to follow than the podcasts, in which difficult ideas are gently ushered into our brains with the assistance of soundscapes and pacing aimed at the casual listener. These, after all, are still medical case studies, and ones written decades ago, and which have not been re-written to conform with modern standards of science communication (as illustrated by the use of then-technical terms such as 'moron' and 'retard' which have now lost favour as the English language mutates).
The book illustrated infinite variety of the human brain and it's ability to cope with all sorts of unusual circumstances as if they are a normal everyday thing (which they are, of course, to the people experiencing them). I find that it's much easier to examine how I think and act when I learn about people who think and act very differently, and this book definitely gave me a lot to think about. Enough that I had to stop reading it too close to bedtime to stop my thoughts getting all tangled up in strange questions before I went to bed. (ie "How exactly do I perceive an object like a book is a book? What properties of 'book-ness' are being processed by my brain when I look at a book?", "The book discussed some people on the autism spectrum being obsessed by prime numbers, but they are almost exclusively talking about base 10 - what to prime numbers look like on other bases and is there any interrelation between those primes?" etc etc)
But also the book helped connect these weird, strange medical conditions and questions of human perception with very real people who just wanted to get on with their day, very often in the face of confusion, disability and misunderstanding....more
I broke a fairly long reading drought with this book and demolished it in two days. Maybe it was the fact that I was stuck at home with the flu and myI broke a fairly long reading drought with this book and demolished it in two days. Maybe it was the fact that I was stuck at home with the flu and my brain didn't seem able to handle much else, but dang, I really enjoyed this book!
It has been very well translated. In fact, I doubt most people would know it was originally written in Polish unless they had discovered it beforehand. The writing is charming and descriptive, and perhaps this is partly due to the translation - when I expressed admiration for the line 'he was as bald as a knee' I was informed it was a common Polish idiom, but what may be a trite saying in Polish becomes refreshing and apt when viewed in a new language. (I think it might be a few weeks before I stop looking at bald heads and thinking knees).
The world of the Witcher is surprisingly robust, and while intrusions from our own world (the occasional well-known fairy tale poking up out of the bushes) can be a little silly at times, the overall impression is of a solid and self-sustaining story world. I can already imagine myself setting up a nice farming operation somewhere in a secluded forest (much like Nenneke's wonderful garden cavern) and selling rare ingredients to witchers, sorcerers and apothecaries and it's always a good sign of my investment in a world if I go to sleep dreaming myself into it.
I'm looking forward to diving into the other books, and perhaps some day finishing the games (having only played an hour of the first one) but now I've seen how good the books can be, I think I will give them priority, and I prefer to experience words before visuals when I can (because once you get a movie or game image in your head, they tend to become overwhelming and stifle your own imagination).
So in ending - lots of fun! Can't wait to see more unexpected monsters and dilemma's and weird characters in this series, and find out if Geralt ever fixes up his lady troubles....more
Much I what I said for the previous book applies to this one as well. While some of the themes are a little more adult (sex, birth, death etc) the stoMuch I what I said for the previous book applies to this one as well. While some of the themes are a little more adult (sex, birth, death etc) the stories remain a glorious panorama of colour and detail, while seeming to lack substance. Like a beautiful, perfectly plated degustation dish that fails to fill the belly, I always found myself wanting more - just as you sample some wild and interesting flavour it's time to move onto the next dish.
There is some tying-together of the various stories (or at least making their links a little more obvious) but they still mostly sit as a series of short stories loosely tied together. I admire the writing style and the concept is interesting, but ultimately I found the lack of fulfillment as the story moved on too irritating to enjoy the concept as much as I could have. I will definitely be trying some more of the author's books though, just to see how they write in another format....more
This book surprised me. I wasn't sure if I would like it. I've read very little supernatural fantasy, and a lot of bad television shows had made me waThis book surprised me. I wasn't sure if I would like it. I've read very little supernatural fantasy, and a lot of bad television shows had made me wary of the whole genre. And that cover art! It has aged very badly. The ghosts are wonderful, but I didn't feel like I could feel anything for Fabio's dark-haired step-brother with the terrible fashion sense (that haircut! those sleeves! that neckline!). So I studiously ignored the guy on the cover, and instead replaced him with a cross between Jon Snow and Dr Gregory House, because our protagonist does seem to have a few things in common with the snarky doctor besides the leg. He's smart, and self-assured to the point of arrogance, and while seldom as witty he did seem to hold himself with the same sort of sneering stoicism that covers a dead sea of depression in some characters. I didn't 'like' like him, but he was fun to read about, and only partly due to his intriguing career.
I like that the ghosts had their own personalities and weren't just something for the hero to defeat. And there wasn't a simple 'ghost bad, people good' narrative, as much as it started out that was (partly due to the viewpoint of the main character). It got stickier as it progressed - more complicated. And while some bits might have been ruined by a certain movie I won't name in order to avoid spoilers, the ending was still satisfying (and left wide open for a sequel or simply personal speculation without being a cliffhanger - I am so sick of cliffhangers so this is a welcome relief).
The scenes are well enough described that I had little trouble imagining mountain streams, and leaning towers, cracked dry ground or even ghostly battles. It's good if your reader isn't confused or lost even when half the characters in the scene are intangible (or even most of the scenery).
A good entry point for the genre - at least I hope it is being pretty much new to this style of book. I hope there are more like this one....more
It's hard to review a book of short fiction when every story is so different. I can only summarise how I felt about the book as a whole (unless I go iIt's hard to review a book of short fiction when every story is so different. I can only summarise how I felt about the book as a whole (unless I go into every story individually). So, with many of the stories I found myself getting lost as the story submerged into more technical detail. I don't mind hard sci-fi, but sometimes it seems that stories can suffer as if they are merely vessels for scientific pondering. When that happens, if you don't have the scientific grounding to appreciate those musings, you can end up getting lost. I think that is what happened to me here, and perhaps why I found the less 'hard' stories more entertaining (such as the last story, "Doing Lennon", which I felt was one of the best of the lot, along with "Of Space/Time and the River" which was like a detailed delirium after drinking the wrong water on a Nile cruise).
The other stories - I found myself skipping through at places, which is something I rarely do and a sign that I'm really not enjoying it as much as I'm trying to. I lost the stream of the story too often, and found that I wasn't interested in the characters, or that the interesting characters did not stick around long enough. I guess that these stories were a great way to play with concepts, but as stories in themselves, I just couldn't keep a grasp on many of them....more
When my friend recommended this book, at first the name of the author didn't click. Then I realised "Oh! It's Cat Valente!" I had heard her both speakWhen my friend recommended this book, at first the name of the author didn't click. Then I realised "Oh! It's Cat Valente!" I had heard her both speaking and her books discussed on quite a few podcasts so I was even more curious to find out whether I would like the book.
It took me a while to get into the writing style. I think of this style of writing as full of instinctive ornament - I say instinctive because sometimes the words used don't really make sense when you think about it, but they sound right and seem to fit. There is a lot of descriptive simile and metaphor and who cares if clouds don't really have foamy, sapphire flesh? The idea is indulgent and dripping with imagery like the thick paint of a Van Gogh. It's better to just go with the flow and let the images coalesce in your head without too much thought. Then everything seems to come together like a mosaic, and it's fun to realise that the experience must be very different for every reader as so much is dependent on what your brain pulls from the obscure and laden descriptions.
The stories themselves are more like short stories that have been nested together - which is sometimes frustrating as just as you think you are at the end of a story another one cuts into it and you have to wait. And the stories end up so separated from their endings it's hard to get a sense of completeness. But it leads to some complex interlinking of the stories and characters, even if it is hard to keep track sometimes. I enjoyed all the stories and the touches of well known fairy tales among the ones unique to the book, but I still had a disquieting sense that nothing had really been tied up in a satisfying way. And of course the top level story - the story in the night garden of the title - isn't finished at all, and goes on into a second novel.
Still, I enjoyed the stories very much. I loved the fearlessly indulgent descriptions and the deep colours and fragrances they invoked. It's a book full of midnight blue and indigo and sandalwood and cinnamon. The monsters are inventive and stereotypes are handily avoided. There are also a plethora of strong female characters of all sorts of shapes and sizes (and male too, but I guess I am used to, in my limited reading of fantasy, an overindulgence of male characters with only a few whispy girls). I would definitely recommend it to others who want to read a unique story with beautifully painted settings, as long as they weren't too confused by watching Inception as otherwise they might have a great deal of trouble with the many levels of nested stories....more