The Croning is a perfectly horrible book, and I mean that in high compliment.
It's rare that a horror story actually scares me these days (and more'sThe Croning is a perfectly horrible book, and I mean that in high compliment.
It's rare that a horror story actually scares me these days (and more's the pity), but Barron's first novel is wrong in all the right ways, leaving behind a caul of unease, and a wicked dose of the cosmic heebie-jeebies. (I'm thrilled to admit that when I finished it last night, I left the lights on.) Also? Un-put-downable. The Croning sustains the poisonous adrenaline level of one of Barron's short stories over almost 250 pages; once you open the cover you are done for. But the faint-of-heart be warned: this is a seriously dark and unpleasant ride, with a sucking black hole where some might prefer redemptive resolution.
With each tautly descriptive and hallucinogenic page, the dread level ratchets up another notch, for both the reader and our "hero" Don Miller. Don, a former geologist and cave-expert now in his early 80s, has recently come to suspect that his notoriously unreliable memory is finally going for good. As Don settles into uneasy retirement in his wife's ancestral family home in the woods of the Pacific Northwest, he reviews his apparently charmed life: moderate wealth, adventurous travel, family and a 50-plus-year marriage with love of his life, the still-vivacious -- and still-successful -- archaeologist Michelle Mock.
But there is something wrong. Don feels a creeping dread about the house and the Mock family's mysterious history, as well as Michelle's long absences, unreliable itineraries, and violent mood swings. Now, Don's fears begin to coalesce into a pattern of nagging inconsistencies and memory-repression so terrifying as to indeed resemble dementia. This challenging timeline structure leaps back and forth across more than half a century of Don's life, methodically revealing the horrors that have been conspiratorially hidden from him until now, and unveiling the truly nightmarish source of Don's dis-ease -- his brushes with a cthonic cult that has flourished from before the dawn of time, and demands unimaginable sacrifice from its chosen acolytes.
In The Croning, Barron has fleshed out the rumors of "Old Leech" and his minions, who have appeared in certain of his short stories, creating an ancient and bloodthirsty mythology of Lovecraftian scale, but with a stench of cosmic horror that is entirely his own. It's sick, but I want more.
Loved, loved, loved The Night Circus, which is as utterly enchanting as the spectacle it is named for. A wondrous fairy-tale of magic, secrecy and stLoved, loved, loved The Night Circus, which is as utterly enchanting as the spectacle it is named for. A wondrous fairy-tale of magic, secrecy and star-crossed love, set against the backdrop of dueling sorcerers, and a very special fin-de-siecle traveling circus.
I don't want to say more for fear of ruining the beautiful surprises in store for potential readers. This is the first book in a long time I wanted to start over the minute I finished. Truthfully, I want to move into the world Morgenstern has created, and never, ever leave. A masterpiece of weird and wonderful. ...more
The Scar is the second book set in China Mieville’s enormous and species-diverse world of Bas-Lag, and while it might help for readers to be familiarThe Scar is the second book set in China Mieville’s enormous and species-diverse world of Bas-Lag, and while it might help for readers to be familiar with its predecessor Perdido Street Station, it's not strictly necessary, as this is not strictly a sequel. It's enough to know that as the story opens our protagonist, linguist Bellis Coldwine, is fleeing her beloved city of New Crobuzan (the setting for PSS) in fear for her life. Unfortunately, Bellis has a tangential connection to the awful events that make up the narrative of PSS, and her friends and acquaintances have started disappearing in the resulting government investigation. Determined not to meet the same fate, Bellis hastily books passage working as a translator on the Terpsichoria, a ship bound for the distant colony of Nova Esperium. There she hopes to wait out the trouble, and eventually return home.
As her journey gets underway, Bellis – chilly by nature and in mourning for her lost life – remains aloof from her fellow passengers, though she acerbically records shipboard goings-on in a long, journal-like letter she means to send back to New Crobuzon at her first chance. Growing restless in the long, dull days at sea, Bellis finally strikes up a guarded friendship with Johannes Tearfly, a naturalist and fellow academic whose primary interests are in “megafauna” and exotic underwater life. She also grows curious about the hold full of "Remade" prisoners, intended to be used as labor in the new colony. (The Remade are the lowest class in New Crobuzan: usually criminals, whose punishment includes the forcible addition or alteration of body parts. These might be organic – beaks, claws, feathers, tentacles, extra human bits; or mechanical – legs replaced by steam-engine powered treads, arms replaced with tools useful in factories. The punishment generally fits the crime in some perverse way, and the possibilities are endless. In a world occupied by a multiplicity of "xenian" races, the Remade are among Mieville's darkest and most fascinating creations. But I digress.)
It's not long before Bellis is pressed into earning her passage, serving as translator in highly volatile and secret talks with New Crobuzon allies the Cray, who seem to have misplaced something large, top-secret and essential to government interests. There is clearly more going on aboard the Terpsichoria than meets the eye. When Silas Fennec, a mysterious passenger with enough clout to commandeer the ship, announces they must return to New Crobuzon immediately, Bellis is both alarmed and relieved.
And then pirates attack. Really. Just when the novel is building up a good head of espionage steam . . . pirates? Please don't let the narrative hard-left throw you – there will be many more – because now the action really begins.
Led by the mysterious and deadly swordsman Uther Doul, the pirates board the Terpsichoria and summarily execute the officers and most of the crew. The passengers, cargo and ship are then claimed for the legendary floating pirate city of Armada. (Another of Mieville's better conceits, Armada is a fully-functioning city-state, built from an endless array of ships captured over centuries, intricately refitted and lashed together. It is quite literally legendary, since the pirates of Armada leave nothing behind when they attack, and no one taken to their city has ever been allowed to leave.) The press-ganged Bellis understands her chances of getting home are now next to none.
But Bellis finds that Armada is not the lawless place she imagined: all the passengers, including the newly-freed Remade, are offered jobs and places to live. The political climate, while contentious, is relatively stable and egalitarian, consisting of several independent “ridings” in loose confederation, all overseen by a pair of mysterious leaders called The Lovers. In spite of her despair, Bellis begins working as a librarian in Armada's huge pilfered collection, and quietly getting to know her new home. But when a strange and important manuscript is discovered in the library, Bellis draws the uncomfortable attention of both Silas Fennec and Uther Doul – who serves as right hand to The Lovers. Drawn into their political machinations, her fate becomes inexorably bound with that of Armada itself.
I have given short shrift to some important aspects of this book – for example the moving subplot of Remade prisoner Tanner Sack, who finds his freedom and a modicum of redemption in his new maritime home; or the fascinating Uther Doul and his deadly quantum magic-fueled “Possibility Sword.” But to say any more (and there is so much more!) would be to deprive potential readers of the pleasure of discovering the myriad of strange beings and weird twists The Scar delivers before reaching its stunning climax. Perhaps the most astounding thing about The Scar – a novel drawing on traditions as varied as the sea-shanty and “big-fish” yarn, political thriller, quantum theory and existential horror, and influences as disparate as Lovecraft, Borges and Melville – is that all the twists, turns and wildly complex narrative threads actually add up to something truly satisfying. Mieville not only builds a world so real you can see (and possibly smell) it when you close your eyes, he also sticks the landing like a gold medalist. The more China Mieville I read, the more in awe of his disturbing and fruitful mind I become. At this moment, I’m convinced The Scar is his best work – though I have no doubt he’ll surprise me again. ...more
I can't believe it took me this long to discover China Mieville, and I can't rave enough about this book. "Perdido Street Station" is stellar and wholI can't believe it took me this long to discover China Mieville, and I can't rave enough about this book. "Perdido Street Station" is stellar and wholly original, truly literary weird fiction from a writer determined to subvert the reigning sci-fi/fantasy cliches. (In fact, Mieville has referred to Tolkien as "the wen on the arse of fantasy literature.") Nevertheless, "Perdido Street Station" is, like LotR, essentially an epic quest tale, in which a mismatched group of everyday people must face overwhelming odds to rid their world of a menace so great -- and seriously unsettling -- it might mean the end of civilization as they know it. But that's where the similarities to "traditional" fantasy end.
Like Rushdie or Dickens, Mieville revels in detail and lush descriptive language, and his city of New Crobuzon -- with its vile slums and peculiar brothels, political machinations and crime networks, artists and renegade scientists, "xenian" races and horrific "Re-made" underclass -- reflects world-building on such a massively detailed scale that by the time you've finished you feel as if you could navigate its strange streets yourself. On a few occasions -- especially as the many narrative threads start coming together and the nail-biting climax approaches -- these dense descriptive passages feel as if they are bogging down the tale, but their intrinsic beauty and alien horror are well worth the detour.
In short, I'll be reading as much Mieville as I can get my hands on, from now on....more