In this new series, away from The First Law and the lands of the North and the South, we see Joe tackling a much more traditional group of Fantasy troIn this new series, away from The First Law and the lands of the North and the South, we see Joe tackling a much more traditional group of Fantasy tropes.
Last time I reviewed Joe (for Red Country), I said at the end that, as much as I enjoyed it, I felt it was time for something different. And here we have it: a Viking-esque, young adult tale that is less gory, less sweary and yet all the more enjoyable for it. It has an Abercrombie tone, it must be said, although I’m still trying to work out what exactly I mean by that, but the writing is as tight and as dexterous as ever.
The forty chapters, generally no more than half a dozen pages each, give the novel an episodic format, but not too fragmented. The characters and their values are identifiable, and, for the most part, likeable.
Our hero, Prince Yarvi, is an outsider, initially put into a position unwanted and yet necessary by circumstances outside his control. Against opposition, he must prove his worth and show that he is capable of dealing with the many problems brought to him. ‘A king must lead’, it is pointed out early in the book.
The twist in the story is that he must do this all the while with a physical disability – he is ‘Half a King’ because he has only one fully formed and functional hand. Consequently seen by many, including his father, as a weakling, (and to my mind rather like Miles Vorkosigan before him), Yarvi has personal demons and practical issues to deal with as well as his unwanted new commitments. As his warrior credentials are weak, Yarvi must find other ways to win his battles.
Mind you, this doesn’t stop him having to follow a quest. Betrayed by the people around him, Yarvi finds himself a slave (in a rather Ben Hur type moment) yet determined to revenge the death of his father and brother. Along the way, this leads to danger and eventually retribution.
So: what we have here is a tale that has common Abercrombie themes (mainly revenge) but written in a Young Adult format (albeit one which adults should enjoy also.)
What impressed me most was that the characterisation here is good, drip-fed as it is throughout, to create an impression of a Viking-style tribal group or a proto-medieval kingdom answerable to the High King. Yarvi’s father is a rather distant and perhaps unpleasant King-figure, whilst his mother is a Queen, stately and yet also caring towards her sons. Although a world of Kings and Queens, it also has a form of government too, through the Ministers, something which ironically Yarvi had hoped to become. His mentor, Mother Gundring, is a typical ‘witch-woman’ adviser of such tales, good-hearted and yet reprimanding, a female Yoda to our hero. It is a world of change, as noted by the fact that the High King has been building a temple to his One God for years. On the seas we have sea-captains accustomed to ruling things their way. Out in the Wilds, the Shends skin captives and eat their own dead.
There are also tantalising glimpses of an ancient world, thousands of years old, dominated by the work of elves. Jointless ruined buildings, with black ‘elf-glass’ and yet melted on top (by the Breaking of God, no less) suggest that things have happened here in the past, and that our characters have but a minor place in this world by comparison. I think there’s more to be told here, and I look forward to finding out more about it.
There are subtle changes to the usual Abercrombie template here. In a normal Abercrombie tale a reliance on other characters usually leads to betrayal or at the very least a severe beating. Here, in Half A King although things do not start well, it is such loyalties that become important at the end. That’s not to say that there isn’t betrayal, and death, but I did feel that the usual emphasis has changed a little here in that there is less unremitting bleakness here, and in the end, despite all the horrors seen to that point, it is loyalty and friendship that wins through.
That’s not to say that this is an easy, softly morally-led tale. Joe does well to point out that there is death, horror and fear along the way. The fighting scenes are as well done as ever, the inner turmoil created by such actions as clearly shown as ever. Whilst such a point could be given in a rather simplistic way, I’m pleased that Joe examines these as rather grey areas through the novel, and in the end our characters do not always go for the choices that society dictates you should make, which (should it exist) is an Abercrombian trope, I feel.
Interestingly, I found that whilst the violence and death we normally expect from Joe is there (people killed in gory ways, villages massacred, children murdered), it is sometimes left a little bit more than usual to the reader’s own imagination. This actually worked better for me, my own imagination filling in the gaps.
More to the fore in this book are the issues of duty, family and friendship. It is interesting that in a place of disloyalty and betrayal Yarvi finds that, away from the courts, it is the loyalty of his friends that he must trust. His fellow slaves, Jaud and Rulf, become firm allies and people to rely upon in a world full of difficulties. He even makes friends with characters that were enemies at first, is such a way that seems unforced. In the end, despite all the trials and betrayals that have been made along the way, it is Yarvi’s loss of family and friends that is felt the most keenly.
I’m also pleased to read the typical Abercrombie humour still present, though perhaps not as explicitly adult as previous novels have been. (Though, personally, I could have survived without the liberal use of the word ‘arse’ throughout.)
The ending has a great reveal, that I’m not going to spoil by telling you now. Suffice it to say that it is surprising and fitting.
In summary, I enjoyed this enormously. The book grabbed me from the off and Joe’s illustrative yet tight prose meant I was then keen to keep the pages turning. It’s a quick read, yet one that will leave you wanting the next book soon. Don’t be put off by the young adult tag that seems to be appearing in places, and to which some readers seem to be worried by (including members at the SFFWorld forums). This is as skilful and as enjoyable a read as any Abercrombie I’ve read to date, and often much subtler. Sometimes less is more. It is different for Joe, but not that different, and to my mind that’s not a bad thing.
Just don’t give younger readers The First Law series as an immediate follow-up!...more
Here I return to The Long Earth series by Messr’s Pratchett and Baxter. The Long War is the second book in this series, which moves forward from the fHere I return to The Long Earth series by Messr’s Pratchett and Baxter. The Long War is the second book in this series, which moves forward from the first twenty five years or so to the next generation of Steppers – those who travel between millions of parallel Earths. If The Long Earth set out the worlds to be discovered, The Long War looks at what happens next – when colonies become settled, new species are met, technology develops and trade becomes established and tensions increase.
After the setting off of nuclear weapons on the original Earth (referred to as Datum Earth) by the non-stepping Humanity First sub-group (summarised at one point as ‘a dumb plot by resentful home-alones’), things initially settle down to some degree of stability. The fledgling network between the Stepped worlds consolidates and becomes more robust.
A new network hub has been established. Called Valhalla, it is the link between Datum Earth, the Low Earths and the Meggers – the Long Earths over a million away from Datum. Supported by Combers – hunter gatherers who travel across the stepwise Earths – the settlement is rapidly becoming a place where those who want a new life without the hardship of farming can reside. Supplied by twains, the airships that can travel across the worlds, the place is flourishing.
Such developments are not well-received by Datum Earth. Losing its population and gaining little in return, the people there have begun to try and impose some degree of authority over the sidestepped worlds, whether out on the Long Earths or on the Datum World itself. As one character puts it, ‘The Datum’s become a world full of paranoids, run by paranoids.’ The pioneers are portrayed as slackers. With such a viewpoint it is perhaps no wonder that the newly-developed Stepped cultures grow increasingly less happy with their relationship to the older Datum Earth. Taxes and rules brought in by the Datum American Aegis government, to exist across all Americas, Stepped or otherwise, are a growing cause of friction to those who become increasingly disassociated with the home-world. The use of the sentient and rather gentle humanoid ‘trolls’ as experiments or as servants becomes an issue too.
As the colonisation continues, we also meet others from the wider world outside Datum America – Captain Maggie Kaufman, Captain of the dirigible, the USS Benjamin Franklin. Kaufman is sent on a mission to raise awareness of the power of the USA across the Long Earth, in a form of meet and greet. Lobsang introduces us to another ally, Nelson Azikiwe, who as the book progresses is clearly going to play an as yet undetermined part in safeguarding Lobsang’s future. Roberta Golding is a gifted, if rather remote, student given a scholarship as a gesture of good will between the American Datum government and the Chinese government to twenty million earths from the Datum. On these travels we go to new worlds and meet new alien creatures evolved in different ways from the Datum, some of which are fascinating.
And, of course, outside this we have the ubiquitous Black Corporation and its leader Douglas Black, spreading its influence and technology across the Long Earth. There is clearly a wider strategy at work here and tantalising hints of bigger things are dropped in throughout, but are not fully realised here.
A number of separate events, seemingly unconnected, become multiple causes for crisis across the Long Earth. War is brewing, a war that could spread across the Long Earth. And then the trolls begin to disappear from the Earths. Lobsang, the AI first met in Book One, asks Joshua and Sally Linsay, his super-stepper travellers from the first novel, to help sort out the problems. But it is clear that things are changing.
Though we meet characters from the first novel, the scope of the plot here widens to the next generation of characters. Much of the initial part of The Long War is centred around Joshua Valiente, and his wife, Helen, who we first met as teenager Helen Green in The Long Earth, and his young son, Dan. As part of the next generation, Helen is left to carry on daily life whilst Joshua tries to help Lobsang work out some of the changes happening across the Long Earths.
If the first book was trailblazing, then this second book is more akin to the colonisation of America and its Civil War. Things are starting to move plot-wise. Here we are firmly echoing the evolution of our United States’ history, but spread over millions of Earths. To add to this, we have the concepts of the Long Earths themselves. There were moments in the first book that were pure travelogue, and much of this continues in Book Two. Fans of Baxter’s SF will appreciate the sense of wonder that these create. It’s a bold, breath-taking idea, if not always sympathetic to the dramatic changes such a birth creates.
I enjoyed this one more than the first book. It reads like an alternate History novel, Harry Turtledove style, but with added breadth (across multiple worlds) and perhaps even depth. The use of airships as the main means of travelling en-masse across the worlds is continued from the first novel and gives the book, at times, a steampunk/frontier-type feel.
The characterisation is as the first. The emphasis is on a variety of different people, who we get to know more about but never really get to analyse in great detail. This can mean that there are times when the book initially teeters on the edge of turning into Little House on the Prairie (something which, to their credit, the writers gleefully acknowledge at one point in the novel) and there are moments that wouldn’t be remiss from Star Trek (again, something which, to their credit, the writers acknowledge at one point in the novel), but the events towards the end of the novel transcend into something rather Olaf Stapledon-ish in their broad scale and range, something which Arthur C. Clarke would admire.
Once again the strengths of each of the two writers are combined in such a way that it is difficult to separate them. I could hazard a guess that the planetary romance is Baxter’s and the humour is Pratchett’s, but to be honest, I could be wrong and in the end it doesn’t really matter.
The actual ending is similar to that of The Long Earth, although the actual outcome is different and actually rather more positive than I thought it would be based on what has happened previously. It can perhaps be said that one of the central themes of this novel is that humans can learn from their previous mistakes and although there are still things to improve on, there is a hope that suggests the human race can do better.
In summary, The Long War is as good as I had hoped for. You may need to read the first novel before understanding some of the events and characters herein, yet in the end, this is another great page-turner.
There are hints here as to where the third book, due June 2014 and named The Long Mars, will go. I can’t wait to see how this entertaining series will unfold....more
In The Devil’s Ark, Stephen Bywater’s debut novel, we have a novel that is about ancient horrors resurfacing to frighten the living.
Set mainly in theIn The Devil’s Ark, Stephen Bywater’s debut novel, we have a novel that is about ancient horrors resurfacing to frighten the living.
Set mainly in the 1920’s, the story tells of Harry Ward, a photographer working in Iraq/Mesopotamia. Still affected by his fighting and his injuries there in The Great War, he takes on what should be a relatively simple job – to take photographs of an archaeological dig just outside Mosul.
Whilst Harry originally returns to the country to gain some kind of redemptive closure, what he finds there actually achieves the opposite. As the dig progresses, it becomes clear that what is being uncovered is Nineveh, an ancient Sumerian temple, one buried on purpose and which should have been left hidden. And when previously-entombed horrors are unleashed, Harry finds himself in fear of his life.
Whilst the plot may not be particularly new, The Devil’s Ark is a great fun read. Sometimes you can be happy knowing what sort of thing to expect in a read and here in The Devil’s Ark the reader is not disappointed. Like a good Hammer Horror movie or a Weird Tales magazine story, the fun here is not in the actual events as they happen but in the telling.
This is a good debut. Stephen manages to set up the tale well, evoking images of an ancient Empire, lying redolent in desert heat, whilst an even older evil is awakened. Along the way there’s some nice details of the history of the Sumerians, the Assyrians and the Babylonians, an idea of the difficulties in setting up archaeological digs and a smidgeon of biblical foretelling that set the scene nicely and give the situation a pleasing semblance of reality. Like the Valley of the Kings in Egypt, there’s a real feeling of ancient history here to look at, and Stephen does well to use these as a provocative setting.
The expedition though is a rather strange mixed bunch, it must be said. There’s a jovial Russian named Stanislav who can decipher the ancient Sumerian writing who becomes an ally for Harry whilst their group leader, Tilden, is rather cantankerous. Such a situation does not bode well. Tilden’s wife as the novel progresses has a nervous breakdown. Harry has an affair with one of the wives, which doesn’t help, especially when the woman then goes missing. As the reader will rather expect, by the end of the novel there’s quite a high body count.
The nature of the ancient Sumerian succubae, means that, yes, there’s an element of sex involved as they prey upon the men of the expedition. The physical embodiment of the evil spirits are remarkably well done in they are clearly other-worldly and defiantly evil. Harry himself finds coming to terms with the supernatural difficult, at a time when much of the world generally is trying to come to terms with the real horrors of WW1 trench warfare.
The effects of this traumatic time in history means that, at times, Harry is unclear whether the events are real or as a result of his unsettled mind, and the author does well to maintain this idea with the reader that it could all be just happening in Harry’s head as he experiences some kind of mental post-traumatic breakdown. It is clear that the site and its guardians have an effect on the others in the party as well.
Where these stories normally fall down is in their ending: once ‘the thing’ has been unleashed, how do you contain it/kill it/dispose of it? That part of the tale is a little bit deflected, but the ending has a nice little twist I wasn’t expecting, which gave a pleasing degree of enigmatic ambiguity to the proceedings.
In summary, The Devil’s Ark delivers what the reader hopes it will do when they start. It is a nicely written and surprisingly scary tale that might just get you looking in those dark corners of the room whilst you’re reading....more
So: what to make of this large tome of science-fictional romp? Stephen shows both his love of the genre and that he can write a page-turner, albeit wiSo: what to make of this large tome of science-fictional romp? Stephen shows both his love of the genre and that he can write a page-turner, albeit with some stutters along the way.
In Dark Service is a tale that happily mixes up historical precedence with science-fictional steampunk technology, throws in a dash of sword and sorcery Fantasy and then finishes with a flourish and a nod to the pulp fiction of Flash Gordon and the Golden Age.
It is good to read of a world that is a bit more than the usual setting, and I liked the point that one of the key features of this novel is the planet itself. The sheer size of Pellas reminded me of Dune’s Arrakis or even Jack Vance’s Big Planet in its scale. By building a world too big to traverse in your lifetime, this also creates an enormous blank canvas upon which the cast (and the writer) can play. As in the best planetary romances, Pellas is filled with different places and settings, groups and societies, all a little beyond the usual. There’s glimpses of an intriguing backstory too that suggests that Pellas has a long history. I am hoping that much of this will develop further as the tale expands.
However, being the first part of a trilogy, it does take its time setting up in this one. In the beginning, all is rather Gone with the Wind as we are introduced to the two key families in this generational tale. The Carnehans – Father (both actual and religious) Jacob Carnehan, wayward librarian son, Carter, and wife Mary introduce us to the bucolic lifestyle of Northhaven in the Kingdom of Weyland. There too are the second of our main families, the rich land-owning family of Benner Landor, his (also wayward) son, Duncan, daughter Willow and Duncan’s beau, Adella Cheyenne.
So far, so idyllistic. It doesn’t take long though before this is upturned by the arrival of Vanadian sky-pirates, who attack the village and capture many of them for slaves.
Jacob, with the finances of Benner and the help of local constable Wiggins set off in pursuit, determined to recapture the hostages. Alien gask Khow, whose son Kerge has also been captured, also goes along having an ability to somehow track his son.
However, the world of Pellas is so vast that they lose pace and the slaves end up thousands of miles away working as slaves for the Vanadians, eking a barely subsistence lifestyle as slave miners and under constant threat of death mining valuable minerals from stratovolcanic ejecta. Here the Princess Helrena and her young daughter Cassandra rule a strict slave society which the villagers find difficult to adjust to.
Much of this plot so far takes up the first two-thirds of the book. After quite a brisk start, it must be said that the middle part of the book suffers a little as we find our heroes try to travel/escape. Repetitive misery does little to project the tale forward, though we do get glimpses of a wider, more technological world – strange menhirs, Vandis, the capital city of the Vandians and their Empire.
By contrast to the idyllic Southern gentility of Northhaven, the Empire of the Vanadians seems to be based on a rather Romanesque emperor model. We discover that the sky-pirates are part of a complex and harsh society, where people’s positions of power are always under threat, rather like the Roman political system. The captive slaves are the bottom of this social structure, used to mine stratovolcanic ejecta in order to obtain rare elements otherwise unobtainable (I am resisting the urge to type ‘unobtainium’ here, though the idea’s tempting.) It is the trade in such minerals that keep the forever-quarrelling political factions of the Vandians cooperating with each other, albeit reluctantly.
Nevertheless, when things finally kick off properly, the ending is a rip-roaring blast and soon picks up the momentum that was threatened to be lost in the middle.
In Dark Places is an enjoyable book that should be applauded for its attempt to mix genres up a little into something a little different, even if, in places, the actual execution can be variable. Some readers may find its execution rather frustrating in that for every point of brilliance there is a counterbalancing clunk (see the ‘that’s what we call… a tank’ speech).
There were aspects of the novel that were a little less convincing, once I thought more about it. I felt that a world this size that has few resources to speak of, having had all its resources extracted from the rocks felt rather implausible, to my mind. Similarly, for a society that has rockets and can use antigravity, there must be easier or more efficient ways to extract resources than the methods shown here – off planet, if not on.
Some of the other events that occur also show missteps in places, all of which threatened to draw the reader out of the narrative. Of the most important, the characterisation was most variable. Some of the characterisation is rather clichéd and basic, if not bordering on the sketchy. Some of their actions are also ineffectual, if not just plain dumb. For example, I was not convinced that two of our characters would spend their time brawling with each other, even whilst under alien restraint, although movies like Flash Gordon (1980) may prove me wrong. Alternatively the character of hobo-esque Sariel is an intriguing one, and one I’d like to read more about.
There’s also the issue of the nature of coincidence, which can happen often – rather too often – for some reader’s liking. On such a large and complex world the chances of some of the events happening are mind-boggling statistically, although I’m sure the mathematically-minded Gask would appreciate it.
Nevertheless, on balance, the energy and scale of the work outweighed the dingbats. There’s a lot here to like. Despite my reservations, I enjoyed it on the whole as a rather pleasing homage to 1930’s pulp-fiction. It’s not perfect, but there’s enough here to like to continue with the series....more
This is something a little different. Peter F. Hamilton, he of the Reality Dysfunction and the Void series, mega-sized tomes of SF space opera, has wrThis is something a little different. Peter F. Hamilton, he of the Reality Dysfunction and the Void series, mega-sized tomes of SF space opera, has written this Young Adult Fantasy tale.
And it is different, which is presumably why the book is by Peter Hamilton, in an Iain M Banks/Iain Banks type move intended to differentiate the author’s work.
The plot is briefly summarised as follows: Agatha (Taggie) and Jemima Paganuzzi are two young sisters who go on holiday to their divorced father’s farm, Orchard Cottage, for the summer vacation. As they are settling in, the appearance of a white bespectacled squirrel seems a little unusual. Things turn stranger when they find the squirrel talks and then their dad is kidnapped down the garden well by some evil creatures doing another’s bidding… and it becomes clear that Taggie, Jemima and Felix (the aforementioned squirrel) are the ones to rescue him…
The book is fast-moving, lovingly written and clearly designed for an audience that… well, isn’t me.
However, if I was, say, a 7-12-year old girl, I suspect they would love it. The energy and frenetic pace keep the pages turning, even when the tale veers into the decidedly twee, (and I’m thinking of, as an example, the point where there is the enrolment of a certain Princess Elizabeth Windsor in 1940’s Blitz-hit London.) Generally though there’s enough charm and verve to carry the story forward over the odd bump.
As an older reader, personally I had a lot of fun spotting homages throughout the book: there’s a white squirrel wearing glasses rather like Lewis Carroll’s White Rabbit, a turtle transport a little reminiscent of My Neighbour Totoro’s cat-bus, ‘gates’ that transport you – Narnia like – to other places, both in other realms as well as in the past, and a Queen that was felt to be a little Oz-like (or even Narnia-like). Being Peter F Hamilton, as well as Peter Hamilton, there’s even a little TARDIS-like time travel in the mix.
In the tradition of John Masefield’s The Box of Delights or perhaps E Nesbit’s The Railway Children, or even CS Lewis’ Narnia, the book is stridently British. I’m not quite sure how that will travel elsewhere in these global times, but the book’s place and time should be quite recognisable to many young pre-teenagers in the UK. Taggie and her sister Jemima are good, well-meaning and honourable characters that I could see many young girls being able to identify with. In the same way, the bad guys (and gals) are pleasingly boo-able.
The book throughout is filled with illustrations by Adam Stower, which add to the book rather like Quentin Blake’s drawings in Roald Dahl’s books, and which help the younger reader imagine the proceedings and the characters as the story unfolds. The cover’s an indication of his work.
And there’s a lovely character summary with those drawings at the back.
In summary, the Queen of Dreams is a good old-fashioned, yet contemporary Fantasy tale that wears its influences well and creates a rattlingly good adventure tale for wannabe princesses in the 21st century, providing you don’t think about it too deeply. I suspect that for anyone of a certain age, the story will be a book of wonders and that it will generate lots of cries of ‘just-one-more-chapter’ as it is being read out loud. There are some quite scary parts, but in the end and, as a good children’s tale should be, pretty much all’s well that ends well by its denouement (although there will be more in this series.
Good fun, but clearly for a particular reader and not for everyone. A good case of a writer broadening his usual repertoire....more
The subtitle of this book is ‘Re-reading the Classics of Science Fiction & Fantasy’, which could be where we leave this review as it summarises JoThe subtitle of this book is ‘Re-reading the Classics of Science Fiction & Fantasy’, which could be where we leave this review as it summarises Jo’s book nicely. In short, What Makes This Book So Great is a selected collection (about a fifth of her total output) of Jo’s blog posts on the Tor.com website. As such, they are an interesting take on the genre from the perspective of the 21st century.
The posts are here in chronological order, from July 15 2008 to February 25 2011, 129 reviews in total. The 130th essay is written for this book, an examination of the conversation of the term ‘literary criticism’ and whether Jo classes herself as a ‘critic’. There is also an introduction especially written in July 2011 for this book version.
Most of the comments are fairly short, three pages or so. The style is, as Jo says in her Introduction, ‘inherently conversational and interactive – they were written in dialogue with each other and also with the people reading and commenting’. So sometimes they do connect with each other, or mention ideas already mentioned in earlier posts.
It’s not a bad selection. I have a feeling that readers will want to go read more on the website once they’ve finished here.
Of the selection here, there’s a lot of fun to be had. The first essay sets out the stall with the title ‘Why I Re-read’. It makes a good case for re-reading, and I found myself pretty much agreeing with what was said. The idea of the joy and perils of re-reading pops up in a couple of places elsewhere in the collection, as Jo explains ‘The Suck Fairy’ (what happens when you re-read an old favourite and it doesn’t quite match what you remembered) and the re-readability factor, when sometimes you just have to reread an old favourite, as a guilty pleasure, despite the wealth of riches out there.
The book is peppered with such ideas throughout: whether you should skim books, whether swearing in genre books is a good idea or not, why the anticipation of an unfinished series is sometimes a joy, or indeed why you should enjoy the feeling you can get when you start the first of what will be a long series, or the first of an author’s lengthy body of works. There’s even a case put forward to re-read books you didn’t like.
Whilst not all the reviews here are re-reads, many of the reviews made me want to go and read the books again: from Issac Asimov’s The End of Eternity to Arthur C Clarke’s Against the Fall of Night, from Heinlein’s dystopic juveniles (which I’m in the process of re-reading through) to John M. Ford’s The Dragon Waiting.
It’s also a highly personal selection. It’s obvious Jo has favourites – much of Robert Heinlein’s work, the Lois McMaster Bujold Vorkosigan books, Steven Brust’s series all appear repeatedly here. However, what makes these essays work is that the comments are not the gushing, totally awestruck ramblings of a fangirl – indeed, at times, they are quite cutting – but they are always thoughtful, generally insightful and usually well considered. They are, in summary, the sort of comments that you can only make when you’ve been reading this stuff for years.
Whilst Jo is clear on her personal likes and dislikes, she is quite happy to disclose the relative randomness of her likes and dislikes – she loves George RR Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series (or at least up to book four), but hasn’t read past the first book of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, for example, all of which add to the fun of the book. There’s even the odd non-genre book – George Eliot’s fictional Middlemarch, (although its relevance to SF and Fantasy here is explained) and Francis Spufford’s non-fictional Backroom Boys, about the clandestine development of Atomic Age aircraft in the 1950’s, which were, no doubt, the inspiration for many a space rocket in the 1950’s and 60’s.
There’s much to enjoy here, but what I think I enjoyed most were the books that I haven’t read, but am going to now, based on these recommendations – Constantine Fitzgibbon’s When the Kissing Had to Stop, John M. Ford’s Growing Up Weightless. Neither of these I had heard of before this book, but both of which I will now search out (when I’ve finished re-reading these other books first…)
On the negative side, an index of some sort would have been useful for referencing, something which would have made writing this review easier! There are also parts of Jo’s blog I’d have like to have seen here – her critical summary of each year’s Hugo Awards nominees and winners, for example, even when I haven’t always agreed with her choices – but I guess there’s room here for another later edition – a What Makes These Books Also Great, if you like.
And they are still all online (for the moment, at least).
In summary, this is a nicely eclectic, well considered essay collection that a reader can spend a few hours dipping into and following up on. It’s a great primer for someone who wants to know why we like SF & Fantasy, as well as provide books to try. It should lead the reader to many happy discoveries, or at least return to old favourites....more
Boy, did I get this one wrong. You see, I’ve passed this one by, more than once, and I only have myself to blame.
With a series title, Confluence, as wBoy, did I get this one wrong. You see, I’ve passed this one by, more than once, and I only have myself to blame.
With a series title, Confluence, as well as the title of this first book, Child of the River, it just did not make me think that it was SF. Even when I took a cursory glance at the plot synopsis, it made me think that it was more about gods, prophecies and some sort of mystic pantheon rather than SF. And to me, Paul, winner of the Arthur C Clarke Award, is ‘an SF writer’, and often towards the hard end of the spectrum. Anyone who has read his Quiet War series – that’s what I think of when I think of Paul’s writing. Not a book seemingly about a river.
Like I said, I was wrong. This is clearly one where my own preconceptions steered me wrong: I did the thing I know I shouldn’t do. The title made me assume things I shouldn’t. Now having read it, I must admit that there is a superficial similarity to what I expected, but Child of the River is much, much more than what I thought it was going to be.
Child of the River tells the tale of Yamamanama, a young boy originally floating down the Great River with his dead mother. His origin is a mystery, but he is taken in and brought up by the Aedile of Aeolis, a local clerk. A mysterious stranger and an attempted kidnapping show Yama that he may be important, for reasons that he does not know. He decides that he needs to find out more of his background and uncover the answers to his mysterious past.
Part of this discovery involves Yama experiencing more of the world that he lives in. Much of the book is about this journey. Confluence, with its complex melange of cultures, races and backgrounds, is wonderfully detailed. It rather reminded me of Silverberg’s Lord Valentine’s Castle. With much of its history so long ago much has been forgotten, rather like in Silverberg’s Majipoor novels. There’s even a touch of Chad Oliver, widely regarded as one of the key writers of anthropological SF in the 1950’s, in its depiction of alien races and their cultures.
As Child of the River progresses we discover that whilst its inhabitants live a life that seems rather medieval-Fantasy-like, there is a secret world, an ancient history of technology and artificiality that keeps things going on this artificial world. Here we are witnessing the decline of a civilisation, rather like Asimov’s Galactic Foundation or Peter Hamilton’s Void series (the Edeard sections), where a more primitive society exists than we expect in a science-fictional future. The backstory becomes more science-fictional as we continue to read. Long ago, The Preservers shaped over one hundred different bloodlines before ‘withdrawing their blessing’ in the Age of Insurrection, where these bloodlines overpowered the avataristic machines and issued in a new era of technological decline, in a way reminiscent of Dune’s Butlerian Jehad.
The world has the remnants of ancient technology in antique artefacts and often excavated in the necropolis where, on this world, the dead outnumber the living. The Preservers have now been deified as a religion, with people like Yama’s boyhood friend Ananda being trained in theology from early childhood.
Not all of the ancient artefacts are friendly. Some are revered without knowing why, which made me rather think of AE van Vogt’s Empire of the Atom, where nuclear power and its workers had been elevated to a religion, and even Arthur C Clarke’s The City and the Stars (one of my favourite novels) which combines a lengthy ancient history with a decaying present-day technology, albeit in our future.
I’m sure that all of these hints of pasts and futures are deliberate on the part of Paul. Child of the River is a book that intentionally works on so many levels. At its simplest, it is a rite of passage novel, as we discover Yama’s rather mysterious past and potential future. His journeys around the world, along the river and through the vast necropolis to the city of Ys downstream are both a physical travelogue and a social development. The rivers itself runs through everything, as a visible metaphor for life. In a rather Dickensian twist, Yama discovers secrets as he attempts to uncover the origins of his mysterious background. Yama discovers that he can control some of these old relics, a most unusual talent. This is because he is the only genetic link between the planet’s present population and the ancient Builders, the ones who created all that they see for the Preservers. This makes him a valuable asset that others would love to obtain, although exactly why is still not clear at the end of the novel, although it is clear that his destiny has a number of possibilities.
The ending leads to revelations and further mysteries, with a rather precipitous cliff-hanger ending. Luckily, the second book, Ancients of Days, is on the next page of this omnibus edition.
In short, Child of the River is a brilliantly revelatory book that, like me, you may have missed before. It’s world-building is terrific and its plot reveals more as you read to keep the reader engaged. It is most definitely worthy of your attention: I’m kicking myself for not getting to it sooner, but am so pleased that Gollancz have published it in a hefty new omnibus edition*: I can’t wait to read the next book in the trilogy…
The world of the Renaissance is an area that may be rather underused in Fantasy fiction. Authors tend to go for the medieval-esque Tolkien-lite, whenThe world of the Renaissance is an area that may be rather underused in Fantasy fiction. Authors tend to go for the medieval-esque Tolkien-lite, when really there’s a lot to work with here.
Den has chosen his inspiration wisely. This is a rollicking tale of feuding families, vendettas, politics, deception and rivalry set in a baroque world of gothic architecture and horror. More than enough material for any Fantasy novel!
As we begin the book Landfall is a place in turmoil. The King is clearly insane and so the world is run by people to whom corruption is second-nature. Our main protagonist in this story is Lucien de Fontein, a child of privilege, born into one of the Kingdom of Landfall’s wealthiest families. Although he is an Orfano (some sort of royal bastard child) he has certain benefits. He is nannied, educated and trained to use a porcelain sword in fighting, at which he has some skill.
In addition to this, the talented yet rather aloof Lucien has to deal with the complexities of the Italianate world with a deformity that makes him instantly recognisable: he has no visible ears, although he has hearing, which frightens his peers and earns him considerable embarrassment. His hearing is good enough to hear the constant taunts and comments made about him behind his back.
The plot is mainly about Lucien’s coming of age, written in a style that flitters between the present and the past. Most of his early life, rather like Titus Groan’s in Gormenghast, is centred on one place, in Lucien’s case the city state of Demesne. Here we see Lucien grow and become increasingly independent. He finds himself having to defend himself against some Orfano and ally himself with others, finds himself at odds with some of his tutors and befriends others. In the end he uncovers a grisly mystery, and secrets about his past and his heritage that have been hidden from others for a long time…
Fantasy readers will recognise many aspects of The Boy wth the Porcelain Blade. What Den has done here is meld recognisable characteristics into his own vision. The world of Landfall is a small yet perfectly formed one, evoking images of Tad Williams’ Osten Ard and Peake’s Gormenghast, something which Den in his interview at SFFWorld has said is an influence. Lucien’s childhood experiences around the Houses of Prospero, Fontein, Contradino and Erudito evoke images of Scott Lynch’s Locke Lamora. The world of Landfall echoes aspects of the Renaissance with its Houses and social manoeuvring, with its societal structure, of Kings, lords and ladies and servants, creating some sort of baroque feudal-esque construction.
The buildings of Demesne, where most of the book takes place, is a sprawling Gothic landscape with dark shadows, gargoyles and horrors galore.
Although the setting is wonderful. most of all The Boy with the Porcelain Blade is a book about its characters. Lucien is a gifted outsider, a person whose appearance and social standing force him to be independent. He endures many things: bullying on the part of his stern tutors, ostracism from his peers, sarcasm from many others. This creates a melancholic loneliness which pervades much of the early part of the novel. And yet his endurance of these many trials is something that we admire, and ultimately are won over by. In a world of snobbery and perceived privilege, Lucien does try to do the right thing, even when it means considerable hurt to himself. I defy anyone reading this not to be rooting for Lucien by the end.
By comparison, his friends, loves and enemies are not as well developed as Lucien, yet there are subtle moments of pathos and joy that make this an interesting place to be in.
Although there are a couple of slight contrivances along the way which didn’t work too well for me, generally the novel was original enough and exciting enough to keep the pages turning. I was especially pleased when things did not always become what the reader might expect, and there’s a definite ‘what-happens-next?’ feeling at the end.
The Boy with the Porcelain Blade is a rich and satisfying novel, and a surprisingly assured novel from this relatively new writer. I enjoyed it a lot and look forward to more books in this series....more
Subtitled ‘A Novel of Alternative History’, this is a novel expanded from a story, ‘Goddard’s People’, published in Asimov’s Magazine in 1991. It is aSubtitled ‘A Novel of Alternative History’, this is a novel expanded from a story, ‘Goddard’s People’, published in Asimov’s Magazine in 1991. It is a novel that reinforces the ‘what-if’, and allows the reader to imagine what might have happened with space rockets had events taken a different turn.
It is a tale that is strong on wish-fulfilment in a world where the Space Race of our 1950’s was actually begun in the 1940’s. In this version of our history, during the Second World War, the Germans, with defeat beginning to be an option, realise that desperate measures are necessary. A proposal is made to Adolf Hitler for the building of a sub-orbital super bomber, partly because the Americans are allegedly already designing one (a false rumour) and partly because such a weapon would put New York under threat, should the need arise. German rocket scientist Wernher von Braun is given the task of creating such a weapon, the Silbervogel, at Peenemunde.
Underground resistance discovers this information and relays it, at great cost, to the Allies. The US President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, fearing another Pearl Harbour-like event, decides that such a weapon is a risk to the American homeland and persuades American rocket scientist Robert H. Goddard to put effort into the development of an American counter-weapon – a rocket that could knock out the German bomber before it would have had chance to release its bomb load.
Of course the great fun with such a novel is that unravelling of what is real and what was almost-real: there were plans for such weapons created, although fortunately the War finished before they were developed.
Here Allen mixes up fictional events with real people. Most of the story is based around the two main scientists of this Space Race. The German rocket scientist Wernher von Braun is dealt with quite compassionately, as a boffin constantly under scrutiny, torn between continuing his rocket research with the fact that his research can only be continued under Nazi supervision and with Nazi funding. His situation is in contrast to his counterpart, Robert Goddard, who is presented much more sympathetically, working with friends and allies. Where Goddard’s team are enthusiastically determined to defend the homeland, expand knowledge and understanding, von Braun’s drive is more to do with fear and the repercussions of what would happen to him personally if he failed.
Of the other real-life characters, Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler, Hermann Goering and Roosevelt are much simpler and a little two-dimensional, but they are perhaps well known enough not to need too much development beyond the basic. The appearance of author Ian Fleming as a Commando Naval Intelligence operative is a little far-fetched (although it is true that the author did work for Naval Intelligence in our WW2) with a line that it a little groan-worthy.
The middle part of the book deals with the ultra-secret 390 Group, assembled at Goddard’s university in Worcester in order to create the X1 counterweapon. A more congenial group of nerds you are unlikely to meet outside of The Big Bang Theory. They are all likeable guys, involved in work for the war effort in a way reminiscent of Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein and L. Sprague de Camp on their war years’ sabbaticals at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. Here the 390 Group gang deal with attempted assassination, first love and reclusive behaviour, all for the sake of national security.
The book’s ending is where the race between the Germans and the Americans to create their weapon is accelerated, each believing the other ahead. I read the last few pages with great speed as the tension mounted. There’s a lot of tying up at the end in fairly few paragraphs yet the general feeling at the end is one of satisfaction.
In contrast, there is a melancholic note running through the book where the remaining space oldsters meet together in 2013 to reminisce with families about what they did and why, knowing that this is one of the few remaining times they will ever get the chance to do so. In a conclusion (rather different to our reality) the point is made and highlighted that our development into space was effectively squandered in peacetime. It’s a sobering point that could be made by NASA/Soviet astronauts today, perhaps.
Yet in the end V-S Day (the title never explained but presumably a pun on V-J Day) is an entertaining novel that shows how exciting space exploration was at the cutting edge of development seventy years ago and also reminds the reader (should they have forgotten) of the potential of space flight, of the human need to explore and expand. It makes the reader examine why, as a race, we need to travel into space and why our commitment to it is so important. It reminds us of why we wanted to be ‘out there’ in the first place, not just for world domination but for future generations to expand into.
It’s not the longest novel, nor the deepest, particularly. But if you are a fan of all those 1950’s SF movies, with their rocket-sleds and their silver Hugo Award shaped ships, (like I am) this is a searing blast of ‘what if’. I enjoyed it a lot....more
As we approach the end of the year, we get another behemoth collection from the Vandermeers and Head of Zeus. After 2011′s The Weird, which deservedlyAs we approach the end of the year, we get another behemoth collection from the Vandermeers and Head of Zeus. After 2011′s The Weird, which deservedly won awards, and last year’s Zombies! in 2013 we get The Time Traveller’s Almanac. (Or at least we do here in the UK: US readers will have to travel a little further in time until March 2014 for their copies.)
There are many collections of time travel stories out there. This one is claimed to be the biggest, and, as I’m sure many reviews will say, this is a huge book. 800+ pages of fairly small print, with over sixty authors and over one hundred stories. There’s certainly a range here.
This size is both a blessing and a curse. As a result of its size I found that it’s a book that has to be dipped into in stages, rather than try and read in one go. To help – and as the subtitle above will tell you- there is an overall connecting theme, which I liked – that this is a book brought to us from time-travellers in the future, from 2150. To further help the reader gain a grasp of this nebulous ‘timey-wimey’ concept (to paraphrase Doctor Who), the book is divided into broad sections – Experiments, Reactionaries and Revolutionaries, Mazes and Traps, and Communiques.
The first section, Experiments, features stories in which people are experimenting with time travel or are subjects of experimentation, Reactionaries and Revolutionaries is stories where people try to protect the past, Mazes and Traps are tales where time paradoxes are prevalent, and Communiques are stories about people trying to get a message to someone/somewhen out of their own time, either in the past or the future.
There are also non-fictional interludes along the way summarising key points of travel: Top Ten Tips for Time Travellers, Time Travel in Theory and Practice, Fashion for Time Travellers, Music for Time Travellers. (Some may be pleased to note that David Bowie is not mentioned in any of those.)
It is difficult to summarise such a tome, and it would perhaps be wrong of me to try. However, like the previous Vandermeer collection, I found old personal favourites (Ray Bradbury, HG Wells, Asimov, Kuttner and Moore, Connie Willis) as well as ones totally new to me (Vandana Singh, Dean Francis Alfar, Rosaleen Love, Karen Haber, Rjurik Davidson). I found stories from authors I liked, but hadn’t read (George RR Martin, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Kim Newman, Eric Frank Russell) and stories I know others will like but left me cold (Ursula K leGuin, Adam Roberts). There are some old ones (Edward Page Mitchell’s The Clock that went Backward, 1881, regarded here as one of the earliest time-travel tales, Max Beerbohn’s Enoch Soames, 1916, EF Benson’s In the Tube 1923), and some relatively new ones (John Chu’s Thirty Seconds from Now, 2011, Adrian Tchaikovsky’s The Mouse Ran Down, 2012). There were some that I forgot nearly as soon as I had finished reading them, even some I disliked. But that is the nature of such an eclectic assemblage: if you don’t like one, there’ll be another along in a minute that you probably will.
With such an enormous collection, there are bound to be gaps and lapses – or, as the book’s Preface put it, ‘wormholes and rifts’, although any book claiming to be ‘The Ultimate’ something is just asking for trouble. I was surprised not to find some of the ‘old timer’ tales here, even if just to show how far such tales have developed.
Such matters usually lead to that great debate over what has been included and what’s not: why has Mike Moorcock’s Pale Rose been included rather than the much more famous short story Behold the Man? (The Vandermeers do actually explain that one themselves in their introduction to Mike’s story.) Why is there an extract from HG Wells’ short novel, The Time Machine, rather than his earlier short story, The Chronic Argonauts (which inspired him to write The Time Machine)? Why no Poul Anderson (Time Patrol), no H Beam Piper (Paratime stories), no Jack Finney (Time and Time Again) or L. Sprague de Camp (Lest Darkness Fall)?*
This highlights an issue with this and other such collections, as to whether as an editor you try and cover the range and show the evolution of such tales by giving stories that are (ironically) endemic of their time, or go for what you see as ‘the best’, bearing in mind that such statements are qualitative anyway. Here the Vandermeers seem to have gone for the latter, even when some may be disappointed by the choices made, and other authors have the privilege of being included more than once – Kage Baker twice, Gene Wolfe twice (though this one has good reason, being connected tales), for example, although the quality of the stories is more good than bad. Such discussions are the basis of many an Internet forum/social media site.
One minor quibble, but the sort of thing I pick up on quickly, and others may be put off by it – I was a little dismayed to find that the first thing read in the Vandermeer’s Preface was a quote, with the person’s name spelt wrong – Stephen Hawking, not Hawkings! – which made me worry that the rest of the book would be as sloppy – it’s easy to mess up in a book of this size. Thankfully, after that things calmed down a little.
Such points may make you feel that this collection is a disappointment. It’s really not, but its choices may not be to everyone’s taste. There’s enough here to generate debate, a big enough range to give the reader an idea of just how big the topic is, and enough relative quality to offset the dingbats. This is how any collection should be.
For me, if I’m brutally honest, I liked this book, more than Zombies! (which was itself very good), although it must be said not as much as The Weird. It is, for all my quibbles, a very good collection and I would go so far as to say that it is an essential read. As an accumulation of time travel tales, it is hard to beat. Recommended.
*(These are the first I thought of. I’m sure that there will be others that can be mentioned.)...more
This slim little volume is a companion book to Sir Terry’s non-Discworld novel published last year, Dodger.
The original story is a Dickensian style taThis slim little volume is a companion book to Sir Terry’s non-Discworld novel published last year, Dodger.
The original story is a Dickensian style tale of one Jack Dodger, who in the novel is an ‘Artful Dodger’ type character running around the rather mucky streets of Victorian London.
It’s a fine old tale, involving characters based on people such as England’s Prime Minister at the time, Benjamin Disraeli, originator of the English police force Sir Robert Peel, a journalst named Charlie Dickens, Sweeney Todd, the fictional butcher of Fleet Street and even Queen Victoria herself.
There’s clearly a mine of material to work with there, and as you would expect, Sir Terry has done his research to write the novel. (There’s a long list of websites on the last page of Dodger’s Guide for further research, should the reader be so inclined.) Dodger’s Guide for London is obviously based on this research, and is presented as a collection of various details as a means of showing the perhaps uninformed reader what Victorian London was like.
It’s a book that can perhaps be regarded as a Schott’s Miscellany for Victorian London, or for those with younger people in their household, a Horrible Histories type romp through Victoriana. Most of the details inside are factual, though there are, peppered throughout, quotes and comments from the fictional Jack Dodger himself. As expected, there are lots of real details here that will surprise and perhaps revolt the reader. It’s a book designed to be dipped into.
It is profusely illustrated throughout, with almost every page having a picture of some sort, and many more than one. Most of the drawings in black and white pencil throughout are drawn by long-time Pratchett collaborator Paul Kidby, although there are also 135 illustrations and photographs from the time, of places, magazines and key events.
You don’t need to have read Dodger to get a lot from this book, although the comments from Dodger throughout may make more sense if you have.
Dodger’s Guide to London is clearly one for the young enquiring mind, who wishes to know more about the real Victorian London, as well as a little of Pratchett’s fictional one. In summary, it is a good way to pass a couple of hours, after which the reader is almost guaranteed to come away with something they didn’t know before.
And coincidentally available just in time to accompany the paperback copy of Dodger for that most Victorian of celebrations, Christmas….
I must admit my first impression was that this debut Fantasy novel was a book catering to the ‘I know-what-I-like’ reader. Admittedly the cover is verI must admit my first impression was that this debut Fantasy novel was a book catering to the ‘I know-what-I-like’ reader. Admittedly the cover is very cool, but as we’re looking at a world of knights, Emperors and assassins, I was rather concerned that I’d think I’d read it all before.
How wrong I was.
General Dun-Cadal Daermon is a broken man, spending his days hidden away in a corner of the world drinking his life away. Whilst there he is found by Viola, a young historian from the new Empire who has found Dun-Cadal in the hope that she can discover what it was like at the time of the fall of the Emperor , from someone who was there.
More importantly, she hopes to persuade him to tell her what others have tried to discover, and failed to do. The main plot is about an attempt to recover Eraed, the Emperor’s sword, reputed to be magic, which was once allegedly hidden by Dun-Cadal when the Empire fell.
At the same time old friends of Cadal’s, who unlike him abandoned their imperialistic ideals and embraced the Republic, are being assassinated. The truth, when it is discovered, is a revelation.
The world is deliberately medieval-esque. It’s rather like the French Revolution of the 1790’s transposed to a more traditional medieval fantasy world. There is magic here, known as the animus, which people can tap into, although at a physical cost.
The world of Masalia is a world in transition: a place where we look at the formation of a Republic and the collapse of an Empire. It raises interesting questions, in the same way that the Star Wars trilogy does: when the Empire’s ended, the bad guys have been beaten: what happens next? The reader, and the people within this world, may not like all that they see.
In the end, The Path of Anger is a much richer, darker and subtler story than a mere quest novel. It is not just about the quest but also about betrayal, about friendship and about loyalty, all of which are tested along the way. It’s even about redemption, of a sort.
Interestingly, we see the main events twice – once focused around General Dun-Cadal and historian Viola, and then, in the second part, around Dun-Cadal’s apprentice, Frog. Some writers would have intertwined these two viewpoints throughout. I’m pleased to say that Antoine has taken the less exhausting route of dividing the book into two parts. Cleverly, and with the vantage of hindsight, the reader can see the same events but from different perspectives and with a different understanding as they read them again. In each part we are reminded of events in the past as well as in the present, as memories flash back to and from the present point in the plot.
I enjoyed this very much. The language, the style, the subtle characterisation that develops as you read, made this a pleasure.
Indeed, a pleasant surprise, and one which takes those usual tropes to create something that is clearly its own story. Recommended....more
In wintertime here at Hobbit Towers there’s often nothing nicer than settling down with a hot drink and a good book whilst the weather outside is someIn wintertime here at Hobbit Towers there’s often nothing nicer than settling down with a hot drink and a good book whilst the weather outside is something rotten. Snowblind is one of those books: a gripping horror thriller that’s a great Winter read (though I daresay any time of the year might have the same effect.)
The title gives you a pretty good summary of the plot. We visit the town of Coventry, Massachusetts, as snow falls and puts its icy grip on this isolated settlement. The book begins twelve years before the main event: when a great snowstorm led to many deaths, and people disappearing in the blizzard.
This is clearly an event in itself. However, much of the book deals with the consequences of that first storm – the people left behind, the social and emotional lingering damage that such disasters can cause. Families have been made, others have broken up, but life has gone on. It’s an interesting take, that whilst the first part of the book seems to be what will be the main plot, after fifty pages or so the plot takes a leap forward a dozen years later.
Snowblind is full of those characters that fit the archetypes nicely: the sort of resolutely American characters that we normally meet in a Stephen King novel (and it is no great surprise that the cover gives a quote from Stephen, giving this book his blessing.). We have teachers, local bar owners, local police, local ne’er-do-well’s, all hunkering down before the arrival of the Great Storm in their small community. And when strange things start to happen, it’s clear that this storm may be different…
Being honest, Snowblind is nothing radically dissimilar to other tales – anyone who has seen the TV series The Returned will recognise some of this – but it is done very well. It does set up and use situations that the reader rather expects. This is deliberate, and no doubt is part of the fun, the fact that the reader immediately recognises parts of this place and the things that happen there. What Christopher has done here best is that trick that Stephen King does very well, and others try but rarely match: the ability to take characters, and give them recognisable nuances that we like or dislike, so that we care about their outcome when things go badly. There were characters that I really liked almost straight away, and that I wanted to know how things turned out for. And things do get grim, as you might expect.
It’s an engagingly winning read, with no over-stylistic frills, nor attempts to be clever. The characters are rather simple, but we’re not looking for particularly complex ones here. Instead, the reader expects – and gets - a rattling good read with some nicely creepy (some would say unearthly) protagonists, and a feeling at the time that this read has been worth their time. Just the sort of thing you want this time of year!
So: if you want a great page-turner, that kept me reading long after I expected to, to lose yourself in when the world outside is grim and the wind whistling around your abode makes you just a little bit worried, Snowblind may be for you. Recommended.