Having only discovered Mr Gaiman’s books last year I can safely say that I am rapidly becoming a rather enthusiastic fan of his writing. While Neverwhere was good it suffered from being the novelization of a television series, but The Graveyard Book was one of my favorite reads last year, so I was eager to read another of his better-known titles. I am pleased to report that I found it as delightful and entertaining as I had expected, making me even more certain of my appreciation for this writer’s wit and sideways look at life.
As with The Graveyard Book we have a story that suggests familiar stories and situations and yet presents them in novel and interesting ways. It seems to be a familiar fairy tale and yet none of the elements are actually all that close to the traditional stories that we have all grown up with. Yes, we have a hero who has a quest to fulfill, but he is not exactly heroic at the start of his journey and after that things just get increasingly complicated for him. He has to deal with other competitors for the star and his prize is none too happy about being dragged across the world just because he wants to kiss some girl in his village. Even the Happy Ever After ending is not standard issue, but that is what I have come to expect from Mr Gaiman and he has not let me down yet.
For someone expecting to find nine year old Tiffany heading off to defeat another fairy tale enemy, this will be a disappointing book. However, if you are someone who wants to see how Tiffany changes as she grows older and faces more adult challenges, this is just the book for you. Over the last two years things have not changed very dramatically in Tiffany’s world, but she has become increasingly convinced that she must go out into the world to learn how to be a Witch. She does not really fit in as just a cheese maker or farmer’s wife, but she is willing to leave the comforts of the familiar in order to fulfill her potential. Personally, I find it very appropriate that we see her dealing with the normal issues of growing up as well as the more extraordinary ones associated with being a powerful Witch. The touches of everyday life that Mr Pratchett throws into the mix not only make Tiffany into a much more interesting and well-rounded character, but they also increase our ability to empathize with her. This draws us into her world much more successfully and places us firmly in her corner during times of trouble.
This is marketed as a Young Adult title, but it most certainly does not read like one and it has all the witty and ironic humor that you would expect from Mr Pratchett. It takes the Tiffany Aching saga in a slightly different direction than might be expected and is all the better for it.(less)
I was a little disappointed with the opening to this volume because it showed certain similarities to the beginning of the first one, with a surprise attack of Trollocs. However, it soon became clear that Mr Jordan had no intension of simply rehashing the same old storylines and we soon settled into exploring new and interesting characters and places.
As with the first title in the series, we follow a quest-based plot for most of the book. The primary concern is to retrieve the Horn and Mat’s dagger, but this is no simple affair of riding along for a bit and then fighting a small dragon in order to win the day. Indeed, some of our characters have other concerns, although they do become enmeshed in the quest eventually. The routes that the various groups take to reach the town of Falme, which acts as the backdrop for the dénouement, are varied and sufficiently obscure to keep us entertained and wondering how everything will resolve.
We see our heroes from Emond’s Field begin to change and develop as their world expands and they come to terms with the roles they will play in it. We see Rand gradually accept that he really is the Dragon Reborn and start to take a leadership position within the group. He also strives to deserve the heron-marked blade that he carries and becomes increasingly proficient by using his father’s trick of holding the void to increase concentration. Perrin follows a similar path as he begins to make use of his heightened senses to help him in the search for the Horn. Mat has little development to make because he is busy dying very, very slowly, but even he shows a greater ability to do what is necessary and is responsible for possibly saving everyone’s lives at the end of the book. Egwene and Nynaeve show a little less development, but they are busy adapting to life in the White Tower and, later, the problems they encounter in Falme, so they hardly have time to breathe.(less)
Experienced readers of the Discworld series were first introduced to Mr Pratchett’s concept of Witches back in 1988 Wyrd Sisters and Tiffany and Miss Tick snuggle easily into that version of the practice. There are pointy hats, but that is only because people expect them; there are hairy warts, mainly because most women of a certain age get them; and there are flying broomsticks for some reason that is never explained but there is definitely no cackling. Cackling is something that all Witches strive to avoid and is a certain indication of impending madness. No, Mr Pratchett’s Witches are women who have a keen intelligence and an ability to apply hard work, excellent observation and a mass of headology (a brand of psychology only studied by Witches) to the everyday troubles of the people that they care for. Some have specialties, such as Granny Aching who keeps her Witching almost exclusively to sheep.
Young Tiffany is a great heroine to throw at a person who loves to read books, because she is so serious and bookish herself. She is not like the other children who dash about in a carefree manner: she is an outsider and observer, someone who immediately appeals to the geeky nerd inside all of us who are likely to pick up a book for entertainment. She does all the things that we wish we could have done when we were nine: she is calm in the face of danger and brave enough to trust her instincts; she is doggedly loyal to her little brother even though he is totally obnoxious and she is very, very clever. In short, she has you cheering for her within the first page of text.
However, there is no doubt that the stars of this book, and indeed the series, are the Wee Free Men of the title. Whilst Tiffany is all common sense and thoughtfulness, they are the exact opposite. They are chaotic and unrelentingly aggressive towards anything and everything unless it is a lawyer, which they find terrifying, or someone they deem a friend. Once you have become a friend of the Feegles they will watch over you until you die, whether you want them to or not. Granny Aching befriended the Feegle Clan that lives on the Chalk, and they extend their protection to Tiffany as part of that friendship. They are impressed by her fighting skills because of the frying pan incident and are awed by her ability to read and think without having to hit herself on the head. She is constantly irritated by them and their behavior, but they prove to be wonderful allies and she eventually develops a deep affection for them.(less)
The first thing that struck me about Celtic Moon was the choice of protagonist. Sophie is rather unusual for the Urban Fantasy / Paranormal Romance that I have read because she is already a relatively mature woman. I say ‘relatively’ because she is quite a bit younger than me and I do not like thinking of myself as ‘older’ or ‘mature’! Not only is she in her mid to late thirties, but also she has already found the love of her life and had his child. She is well beyond the Happy Ever After that comes at the end of traditional Romance novels and living a normal life with all the associated difficult bits. In fact, the only near perfect aspect of her life is that she has such great relationships with her son and mother.
I was both intrigued and delighted by Sophie and her dilemmas. I am not a great fan of chick lit or general Romance titles, so I enjoyed reading about a woman who has to deal with more than just romantic angst and whether or not her nail varnish matches her handbag. Sophie has big, real life issues to overcome and she does it with great grit and determination. This is where Jan really sold me her book: Sophie is a strong woman throughout the whole story. I have grown to really rather hate those ‘strong’ female protagonists that are repeatedly described as such right up until the moment that the male hero turns up to save her from all the big, bad monsters and sweep her off her feet. If a woman is strong then she will remain so even if she has a man around to help out with fighting the coming apocalypse. Buffy the Vampire Slayer has male friends and helpers, but she is always as good as, if not better than, them in a straight fight against the Big Bad. She is the type of strong female that I can appreciate and empathize with and Sophie has a slight touch of Buffy about her.(less)
At first glance, Mr Jordan is a little disappointing because there is a distinctly Tolkien-esque vibe to the beginning of the book. We start our journey in the rural idyll of the Shire Two Rivers where the most dangerous thing that you can encounter is the Sackville-Bagginses Wisdom, Nynaeve al’Meara, when she is in a really bad mood, which is most of the time that she is awake. It is even famous for growing tobacco, which I am sure sounds familiar. Then there are Nazgul mysterious riders in black showing up and being all spooky before we have an attack by orcs Trollocs. They are even said to serve the Dark One, who people do not name for fear of attracting his attention. We then have a flight through the countryside that seems to involve lots of nighttime attacks and random fighting. By this point, I was hoping to goodness that the wise wizard Aes Sedai, Moiraine, and her ranger Warder, Lan, would get to the Prancing Pony really quickly because I needed a drink!
However, we soon start to see that this is not a Lord of the Rings rip off, but actually a very complex and interesting story all of its own. Certainly we can see similarities here and there, but Tolkien is so iconic that it is difficult not to draw parallels with his writings when reading a more modern Fantasy title. I am quite sure that many of those elements feel so familiar because they are actually the elements that underlie much of our folklore, and they were even an inspiration for Tolkien himself.
One massive difference that is impossible to miss is that this title is littered with female characters that have really important roles to play. Yes, I know that Eowyn plays a vital role in the defeat of Sauron’s armies, but I believe that she is the only woman who takes an active role in the entire story. Here, we meet a very powerful magic user very early in the story and she is a woman, who tells a man what to do and is only one of many others of her kind. Equally, we have Egwene deciding to head off into the wide blue yonder in a quest for education even though she is barely old enough to be considered a woman in her village. A little later we learn that the village Wisdom, Nynaeve, has tracked the group on her own, through the Trolloc-infested wilds in order to ‘save’ the young people from the bad influence of the Aes Sedai. These three women are no shrinking violets who need men to protect them and we meet many more as the series roles along.(less)
Simon has a cat, called Simon’s Cat. Like most cats, it is part evil genius and part clown. We follow its exploits as it destroys Simon’s world and attempts to fill its perpetually empty stomach.(less)
Simon has a cat, called Simon’s Cat. Like most cats, it is part evil genius and part clown. We follow its exploits as it destroys Simon’s world and attempts to fill its perpetually empty stomach.(less)
I can imagine this being a great book to read to children because it has a nice rhythm, with Bod getting into terrible danger only to be returned to safety at the end of each chapter. I can also see children anticipating the dangers that exist before Bod realizes what they are, which makes the danger seem so much more controlled and escapable. However, the danger is not without real threat and, by the end of the book, one of Bod’s favorite people has been killed to protect him.
My only major criticism of the book was that it was far too short. I wanted to read more about Bod and his world and to learn more about his friends and their past live(less)
When we first meet Flavia she is tied up and locked in a closet. This conveys her relationship with her older sisters very neatly, and also allows us to witness her resourcefulness as she escapes from her predicament. She is not your typical eleven-year-old girl in any way that I could detect, although sibling rivalry and bickering is something that is seen in practically all families. The girls’ mother died many years ago in a mountain-climbing accident and their father is very distant, so it seems that Flavia has mostly raised herself. She is very independent and disparaging of her sisters who are not like her at all: so much so that they spent several years insisting that she was adopted. As a sister myself, I understood their relationships completely and it all seemed very reminiscent of my own childhood, although my sister and I are actually quite similar in our tastes and outlook.
In general, I felt that the plot had a few too many convenient coincidences, but then so do Agatha Christie’s stories, and I think everyone can agree that she was a master at her craft. Indeed, there was a distinct feeling of Ms Christie’s St Mary Mead, the home of Miss Jane Marple, about the setting that I found very enjoyable. It also reminded me very strongly of the works of End Blyton, especially her The Famous Five series, which I read constantly as a child. They have a similar feel of childhood freedom and the ability of youngish teenagers to solve dangerous crimes and defeat serious villains. I imagine Mr Bradley might have read these as a child, as I am sure that his mother would have been familiar with them. (less)
Throughout the first two books in the series, Mr Sanderson had been leading us to a cataclysmic finale, and I have to say that I was not at all disappointed. In this final part we pick up on hints and suggestions made in both of the earlier books drawing to a very satisfying conclusion. I cannot think of any loose ends that are left dangling, which is not something I can normally say at the end of a series.
I will not go any further into the plot, or reveal who the Hero is, as this would ruin the surprise for those of you who have not read the book, which would be a real shame. Suffice it to say, the identity of the Hero is a surprise, but not a huge one as we are led to it with many hints along the way. The final few chapters will have you reading with your heart in your mouth as the world collapses into a final battle for survival. I will not say who lives and who dies, but I promise you that I cried like a baby and that the ending is quite beautiful.(less)
Unlike Marcus Didius Falco, the hero of Lindsey Davis’ series, the leading character of the SPQR series is from a wealthy and influential family. Although the Metelli are not one of the founding, Patrician, families, they have almost as much power in Rome. At this time, about 70 BCE, the Republic is plagued by the political aspirations of such characters as Pompey the Great and Crassus, reputedly the wealthiest man in the whole Roman world. Such famous imperialists as Catilina and Julius Caesar are junior officials with great ambitions and the famous orator Cicero has just burst upon the scene. Against this background of famous names we follow a much more obscure man in his pursuit of the truth, even though it endangers both his own life and his family’s reputation.
However, this book does not present a rarified view of the Roman Republic at this time. It is essentially the same stinking cesspit as we see through Falco’s eyes, although we do get to see a little more decadence and luxury. In some ways, the revelations about the famous names and important people makes the world seem even shabbier, because we expect so much more from these historical figures. Some do seem to live up to our perception of them, such as Cicero, but the others are disappointingly normal, scrabbling about for personal prestige, wealth or power. This is certainly not a book to read if you want to be overawed by the majesty that was Rome.
In a similar way to Falco, Decius is not your typical hero. He hates getting up whilst it is still dark and resents the many things that he has to do because they are expected or simply the ‘done thing’. After spending a few days following his rounds of client calls and maintaining political relationships, it is easy to see why he would be bored witless. This perhaps explains why he is so interested in investigating the deaths in his area, although he seems to possess a very proper sense of Roman justice that motivates his efforts to uncover who has killed some of ‘his’ people. He is burdened by the history of his family and also by its sheer numbers, although he does benefit from some rather useful connections because of it as well. His relationship with his father is particularly well drawn and is a constant point of frustration and humor for our hero.(less)
After being swept away by the first title in this series, I was very happy to see how the city was adapting to its new freedom. At the end of Mistborn: The Final Empire, we had the standard ‘happy ending’, with the bad guy dead, the girl getting her guy and all the oppressed being giving their freedom. I really appreciate the way that Mr Sanderson took this ‘fairy tale’ ending and moved on into a much more realistic political situation. A year after the exhilaration and joy of the Lord Ruler’s death we find a society that is not at all comfortable with the way that the new Emperor wants to run things. The old Noble houses are very unhappy about their loss of status and the skaa find it difficult to be assertive and make decisions for themselves. Elend has created an Assembly that represents all aspects of society, but the various factions cannot overcome the centuries of programming that they have had in distrusting each other, and so there is constant deadlock and little progress. This is very frustrating for Elend, who has a firm vision of a democratic society built upon equality and freedom.
However, it is not just the evolving characters and vivid imagination that make this a great read. Mr Sanderson continues the exploration of religion and its place in society that he began in book one, and takes it in some interesting directions. He also gives us a very real portrait of what happens to an ancient society when change is attempted. I really appreciate the decisions that he made to take our characters along a much harder route than the ones that we normally see in fantasy. This is a world totally devoid of fluffy, sparkly convenience, but full of gritty consequences and highly unpleasant ways to live and die.(less)
first encountered Mr Graves’ work in the early 1980s and I have read this work many times since then. In fact it is one of the books that I would want to have in my luggage if I were ever to be shipwrecked on a desert island with no hope of rescue. It is also one of my most favorite television series and Derek Jacobi will always BE Claudius for me. It is a book that cemented my interest in Ancient Rome while encouraging me to seek out the original works that influenced much of its plot and keeping me massively entertained, all at the same time. Surprisingly, it is not a dry historical recitation of genealogies and boring battle details: rather, it is a succession of political plots, deaths, adulteries, deceptions, blackmails, witchcraft, poisonings and other assorted mayhem. At one point we follow the Imperial Palace being turned into a brothel filled with senators’ wives and daughters, while at another there is a competition between the Empress and a prostitute to see who can ‘handle’ the most men in one night. We follow Caligula’s crazy war against Neptune and the death by maggots of Herod Agrippa. There is never a dull moment!
The novel is based upon the conceit that the Emperor Claudius decided, near the end of his life, to write an account of his own life and that of his immediate family so that the truly dreadful face of Imperialism would be revealed. Fortunately, he completed the scrolls and had them sealed away somewhere safe shortly before his fourth wife, Agrippinilla, poisoned him with mushrooms. He speaks directly to us, the modern discoverers of his writings and reveals all the secrets that he has uncovered about the reigns of the Emperors before him: Augustus, Tiberius and Caligula. He presents himself as a person uniquely qualified to comment upon their lives because not only was he actually present for many of the events but he was able to question some of the most important figures of that time, such as his grandmother, the Empress Livia.(less)
Knowing that this title was meant to be a reworking of the Cinderella tale, I have to admit that I was concerned that it would be too derivative. Yes, I know that I had read lots of glowing reviews, but I was still a little wary. However, I did not need to be concerned because the structure of the old fairy tale has been seamlessly worked into a fresh, new Science Fiction world whilst keeping the traditional elements very understated. I thoroughly enjoyed it and had only one minor complaint, but I will get to that later after I have waxed lyrical about the aspects that I really enjoyed.
Cinder herself is a wonderful heroine. She is competent, caring and complex, making poor decisions for the right reasons and always fighting for what she believes to be right. She is strong, independent and feisty, but not in an irritatingly teenage “me-against-the-world” kind of way. She is simply hard working and dogmatic, doing what she can to keep her family going and trying to get some small enjoyment out of her very restricted life. I was very pleasantly surprised that her relationship with the prince was not the usual overly sweet confection that I find so annoying in some YA novels. Yes, she is mesmerized by his handsome awesomeness from the very start, but he is the most famous bachelor in the city, so that is not all that surprising: I might be a bit flummoxed if Johnny Depp turned up at my stall to ask for help! :D(less)
From our first introduction to Karou, I was grabbed by the perfectly toned writing and excellent world building. I have never been to Prague, but I have visited enough old European cities to recognize a great description of the sights, sounds, smells and general atmosphere that she captures for us. I could say the same for all the locations that we visit. The market in Marrakesh had me picturing the Egyptian market scenes from Raiders of the Lost Ark, while the more fantastical places also had a solidity that served the story well. I had one little niggle about the races created, in that the Chimera seem to hold the human shape as being the most desired and beautiful. Given that their adversaries are ‘perfectly’ humanoid, this seems a little contradictory, but the writing was so strong that I could forgive it.
Karou is one of my favorite heroines in the books that I have read this year. She is pretty, but not in a way that has attractive men throwing themselves at her all the time, and is more attractive in an otherworldly, intriguing way than in simple good genetics. She even has the problem of having dated the world’s worst boyfriend, who is amazingly narcissistic and is determined to get her back into his bed, mainly because she dumped him, which is not what is supposed to happen. The way that she deals with his sudden appearance in her life drawing class (yes, that is the one with the naked human model!) is hilarious and had me snorting coffee out of my nose. In fact the humor of the life classes and the various models is a very good reason to read the book all by itself.(less)
As I began to read, I was not at all sure about this book for the first few chapters. I liked the unusual setting because it is great to see a fantasy title that is not immersed in European mythology and culture, but the beginning seemed somewhat slow and almost ethereal. One problem I did have right at the beginning was the names of the characters associated with the Scholar-God’s cult. They all have very similar names and so I found myself having to check their identities before they finally stuck in my brain. This could be a symptom of my increasing decrepitude, but I really hope not as I do not normally struggle with character names this much.
But I knew that everyone was raving about this book and so I plodded on, just as Temur does, hoping that it would improve and I would understand what all the love was about. I came to appreciate the slower rhythm of the earlier chapters, as they allowed me to absorb my surroundings, to sniff the air and get a good feel for this alien world that I was travelling through. That is one of the great surprises of this book: we are not on Earth, or even a past or future version of it. This is a land where the male heirs of the Great Khan each have a moon in the night sky. Each moon is slightly different, just as the men are unique, and they only burn while the man remains alive. In this way Mother Night allows Temur to see who in his family is still alive. However, Samarkar sees a totally different sky, because she lives in another empire, and we later learn that the sky changes as a person passes from one political empire to another. That’s right: you can tell who holds political sway of a land by looking at the sky! The sun travels in different directions and the look of the sky itself changes as the dominion of a land alters. How totally cool is that?!
In short, this book was everything that I had expected and more. The main characters are believable and endearing while the villain is suitably mysterious and diabolical, even though he prays through copying out religious texts. The setting is amazing and bursting with imagination and stunning visual imagery, while the plot sweeps you along like the wind blowing through the grass under the Eternal Sky.(less)
At first, I was not quite sure what to think of the book because we are introduced to several of our lead characters in quick succession. I have to admit that I almost gave up after about thirty pages because I was starting to feel somewhat lost and overwhelmed by this sudden immersion into at least two distinctively alien cultures. However, I am glad that I persevered because I quickly became caught up in exploring the rich landscape of cultures, religions and magic. I wish that the publisher had included a map so that I could have made a little more sense of some of the geography, but picturing Gujaareh as Alexandria in Egypt seemed to work fairly well for me.
The Egyptian influences are clear, especially in the dependence upon the annual river Flood to support agriculture and life within a desert environment. There were also nods to Egyptian dress, etiquette and architecture. The society also shared a similar caste system and range of methods of writing their language, from detailed pictograms to less formal cursive scripts. However, there were enough differences to make the world unique and interesting. We hear mention of plants and animals that seem to have no cousins here on Earth, and the dream-based religious system is like nothing I have read before.
The religion that is so fundamental to this series is an interesting amalgam of the most ancient forms of moon worship with the theory of the four humors that was prevalent from the time of the Ancient Greeks right up until the rise of modern medicine. The priests attempts to cure people by balancing these humors is very similar to treatments, such as bleeding and purging, that used to be so common. I was also intrigued by the concept of death being a transition to a spiritual plane that could be made to resemble paradise by an experienced practitioner so that the dying soul could be happy eternally. This seemed like a very worthwhile goal for the Gatherers and was a good of the gray aspects of so much of this title: this religion has so many good things to be said about it, and yet it is open to abuse and perversion.(less)