First reviewed (with beginners introduction to the basic premise of the series) on my blog January 2012. Text and rating edited here because of hindsi...moreFirst reviewed (with beginners introduction to the basic premise of the series) on my blog January 2012. Text and rating edited here because of hindsight and different audience/ratings system (I imagine anyone searching volume 16 on goodreads has already read the previous volumes and doesn't need protecting from spoilers.).
This volume contains 3 stories: ‘The Ascent’, a one issue comic featuring Bufkin the flying monkey, ‘Waking Beauty’, a one issue focussed on Sleeping Beauty, and sandwiched in between them, the main multi-issue story ‘Super Team’.
‘The Ascent’ was a nice, solid start to what I can only assume will be an ongoing plotline independent from the main story. Bufkin the monkey has worked his way into my heart as one of my favourite characters with his mixture of book-smarts, bravery, sheer stupidity, and pure monkey-adorableness ‘I hardly ever throw poop anymore’ is just a winning line. So far I’ve enjoyed his last few solo issues immensely, and I enjoyed this one too, though not as much. This was mainly a transitory story and didn't have much going for it on its own, it's point was simply to get the character from A to B. The introduction of an Oz plotline too is a little worrying. But that’s probably just because I never liked Oz very much, in fact I found it tedious and patronising to the extreme when I read a few as a kid. However, I shall try and keep faith that Willingham will make it work – I never liked Snow White or Cinderella very much either and I have a total girl-crush on both in Fables – so I will reserve judgement until the story gets far enough to fairly judge it.
‘Waking Beauty’ is another transitory story, but one I actually found myself enjoying more. It was nice to see not only what became of Briar Rose (I was never particularly comfortable with her earlier fate as the sacrificial woman) but how the homelands are funtioning without the Adversary. Seems all our Fables have done is create a power vacuum. Who could have predicted? (I'm a History student, that question was sarcastic). Although I know Briar Rose's story is continuing in the new spin-off Fairest rather than Fables this story felt far more linked to the ongoing Fables plotline than Buffkins did. I'm looking forward to seeing what happens next; here’s hoping Fairest will be a better spinoff than the mediocre, justly cancelled, Jack of Fables.
And onto the main story! Not the strongest storyline by a long shot but it was fun, a decent bit of light and fluffy to contrast with how dark the last few volumes have been. The basic premise is that, after all other attempts have failed, Pinocchio wants to put together a comic book super team to battle Mr. Dark. It’s about as silly as it sounds and is basically an excuse for Willingham and the artists to have fun affectionately pastiching the X-Men and other superheroes. I do love the parodies of vintage comic covers, but then I'm the sad sort of girl who had art postcards of those original covers on her wall throughout uni. As always I am in love with Bigby (Big Bad Wolf) who fills the ‘Wolverine’ role on the team. It’s also nice to see Ozma getting fleshed out a bit more, apart from Frau Totenkinder I've never really had the feeling that the 13th floor magicians were much more than background scenery.
The resolution to the Mr. Dark plot I found a bit disappointing and anticlimactic, I would have preferred something less…cheaty, but I can’t deny that it made sense and was foreshadowed in advance. It also throws up some interesting directions as to where the story will go from here, so I'll try not to complain too hard. For me the highlights here were the development of Beauty and Beast’s subplot, a little scene between Snow White and Bigby Wolf (not the 'woman's job is to look after the kids while I do manly stuff' - the other one), and a hint that there’s yet more new trouble brewing on the horizon. Plenty to keep the comic going on for the moment but I do hope it picks up it's game soon - everything since the fall of the Empire has seemed a bit lackluster compared to the first few volumes.
Definitely one of the weakest volumes for me – though nowhere near the low-point of the series (the dire Great Fables Crossover). It’s not one for new readers to start with but new readers shouldn’t be starting anywhere apart from volume 1 (or possibly 2) anyway. A three star book that I’ll definitely reread (Fables, along with Harry Potter, is my comfort read whenever my depression gives me a particularly rough time). Hopefully volume 17 will be back up to 5 star quality but am not too disappointed with this. Of course it all depends where it goes from here.(less)
Rivers of London (because I’m not American) is a series I have mixed feelings about. I got the first book as an impulse buy because of its beau...more4 Stars
Rivers of London (because I’m not American) is a series I have mixed feelings about. I got the first book as an impulse buy because of its beautiful cover (the UK editions are gorgeous) and spent a lovely day lying out in the park getting myself very sunburnt as I totally immersed myself in the story. I got home, book finished, and preordered the next two in the series straight away. In the over-a-year I’ve been waiting for this book to come out, however, the second in the series arrived and it was…well…no where near as good as the first book. In fact I barely liked the second book at all and was beginning to think that maybe I had been wrong about the series, maybe the first one wasn’t as good as I thought and maybe I only enjoyed it so much because it was the first book I read for fun after sorting my life out and seeking help for my depression. Thankfully, with the arrival of Whispers Under Ground, I can rest easy that the series is good after all, very good, and that Moon Over Soho was just a blip in an otherwise very promising urban fantasy series.
Whispers Under Ground is a bit heavier on the police procedural side than the previous offering. That’s probably not for everyone but after being seriously annoyed at how utterly unprofessional Peter was in Moon Over Soho I was really glad there was a return to basic standards of policing. Also returning is Lesley May, something I was delighted with. I like Lesley and I like her and Peter’s banter-filled relationship – though I actually do hope that they stay friend’s rather than eventually ending up together. If nothing else, Lesley also provides a check against Peter’s occasional bouts of idiocy. The multi-book ‘ethically challenged wizard’ subplot introduced in the last book carries on, but the main focus, as in the first book is solving the initial crime – a fatal stabbing on the Underground tracks.
It’s a more mundane crime, in almost every way, than those in the two previous books and the police work is more mundane as a result. Without so many chase scenes, magical threats, and general life threatening danger it felt like a slower book – but it actually rattles along at a fair pace, the whole story taking approximately a week from murder to solution; and it's a very easy book to just devour in one sitting. What we get instead of a magical menagerie of fucked up experiments is a surly half-fairy, magic pottery, and a lot of traipsing through underground railway lines, sewers, world war two bunkers, and secret passages. It’s hard to describe it in a way that sounds interesting but it really is.
Peter’s habit of explaining the history of all the London places he visits in the story still remains and, now that I’m more familiar with London myself, I can understand why some people find it irritating. For the most part I still find it interesting – I’m the sort of person who does like to know and work out the history of the place and actually my dad is very like Peter when it comes to this habit of explaining architecture and history, so I guess it’s something I’m used to. However the description of Baker Street tube station almost had me shouting ‘I know what fucking Baker Street looks like, everyone in the world has travelled the Bakerloo line!’. What also remains is Peter’s apparently teenage hormones, I’m probably being a bit unfair here and I’m sure Peter’s voice is quite an authentic and realistic one, but I still don’t particularly enjoy hearing him admire a female character’s bum. Buuuut, it’s much more understated than previously and he doesn’t do his thinking with his penis this time so I’m going to accept it and move on. For the most part I really enjoy Peter’s voice.
Back to proper policing also means back to character interactions with lots of other police officers, both familiar and new, and I am always delighted with how Aaronovitch gets the multi-cultural nature of London (as he should, being a Londoner and all). No all white cast here but a real mix of races and ethnicities and each character, mostly, treated as a person (if a not-yet developed one) rather than a walking stereotype (though Peter does often like to speak in stereotypes himself). There’s not much in the way of complex character development in this book, and I think Nightingale is woefully underused, but the character interactions are crisp, realistic, and often funny. Like most police procedurals it’s not so much about the character’s as the plot, and both that and the cast are pretty well put together and enjoyable.
It’s not a five-star book, it wasn’t amazing and I don’t think I’ll ever ‘love’ this book with the same passion that I do my favourites. But it’s a very enjoyable page-turner/summer read and one of only two current series that I rush out to buy the moment a new book is released in hardback.(less)
Again, this is going out to my newsfeed so whole review under spoilers for discussion of books 1-4
(view spoiler)[Running concurrently (for the first half at least) with events from A Feast For Crows, A Dance With Dragons follows the characters who didn’t appear there – mostly Tyrion, Jon and Daenerys. With the main cast scattered across the Narrow Sea up or North of the Wall it works better as a Song of Ice and Fire book than A Feast For Crows did. In the last book the plot felt very centred around Kings Landing with chapters set elsewhere feeling very much like interludes, A Dance With Dragons is a return to the feel of the first three books – geographically diverse and nominally ‘separate’ plotlines all interweaving to form a much larger story.
It also brings the return of some of my favourite (and least favourite) characters. Bran is back! I’m not sure there’s enough of him, to be honest, but he’s back and he’s north of the Wall. Also Davos. No matter what anyone else says I love Davos. Theon (who I hate) is back, and actually has an interesting role to play this time in an interesting plot line. And then there’s the ‘big three’ – Tyrion, Jon, and Daenerys – all of whom have big things going on for them in this book. Dany is trying (and failing) to rule the conquered city of Myreen (why do people want her as queen of Westeros again? She’s just as terrible as you would expect a power mad overly entitled 15 year old to be if you gave her a throne), Jon as the newly elected commander of the Nights Watch is giving the Wall a serious shaking up, and Tyrion is on the run after murdering the most powerful man in the kingdom.
So right from the offset there’s a wider variety of things going on than in the previous book – which also means that some of the story lines are probably more hit-or-miss too, depending on what your reader preferences are. Personally, I found the Dany chapters tedious and unpleasantly colonialist (nothing quite as bad as the third HBO season’s white saviour shot of her crowdsufing her rescued brown subjects but yeah… that imagery certainly came from somewhere). I also wasn’t keen, and never have been, on the way she, as a very young teenage girl, is presented as a male sexual fantasy. Compare the treatment of her character with that of Sansa, who is only a year or two younger, and I actually feel quite sick. And this book especially was big on the ‘sexy Dany’ as she considers both offers of political marriages and her own inexplicable attraction to a man who dies his beard blue. Yes, girls did get sexualised younger in earlier time periods that Martin uses as his inspiration, I have no real problem with the characters doing that but the way its presented (and has been from book one) by the author always makes me feel as a reader that I’m meant to enjoy and be complicit in the sexualisation and I’m really, really not. Possitives though – at least this time she’s and active agent in her sexuality and sex life, making her own choices rather than being sold into sexual slavery and raped. Aside from the skeevy pervy bits I also found her chapters pretty dull and I could see where most of it was going well before we got there.
I vastly preferred Jon Snow and Tyrion’s chapters. Jon is really coming into his own, proving to his men that he isn’t just a kid but that he’s a Commander who will take control, shake things up, and try to reform the Night Watch to the power it once was. But, as with all reformers, not everyone will agree with him. I will be very very interested to see what happens on the Wall when book six eventually comes out. And Tyrion, as always, gets some of the best chapters by merit of the most interesting and varied supporting cast. But he still has the unfortunately repetitive habit of repetitively repeating the same things repeatedly. In previous books it’s been ‘I’m in love with a whore’ and ‘my sister tried to kill me’, this book it’s ‘I killed my father and King Joffrey’ (only one of which is true) and ‘Maybe I should ask her/him/them ‘where whores go”. Also there’s the fact that in the third book he murdered a woman for the crime of sleeping with someone who wasn’t him. There’s not really any coming back from that in my eyes, no matter how witty you are.
Which, funnily enough, is also the problem I have with relatively new viewpoint character Victarian. Introduced in A Feast for Crows, he returns in this book when the timelines merge once more. Brother of the new king of the Iron Islands, and experienced raider, Victorian bears a grudge against his brother for shagging his saltwife and ’forcing’ Victarian to kill her. No sympathy. Really. None. Anyways, he’s been given the mission of bringing the Dragon Queen, Daenerys back as a wife for the new new king of the Iron Islands. So there’s a lot of him travelling on a boat, raping a ‘dark mute’ his brother gave him as a present, and plotting to marry Dany for himself. And he’s not the only one, Quentin Martell of Dorne is on his way to Myreen as well to court the new Queen and persuade her to return to Westeros and take an army of Dornishmen as a wedding gift.
So lots going on in this book. Some worked for me (mostly the bits in northern Westeros and north of the Wall), some didn’t. It felt more like a Song of Ice and Fire book in structure and plot than the previous volume did. But I found that this was the book where I found popular criticisms of Martins style the most valid – the sexualisation bothered me more than in previous books and seemed more out of place, I felt there was a lot more rape happening on page and that it was presented in more worrying ways than in earlier volumes (a prior relationship with a man – only revealed after the sex scene – does not give him the right to corner you outside your bedroom and fuck you until you cry after you say ‘no’.) and there was a heavy-handed and exoticism and otherising in the way non-westerosi characters were portrayed that made Dany’s conquest and rulership uncomfortable. Probably most annoying from a purely narrative perspective, though, was that Martin’s penchant for unexpected twists and ‘it can always get worse’ meant that at the end of the book I was left with a ‘well what was the point of all that then?’ feeling. The place that Martin chose to wrap up the book (apparently earlier than he had wanted, pushing some already written material back into the next book) meant that several of the plotlines, for me, ended up feeling like a five-book-long shaggy dog story.
So yeah, I really enjoyed this book, it’s highly readable, and I really look forward to the sequel – especially for what’s happening in the north and at the Wall – but I did have some pretty big problems with it too and I don’t want to gloss over them. Hope to see all the characters together again properly in The Winds of Winter, whenever that comes out. (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Eugh. I really wanted to like this one. I was looking forward to it as some superlight reading after my dissertation but no. A...moreCrossposted from my blog
Eugh. I really wanted to like this one. I was looking forward to it as some superlight reading after my dissertation but no. And it makes me sad because, despite the recent lackluster issues, I do love Fables and Cinderella was one of my favourite characters. I enjoyed her last miniseries too – not as much as the main comics but enough to buy the second – but this is just…underwhelming on all fronts.
I’m especially disappointed with it because I was midway through drafting a post about how the portrayal of women in mainstream superhero comics puts me off buying them when this arrived on my doorstep and well…just look at that cover. Almost every other page seems to be an excuse to put Cinderella in underwear/a bikini/a towel/nothing. At least she has more human anatomy than a lot of comic book women but it’s still totally gratuitous. I know this Cinderella’s a sexy sexy spy who uses her looks as a tool – the first time we really meet her in the mainline Fables series she’s seducing a repulsive bloke as part of her job – but having her first appearance here be wandering round in a bikini in the snow (in Russia!) is ridiculous. Yes she has a reason for it and yes the first person narration acknowledges that it’s ridiculous, but that doesn’t make it better: she has a reason for it because the writer wanted her in a bikini enough that he made up a reason for it and then openly acknowledged the situation as stupid in the textboxes. There were many, many ways she could have used her spy skills to track the people she’s trailing down, the only reason to go for this way is to put her in a skimpy outfit. If it’s meant to draw people in it’s having the opposite effect with me – I’m now doubting that I even want to read Fairest (a new female-centric Fables spinoff) when it comes out.
But onto the story…what little there is. Fables are forever follow’s super-spy Cinderella’s attempt to track down her ‘archenemy’, a super assassin named ‘Silver Slipper’, accompanied by this miniseries Bond-Guy, the Russian Fable Ivan Durak (Ivan the Fool). Peppered throughout it are flashbacks to Cinderella’s previous run ins with Silver Slipper in the 80s which mainly consist of frames showing the two women shouting at each other, fighting each other, or tying each other up. The actual modern-day strand of plot is equally thin on content and complexity with things happening to the character rather than her making things happen. Cinderella seems to spend most of the time reminiscing about her previous encounters rather than actually doing anything.
And the Silver Slipper well.. although it’s revealed in the first issue I won’t share her identity – but if you’re familiar with the original books rather than the film adaptation it’s not gunna come as a surprise for you. While she could have been very interesting she ended up being a bit of cardboard cut out ‘evil woman’. I didn’t really get why she was so fascinated with Cinderella and I don’t get why Cinderella considered her her ‘archnemesis’. Silver Spy works as a mercenary for ‘Shadow Fabletown’, an organisation we’ve never been introduced to before but apparently stands in for Cold War Russia to main Fabletown’s America… really, did we have to go there? I know it’s a spy story and people love setting those in the Cold War but it doesn’t work. In fact ‘Shadow Fabletown’ seems to be minding its own business and doing nothing much besides ‘existing’ before Cinderella pokes her nose in. Her original mission seems pointless and her later mission to get a member to ‘defect’ to Fabletown seems even more so. Literally no reason is given why Fabletown couldn’t get in touch with a friendlier envoy and try to start up a better and mutually beneficial relationship – at the 1980s point in the story both groups are refugees from the same war with a common enemy, allies are just what they need! The whole Cold War element just seems ill-conceived.
Worse than the ‘wait a minute…’ moments though is the repetitive repetition (see what I did there?). As a miniseries I know the writer has to update the reader on what’s going on at the beginning of each issue in case someone missed the last or hasn’t read it since it came out and has forgotten details, but when they’re all collected together in one volume it doesn’t work. Every time we go to a flashback we get treated to a summary of what happened in the last issue’s flashback – when collected together this can be summarising a scene that happened as little as three pages ago and makes for really disjointed storytelling. Flashbacks and stories told in multiple timezones I can deal with – when I have to read the same scene told in an almost identical way several times I get annoyed. Maybe the summarising would have been less annoying had the narration not been first person from Cinderella’s point of view – it just made her sound forgetful and stupid - having to repeat and summarise herself so much - rather than the super-intelligent spy she’s meant to be. Even some important lines stressing the differences between Cinderella and Silver Slipper (‘I’m a patriot, she’s a ‘mercenary’) seem to have been repeated ad nauseam so that they no longer have any impact by the time we reach what’s meant to be the climactic show down between the two.
It’s not a terrible book though. It’s certainly not great, and it’s a massive step down from almost any of the mainstream Fables volumes, but I didn’t dislike it enough to give it one star. The plot twist at the end of the main timeline was interesting – even if I did see it coming – but most of the rest was just a series of things happening and unconvincing flashbacks that didn’t really fit with what regular readers would know about Fabletown history. So yeah…2 stars.
Oh and I guess I should mention that it’s got a one issue Cinderella story from the main Fables series tucked away at the back too. But I don’t quite understand the point: regular Fables readers will already have read it and newbies to the series well…firstly they shouldn’t be starting here and secondly it’s issue 51 and art of an overarching Fables storyline so a lot of the context that would be needed to really understand it isn’t there…
At least it completes a set on my shelves though…(less)
Inherit the Wind is a much better volume than Super Team. The ‘superhero’ gimmick has thankfully been dropped – one volume was fun anymore an...more3.5 Stars
Inherit the Wind is a much better volume than Super Team. The ‘superhero’ gimmick has thankfully been dropped – one volume was fun anymore and it would have been horrible – and it’s back to more standard Fables storytelling. All the same it’s still not quite up to the standard of some of the earlier volumes. Part of this is because it’s an inbetweeny, set-up, sort of book. The last volume resolved a major plot thread so this volume has to introduce us to the next few plotlines, something it manages with varying success.
The title storyline, Inherit the Wind, gives some sort of self-contained structure to the volume and is by far the most interesting thread of the three plotlines that take up the majority of the book (Finding a successor to the North Wind, Bufkin’s adventures in Oz, and Mrs. Spratt training for revenge on Fabletown). After having treated ‘the cubs’ almost as a single entity throughout a lot of the run it was interesting to see more panel time devoted to their individual personalities and the sibling relationships between them. I have to confess that I still can’t remember half of their names, but I have a slightly better grip on their personalities now and after hearing the prophecy surrounding them in this volume I look forward to them developing further and featuring more prominently in the future. I also liked the choice for which one did eventually win the title of the next North Wind. The entrance of the East, South, and Western winds also introduces some interesting story potential. The only bum note in this storyline that I can really think of is that Bigby and Snow’s dialogue came a little from ‘the big book of parent dialogue’.
The other plotlines in this book though…eh…I honestly can’t rate them too highly. If the payoff is good I’ll take it all back, but Nurse Spratt’s scenes seemed both too frequent and far too repetitive to really hold my interest: be praised by how far she’s come, flirt with whatshisface, make vague threats to destroy Fabletown, rinse and repeated ad nauseum. And call me oversensitive as well but I have to say I also find the ‘bitter fat woman’ characterisation a little…lazy? I can understand where the plot comes from in a verse were almost all the other females are ‘the fairest in the land’, but it really plays into the whole misogynistic idea that women who aren’t ‘pretty’ are all jealous bitches. If something interesting happens there I will take it all back, and for the moment I’m really reserving judgement on this plot, it could go somewhere really good, but it has yet to wow me.
The final of the main plotlines though did more than just fail to impress, in fact it actually prompted me to use the contemptuous look that I normally reserve for creepy men who try to grind up against me in nightclubs (and that normally sees them shuffling off looking suitably shamed). Bufkin in Oz…Bufkin in Oz… what to say about this plot… I stated in my review of Super Team that, although I love Bufkin, I don’t very much like Oz and well, if anything the dislike has increased with this volume. I was silently hoping that a more competent writer than Baum might do something I liked with the potentially interesting setting – unfortunately not. In fact if anything the Oz storyline has brought about some of the most puerile and irritating writing of the whole series ‘The new emperor fed me lots of people, because he had many enemies to go away of. “Yoop,” he’d say to me, “the secret of a stable empire is to turn all of your enemies into waste product as quickly and as often as they spring up.” Yoop poop!’. How funny! A babby-talking giant who eats people and shits them out! Oh wait, that’s not remotely funny. The whole storyline is characterised by this childish writing and annoying characters that simply don’t gel with the tone of the rest of the series. Unfortunately this plot also looks to be a big one, having come nowhere close to a resolution by the end of the volume. It’s not quite The Great Fables Crossover level of shit, but it’s probably going to be similarly ignored and sipped straight over in subsequent rereads. If you like Oz though you might like this, I'll happily admit my bias against the setting may be clouding my judgement.
And that’s it for the main story, the last two issues collected in the volume are ‘standalones’. ‘All in a Single Night’, a Christmas Carol>/i> parody featuring Rose Red is surprisingly important for what at first glance looked like a ‘holiday special’. It sets up her upcoming role as one of the major players in the series and I have to say this is one thing that I am really looking forward to in the next few volumes. Rose Red is awesome and definitely deserves more time to shine. The second standalone ‘In those days‘ is more of a traditional standalone, being a collection of very short stories, illustrated by a number of different artists, set in the fairytale worlds before they were conquered. Mostly these stories are self-contained but at least one gives some insight into the past of characters we have seen before.
So overall a solid, if slightly directionless volume. I like where the North Wind plot is going, where the Rose Red plot is going, and reserve judgement on the Mrs. Spratt plot. Only the Oz storyline doesn’t gel well, and even there I’m still hoping that later volumes will me round to it.(less)
First off I want to state that despite giving this review only one star I did not hate it, neither, however, can I in good faith rate it as 'ok'. It w...moreFirst off I want to state that despite giving this review only one star I did not hate it, neither, however, can I in good faith rate it as 'ok'. It wasn't ok, it was a total mess, but lurking in the first few chapters there was the potential for a good book - if only the author had been more concerned with the writing than the pictures.
The book's Wikipedia page says 'This children's book was originally intended to be a picture book featuring photographs Riggs had collected, but on the advice of an editor at Quirk Books, he used the photographs as a guide from which to put together a narrative.' and you can tell. The photographs aren't used to illustrate the story so much as the plot has been stretched out of shape to incorporate the pictures. The especially sad thing about this is that I would have loved the original concept - it was the photographs that drew me into buying this book and dissapointment at the mangled plot that made me donate it to charity.
The writing actually starts off well enough. For the first few chapters I was hooked, I even recommended it to my younger sister who hardly ever reads. It was tense, atmospheric, and the use of photographs - presented as once belonging to the protagonists recently deceased grandfather - made sense. However once the protagonist reaches the Welsh island he thinks will hold the answers to all his questions about his grandfather the plot takes a turn into WTFery.
Putting aside the irritating clichéness of the setting - a bleak windswept island that's barely heard of modern tecnology and the even more irritating superior attitude of the American protagonist who has heard of modern technology (such out of reach places do exist, afterall). The plot decided to take a bizare turn from creepy and atmospheric children's-horror -which was what it had been sold as - to (view spoiler)[a time travelling romance with kiddy X-Men. (hide spoiler)]
The use of pictures became increasingly poorly justified as we moved away from ones that were part of the Grandad's collection, and it soon became clear that the photographs were a crutch for both the plot and the writing. Why write a detailed description when you can say one short sentence and then stick in a picture? And then consistency issues within the photographs themselves started to appear too - I gave my book to charity so I can't double check but the protagonist's love interest looked like a different person in each photograph she appeared in and none of them matched the protagonists repeated textual description of her as 'totally hot' (maybe I'm just being shallow there though and if I'm wrong about it being a different girl in each do correct me).
After a very promising start the middle section was dragged out and dull - a cross between Tom's Midnight Garden (without the charm) and (view spoiler)[the X-Men (with none of the excitement) (hide spoiler)] with an unnecessary dose of emotionally disturbing romance. Then along came the ending; an info-dump and an anti-climax leading to a 'to be continued'. Thanks, but no thanks, the gimmick couldn't be sustained past the half way point of one book, let alone prop up a whole series.
I feel bad giving a debut author such a bad rating so some positives: I really enjoyed the first few chapters, Riggs writes well in the first few chapters and the depiction of a grieving teenager with post-traumatic-stress was well done right up until the point they got to cliché Bleak-Island. If he hadn't commited himself so hard into stringing along a plot purely to including his favourite photographs, Riggs could have written something quite good (or better than this at least).["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I love J.K. Rowling so fucking much. Harry Potter, her ridiculously huge donations to charity, and then this. Now, I’ll admit I probably woul...more 4.5 Stars
I love J.K. Rowling so fucking much. Harry Potter, her ridiculously huge donations to charity, and then this. Now, I’ll admit I probably wouldn’t have looked twice at this book if it wasn’t for the name on the cover (certainly not this cover anyway, it’s fucking bland – the original illustrated red cover on the hardbacks I would totally have picked up) and I was prepared for anything from mild disappointment to vehement dislike, judging on the mixed reviews it recieved, but actually I really really liked it. It’s not going to be for every Harry Potter fan of course, and I can understand why so many of them really didn’t like it – it’s bleak, it’s depressing, it’s full of swearwords and sex, it’s very very mundane, and none of the characters are really ‘likeable’. But that’s actually what I liked about this book. It was 'ordinary', but it felt incredibly realistic. And doubly so because I actually live in a town very very like the fictional Pagford myself.
I’m not in the West Country, like Pagford and Yarvil, and my hometown’s probably a bit bigger, less chocolate-box pretty, and less self-important than Pagford, but I am in a staunchly conservative, overwhelmingly middle class, almost entirely white town in rural England. I even have old-schoolfriends (so guys only in their twenties) who do fucking door to door canvasing for the tories – it’s that sort of place. So yeah, lots and lots of the social issues this book examines, and lots of the characters and attitudes felt familiar to me. The classism, the disdain for people in council housing/on benefits/dealing with addiction, the ignorance surrounding other cultures, the ridiculous self-importance of local politics, and the general smug, superior attitude of some of the characters.
And those characters, though not always likeable, were brilliantly complex and realistic. The Casual Vacancy is in fact almost more about the character studies than about the story. There are no ‘goodies’ or ‘baddies’. Like real people, everyone has their own flaws and motivations. So Krystal, the sixteen-year-old who brings up her baby brother on a council estate, constantly trying to get her mother to quit drugs, is no self-sacrificing saint but is also a foul mouthed teen who will beat you up for being related to the wrong person. And Parminder the parish councillor and local GP who gives everything to the community is a pushy parent completely oblivious to her own daughters utter misery or the racist bullying she faces. While Samantha; loud, brash, snide, and obnoxiously petty, can sometimes be very sympathetic in her utter hatred of the place and the people she spends time with. The only character I could find absolutely nothing to like or sympathise with was ‘Fats’, the middle-class teenager determined to find himself and be ‘authentic’ by being a total shit to everybody.
The story starts with the death of popular Parish Councillor, Barry Fairbrother, and follows the reactions of individuals and the community, to his death. But as well as leaving behind a grieving widow, children, and friends, he also leaves a seat on the parish council to be filled – and it isn’t long before both ends of the local political spectrum are pushing for their own candidates to give them the winning edge in the debate on whether to cut off the local council estate and close down the addiction centre. As I said, it’s a pretty mundane in terms of story and setting. But what it does do, the characters, and the way it peels off the veneer of ‘pretty little quaint english town’ to highlight very real social issues, it does very very well.
I can imagine this is quite a divisive book, but I loved it. And I’ll definitely be lending my copy to my best friend next time I visit her in London. Because I just know that it will remind her of home (and certain people here) too.
Of note – for those that have already read the book – the goodreads exclusive Rowling did on crafting her characters for this book is a really interesting read. Warning: contains massive spoilers for those who haven’t read the book yet.(less)
Yay! Percy’s back! And he’s still awesome. Just in the first chapter I felt myself enjoying the book more than I had at any point in The Lost H...more 4 Stars
Yay! Percy’s back! And he’s still awesome. Just in the first chapter I felt myself enjoying the book more than I had at any point in The Lost Hero. There’s the fun and goofiness I like. With Percy there to play off rather than boring boringface Jason, the monsters instantly became more memorable and unique. I have to confess I can barely remember a single ‘random encounter’ from The Lost Hero but Stheno, the gorgon who set up a font as a supermarket worker and has ‘gone native’, chasing heroes around offering free samples, will definitely stick in my mind. For the first few chapters things were well on track for a five star read.
Unfortunately, as soon as Percy reached Camp Jupiter for Roman demigods things slooowed right back down again. With the introduction of not only two major new characters but several important minor ones and a whole new way of demigod life, the action falls a bit by the wayside in favour of explanation and character backstories and flashbacks. The next monster encounter doesn’t actually happen until past the 200 page mark. And it’s interesting – I wanted to see how Roman camp worked and I like Frank and Hazel about a hundred times more than Piper and Jason (Leo still rocks) – but it does really screw up the pacing. Even once the three heroes set out on their quest, it takes a pretty long while to regain the momentum of those early chapters or any of the original Percy Jackson books. Only towards the end did I really start to feel that the book was unputdownable again.
It’s probably a bit of a necessary evil though. I imagine now that Jason, Piper, Leo, Frank, and Hazel have all been introduced, the pacing of the next few books in the series will flow much better without the need to keep flashing back to each character’s childhood every couple of chapters. I hope so anyway because much as Frank and Hazel’s backstories were interesting, it did begin to feel a bit formulaic; adventure time, adventure time, someone says something to Frank to trigger a SUDDEN AND RELEVANT CHILDHOOD MEMORY, adventure time, adventure time, Hazel’s turn for a SUDDEN AND RELEVANT CHILDHOOD MEMORY, Percy sits, watches, and reckons they would make a great couple. Does every book in this series need a love story? And how come adventure trios are always two guys, one girl? Props to Riordan for continuing with the character diversity though – after a mostly white (or no race mentioned) cast in the Percy Jackson series, Heroes of Olympus is full of HoC (heroes of colour) being relatable and normal teenagers (minus the crazy child of a god backstories). But really, I do kind of hope the next books take place more in the present. It’s ambitious enough for Riordan to introduce five major new protagonists to an established canon in just two books, but their backstories are really making the pacing drag.
But onto the story. Monsters are becoming impossible to kill, reforming almost as soon as they are destroyed, and an army of them is massing to destroy Camp Jupiter. Percy and his new best friend’s have to travel to Alaska and release the death god, Thanatos, from the giant who has taken him prisoner before the monster army annihilates the Roman demigods. It’s a ‘rescue the god/goddess by this date’ plot that Percy Jackson fans’ll be pretty familiar with by now and there’s lots of fun adventures along the way. Personally, I particularly liked Amazon being run by Amazons – and especially when there was an Amazon called Lulu there as well! Amazons are my faaaavourite – well, maybe not, I have a lot of favourites, but I do love them.
Although I didn’t love this book unconditionally, I really enjoyed it. After a slightly lukewarm middle I thought the last half was great, especially the return of one of my favourite characters near the end. I’m probably judging this book a little harshly because it’s Riordan and I know what he’s capable of, but third person narration isn’t his strongest style. It is a very good book. And I look forward to the next one (yes I know it’s out already but I’m not buying it until it’s a paperback) and to seeing not only the Percy-Annabeth reunion (yay!) but an adventure told, at least partly, from Annabeth’s perspective. True, I’ll have to put up with Jason and Piper again, but with five other far more awesome characters to share the attention I have some hopes that they will have less chance to annoy me.(less)
Still in post-novel afterglow here (this is what happens when you’re more interested in books than people). I really love this little series, i...more 5 Stars
Still in post-novel afterglow here (this is what happens when you’re more interested in books than people). I really love this little series, it’s like a slice of childhood, I just want to drizzle cream and chocolate sauce all over this book and gobble it up. But that would ruin a very beautiful paperback (and probably my digestive system too) so instead I will simply love it and stroke it and tuck it carefully back on my bookshelf to treasure for all time. Like, seriously, if I could do the Gollum voice that is exactly what I would be doing right now.
And now that I’ve scared all the normal people off I’ll get onto the review. . .
The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There (henceforth to be refered to as ‘Revels‘, because the title may be gorgeous but it’s also very long and I’m a slow typist) is the second book in Catherynne M. Valente’s children’s series, Fairyland, and is all the more worthy of those 5 stars up there for being a sequel that doesn’t dissapoint. In fact I might even prefer it to the first book, which was one of my absolute favourite reads of last year.
The protagonist, September, is a year older, and matured from a heartless child (all children are heartless according to the narrator) to a young teenager with a freshly grown, raw and inexperienced heart. She’s spent the time since her first visit to Fairyland being the lonely, excluded kid at school, missing her father (away fighting in WWII), and spending her free time reading up on Fairytales and mythology. So by the time the book starts she’s just as impatient as I was to jump back into Fairyland and meet up with her old (and odd) friends there. Only when she gets there Fairyland isn’t quite as she remembered. Magic is now being rationed, just like sugar back in her homeworld, people’s shadows are disappearing and September believes she know’s why and is determined to stop it.
Now, I’m going to admit that it took me a good few chapters to fall in love with the first Fairyland book – maybe because I wasn’t used to Valente’s style and the old fashioned fourth-wall-breaking narrator, maybe because the story seemed to wonder aimlessly about for a long while before the plot was revealed – but I had no such problem with Revels, I jumped straight in and fell in love immediately. We’re taken to different parts of Fairyland in this book, notably Fairyland-Below, and meet a whole host of new characters, but everything that I loved about the first book is still there too. There’s Ell the Wyvern who’s half-library, and Saturday the Marid, the characteristic quirky wonderful narration (perfect for reading aloud to children at bedtime), beautiful chapter illustrations by Ana Juan, and then the book throws in great new stuff like a ‘night dodo’ called Aubergine as well!
More than any of these wonderful Fairyland characters though, I loved September. I enjoyed her practical attitude in the first book but it was impossible for anyone to compete with Ell there as the breakout character. In this book I absolutely I adored her though. Her fresh new heart and extra year’s maturity add a slightly different tone to the book; it’s still quirky and brilliant, but it’s not just a rehash of the first book with a different enemy. September thinks of her parents more in this book, considers both her own and other peoples feelings more, tries to understand them, and deals with teenage emotions and changing relationships. She’s still the same person as twelve-year-old, heartless, September, but she’s grown up, just a little. Everything is more complex, less black and white, right and wrong, than in the first book. Instead of fighting the Marquis, September’s foe in this Revels is herself, or rather the shadow of her twelve-year-old self. And shadows are not inherently bad but simply the sides of ourselves we repress and keep hidden – ‘The Hollow Queen’s’ motivations are those September shares and sympathises with, her actions those September, were she less restrained and a bit more wild, could easily commit. It adds shades of grey to the adventure that I really enjoyed and left me guessing as to just how it could all be concluded.
But, and this will surprise no one I’m sure, it was concluded! And in a way I was really happy about too. The last few pages also won me completely over to the idea of a September/Saturday relationship in the future – he was very quiet in the first book and so harder to instantly love to the same degree as Ell or September, but something he said in the here just won me over completely. If only all men were as sensible and sweet and understanding as Saturday the world would be a totally better place.
Loved, loved loved the whole book and cannot wait for the next one, The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two, which comes out this year in America, so probably next year in the UK. May just have to bully a friend to send me a US copy.(less)
Objectively the worst book I have read, not just since I started thinking critically about books or reviewing, but ever.
(view spoiler)[Dinner With a Vampire combines all the worst traits of paranormal romance – a bratty and self-absorbed female narrator, an unlikable physically, emotionally, and sexually abusive love interest, vampires who are ‘perfect’ with no faults or weaknesses, the human character being somehow more ‘special’ than other humans, barely fleshed out side characters, telepathic connections, forbidden love etc. etc., you name it. Just a few of these would be bad enough on their own even if written competently, but instead we have them mushed together nonsensically into a big mess where the basic principles of writing such as ‘plot’, ‘continuity’, ‘character development’ and ‘worldbuilding’ have been completly abandoned.
It’s a genuinely terrible book, and one I wouldn’t recommend to anybody (and would advise people who have ever been raped or in an abusive relationship to steer well clear of) but somehow I couldn’t bring myself to actively hate or abandon it. It’s so bad that I had to keep going, just to see how much worse it could get (the answer: lots) but too bad for me to hate it. Rather than resent having to read such poor writing, I can’t help but feel rather sorry for the teenage author (I know I certainly wouldn’t like my unpolished teenage writings published). This is, essentially, a first draft of a book that should never have got past the publisher’s slush pile and as such it feels very harsh to judge it even by the most basic standards of what I expect in a published work.
The reason why it did get past, of course, is obvious: ’17-year old Abigail from Brixham, Devon is already an online sensation, whose writing has attracted over 16 million views on Wattpad. None of her fans have yet to discover the breathtaking end to the novel and there is a huge anticipation to read the finale.’ There, right on the back of the advance aeview copy is the only reason this is being published: to cash in on a huge ready-built online audience by forcing them to buy a copy if they want to read the ending. Shame on you HarperCollins, shame on you. This is, presumably, also why the book doesn’t read like it’s had a proofreader, much less a competent editor – it has to be rushed off the press before the fickle online audience move on and abandon it - and as a result continuity and worldbuilding issues abound.
As an ARC I’m meant to ignore basic spelling mistakes and typos that won’t get past publication (‘would of’ instead of ‘would have’ was one particularly frustrating example but there were many more) what I can’t forgive the editor though is allowing some of the dreadful, confused, and often contradictory writing to slip through. In only the third chapter we have this gem ‘The sun was beginning to rise, and I glanced at my watch’ followed in the very next paragraph by ‘it … was approaching sunrise’ - yeah, we already got that thanks. Basic, basic mistakes. Later being able to feed without killing forms a major part of Violet’s decision to turn into a vampire, except…well she should already know that because it's obvious right from the begining. Elsewhere we have bizarre phrasing – ‘her skin draped in her coat’ does not sound like a description of a living person, much less an appealing description of one. Has she been flayed? No. Then surely what’s meant is that the coat was draped over her skin. And that’s far from an isolated incident, there are innumerable sentences and phrases that just sound wrong. The sort of basic ‘wait a sec…did you really mean to say this?’ stuff that should be so so easy to pick up on and correct but have just been left to lie because, y’know, 16 million readers already hooked, right? No need to bother spending time to make it a quality product! Again, shame on you HarperCollins, shame on you.
Not, however, that this book could ever have been made into a truly good book. The phrases could have been tightened, the basic mistakes corrected, but this was always going to be a horrible book due to the poor plot and dreadful characters. Credit where credit is due, I suppose, the author tries to steer clear of the ‘vampires are sexy but not remotely scary’ trope that’s slipped into vampire fiction recently. These vampires murder and rape without the slightest compunction, instead they’ve been thoroughly ‘defanged’ by forcing them to act like the stupidest, most immature, and most petty sort of teenagers imaginable. When you have a man supposedly in his hundred’s threatening his older sister that he’ll tell daddy when she lost her virginity well…it’s hardly dark and sinister and it’s certainly not ‘charismatic and sexy’.
And the author tries to have it both ways. Kaspar is dark and sinister, but he’s also a gentle little puppy waiting for the right woman to turn him into a noble prince. Those other vampires may be cruel and vicious, but he’s just misguided! And what better way to emphasise it than by using rape as cheap drama. Now Kaspar may have threatened to rape Violet, he may have sexually harassed her several times, but when another vampire violently assaults her he’ll come rushing to her rescue. What a hero! Oh wait, no. he still kidnapped, assaulted, harassed, and threatened to rape her. In fact, even after they have (surprisingly explicit) consensual sex, his pillow talk consists of telling her how he plans to rape the daughters of his enemies. No matter what ‘nasty’ vampires in this book you're meant to compare him with, Kaspar will still never be ‘charismatic, sexy‘ or even likable. I can fall for ‘evil is sexy’ in my fiction, what I can’t fall for is a character written to sound exactly like the sort of bloke who would rape you and then feel sorry for himself when you didn’t like it. That sort of petty evil is sadly all too common in the real word, it doesn’t need romanticising in fiction.
And then the whole ‘rape as a tool to push two characters together romantically’… oooh boy do I hate that trope. I don’t object to rape in fiction; it’s a real thing, it happens, frequently, and it needs to be discussed openly and not made taboo. The test though is in how an author deals with the after affects. What rape in fiction should never be is simply an easy excuse to scare a female romantic lead away from all men but the ‘hero’. And guess how it’s handled here? Yep, exactly that way. Before the rape; she hates Kaspar and sees through all his shit. After the rape; he rescued her and now they’re best friends and she totally wants in his pants. It’s handled so badly and so insensitively (despite a few ‘I felt dirty, I shouldn’t be acting this way’ protests from Violet that never ring quite true with everything else shown on the page) that only a few pages, and a few days, after almost dying from the attack she doesn’t mind at all when Kaspar sneaks into her room while she’s asleep, covers her mouth to stop her screaming, and then practically demands she consents to having him suck her blood. Better still as soon as he leaves his best friend comes in (the other side of the love triangle) and forces a kiss on her which she’s totally ok with. It’s just…it boggles the mind really.
I could go on about the bad things in this book forever but what, I think, they mostly stem from is being originally published serially online. Even if I didn’t know the origin of this book I’m fairly sure I could guess it just from reading. It doesn’t read like a book, it reads like someone’s simply hit the print button on an online fiction and then bound the pages together. Instead of natural, flowing, plot and character development this book is just a string of things happening for no particular rhyme or reason. No time for proper world building or character development, got to keep the audience coming back, can’t let up the pace! This might be tolerable when reading one chapter a month, maybe even one a week, but read it all in one go, as one reads a novel, and you realise that the tone and characterisation are just all over the place and that actually, no, it’s not ok for these things to be happening so soon after each other.
Then there’s the bits that seem obviously inspired by feedback comments from fans ‘oh you’re so Kaspery! – It’s a word I made up’, ‘I can’t die! I’ve never been to Disneyland!’ ‘It’s pronounced Sage-en, not Sagean’ (this last one is particularly dumb because the character had only ever heard the word so, not knowing how it's spelt, would have no reason to be pronouncing it with an ‘a’ in the first place).
Add to this the fact that the plot doesn’t even make sense – the easiest and least dangerous thing to do would just be to give Violet back to her family, bind her to an agreement of secrecy and let her go on her way. That and there is no way Violet could possibly ‘know’ the big secret she guesses blindly, and even less way that the vampires shouldn't already have considered it - but guess what? Her wild guess is totally correct and the vampires are stunned! Then there’s the sudden shift in genre near the end of the book as well; it’s all ‘clichéd vampire romance’ yawn yawn yawn. But then WHAM! ‘Actually there are several alternate universes and Violet is the heroine who has to save them all!’. Except instead of ‘wham’ it’s more of an ‘oh shit, I forgot to do my worldbuilding earlier or set up this plot thread properly but this is totally what this book is actually about’.
And then Violet... Why should I care for this character? I can feel sorry for her situation, but the character herself is not written to be sympathetic in any way. She’s lost her brother and that’s meant to be a big plot point explaining how she ended up where she did; except he barely gets referenced three times and it’s always ‘it was really sad when he died, it affected me a lot’ without ever actually seeing it affect her. Her ex-boyfriend cheated on her but that again gets about three references. Her little sister has cancer, but she’s too busy drooling over Kaspar to think of her family more than about twice and then acts like a total bitch to them at the end. She slut shames all of the previous girls Kaspar has ever slept with, deciding they must be ‘whores‘ (as far as I can tell none of them are sex workers and Charity, the girl particularly demonised by Violet, Kaspar and the autor, actually did fancy and want a relationship with Kaspar, it was him using her purely for sex). She pretty much slut shames her best friend (never mentioned again) in the first chapter, does the same to Kaspar’s sister, and even thinks of Kaspar’s exes ‘whores’ as she is shagging him. Why should I like her? She’s a judgemental bitch and her Stockholm syndrome isn’t written in anything like a believable enough way to prevent her from just looking like a complete idiot. (hide spoiler)]
In short: this book simply too bad for me to hate it. It's so clearly not of publishable quality that I just feel kind of sorry for it for not being given the constructive criticism and redrafting it so desperately needed before being sent out into the world.
Terrible writing, terrible editing, and a terrible plot. 0 stars.
Thank you to Waterstones for sending me an Advance Review Copy.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I hesitate to call this book the best in the series only because Rivers of London holds a very special place in my heart that is absolutely...more 4.75 Stars
I hesitate to call this book the best in the series only because Rivers of London holds a very special place in my heart that is absolutely impossible to replace. It was an impulse buy and the first book I read after seeking help to manage my depression – and as such marked the first time I had managed to truly and unreservedly enjoy anything for months, possibly years. But, if I try to remove that from the equation, Broken Homes is definitely the best written and best plotted of the Peter Grant books so far and, without a doubt, has the most exciting climax.
A brief explanation for the uninitiated – Peter Grant is a London Police officer. He is also an apprentice magician. In that order. One of the best and most unique elements of this urban fantasy series is that – though there might be magicians, river goddesses, dryads and fairies – it’s actually very ‘realistic’ in tone. Peter and his partner, Lesley, do real policework, not the ‘maverick cop’ or ‘lose cannon’ stuff you see in most crime novels and TV, but real PC plod stuff, slowly putting together a case and working with, rather than against, their superior officers. It's a really refreshing approach - though often the rest of the police would really rather not have anything to do with the ‘weird shit’ Peter’s department specialises in.
So when said ‘weird shit’ starts happening, mutilated bodies turning up in the woods, a man cooked from the inside out, a very suspicious suicide, and a stolen book of magical spells, Peter is the one who has to piece it all together while the local police work on their separate murder enquiries. And all clues seem to lead to a council tower-block in South London, and Peter’s nemesis, the Faceless Man.
It’s a bit slow to get started at first, with Peter being given case after seemingly unconnected case and the links between them forming quite slowly. For the first few chapters, I actually quite enjoyed that, it’s part of the ‘realism’ of the series and I really like the way Peter describes crime scenes and police procedure. Around the point where there was an interlude for Peter and Lesley to police a magical festival I got a little irritated though. It seemed a bit plonked down and nothing to do with anything, the net result of it only being a couple of slightly tiresome ‘why aren’t you fucking Beverly?’ conversations later in the book (Peter’s narration is really best when it’s not talking about women he fancies). But after that brief interlude things really started to come together again and the last half of the book is absolutely brilliant.
I just love this series (with the exception of the second book). The characters are great – more so now that Lesley has moved from ‘romantic interest’ to ‘close friend’ – the magic system is unique, and it’s just full of oddball but wonderful ideas. The narration, a first person account from Peter, is really well done, and London is portrayed as the diverse city it really is rather than peopled (and policed) by exclusively straight white dudes. The series keeps adding to the rich world-building with each book and there’s lots of new stuff to learn here without it ever really feeling particularly info-dumpy.
This book also turns the Faceless Man into a real threat for me. Maybe he already was, but he was introduced in Moon Over Soho and I found that book so crushingly disappointing (lots of too-stupid-to-live moments and sex scenes that jarred with the tone) that I’m not sure I really took in much about him until this book. But, despite Peter’s boss Nightingale insisting that he’s ‘no Moriarty’, this book showed him to be a calculating and very credible threat that I look forward to seeing more of (though I have to say that Moriarty is a shitty villain who was defeated in his first story by being pushed off a cliff, most master criminals in most books are better villains than Moriarty). Also, this book finally let Nightingale show off just how badass he is is and it was AWESOME. Finally a full on wizard's duel!
A really really great book with an absolutely brilliant ending. A couple of pacing issues in the first half are really all that’s holding me back from awarding five stars – but I am sorely tempted.
Very very much look forward to the next book in the series and I’m going to continue buying these in hardback the moment they’re released.(less)
A fun little novel, I tossed up for a good ten minutes or so whether to give it 3.5 or 4 stars and eventually decided to round it up (think of...more 4 Stars
A fun little novel, I tossed up for a good ten minutes or so whether to give it 3.5 or 4 stars and eventually decided to round it up (think of it as a 3.75 if you like). This was a bit of an impulse buy – I went into Waterstones to pick up another book, had a quick browse through their special offer’s tables, marked this down as something that looked interesting, and left, walked halfway down the street, turned round, and went straight back into the shop. My wallet’s not particularly happy with me about it (I had to buy a third book to get the ‘buy one get one half price’), but I’m very glad I did. Impulse buys can always be a bit hit or miss (We, the Drowned and War with the Newts were both brilliant, The Sunday Philosophy Club was a steaming pile of shit I couldn’t even finish) but I like to make them when I have the spare cash. There’s just something about picking up a book you’ve not heard anything about that I really love. And although I didn’t fall in love with this book, I am very glad that I picked it up. I really enjoyed it and it’s probably a book that would have completely passed me by otherwise.
It’s a short, cute, little novel set in 1980s France. An accountant treats himself to a fancy meal while his wife and child are away and is stunned to find that his neighbour on the next table is the President, François Mitterrand. Eating as slowly as he can, so that he can bask in the moment, Daniel watches the President and his dining companions leave, only to discover that Mitterrand has left behind his black felt hat. Choosing to keep it for himself rather than return it, Daniel leaves the restaurant with his new hat on his head and a newfound sense of self confidence. Suddenly he’s talking back to his superiors at work, eating breakfast with very important men, and being promoted to regional director. He attributes all this to the power of the president’s hat, and when he loses it himself, he is determined to get it back.
The story follows the hat’s various different owners as it passes from person to person, changing all of their lives for the better. From a woman in a nowhere relationship to a washed up has-been perfumer, the hat seems to have some power to bring back confidence in those unhappy with their situation in life. It is, in some ways, almost a selection of linked short stories, and with limited page time all of the characters have to be painted in quite broad, shallow strokes. Daniel’s quest to reclaim the president’s hat provides a much needed bookend to the story and adds a sense of narrative drive that stops the book from feeling too aimless.
It’s a fun little book and a very easy read – I was surprised just how quickly I got through the (admittedly small) page-count. The writing flows easily and gives you just enough information to contextualise events – the 1980s in France are certainly unfamiliar territory for me at least – without getting bogged down in historical detail. For those who remember the 80s (I’m an ’88 baby, so I don’t) I imagine it’s also a nostalgic look back at a ‘simpler time’, where men still wore hats everyday, television only had so many channels, answerphones still used cassettes, and illicit love affairs were only just beginning to be arranged through online message boards. Laurin weaves in real historical events throughout the narrative and presents the story in the epilogue as something that ‘could’ really have happened.
I’m going to disagree with the ‘Reading Group’ suggestions at the back of my copy and say that this isn’t really a book I want to ask lots of probing questions about right now. Whether the hat really is magic or not doesn’t particularly matter to me. It was simply an enjoyable, refreshing, and rather charming little summer read. And probably a book that I will return to for a reread at some point too, it's certainly quick enough to get through.(less)