Going to be a brief review because I appear to have lost my notes on this book.
Catching Fire has the unenviable job of being the middle book of4 stars
Going to be a brief review because I appear to have lost my notes on this book.
Catching Fire has the unenviable job of being the middle book of a trilogy, more about introducing the main themes and getting characters to where they need to be for book three than in telling its own story. It’s also the follow up book to a story that didn’t need a sequel in the first place. The Hunger Games worked fine as a standalone book and the very set up – a yearly televised event – makes it difficult to imagine a sequel that isn’t in some ways just a rewrite of the first book. But, despite both those things, I again really enjoyed Catching Fire. It’s probably my favourite book in the series and it made for a fun holiday read.
The world building hasn’t improved. Which is disappointing as the Victory Tour of the districts that opens the book would really have been the time to do it. But there’s several new characters, including one of my favourite characters in the entire series, Johanna and a lot more time is spent to flesh out the rival tributes than in the first book. It’s also the book with the least amount of time spent on the inane love-triangle plot, so it’s got that going for it.
The story is more evenly split up this time too, with much more time in District 12 at the beginning to get a feel for the characters, their relationships, and the danger the Capitol actually poses for them. This was something that was missing a bit from book one, where Katniss was bundled on a train almost straight away without the reader ever really learning quite enough about her life to be all that emotionally impacted by her sacrifice. And it was something that was also narratively important to do to lay down the foundations and set up the revolution plot lines for this and the final book. On the downside, though, it did mean that the actual Hunger Games were condensed down into the back half of the book and that they seemed to go a bit too quickly.
But there’s a twist to the games this year! Apparently its a Quarter Quell, a special Hunger Games that takes place every 25 years, but was never mentioned in the original book. And the special twist for this quarter quell is… the tributes will all be former winners of the games! Yeah, it’s all amazingly contrived, and the reasoning works a lot better in the film than in the book. But, as arse-pulls go, it’s not actually too bad. It works and it works well – giving us a crowd of older, more deadly, more developed, and more interesting tributes for the games (again, Johanna is clearly the best) compared to the mostly bland and forgettable children of book one. I do think Collins missed a trick in shaking up the dynamics though, a Katniss/Haymitch District 12 would have been way cooler and more interesting read than a replay of Katniss/Peeta.
Still, despite sticking dangerously close to simply recreating the plot of book one, I actually liked book two more. With the stakes a bit higher this time around, and with an underground revolutionary movement beginning to brew with Katniss as its figurehead (even if Katniss is too selectively dumb to notice it), it has a bit more going for it than the 'I just want to survive' motivation of the first book....more
Another sunny few days, another Jeeves and Wooster. I didn’t enjoy this one quite so much as The Code of the Woosters or other previous books b4 Stars
Another sunny few days, another Jeeves and Wooster. I didn’t enjoy this one quite so much as The Code of the Woosters or other previous books but I’d be very had pressed to try to pinpoint why.
Joy in the Morning (Jeeves in the Morning in the US) sees Bertie forced to visit the village of Steeple Bumpleigh to help facilitate a meeting between his Uncle Percy and the brilliantly named US businessman, J. Chichester Clam. Whilst there Bertie also becomes embroiled in an old schoolfriend’s increasingly disastrous attempts to win Uncle Percy’s permission to marry his ward and finds himself the very unwilling ‘snake in the grass’ to in ‘Stilton’ Cheesewright’s relationship with Bertie’s dreadful former fiancée, Florence Craye. Highlights include a fancy dress party, a house fire, a Sinbad the Sailor costume (complete with ginger whiskers), a staged robbery, an increasingly vindictive policeman and, of course, Bertie Wooster’s wonderfully narrated first-person perspective on everything.
All in all it’s typical Wodehouse stuff, very much of the same mould as the earlier Jeeves novels and short stories, which are all very much in the same mould as each other. So much so that every time my dad (being a fellow Wodehouse fan) catches me with a Jeeves and Wooster, after curiously inquiring which one, he always and invariably admits to not knowing whether he’s read it or not, asking for a plot point, and then going ‘well that pretty much describes all of them’. But, well, that’s all part of their charm. It’s like watching a favourite sitcom: you always know what you’re going to get when you pick one up. Not my favourite in the series, but still very enjoyable....more
Although this book is the first book of its own series, it contains some pretty big spoilers for events in its parent series, Fables. In fact I 4 Stars
Although this book is the first book of its own series, it contains some pretty big spoilers for events in its parent series, Fables. In fact I’m not sure how someone trying to read this series without having read Fables first would be able to get into it, as it does rely quite a bit on knowing the character’s backstories already. But I enjoyed it, not as much as I was hoping, but a lot more than I was fearing after the last Cinderella book. It’s not the best, and I battled for a long time with myself over whether it should really be a 3 or 4 star read, but in the end, despite a few misgivings, I decided to be generous. Definitely worth checking out if you’re following Fables already, it has the same sort of feel to it – something the previous spinoff, Jack of Fables didn’t – but I’m not sure I’d recommend that someone new to the Fables universe starts here.
Fairest is, or is meant to be, a female-led spinoff from the main series, taking its name from the idea that with all the fairytale characters now living together there are lots and lots of ‘fairest of them all’s. I say ‘meant to be’ however because for the first half of the ‘Wide Awake‘ storyline it seemed a very standard male-led story with Ali Baba as the roguish hero and the second story ‘Lamia‘ is an entirely male led ‘film noir’ detective story. I liked both stories, but this is definitely something I want to see done better in future books – females taking leading roles in their own stories rather than being either love interests or the motivation for men’s adventures.
Still,as I said, I liked both stories. Wide Awake, the longer of the two takes up 6 of the 7 issues collected in this volume and is focussed, as you might expect from the title, on Briar Rose (aka Sleeping Beauty), last seen in the main comics in an enchanted sleep with Lumi, the Snow Queen, being carted away by goblins. The story opens with Ali Baba (of forty thieves fame), accompanied by an exposition-loving bottle imp, breaking into the goblin camp and waking Sleeping Beauty with a kiss. Unfortunately with Briar Rose awake her spell breaks and wakes the Snow Queen up as well and the Snow Queen is (or was) a serious baddy. I have to say I felt she was a little ‘de-fanged’ here, which was a bit disappointing. And, though I liked it, the story seemed both to drag on and to be a little rushed in places. There is an awful lot of exposition on Briar Rose’s origins but very little of it is new information – the fairies who blessed/cursed her now have specific names, but actually it follows most versions or the ‘original story’ too closely to surprise anyone and I found the idea that Briar Rose had never heard the story before kind of baffling. But while that stuff seemed to slow things down the ‘present day’ stuff seemed rather rushed, making the relationships between the characters and their motivations seem very shallow. Limitation of the format, I guess, and the difference in reading these issues bound together in a single trade vs reading in monthly instalments. Despite a few problems it certainly had a nice Fables-y feel to it though, a much more promising start than the last spinoff I read.
The second story, Lamia, I’m still conflicted about. It’s a good little story, it’s got a nice art style to it as well, but it has some pretty huge implications for characters in the main comic and on how the reader now has to perceive those characters both going forward and with hindsight. And I’m just not sure I want to see those implications played out, I liked the reading I already had of them. But I guess I’ll just wait and see, it could turn out to be amazing.
A solid start to the series, not the most welcoming for new readers but I guess that’s not really the intention. What I would like to see going forward though is a lot more ‘female led stories’ and less ‘stories about men thinking about women’. With the title and publicity promoting this as a series about female characters I would like those female characters to have more agency, more varied goals and ambitions, and not to be called ‘bitches’ so often by the other characters they share the page with. And since each story is apparently going to have a different writer, I would like to see more women writing and drawing these stories too, writing them without male love interests and drawing them without ‘male gaze’ fanservice. I like Bill Willinghams writing on Fables, I liked most of the art in this book (though I couldn’t work out what was happening in the action scenes) but I won’t lie that I am worried this series won’t live up to the awesomeness that it could be if it continues to be so male dominated....more
Apparently Winnie the Witch is actually older than me. I had no idea. I read a grand total of one Winnie book when I was a child and that when3 stars
Apparently Winnie the Witch is actually older than me. I had no idea. I read a grand total of one Winnie book when I was a child and that when I was already too old for picture books and was just killing time. So although I quite liked it I have no particular fond memories of Winnie as a childhood favourite - I was more of a Meg and Mog kinda girl. Since I was volunteering for a Winnie's Dinosaur Day themed half-term event at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History (including a guest appearance from the illustrator) though, I thought I'd better check the book out.
Winnie the witch enters a 'draw the best triceratops' competition at her local museum and decides to travel back in time to see what they really looked like. A nice fun picture book for younger readers (and perhaps their parents) to read. The pictures are great and the story is suitably silly. Not sure how it measures up to the million other Winnie the Witch books in the series, but I thought it was good. Wouldn't mind a miniture triceratops as a pet either (though my dog might!).
Being the geek that I am one of my favourite things about it was that the local museum depicted in the illustrations is the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. Hence the themed half-term events - where we made triceratops masks, Winnie and Wilbur hats, cetiosaurus stick puppet and held out own 'draw your own dinosaur competition'. Unfortunately my slightly punky sauropod failed to make any impression on the judges in the 9+ age category :(
Whilst the Sisters Grimm series still suffers from all the problems I went into a little in my last review – mainly inconsistent pacing, tone,4 Stars
Whilst the Sisters Grimm series still suffers from all the problems I went into a little in my last review – mainly inconsistent pacing, tone, and writing – I liked this book a lot more than Tales From the Hood. Finally, finally, the ‘mystery’ formula has been dropped to allow the overarching plot takes centre stage and the villain’s have started acting like the competent bad guys they appeared in the alternative future of Magic and other Misdemeanours and not the bumblingly ineffective bunch of petty villains with patchy motivations they have always appeared in the other books. This is a book that, to be honest, should probably have come a lot sooner in the series, but I am glad that, even if it only happened in book seven, the plot is making some forward movements.
The Everafter War picks right up where the story left off in Tales From the Hood, with Golidilocks and the three bears standing on the Grimms doorway offering to help break the sleeping spell put on Sabrina and Daphne’s parents. Only when they do wake up, it’s not quite as Sabrina was hoping. Her father still treat her and Daphne as if they’re the age they were when he fell asleep two years ago and it’s plain to see where Sabrina gets her bouts of total dickishness from. Henry Grimm vowed before his daughters were born that he would never return to Ferryport Landing and now he’s awake he fully intends to drag his family out of there, impending civil war or not. Instead of a joyful reunion, Sabrina and Daphne find themselves babied and witness to huge family arguments, bickering, and sulking.
Meanwhile the baddies in the Scarlet Hand have finally grown a backbone, the Sheriff of Nottingham amazing everyone when he actually uses the weapon he was pointing at someone. Army lines are being formed, side characters are being killed, and dragons are being released to terrorise the town. The dark future Sabrina and Daphne caught a glimpse of in book five finally seems to be on its way.
Except…well it all happens a bit too suddenly really. When the Grimm family visit Charming’s rebel camp he and his followers have built a full on fort to protect themselves and their ranks have swollen through refugees from the town. Only…well all this has happened in a single day and Mr Canis’ flippant explanation that ‘we work fast around here‘ is one of the biggest arsepulls I’ve ever read. In one day (probably less than in fact), Charming has built a fort and declared war on the Scarlet Hand, Snow White has started training an army, Mr Canis’ memories have started to return ‘slowly‘ (lol) and the Scarlet Hand have conducted a campaign of fear extreme enough to drive every friendly everafter out of town. It just doesn’t add up, and when the author’s had 6 previous books to get this stuff rolling properly there’s absolutely no excuse for it.
Also I have to question the logic behind all the friendly everafters being able to find the fort no problem while all the unfriendly ones seem to find the task impossible. And why is it suddenly Charming in charge when it was Robin Hood and his Merry Men (surely a better choice of commander) who left to found it in the last book, with Charming really only tagging along. Robin Hood (in any incarnation) will always be much better than any fancypants Prince Charming.
But, niggles aside, this book steps up its game over most of the previous ones. There’s tension and deaths and big plot revelations (at least one of which is even surprising!). Because it doesn’t have the ‘detective mystery’ framework of the earlier books to hold it together it can sometimes feel a bit like lots one thing happening after another without much plot, but if the plot of the single book suffers, at least the plot of the overall series is being advanced....more
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"]>...more
After their trip to New York, the Sisters Grimm are back in Ferryport Landing for their best adventure yet. Magic items have been stolen from t 4 Stars
After their trip to New York, the Sisters Grimm are back in Ferryport Landing for their best adventure yet. Magic items have been stolen from three of Ferryport’s most powerful witches and tears in the fabric of time have started opening up in town, letting through dinosaurs, American civil war soldiers, and providing the sisters with a rather grim glimpse into their possible futures where dragons roam the skies and the Scarlet Hand rules Fairyport.
The mystery, as normal, I was able to solve myself very easily, but then I’m a good fifteen years older than the target audience so I can’t take too much pride in that. I thought it was far more deftly handled than in the previous books, however, with not every clue being flagged up too obviously and no characters forced to act particularly dumb to make the plot work. That the story was just as focussed (if not more) on the time rifts and how to stop the possible future also helped pull this book up from another simple mystery, with both the main plot and the series arc working together here better than in the previous books. I also appreciated the character development in this instalment. Not only does the time rift offer a glimpse of how some of the major characters might turn out in fifteen years time, but Sabrina has finally stopped being so prejudiced and become instantly more likeable. I’m also really loving what’s going on with both Mr. Canis and Prince Charming and it was great to see Uncle Jacob back after his disappearing act in the last book.
The plot is very Days of Future Past in places but I quite like that, despite not always being a fan of time travel. After four books of the Scarlet Hand just being this shadowy organisation that kidnaps and assassinates people using one agent at a time it’s good to see more of the organisation as a whole, what their aims are, and just how terrible a future ruled by them would actually be. Just this one little glimpse into this possible future ups the stakes for the series and the characters considerably. I have a feeling, going forward, that the stakes will continue to be raised as the series plot becomes progressively more important than the ‘mystery’ framework of each book. Which, I have to say, is absolutely fine by me.
There were less of the small funny moments here that characterised the first four books. Most of the important players seem to have been introduced now, but Cinderella as a radio agony aunt, the witch from hansel and Gretel as a dentist, and Mordred as a sad loser addicted to computer games were nice little reminders of the quirkiness the series is built on.
All in all my favourite book of the series so far. It’s nice to see both it and its protagonists start to mature. Am really looking forward to book six and what promises to be a Mr. Canis/Big Bad Wolf heavy instalment and one that might challenge the established fairytale narratives of some of the key characters.
Quick note: since I’m moving to uni in September, I’ll probably get through the remainder of the series pretty quickly now, having checked to find it completely unavailable to order from my new library. So expect reviews of 6, 7, 8, and 9 in the not so distant future once my currently library manages to get them in for me....more
I really enjoyed this book. It’s not perfect by any means and a lot of it felt quite predictable but it’s aimed at younger children than most o 4 stars
I really enjoyed this book. It’s not perfect by any means and a lot of it felt quite predictable but it’s aimed at younger children than most of the books I’ve been reading this year and it’s got a nice cosy childhood feel to it. It’s also in a genre I tend to like – fairy tale mash-ups. It seems you can’t escape them at the moment what with Once Upon a Time (started strong, very quickly got too boring to watch) and Grimm (started dull, got stronger as the series went on) as well as the flood of mediocre Snow White and Red Riding Hood films in recent years trying to be the next ‘big thing’. People seem to have cottoned on that they don’t have to pay copyright charges on fairy tales and are milking it for what it’s worth.
For me though my affection for the genre started when I was very small with Each Peach Pear Plum – a classic of the ‘read aloud to your baby’ picture books – and The Jolly Postman, or Other People's Letters and The Jolly Christmas Postman - a brilliant interactive pop-up series for young readers that I honestly cannot recommend highly enough for people with young kids. Of course there’s the retellings - Revolting Rhymes and The True Story of the Three Little Pigs were practically required reading in primary school and they’re both great – but for me it’s always been about the shared-world thing where characters from different and sometimes very disparate fairy tales live alongside and interact with each other. Jasper Fforde does a similar thing for and adult audience with his Nursery Crime series and uses out-of-copyright literary characters for the same purpose in his Thursday Next series (both brilliant – Thursday Next more so than Nursery Crime). And anyone who’s been reading my blog/following me on goodreads for any length of time knows I’m totally hooked on Bill Willingham’s Fables comics which transports fairy tale characters to modern-day New York. So…how does Michael Buckley’s work compare? And is that even a fair question?
Considering the different age groups all those books at I’d say not – but it’s something I couldn’t help doing as I read. There were a lot of superficial similarities to works I’d read before – particularly Fables – to the extent it sometimes did feel like Fables for kids. There were fairy tale characters living a secret existence in New York state, Jack the giant-killer as a pretty unheroic but friendly wastrel, and Prince Charming as the mayor is an impoverished but ambitious royal who’s married and divorced almost every princess there is. But these are mostly are similarities stemming from the source material itself – once you decide to use fairytale characters it’s natural to combine all the Prince Charming’s into one character, and once you’ve done that you do then have to account for how many times he’s married. The vaguely similar personalities of Jack I’d attribute to the same thing – tell his story without the assumption that he’s the ‘hero’ and he becomes a lazy and uncaring kid who’d rather take the easy way out than work hard to help his family and eventually becomes a housebreaker and robber (and that’s just if we ignore the giant killing). It’s striking, and whichever order I read the books I’d be noticing the similarities, but I won’t hold that against this book – especially as I actually vastly prefer this version of Jack and the target audience should probably not be reading Fables in the first place and so won't have that comparisson in their minds.
So putting aside comparisons with similar books, how did I like it? Well enough. It’s not exactly going up on my list of ‘favourite books ever’ but I enjoyed it and thought it was a clever and entertaining little book with some very funny moments and interesting characters. I want to see more of Mr. Canis for certain, I enjoyed Granny Relda, Jack, and Puck, and got a few giggles out of King Arthur being concerned about the state of his car and the three little pigs working as policemen – nice pun there. I got a bit fed up on the emphasis of certain character’s ‘thick english accent’ and making him say Britishisms where they don’t really fit (who the fuck asks for bubble and squeak for breakfast? It’s horrible at any time of day, but breakfast?) but I can overlook it.
Now onto the main characters! Little Daphne I loved, but Sabrina’s personality – and the story is told from Sabrina’s third person-limited perspective – does make it a bit hard to get instantly into the story. Not only is she a cynic for the first half of the book but she’s also a very guarded and defensive child who doesn’t like to listen to anybody else about anything – a bit like book 5 Harry Potter but without the capslocky shoutingness. It makes perfect sense of course, she’s a child who feels the hurt of being abandoned by her parents and has had to play the role of mum and dad to her little sister through several different abusive and neglectful foster families – but it can come off as ‘high and mighty’. (Coincidentally I really liked the touch that they had resigned themselves to the idea that their parents had abandoned them rather than trying to rationalise it as ‘something must have happened to them, they wouldn’t abandon me’). Sabrina’s character development is a big theme of the story of course and she does get gradually better, but if you don’t like her much to begin with it might make the book harder to enjoy.
The story itself is good fun with a nice amount of action with lots of odd little fairy tale quirks to it – chase scenes on flying carpets etc. The twists and turns were a bit predictable – but then I’m twenty-four, I would expect to be able to predict most children’s stories by now, at seven I’m almost certain I’d have been surprised by them. Buckley also manages to pull off the start of an intriguing looking metaplot concerning exactly what has happened to the girl’s parents as well as neatly and satisfactorily tying up the novel’s stand-alone plot.
It’s very much the ‘first book of a series’ with a lot of time spent introducing the different elements and characters, but it’s the first book of what looks to be a very fun and entertaining series. I’ll certainly be ordering the second one from the library soon anyway....more
For anyone new to Sherlock Holmes this is really the place to start. Doyle finally hits his stride with this collection of short stories. It’s a formaFor anyone new to Sherlock Holmes this is really the place to start. Doyle finally hits his stride with this collection of short stories. It’s a format that suits both the characters and the mysteries far better than the slightly drawn-out novels (with the exception of The Hound of the Baskervilles, which is ace) and has the blessed relief of absolutely no obscenely long and involved story within a stories. It’s also, from memory, the most solid of the short story collections as a whole – Memoirs containing a couple of duds and later collections a little bit lackluster in comparison – even so, it’s a mixed bag. On second reading (or rather listening) there were stories I liked rather less than on my first read, but none that I actively disliked.
The Adventure of the Red Headed League, despite Doyle apparently regarding is as one of his best, is probably the one that comes closest. It’s one I never particularly took to on first reading either; the solution being to obvious, the ‘mystery’ too farfetched, and the apparently highly intelligent villain too completely unsubtle in his agenda. But then I do have to give Doyle some leeway for not living in an age where people were so exposed to these sort of scams on an everyday basis (what person using the internet hasn’t been told they could earn ‘$500 an hour’ by signing up to some obviously dodgy service?).
A Scandal in Bohemia is also one I don’t have that much time for. Maybe I should; it’s the one with ‘the woman’, Irene Adler in and she famously outwits him but… well he isn’t that hard to outwit here. His plan to get her to reveal where the photograph he’s been asked to retrieve is is brilliantly simple, but it’s also very obvious and kind of stupid. It’s pure dumb luck – and stupidity on Irene’s part – that the plan works in the first place, and her ‘outwitting’ him consists of realising what Holmes was doing (which wasn’t subtle) and making a contingency plan while Holmes sits about wasting time not acting on his information. Holmes isn’t meant to be sympathetic for most of this story, I realise, and it’s meant to show him underestimating female intelligence, so far so successful, no problems there – but it would have been nice to give him a decent female adversary rather than simply rely on him acting stupid for the plot to work. Even in a story about Holmes overcoming his sexism there’s a lot of pretty implicit sexism. Irene is ‘the woman’ because she’s different from ‘other’ women. Yawn, move on. At least there isn’t any sexual tension there.
It doesn’t help greatly that this story is followed by another story which concludes with the quote ‘There is danger for him who taketh the tiger cub, and danger also for whoso snatcheth a delusion from a woman‘ and the decision not to tell a young woman the truth about the mystery she asked him to solve – thus letting her evil stepfather’s plan to pocket her inheritance succeed. But then Holmes is a flawed character who makes flawed decisions and I can’t get too angry with a writer for portraying a complex character rather than going for a boring one with a flawless moral compass. I might not like Holmes’ decision at the end but it’s a solid story and it’s not out of character.
In fact I enjoyed all the stories, just at different levels. None of the three mentioned above are ‘bad’, I just find them less compelling or slightly more problematic than others. Certainly none had me wanting to check how much longer I had to sit through until the end – which happened frequently during A Study in Scarlet. And there are some real highlights in this collection too, particularly ‘The Five Orange Pips’ and ‘The Adventure of the Speckled Band‘, neither of which I want to say much about for fear of spoilers, except that they both have a wonderful sense of atmosphere and impending danger and that the stakes feel high.
Not that Holmes always deals with high stake cases, one of the best things about the Holmes stories is the sheer variety. Mundane mysteries (The Blue Carbuncle) through to actual crime (The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet) and up on to murder (The Boscombe Valley Mystery), he deals with them all with varying success. Often a story will start out as one thing and then morph seamlessly into something much more sinister. And despite his almost superhuman deductive reasoning Holmes can, and does, make mistakes and, refreshingly, the stories don’t always have a pleasant outcome. Sometimes, as in The Redheaded League or Scandal, the solution – or part of it – is not that hard for a modern audience used to detective fiction to reach, but it’s enjoyable to see how Holmes gets all the details sorted so quickly and explains it to Watson, and there are other stories where the revelation is genuinely surprising.
Reading this collection, unlike the earlier novels, it is not remotely hard to see why the public took to Holmes the way they did. Even for someone bought up on Agatha Christie murder mysteries (Poirot, not Marple) Holmes offered something genuinely new and refreshing when I first picked this book up – a complex, active lead, solid foundation of friendship between him and the narrator (why does Poirot stand Hastings? Why does Hastings stand Poirot? It’ the biggest bloody mystery of the whole series), and a variety in both plots and outcomes....more