And with the final book in the First Law trilogy (there are follow up books set in the same world but this book completes the original trilogy)...more3 Stars
And with the final book in the First Law trilogy (there are follow up books set in the same world but this book completes the original trilogy), I remain more unconvinced than ever by Joe Abercrombie’s reputation as a master of fantasy. Sure, he subverts the cliche heroic fantasy tropes and stock characters to turn them on their head – but barely anyone writes that sort of heroic fantasy anymore anyway. And he still falls into that worst of fantasy author habits: writing way more than he he needs to, needlessly spinning a simple story into a whole trilogy. None of his books need to be as large as they are. The ending, while I admit it could have been a genuinely great end to standalone or a first novel in a series, feels anticlimactic after three books and roughly 1,700 pages. Especially when so little of relevance really happened in either book one or two. The whole series would have been massively improved by hacking out all the filler, maybe reducing the number of POV characters, and condensing it all into two books instead (one would probably be pushing it).
While Last Argument of Kings is probably the best book in the trilogy – the most action, the most plot, the most character revelations, it’s just a really really unsatisfying conclusion to the series. Now that’s part of the point, I’ll admit. It's a subversion of traditional ‘happily ever after, tied up neatly in a bow, no more problems ever’ fantasy. But for me it wasn’t the satisfying sort of unsatisfying where such an ending is pulled off well - the sort that just seems right and gets you really thinking. It was the ‘huh…I really read three bricks just for this?’. And, to be honest, it didn’t seem all that much of a subversion either, I’d flagged up that a certain character was a bit of a shit back in book one, had it all but confirmed in book two, and once I’d decided that he was clearly a shit of the first order, it was really easy to see where the plot would end up – with him being a shit. I only misjudged a little in how much of a nasty shit he would be.
My main problem with this series though is the length. It’s far far longer than it needs to be and by the end, instead of feeling a deep connection to the characters, I was completely and utterly bored by them. The interest I had in book one had been eroded by overexposure, repetitive phrases and lack of development (Jezal is really the only one who gets any). Glokta, who had been the best part of The Blade Itself had overrated his welcome to become a tiresome narrator repeating the same tired complaints about stairs and constantly ‘tonguing his gums’. And Logen, well I don’t think the reveal that people really hate a man that goes on indiscriminate murder sprees really counts as character development. Like, no shit, of course his own people hate him. They should hate him. By the very end I had stopped caring what happened to any of the characters.
There’s a lot more I could complain about – that Ferro never did anything more than be a walking plot device, that the central ‘breaking the First Law’ plot was way less interesting than any of the subplots, the way the world building was drip-fed in a way that made it hard to care about the big mythology that underpinned the whole story…but I’m just going to leave it at that. And also mention there was plenty I enjoyed too – mainly the parts set in the North.
I think Abercrombie had some great ideas, that the story could have been done really well. But having it drawn it out into such a massive trilogy just didn’t work for me (though I accept it seems to have worked for plenty of others). It was simply way more pages than either the story of the characters warranted.
I’m not actually giving up on Abercrombie yet though, my housemate lent me her copy of one of his standalones at the start of term and, despite my disappointment in the trilogy, I am going to read it. I’m honestly really interested to see if I prefer his stories when he restricts himself to using just one book to tell them. Also from the blurb the main character is female, and considering how one dimensional I found his female characters here when compared to the men, I’m really interested to see how he manages.(less)
Before They are Hanged was, for me, a big improvement on the first book. After the first book ambled along following various characters and pro...more 4 Stars
Before They are Hanged was, for me, a big improvement on the first book. After the first book ambled along following various characters and promising an overarching plot if only they could all just get together in the same room, Before They are Hanged, while still primarily character-driven, has a sense of direction to it, a much stronger narrative, and real stakes to be won or lost. The players are all moving towards something now, and it makes for a much more satisfying read.
True, some of the plot lines seem like shaggy dog stories and most won’t get resolved until book three, but I can see, roughly, where the story is going now, what the main themes and points of it are. It’s no longer just a disparate bunch of people scattered across the world all doing their own thing. Abercrombie is still reluctant to reveal too much of the main plot, but we finally get some more of the mythology of the world, an explanation of who certain characters are and why they are important. I do still feel that more could have been done to make me care about certain things – Khalul is evil because he is and because he broke ‘the second law’, but there’s no sense urgency to defeat him and it’s hard to care about the atrocities we’re informed he’s committing. Overall, though, I felt much more drawn into the world and characters this time around.
Part of that is probably because the action has all but moved away from Adua, the rather generic-european-fantasy city of the first book. Glokta has been ‘promoted’ to head inquisitor of one of the union’s colonial cities in the south – a city of massive inequality and racial tensions, schemers and traitors, about to come under siege from the Gurkish armies, and he’s been tasked with the impossible mission of protecting it. Major West is leading armies in the north against an invasion by King Bethod, having to contend with army incompetence, poor supplies, in-fighting, oh and the enemy forces as well. And most of the other characters are off on a quest through the ‘old empire’, exploring ancient ruins, developing their characters, and learning lots of world building and mythology.
Aaaad it’s probably obvious which plot line I found least interesting. Although I like most of the characters – well, Logen and Ferro – Bayaz’s quest to the edge of the world was the hardest plot line to become emotionally invested in. As I said before, it’s hard to care for the ultimate aim of defeating Khalul with the information we've been given, especially when Bayaz himself is shady as fuck. And the fight scenes here seem a bit artificially thrown in, as if put there purely because trudging through the desert makes for dull reading. I also found Jezal’s sudden change of attitude from the whiny brat he was in the first book a little too sudden and too soon. I am interested, however, in both Logen and Ferro and in what’s going on with apprentice magi, Malacus Quai. Will be interested to see where all those characters end up in book three.
All in all a better book than The Blade Itself. I still don’t feel that Abercrombie is the best fantasy writer ever, but I am looking forward to book three. Though I do wonder, after two books of very slow plot development, how he can pull the conclusion off in just one book without it feeling rushed.(less)
This is one of the first books I read all by myself. My year one teacher, Mrs. Heath, kept a personal stash of decent children’s books in a cup...more 4 Stars
This is one of the first books I read all by myself. My year one teacher, Mrs. Heath, kept a personal stash of decent children’s books in a cupboard and after taking a week or so to ascertain that I was reading beyond the required level of ‘Biff, Chip and Kipper' she let me and a couple of others plunder from this cupboard as much as we liked during school hours – with the one stipulation that we couldn’t take the books home, so these books were read in short snatches during 'quiet reading time' and wet-play when it was too rainy to take breaks outside. So rereading this at almost 25 the first thing that strikes me is how much shorter it seems to be than when I was 5. It is still, however, a very fun little story about animals that it’s hard not to love. Seriously, who doesn’t love dodos?
‘Oh, Beatrice!’ cried Bertie. ‘You are the most beautiful dodo in the whole wide world.’
The whole wide world was, for the dodos (though they did not know this), a smallish island in the middle of the Indian Ocean. There were no dodos anywhere else on earth.
The date (though they did not know this) was AD 1650, and before very long (and, luckily, they did not know this either) there would be no dodos anywhere at all on earth. The dodo would be extinct.
Or that’s what everybody has always thought.
So opens a very funny, charming little story about the extinction of an entire species.
Beatrice and Bertie, a young dodo couple are among the first to witness the arrival of the first ship carrying ‘sea-monkeys’ to their previously uncharted and uninhabited island. With no natural predators, the dodo are a naturally trusting (and comically stupid) bird, so it is to everyone’s horror when the sea-monkeys start massacring them for food.
Even when the sea-monkeys depart, leaving behind Sir Frances Drake, a friendly green parrot, the danger is not over yet. For the island has become infested with vicious rats from the ship and Bertie and Beatrice must be constantly vigilant to protect their newly laid egg. And when the rats begin to overun the island, Bertie, Beatrice and a small group of friends and relatives, led by Sir Frances Drake, put to sea in an abandoned boat to found a new dodo paradise elsewhere.
Of course it’s not exactly an accurate portrayal of how the dodos were wiped out – it took longer than the book implies, humans rarely ate dodo, and, as well as rats, deforestation and the introduction of domestic dogs, cats and pigs (now believed the most important factor) meant sudden competition for limited food. But it’s a nicely compressed kiddies version of the basic idea – and it is certainly the interpretation of the extinction that most people are familiar with (or at least that I was as a child interested in natural history in the 90s).
But what the book is, is a story that, despite not being historically accurate, does have a lot of educational value as an introduction to the concept of human-aided extinction and the environmental impact of invasive species, while also being a very funny book with loveable characters an exciting and fantastical plot and a silly but happy ending.
As one of Dick King-Smith’s less known books, I’m not sure if this story is even still in print but I do highly recommend it as a book for young children. At 79 pages it’s not intimidatingly long, and split into 12 chapters and a postscript it’s easy to digest in small chunks. The language is simple and easy for an early reader without the content of the story being patronising or babyish, it invites questions and discussion about natural history and extinction, and its got funny parts that both parents and kids can appreciate (I know I didn’t pick up on the Hamlet reference when I read it as a kid). Easily a four star read for me.(less)
Another fun little novel from my childhood by Dick King-Smith. A bit of a departure from his normal ‘farmyard fantasy’ (Dick King-Smith is a pr...more 4 Stars
Another fun little novel from my childhood by Dick King-Smith. A bit of a departure from his normal ‘farmyard fantasy’ (Dick King-Smith is a prolific author of books featuring talking pigs, mice, and various other animals), Tumbleweed is a fantasy-comedy featuring a very clumsy, nervous, knight who meets a friendly witch, befriends a lion and a unicorn, and goes off in search of damsel to rescue from a dragon.
As a kid I loved stories of knights and castles, so when, aged about 8 or 9, I picked this up for weekly ‘read aloud’ sessions with one of my primary school’s teaching assistants, I absolutely adored it – despite it being a very short and easy read. So my four stars rather than three is completely driven by nostalgia. It’s probably one of those children’s books that’s best read when you either are a child or have children to read it to/with. But it is fun – and I did love Jones, the Welsh Dragon – I hadn’t picked up originally that he used actual Welsh speaking patterns so that got a little laugh out of me, I could definitely hear the accent when I read it this time. It also has some fun jokes and really cute cartoonish black and white illustrations that I don’t remember from reading as a child, but really loved this time around.
If you’re reading with kids and like to discuss themes and messages with them then it’s got a couple of those too; ‘what is courage?’/'can you be brave and afraid?’, as well as judging people on appearances, what makes a good friend, and the morality of taking credit for other people’s actions.
Not as totally awesome as I remember, but still a cute and funny story aimed pretty squarely at younger readers.(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)
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)
Sloooooly replacing my lost books/tatty Narnia paperbacks with these beautiful hardbacks (looks seriously better than it appears in the cover picture...moreSloooooly replacing my lost books/tatty Narnia paperbacks with these beautiful hardbacks (looks seriously better than it appears in the cover picture here - all quality paper and beautiful spine and shiznit). Will do a reread* once I've got the set. :D
*and try not to get too angry at the odd preachy/racist/sexist/stupid bullshit.(less)
How to rate this book… Gone turned into one of my favourite finds of last year, I pretty much devoured the first five books in the series back-...more3 Stars
How to rate this book… Gone turned into one of my favourite finds of last year, I pretty much devoured the first five books in the series back-to-back and am eagerly waiting for the paperback release of the final installment. I would happily rate the series as a whole in the 4 to 4.5 star bracket. But it’s one of those series that is somehow more than the sum of its parts and each individual book falls more within the 3-3.5 range for me, with book one starting a bit bumpy and taking me a little while to get into. So I’m going to try to ignore hindsight and rate according to my first reaction on finishing the book. So 3 stars (I liked it but nothing special).
Trimmed down to its very basics, Gone, is a modern, sci-fi, teen-fiction version of Lord of the Flies - children without adult supervision descend into anarchy. It’s brutal and it’s nasty and has all the graphic violence and emotional reactions to it that The Hunger Games should have, but doesn’t.
Set in a seaside Californian town in the fallout zone of a nuclear power plant, one day all the adults, all the older children, everybody above the age of fifteen, simply disappears into thin air. The narrative follows several characters, but primarily the hero Sam, as they try to adjust and adapt to a world without adults and uncover the mystery of how and why they disappeared. And there’s a lot more weird stuff going on than just the adults disappearing.
Now I say it took me a while to get into this book and, I’m afraid, that was partly because I found the writing in the first few chapters quite poor. It’s third person limited, but somehow it read as if it should be first person. It felt almost as if it had originally been written in first person and then simply had the pronouns switched. I have no idea if this is the case or not, but it felt odd and jarring for a couple of chapters until the point where either I settled into it or it stopped happening. I’m going to assume the later because I didn’t have any problems with the narrative voice in the rest of the series.
The main protagonist, Sam Temple, is from the reluctant hero mould. He’ll step up when it’s needed, but he wants to slink back into being a normal teenager the minute the crisis is over. At the start of the story he’s known as ‘school bus Sam’ because of the time he took over the steering wheel when their bus driver had a heart attack. But reorganising society and order over a townful of fourteen-year-old and younger kids who just want to eat junk food and play computer games is a lot harder than steering a school bus and, understandably, Sam doesn’t want that responsibility. And with his birthday coming up he has other things to worry about - nobody knows what happens when you turn fifteen.
Step in Caine (and if you can see where this is going you’ll know why I rolled my eyes at this point) a charismatic boy from the sinister Coates Accademy, a private boarding school for ‘troubled kids’, who rolls into town with an entourage of supporters and a determination to become sole leader of the FAYZ (Fallout Alley Youth Zone, as the kids have started calling it) and rather unpleasant methods of establishing and cosolidating this control.
While I really enjoy this series I found the first book just a bit much in places. The initial set up was good, I liked most of the characters, I liked the fact that they had and are dealing with real teenage issues not just the weirdness of their situation, I loved that the cast and the setting was as multi-racial as I expect a town of that size should be, that there were characters who were autistic, anorexic, or depressed but who weren’t reduced down to just that one stereotype. That’s the sort of stuff I want to see more of, much more of, in not just teen fiction, but all fiction.
What I didn’t like, reading it the first time without knowledge of the later plot, was when the writer threw in a whole kitchen sink full of weird at around the half way point. It still seemed just a bit too early for all of that. I would have preferred a slower burn with the weird; reveal the X-Men style mutations some of the kids have (if it’s in the blurb it’s not a spoiler!), but maybe hold back most of the other really weird shit for book two, or have it as an end-of-book reveal/cliffhanger.
Still, if you enjoy teen-fiction and you don’t mind it nasty and gory and morally grey, I would recommend the Gone series.(less)
‘LITTLE INDIAN BOY GOES ON WEIRD BOAT RIDE WITH MEAN CAT.’ - so reads the entirety one of the top rated reviews of this book on goodreads and,...more 3 stars
‘LITTLE INDIAN BOY GOES ON WEIRD BOAT RIDE WITH MEAN CAT.’ - so reads the entirety one of the top rated reviews of this book on goodreads and, to be honest, it’s hard to think of a way to expand on that. This one of those books I have a hard time saying much about – it’s a good book, there’s lots to like about it, and I can see why it’s such a popular and well-loved novel but, for me, it just didn’t do much but fill a bit of time and I can't find much of interest to say about it. It felt a bit like a beach read – one of the books my mum used to hand to me once I’d exhausted all my own stuff while we were on family holidays – a book that, yes, I quite enjoyed but was reading more because it was there than because I was particularly enthralled by it. In fact, and this is something that doesn’t happen all that often, I prefered the film version.
The novel tells the story of Pi Patel, a religious Indian teenager, who finds himself stranded at sea in a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger called Richard Parker. And I would probably have liked the book a lot more had it got that point a lot sooner. The first portion of the book instead is devoted to Pi’s childhood as the son of a zookeeper (interesting), his fascination with religion (also interesting) but is frequently interrupted by the ‘author’ (it’s one of those fake ‘real stories’) breaking in to describe his impressions of older Pi, the house older Pi now lives in, or the food older Pi now cooks, or the family older Pi now has. It was a really clumsy, lazy way to hear more about how Pi's life turned out in the end and on top of that it was written in italics, in the present tense. People who insist write in the present tense should all be put on lifeboats with a tiger and sent out to sea. People who write in first person, present tense should be put on a lifeboat with two tigers. People who do both of those things but do it in italics as well should be sent out on a lifeboat full of tigers.
And while I found younger Pi’s interest and practice of various religions interesting (one of the highlights of this portion of the book is where his priest, his imam, and his pandit all run into him at the park and realise he has been practicing other religions behind their backs), I found older Pi judgemental, full of himself, and annoying. ‘[Agnostics] get stuck in my craw‘, ‘To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to chosing immobility as a means of transportation’. Fuck off. Because someone does not know whether a god exists or not does not mean they are chosing ‘doubt as a philosophy of life‘ , it just means that they don’t know (and let’s be honest nobody does). Pi is one of those irritating people who doesn’t seem to understand that simply not being interested in whether god exists (as opposed to being either religious or vehemently atheist) is not only perfectly possible but perfectly valid. And then there’s his ‘I was such a great student I would have won all sorts of awards for my brilliance but my department didn’t offer awards so I didn’t’ stuff. Blech.
But once the story moved onto the lifeboat the book improved vastly. The author stopped butting in and the focus moved back to young Pi and onto how he survived 200+ days stranded out at sea with a tiger. Now I freely admit I’m a sucker for castaway and survival stories. If someone is putting together a water purification system using nothing more than a bit of string and a ballpoint pen (or something equally ridiculous) I’m happy. So although fishing bores and disgusts me in just about equal measure in real life, I enjoyed reading about Pi’s attempts to catch fish, his descriptions on how best to de-shell a live turtle, how to train a Bengal tiger with a plastic whistle, and the way to build a raft using lifevests and a couple of oars.
For as long as the Robinson Crusoe type stuff’s going on I was pretty happy, that portion of the book was really damned good in fact. But then, much like Stig of the Dump ruins the ‘making a livable house for a caveman out of rubbish’ magic by throwing in real magic and time travel, Life of Pi ruins the ‘boy and his tiger adrift at sea’ magic by throwing in a random encounter better suited to Gulliver’s Travels or The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Yeah, I know, it’s meant to be “symbolic”, to remind the reader that Pi is potentially an unreliable narrator who may have been lying the reader, and to make me ‘believe in god’ but it just felt…bleh. Maybe if there had been more of it, if the story had got progressively weirder rather than just these couple of random things shoved in right at the end of an otherwise ‘realistic’ account I could have bought into and enjoyed it a bit more. As it was I thought they were very interesting ideas – that seemed to belonged in a whole different book.
Yes, this is a very shallow reading of the book that pretty much ignores the symbolism and religious messages running through it. But there’s plenty of reviews that already go into that at great depth and the reason I don’t is simply because I didn’t find the symbolism and religious themes of faith and belief in this book anywhere near interesting or thought provoking enough to go into. It’s a book that’s been sold as a lot ‘deeper’ than it really is – a beach read being promoted as a lifechanger. Does believing the magic tiger story mean you believe in god? or does it mean you’d rather believe in pretty lies than face the truth? Which story is true? Which would you rather believe? I can definitely see the attraction of this book and I can understand why so many people do love it. But I can’t be the only person who ultimately doesn’t care, can I? They’re both made up stories. Oh wait, there I am with my ‘philosophy of doubt‘ again.
An ok book. I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would once the 'author' shut up and stopped butting in to tell me about Pi's cooking. And there will be bits that will stick with me, particularly from the middle section, but it’s not a book I can love. It reads like something my mum would lend me (in fact this copy is actually hers), a nice quick read picked up from the bestsellers chart. And although I generally like my mum’s taste in books, really, I do, it’s not really mine.(less)
I actually read these stories in two different editions. I started with the Collector’s Library edition of Jacobs’ Celtic Fairy Tales before realising...more I actually read these stories in two different editions. I started with the Collector’s Library edition of Jacobs’ Celtic Fairy Tales before realising that they had cut all Jacob’s original annotations and end-notes. Purely by chance I then I discovered this rather dusty copy hiding in the spare bedroom, spotted that it had all those end-notes and also contained Jacob’s follow-up More Celtic Fairy Tales, and did a bit of a book swap. The Collector’s Library edition is undoubtedly the more attractive book – this one is pretty old, has awkward page numbering that starts over again at 1 halfway through, and that annoying thing where illustrations are followed up by a completely blank page even in the middle of a story – but for me having access to Jacob’s notes on each story was more valuable than how pretty the book was. Sometimes in fact those notes were more interesting, and in several cases rather longer, than the stories they were about – though I didn’t always agree with some of his comments. Probably not something that matters to a lot of readers, but if you’re interested in the provenance of the fairy tales it’s definitely worth checking out whether the edition you pick up contains these end-notes or not.
Now, onto the stories. As with most fairytale collections they’re a very mixed bag. A lot I had heard before, some I hadn’t and many many echoed very similar tales I had heard from other European traditions. Some are magical, some are mundane, some are funy, some are sad, some are preachy, and some are just plain weird. Most I liked, some I didn’t, but almost all of them were interesting in some way or another. One thing I will say though – these Celtic fairy tales are less likely to have happy endings than the ones most of us are used to and more likely to end with a nice bit of polyamory (though Jacobs’ very obviously changes at least one ending to avoid this – which I did not appreciate). Also many of the names are damn near unpronounceable.
And there’s not really that much more to say. Taken out of the historical context of the 19th century fairytale revival and Jacobs’ role in that, it’s just a nice little book of slightly unusual fairytales – and not always told in the most accessible way. What really makes it special, apart from the detailed notes on each tale is the illustrations. John D. Batten’s work is absolutely beautiful, utilising a variety different styles to match the tone of each story – so the tragic episodes taken from Irish mythology are given lovely almost Art-Nouveau plates while the sillier more humourous stories have simple more cartoonish illustrations.
The Story of Deidre
Hudden and Dudden
My copy of this book isn’t a particularly good or quality printing, being just slightly more advanced than a bound photocopy of the two original publications (I hate that the page numbering restarts at 1 when you reach More Celtic Fairy Tales). But I can imagine an edition with the annoying format niggles ironed out and maybe a fancy hardcover, would make an absolutely beautiful addition to any library of fairy tales.(less)
Whilst the Sisters Grimm series still suffers from all the problems I went into a little in my last review – mainly inconsistent pacing, tone,...more4 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.(less)
I’ve given all the previous books in this series four stars but that’s a probably bit misleading. Although I have really enjoy them that is des...more 3 Stars
I’ve given all the previous books in this series four stars but that’s a probably bit misleading. Although I have really enjoy them that is despite a lot of issues present throughout the series – but that came to a bit of a head for me in this book. The overarching plot is very drawn out with some of the books (2, 4, and 6 so far) failing to do anything much to advance it, Sabrina’s character development keeps going two step forwards in each book only to be followed by one step back in the next whilw no one else really gets much character development at all, and the writing is often a bit clumsy. Buckley’s method of opening each book in medias res with a snippet from the climax before going back a few days to start the story again at the beginning is only the most blatant example. Rather than adding to anticipation or tension, I find it detracts from it and tends to make the climaxes anti-climactic. What I have given the previous books four stars for is entertainment value - the execution isn't always great but it's a fun series full of neat ideas. This book had those good ideas but I didn’t find it anywhere near so fun to read.
And the primary reason for that was something that first cropped up to a lesser extent in the third book. Red Riding Hood’s portrayal and the way the characters view and describe her is horribly, horribly ableist. Sure, in book three she was the primary villain and set a Jaberwocky lose on the Grimms. But she’s also assumed to be suffering from PTSD and the language used about her was something I found genuinely jawdroppingly ignorant and offensive. ‘The little lunatic was probably having another delusion' 'Not the nutcase' 'She’s what we in the medical profession call a loopty loop' – the first two of these are from the heroines, Sabrina’s internal monologue and Daphne’s dialogue respectively, the last is from Red’s nurse. It’s all sorts of problematic and made worse by the fact that it is never called out or portrayed as a problem in the book. Only Robin Hood out of all the heroic characters registers any sort of concern for her treatment or outrage at the response that she isn’t getting any. Sabrina, who has been consistently told off for her rudeness and bigotry since book one and spends a lot of this book getting punished for having doubts about Mr Canis is never once told off for her use of ablest language about Red. Nobody in the book seems to have a problem with her being described as ‘crazy’ ‘nutcase’ ‘lunatic’ ‘disturbed’ or ‘delusional’. And a major part the plot pretty much revolves around her mental illness. I even get the impression in some parts that the author believes he's portraying it sympathetically.
It’s…eugh. If reading this series to or with a child I would strongly recommend a long talk about mental health, PTSD, and what is and is not acceptable language.
But away from the bits that made this a less fun than the previous books and onto the story! The last book ended with Mr Canis being arrested for crimes the Big Bad Wolf committed against Red Riding Hood and her Grandmother. In this book he goes to trial, with the Mad Hatter sitting as judge and half the jury members of the Scarlet Hand determined to find him guilty. The Grimm family employ Robin Hood and his Merry Men (litigation lawyers who sue from the rich to give to the poor) to defend him. But with the trial so prejudiced against Mr Canis, they have to do their own detective work to find out what really happened to Red Riding Hood and her grandmother.
Meanwhile Uncle Jacob is trying to track down Goldilocks, the only person who can break the sleeping spell on Sabrina and Daphne’s parents. With the help of Hans Christian Anderson’s travelling chest, the chase takes him and the girls from Venice to Paris as they try to persuade her to come back to Ferryport, where she will once again be trapped forever, to break the spell (why they don't just arrange to take Henry and Veronica out of Ferryport and meet her in the human world is a plothole that is never addressed).
But really, this book doesn’t do much to advance the ‘main plot’ at all until the very final page. The hellish vision of a future ruled by the Scarlet Hand is never mentioned, Prince Charming becoming a member of the red hand in the last book is resolved in this one without it ever serving any particular purpose, and the villainous Sherrif of Nottingham seems to act as the plot dictates, ignoring and flouting the law most of the time but then following it when the author wants the Grimm family to get off. It’s very weird and inconsistent and after the work done in the last book to make the Scarlet Hand a credible and real threat, this just helps to bring them right back down to incompetent mooks again in this one.
So yeah… this book is a lot more tied into the main plot than a couple of other books in the series (book 2 and particularly book 4 are very much ‘breather episodes’ from the main plot) but things are still very slow to move, and the way mental health is addressed here meant that I couldn’t enjoy it as much as previous books. (Though Robin Hood as a sexy redhead gets my approval – I’ve been a big fan of sexy redheads ever since the Weasleys.)(less)
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...more 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.(less)
Like the rest of the series, it’s the little moments in this book, rather than the slightly predictable mystery plot, that makes this stand out...more 4 Stars
Like the rest of the series, it’s the little moments in this book, rather than the slightly predictable mystery plot, that makes this stand out for me. Don’t get me wrong, this is a great little series and I have a lot of affection for it, but it’s the small things – the way fairy tale (and now literary) characters have been modernised, eg. Scrooge from A Christmas Carol becoming a medium – that I really enjoy. The mystery itself, as in previous books, remains predictable; something a bit of deductive reasoning and ‘who would benefit from this crime?’ sort of common sense would solve quite quickly – not helped by the cover kind of giving a big part of the game away as well. But whether you guess the baddie or not, it’s a fun ride and there are lots of new characters, expanded world-building, and amusing cameos to enjoy. And a bit more light gets shed on the big mystery of Sabrina and Daphne’s parents disappearance and the sinister ‘Red Hand’.
The last book ended on a bit of a cliffhanger; Puck seriously injured and in danger of death with only his family beyond the magical barrier that protects the town able to heal him. So for the fourth book it’s roadtrip time! Leaving behind the familiar setting of the previous books and taking the action, temporarily, to New York and the secret court of Shakespeare’s fairies where Puck’s father, Oberon, rules a divided community of urban Everafters. But adventure always follows the Grimms, and barely have they arrived before Oberon is murdered and his body marked by the sign of the Red Hand so it’s up to Granny and the Sisters Grimm to find the killer. In some ways it’s a breath of fresh air and it works very well as a story by itself – new setting, new characters, the chance for a different sort of adventure – but it does distract slightly from the other ongoing storylines set up in the previous books and sometimes results in an odd change of tone from the rest of the series. Uncle Jacob and Elvis only get mentioned once in the whole book, the storyline from the previous book of ‘magic as an addiction’ seems to have been abandoned, and the situation they left Ferryport in is almost forgotten. In fact with the addition of a fairytale community in New York I have to question the whole point of Ferryport’s magical barrier.
The main point of this book, though, is as a turning point in Sabrina’s character arc with her coming ‘home’, learning more about her parents, and finally changing her anti-Everafter prejudices. That’s how the story is presented anyway and I do hope it proves correct because she really was insufferable at times. I’ve tried to like her, I’ve tried to understand her and, though I’ve managed the later, the former has been almost impossible at times. Whilst Daphne, Granny, and all the fairy-tale characters are loads of fun (but not particularly complex), Sabrina has been a grumpy funsponge for four books in a row now and it’s getting old. I get that life has hardened her, I get that she’s got trust issues but she is, in Daphne’s words, a ‘jerkazoid’ for most of the book. If I’m right this time though (I’ve had my fingers crossed ever since book one that she’ll be better in the next one) I will be delighted. One of my favourite things about this series is that it’s a children’s series, and an action adventure series at that, where both primary leads are female – so I desperately want to like both of them! Us girls get relegated to ‘brainy friend’ or ‘boring love interest’ too often in these sort of books for me not to enjoy it when we get to be the flawed heroes ourselves! All I want is for Sabrina to become likable as well as flawed.
So fingers crossed for the next book! A less prejudiced Sabrina and a return to Ferryport. Looking forward to it.(less)
The Book of Barely Imagined Beings is subtitled ‘A 21st Century Bestiary’ and that’s what it is; not a natural history book, not an encyclopedi...more 4 Stars
The Book of Barely Imagined Beings is subtitled ‘A 21st Century Bestiary’ and that’s what it is; not a natural history book, not an encyclopedia of animals, a bestiary – an odd fusion of science and navel-gazing. While in a medieval bestiary real and mythological animals were used as symbols for human virtues or vices, in this book real animals are used as starting points to examine wider issues about how human’s relate to both the world and each other. So the Axolotl entry looks at the Spanish conquest of Mexico, the Gonodactylus examines the scientific evolution of the eye, and so on. It’s a unique and very interesting approach, but one that doesn’t quite hit the mark in every entry. In the spirit of mimicking of medieval bestiaries the book has also been gorgeously designed; there’s gilding on the cover, a full-page illustration and illuminated capital letter for each animal that incorporates the major themes of the entry, and (best of all) marginalia. It is, quite simply, a beautiful book. And not only beautiful on the outside but unique on the inside.
So how did it miss the mark on some of its entries? Well, as admitted by Henderson himself in the introduction, some of the metaphors tying the animal to a wider issue are a little strained – such as the Venus Girdle entry where ‘I also want to make a case for these scintillating bodies of rainbow-light as an emblem of orgasmic beauty as a whole’ then flows into a discussion about scientist’s aversion to studying the orgasm and enjoyment factor in sex when looking at animal reproduction. Interesting as both Venus Girdles and human attitudes towards the orgasm are, it’s a pretty tenuous link at best. Another entry about crabs had a bizarre analogy to robots in it that left me blinking at the page waiting for it to explain. Other chapters seem a bit unevenly weighted, again acknowledged in the introduction (‘Some of the analogies and digressions I have followed have little to do with the animals themselves’). There were a few that moved on from the animal – which I’m going to admit was the main thing I was interested in – a little too quickly for my liking, leaving me going ‘wait! But I didn’t learn anything new yet!’.
In fact, I actually learnt a hell of a lot from this book. Did you know that a dolphin orgy is called a ‘wuzzle’? It’s the most adorable term for a gangbang I’ve ever heard. A moray eel has two sets of jaws. There are breeds of sharks called wobbegongs. Dolphins will play ball games using inflated pufferfish (dolphins are the dicks of the sea). And the Japanese macaque has a face that resembles George W. Bush (once it’s seen it cannot be unseen!).
Henderson is obviously passionate about animals, zoology, and conservationism, he writes in the first person about several of his own experiences with the animals he mentions. His writing style is easy to read and the science is (mostly) presented in a way that I could absorb and understand. I was disappointed to find, when doing a bit of research myself, that one American church he sites as believing Jesus co-existed with dinosaurs and pterosaurs is actually (probably) a parody – nobody on the internet seems to be able to tell 100% whether they’re real or not, so I guess it’s fair enough to mention them, but the omission that many believe it to be parody was either disingenuous or not well researched (that whole chapter was a bit odd actually). On the science, the animals, and his own contemplations though, he is a lot better.
A very interesting, and very unique, book. I found something to enjoy in every entry and it is presented absolutely beautifully. Not one to pick up if you’re just after the nitty-gritty science facts, or only want to hear about animals and don’t really care for the author’s tangents. But if you think the idea of a modern natural history text written and presented in the style of a medieval bestiary sounds pretty awesome it might be worth checking out.(less)