Finally, I’m proceeding with my rereads to get on and maybe someday finish this series! This is the second October Daye book, featuring Toby and Quentin as they delve into a mystery in a neighbouring duchy. For one reason or another, Sylvester hasn’t been able to get in contact with his niece, January, and for political reasons among the other fae, he can’t go himself. Since Toby amounts to an independent contractor, sending her doesn’t count, and Quentin’s just along for the ride… so off October goes, quickly finding out that there are murders being committed at January’s computing company, and even the strongest of the fae who work there are being killed.
To me, the killer is fairly obvious all along, but then I do have the advantage of having read the book before. There are some delightful ideas and bits of fae lore here: I love what we discover about the night haunts, for instance, and the idea of a Dryad being maintained in a server after the death of her tree. There is a sense in which this book is just one continual long thrashing of Toby — if she’s not being attacked by an actual enemy, she’s being seduced by a fae who can drain her and leave her for dead; if she’s not worrying over Quentin being injured, it’s because she’s got to worry about Connor instead… But in a sense, that’s what the whole series is like.
It feels like this book could’ve been resolved faster if Toby was thinking with her brain instead of rolling around trying to avoid the next punch by instinct, and it’s certainly not my favourite of the series (though I haven’t read much of the whole series, my money is currently on An Artificial Night for that title, of the ones I’ve read before), but it’s enjoyable enough and has some fascinating stuff going on, like the idea of how to save Faerie....more
I was so excited when I first heard about this book, and extra excited to come back from a weekend away to a pre-publication copy waiting for me, along with a bag, pin and bookmark! So you can imagine that I was super-eager to dive into it — and dive I did.
To get it out of the way straight away: yes, the point of view is second person. But there is a character telling the story, not to the reader but to a character within the story, for a reason. I thought the narration was brilliantly handled, especially at such length. In retrospect, perhaps some of it came across a little exposition-heavy, but I was so fascinated with the ideas that it worked perfectly for me. Yes, the point of view does limit certain things, particularly the understanding of what characters (other than the Strength and Patience of the Hill) are thinking and feeling — but that would be the case with an ordinary first-person narrative as well, if you think about it.
This didn’t turn out the way I expected, really — I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting, really, but certain characters drove events with a strength of feeling and stubbornness I wasn’t expecting. I don’t want to say too much, because spoilers at this stage are really unfair, and I do think that you need the whole book’s build-up to give you the slightly stunned daaaamn but also of course that I had at the end of the book!
I think the world-building is beautifully handled without relying on medieval fantasy tropes. I especially enjoyed that one of the main characters (the “you” the story is addressed to, in fact) is trans, in a way that is essential and authentic for the character, without the plot leaning on it. It flavours the interactions and decisions of the character without being a huge issue. I know for some people the question would be “is it necessary” — and to that, the answer is no, but my answer is “perhaps not, but is it necessary for the character to be cisgender?” (Also no.)
Also, it took me far too long to pick up on the fact that this is essentially Hamlet, in many ways.
All in all, for me, the hype was justified. Leckie hasn’t written a typical fantasy novel as some people expected, but she didn’t write typical SF, either. I’m not sure this one will have the impact of the Imperial Radch books, but it was a thoroughly enjoyable reading experience, and I’m so glad and grateful I got to read it early....more
Greenwitch is the shortest book in the sequence — in my collected edition it is, anyway — but I find that there’s a lot more to chew on than in the first book, Over Sea, Under Stone. Here the world of the first book and the world of Will Stanton collide, and we glimpse both the high purpose and the kids at play. There’s more moral complexity here, a little more maturity… and then there’s also those very human kids getting jealous because Will’s friends with their Great-Uncle Merry.
I think the most appealing thing about this book for me is firstly the focus on Jane, on her actions, on her decency and insight as a human being actually being the key that unlocks victory for the Light… and secondly all the weird and wonderful hauntings of Cornwall that Cooper invokes. I want to know all the background of the weird night of horrors Jane glimpses relived due to the Greenwitch; I want to know who captains the black ship… It’s all fascinating and tantalising, and Cooper never explains too much. She leaves us wondering.
It’s not my favourite book of the sequence by far, but it has its own wild magic, for sure....more
It strikes me, reading these books now, that just as Tolkien tried to write ‘a mythology for England’, so did Cooper try to write ‘a mythology for Britain’. This book is addressed rather insularly to the British reader — the Old Ones are ‘as old as this land’, not ‘as old as Britain’: the reader is assumed to be British. However, and this is a relief for me, the reader is rarely if ever assumed to be a child or to belong to a particular era or group of people. Cooper is more subtle in her editorial than Tolkien or Lewis (given here as examples because both of them speak directly to the reader a good deal).
All the same, it’s a mythology for Britain, or even of Britain (don’t get Tolkien scholars arguing too much about which he said and what he meant): even in the most juvenile of the books, Over Sea, Under Stone, there’s a good deal about invaders assimilating and becoming British, about the power of the British character. It’s explicit, oddly enough, when Will’s father speaks to Merriman: “You’re not English, are you?” And Will is surprised to notice hostility in his usually mild father’s eyes. (And I was surprised to note that he said English; I shouldn’t have been, given the historical gulf between Welsh and English, but I thought this series in particular would be better about that, given the setting of the fourth and fifth books, and the narrative importance of King Arthur and his very Welsh son.)
Perhaps a modern liberal writer would be inclined to paint the Dark not as the invader, but the insider who refuses to change. Not the waves of invaders (or migrants, or refugees, depending on how you view them) but those who insist upon Englishness as an inherent good that can be corrupted and ruined by contact with the non-English… Mind you, Cooper covers that angle too, in Silver on the Tree, so I’m getting ahead of myself.
Putting the insularity of the book aside, The Dark is Rising is the first in the series to give a real idea of what’s going on. It’s here that the mythology takes shape: the Light versus the Dark, the role that Merriman (and now Will, and the other Old Ones we’re introduced to) has to play, and some of the tangled British legends that contribute — Herne the Hunter, the anonymous king given a partially Viking ship burial (suggested by Drout as being the son of Scyld Scefing, from Beowulf), Merlin…
It’s also the first to evoke and try to portray more adult emotions. Instead of being purely focused on children, this book has an odd half-life. Sometimes Will is a child (and behaves as such, forgivably — his moment of jubilation when the Dark are drawn back, which leads to the Lady having to expend her power, is a lovely touch in my opinion) and sometimes he’s much older than his years, understanding of the nature of people, time, religion… So you have both his delight in snow on his birthday, and his lonely understanding that he is now set utterly apart from his family, from everyone he has ever loved. The story of Merriman and Hawkin is full of love and regret, and is not a simple story of betrayal and forgiveness: there is much going on between the two that a younger reader can simply ignore, but the older reader can savour as a more complex layer on top of the adventure story.
There are also some beautiful set-pieces in this book: some of the descriptions of awe and delight in the magic of the Light, but also the moments of being part of a family, the warmth of Will’s family Christmas.
It’s worn better than Over Sea, Under Stone because there is a lot more to consider, but all the same, I think I need to set it aside for a couple more years now so I can come back to it fresh. That I will come back, I have no doubt....more
I know, I know; some of you are surely wondering, “Again?!”
The Goblin Emperor is the story of an ill-prepared fifth son, who has hitherto spent his time in exile due to the disfavour his mother was viewed with, finding himself on the throne of the Elflands after the murder of his father and half-brothers. Thrown into the midst of it all, he has to find his feet and become a ruler — one who is careful to respect his father and the tradition of the throne, but who is also prepared to make some fairly drastic changes to benefit his people. All of them.
Naturally, some of his people were quite enjoying the status quo, and even those who wanted to change things had some rather different plans.
This was, I think, my fifth time reading this book, and I still love it so very much. It helps that the main character is so completely endearing: despite a lifetime of mistreatment, he clings to the principles taught to him by his mother (herself fairly mistreated by the system) and tries to be a good person. It’s not that he succeeds entirely — he’s unfairly waspish at times, he has the impulse to be ungracious and to take revenge, he has the urge to run away… The important factor, though, is that he works on it.
I do also enjoy the world-building, which is pretty high quality: Addison has given thought to how the language works, to how the two primary cultures in the book intersect, and to the world that surrounds them. She has so many characters who are intriguing, even when they can only be seen in glimpses due to Maia’s isolation as emperor — so many things I’d love to know more about, and so many opportunities to expand on the story (not necessarily Maia’s story). I’m so excited for the new book in this world; there are so many possible characters it could follow, and I’m pretty excited about most of them.
Saying anything else really comes repetitive of all my other reviews, but as usual, I thought I’d pick out the things I really noticed this time round. One image that this read-through left me with: the image of Maia, on the day of his coronation, in the rocky cave alone; the quality of the darkness, the coldness of the water, the stillness of the room....more
Shades of Milk and Honey is essentially meant to be the novel Jane Austen would write if a magic called “Glamour” was considered an art that gently bred women should practice as part of the small touches that make a house a home. Jane Ellsworth is a plain woman, almost old enough to be entirely on the shelf, but she has a good heart and a talent for magic. Despite her fears of being a spinster forever, her talents draw the attention of several men in this book. And despite her fears of being eclipsed by her pretty sister Melody, her good sense and her talent are what carries the day, as she finds romance with someone who initially overlooked her and disparaged her talents, but who grows to appreciate what she can do and the person she is.
I don’t know what it is about this book, but it’s really grown on me with each reading — and even though it wasn’t something I loved the first time I read it, it really stuck in my head somehow. Partly because Kowal does do a compelling job of weaving magic into a fairly Austen-esque Regency novel: she’s fit it into society, thought about the implications for various trades, for war, etc. Possibly I’m also a bit of a sucker for the romance, for the way plain Jane and surly Vincent come together.
Also, it’s just really good to sink into and read all in one go.
I suspect it also helps that the later books use the setting but go on to fill it out: it’s not just magic and manners, but also political implications, and a bit more of the alternate history that would result. Having read Glamour in Glass and Without a Summer, this sets up a larger plot about progress and change; this book doesn’t contain much of it, but without it the themes couldn’t be developed so easily in the other books. If you do find Shades of Milk and Honey a little slight, but find the world interesting, the other books definitely expand on that!
But I’ve come to appreciate it for itself, as well. Possibly I was still being a snob about romance the first time I read it…...more
I was enjoying reading this, intrigued by the world and rather appreciative of one of the main female characters’ and her drive to understand the world. I can definitely appreciate a scholar! There were a few things that I felt weren’t really set up well enough — rather than feeling like I was understanding the world as I read, I felt like I was missing key pieces of information. It took a long time to understand what was going on in terms of skykin/shadowkin, and I’m still not clear (having stopped around 30% of the way through the book) what’s going on with the shadowlands and the skylands.
I was quite prepared to sit tight and keep working through that, but I had a quick Google to see if the description of the book prepared me any better, or anyone’s reviews; maybe someone would say something that would make everything fall into place for me (and make me feel like an idiot).
Instead, I found The Captain‘s review. Thank goodness I did, because I’m fairly sure I would’ve found the described rape scenes upsetting; having skimmed ahead in the book, I know for sure that I find the behaviour of a main character’s brother, and the main character’s reaction to it, disgusting. It turns out, after a long search for him, that Rhia’s brother Etyan was part of gang-raping a girl who he then found dead after going to pay her off for her silence. Rightly fearing what would happen, having found her dead, he ran away. And Rhia decides to forgive him, because although he brutally raped a girl, he didn’t kill her. So she decides to forgive him, because he was just being young and stupid, and at least he wasn’t as bad as she’d feared.
Gag. Spare me. I’ll read something else. Some of the ideas in this book intrigued me, but I’m not going to invest the time for that payoff....more
Jennifer Estep’s Kill the Queen is joyfully tropetastic: after Lady Everleigh witnesses the massacre of everyone who stands near to the throne before her, except one traitor, she escapes due to her hidden magic and plans to disappear, becoming just plain old Evie, despite her promise to the previous queen to take back the throne. She falls in with a group of gladiators and ends up training as a gladiator herself, not noticing the parallel with the fact that the first queen of her bloodline rose to the throne via combat as a gladiator. Throughout the book, she discovers that skills she learned as the seventeenth in line to the throne are useful — things that dealt with certain customs that nobody more important had the time to cater to, like baking a particular kind of pie and learning fiendishly complex dance steps.
It continues in that vein throughout: it’s readable, and fairly well-paced, and it has all the obligatory spices like a fairly obvious deeper plot, and a hate-to-love romance. It’s basically brain candy, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. I didn’t love it, and I’m not sure if I’m going to bother reading the second book or not, but it was fun....more
At one point, I read The Dark is Rising trilogy at Christmas every year, lining up the timeline of The Dark is Rising itself with the season, as the most obviously timed event in the books. I still maintain that it’s a good series: Cooper did some clever things with mythology and history. I recently read an article by Michael D.C. Drout, ‘Reading the Signs of the Light’, which made that very clear (though that essay is more focused on the second book of the series onwards than on this one). Cooper also has a very deft touch with character: the children behave like real children, with their bursts of moodiness, sibling rivalries, etc.
The main issue, really, is that I’ve read these books too much. Everything is all too familiar — though there are scenes that bring back the old dread and excitement even so, like Barney’s journey alone into the cave under the rocks, and Simon’s chase scene when he escapes with the map. This is the most juvenile of the books, and has worn the least well, all the same. It’s focused on the story from the point of view of the children, without a real idea of the seriousness and significance of the quest....more
I’ve been enjoying Joanne Harris’ Norse myth based works for a while, but this one just seemed a bit too goofy for me, for all that I like the characters and the idea. In this book, after Ragnarok, Loki finds a way out of Chaos through… a mythology-based video game, and then the brain of a teenage girl. He quickly finds that Odin has also found the same way into the world, and of course, Odin also wants to bring his son Thor through, and he’s already found the perfect host for Freyja…
Honestly, the possession bit just freaked me out: Loki’s tendency to take over Jumps (his teenage host) when he feels like it is just squicky to me, while the Aesir in the bodies of teenagers is also a bit cringy. It’s a shame, because Harris’ take has been generally clever, funny and transformative in a good way; her Loki voice is great. But this specific story just really does not work for me....more
As always with Charles’ work, this book is entertaining, sometimes funny, and an almost distressingly quick read. I wanted more! Not that the story isn’t complete: that isn’t it. It’s just that I ended up wanting to spend more time with the characters: not just Crane and Stephen, though the tension between them and their back-and-forth is undeniably fun, but Crane’s man Merrick as well. Crane is the remaining scion of a dissolute family; Merrick has been with him since he was banished to China, and is as faithful to him as a hound. They’ve been through all kinds of adventures before Crane is ever cursed, so he trusts Crane and wants to save him from the curse. Stephen Day, a magician who says he can help Crane, hates him on principle due to the depredations of his father and brother.
Of course, Stephen quickly finds out he’s wrong to assume the present Lord Crane is the same as his family, and he finds himself drawn into Crane’s orbit as he struggles to figure out the magic that surrounds him and unwind the hatred and dark magic that seems to be choking Crane and his estate. As an additional draw, Crane turns out to be the descendant of a powerful magician, one all English practitioners know of. Also, surprise surprise, he’s physically attracted to Crane. (If you know Charles’ work, this shouldn’t be a surprise at all — nor is it a spoiler that they get together.)
The background story is pretty dark and icky, and there’s one awful scene — well-written, but horrible to read — in which another magician forces Crane to choke on his own cut hair. All’s well that ends well, though, with plenty of room for more stories. Which I know exist, so I’ll be off in search of those now.
Obviously not one for people who aren’t into LGBT romances, but a fun fantasy-mystery for those who are. There are sex scenes, which didn’t seem to be absolutely necessary for the plot, but did add to character development....more
It would probably help me appreciate this if I’d read Lovecraft’s original story, but on the other hand, I don’t really ever want to read Lovecraft, so there’s that! LaValle rewrites one of Lovecraft’s short stories, partly from the point of view of a young black man. Unsurprisingly, it comments on racism in the US both modern and longer entrenched: that part is easy enough to appreciate, even for an outsider. The response to Lovecraft is a bit beyond me: I don’t know if Black Tom is a character from Lovecraft or invented for the purpose, even.
It doesn’t feel like a novella about a character or a place or even an event, in the end: it does feel very much like a response — to the original, and to the world. I enjoyed that, though I imagine plenty of people will be complaining about stupid SJWs, etc.
There are some genuinely icky-squicky bits (well-written, but difficult to read) and moments of horrid claustrophobia, along with the awful and all too familiar treatment of people of colour by the police, which is equally horrifying. It’s well written, but I feel like I’m missing the point through not knowing the original....more
A long-time love of mine, I reread this because I wanted the Werther’s Originals taste/feel of the book, because stresss (which is over now, hurrah!). The main charm for me lies in what came of it later, along with the paternal and knowing tone of the narrator. The narrative voice has always felt warm to me — cognisant of the characters’ faults, and sometimes gently pointing them out, but always with a deep good-naturedness. And then, of course, there’s the world: perhaps not quite fully realised by the time of writing The Hobbit, but stretching out before and beyond it, even if the brushstrokes are broad.
There are many things tone-wise that don’t quite fit with The Lord of the Rings, and the text itself was revised to fit in with the later material — but so cleverly, playing with the textual history of the story, tying together the real with the imagined. I love all the things Tolkien did with creating texts within his stories: that too is part of what makes his world real, that there are books and histories that are relevant to the world… there are few people who do it quite as well, and it’s always a delight.
Of the story itself: a rather ordinary middle-class hobbit, comfortable in his world of small social engagements, good food and convenience, ends up swept into an adventure involving trolls, goblins, magic rings and (in the end) a dragon. He’s the most clearly delineated of the characters, with many of the dwarves being mere thumbnail sketches: nonetheless, it works (with one or two dwarves picked out for slightly more detail here and there to keep them from being entirely props, and Gandalf being the enigmatically fascinating sorcerer of somewhat unknown motive in the whole affair). It’s definitely pitched more at children, though there’s something about the tone that I think makes it a delight at any age. As a fantasy book, taken alone, it’s not all that astounding. It mingles some lore together, barely hinting at the more cohesive and seriously built world Tolkien would later introduce to us.
In the end, it’s a typical quest story — it’s Tolkien’s world and his narrative voice that make it for me....more
I haven’t read any of McClellan’s longer work yet, so this novella from Tor seemed like a good point to jump in, really! It’s set during a war in a fantasy setting, with very familiar attributes — there’s propaganda, there’s airplanes, everyone’s running short and coaxing coffee out of months’ old grounds… but there’s also wizards, of at least two kinds: shapeshifters, and those who can cast illusions. We don’t get some big overview of the war: it’s fairly tight in to a little squad who have been taking losses, fighting hard, and living right on the edge. They get a chance to do a risky mission to get some supplies so they have food and maybe even coffee. And, predictably, it goes wrong.
It feels like there’s a lot more room for story in this world, whether that be an extended version of this story or a series of novellas. It’s not terribly unsatisfying on its own, because there is a kind of end to the immediate plot, but there’s so much more in the world that we don’t get to see, so much more for the characters to do, that it doesn’t feel like a stopping point (more just a pause). There’s room for awesomeness, but it feels like it’s mostly potential right now — an opening act, rather than a story in itself....more
I didn’t know much about this book or author before I started the book — I’d seen the books around a bunch and ended up just getting it from the library on a whim. I’m really not impressed, and I’m actually giving up without finishing the book, so you should take that for its worth in considering the book itself!
The book opens with a mysterious little scene in which a young veiled woman is thwarted at an auction in obtaining a painting she wants. The first chapter then appears totally unconnected in time (and possibly in place as well), as a young girl called Cynthia plays on the front porch of her parents’ house and goes over to deliver a parcel to their mysterious new neighbour, a Miss Hatfield. Miss Hatfield invites her in for lemonade and cookies, and trying to be polite, Cynthia goes in. Very quickly, she’s aged up to being an adult (apparently gaining more vocabulary as she does so — anyone bothered explaining to Caltabiano that language is acquired by exposure, not simply age?) and given something that makes her immortal. She’s told that she’s the seventh Miss Hatfield, an immortal and unhappy group of women blessed with immortality, and cursed to leave behind their lives. Almost immediately after that, despite her resentment, Cynthia is sent out to retrieve — aha! — the painting mentioned in the prologue.
Although things happen quickly, it doesn’t feel fast-paced. Instead, it feels like the kind of story a child tells: this happened and then another thing and another thing and then this and then another thing and and and and… The explanations barely hang together, and what could be fascinating (for example, the clock) is skimmed over. Cynthia is shockingly accepting of her fate, and does things whether they make sense or not. For example, she’s mistaken for being someone’s granddaughter and just… plays along, feeling trapped because… I don’t understand why.
The story has very little internal logic and doesn’t hang together well, and then, worse, Cynthia ends up in a romance. This is an 11-year-old girl who has just been aged up using vague magic means, adding barely hours to her sum total experience of the world (for all that Caltabiano seems to think that will automatically improve her vocabulary and make her an adult). Romance is not at all appropriate, geez.
So here’s where I get off. This book and the sequels are being summarily handed back to the library without me bothering to read a single word more....more
Rebel of the Sands is set in a world that’s part fantasy Wild West, part Arabian desert, with the sharpshooting smart-talking djinn-folk to prove it. It’s a reread for me, so I can go on to read the other two books: it’s not a book I’d class as one of my top reads ever, but I found it solidly entertaining, and I’m interested to see how the trilogy builds on this start. It’s decidedly young adult in tone and level, which I know is a turn off for a lot of people, but I take my fun where I can find it, and Rebel of the Sands was definitely fun.
It opens in the town of Dustwalk — or rather, at a shooting contest in the nearby town of Deadshot. Amani is dressed as a boy, and she plans to win a shooting contest, earn some money, and finally get away from her life in Dustwalk, a life that has been shadowed by the fact that her father was clearly not from Dustwalk and the execution of her mother for killing her adoptive local father. She has at least one friend in Dustwalk, a fact which I assume is going to become relevant later on, probably in a way Amani will regret. Tamid has to use a crutch to get by, and has a tendency to be overly serious, but he accepts her (more or less) for who she is, and even bravely offers to marry her to help her get out of a repugnant marriage. In this book, he’s kind of wasted, because Amani is only too quick to leave him behind when trouble starts.
She travels across the desert with Jin, an enigmatic boy who nonetheless (and unsurprisingly) has ties to the rebellion going on at the time. Slowly, he persuades her towards where she’ll meet others in the cause, where she could be an asset for a particular reason that isn’t her sharpshooting…
In many ways, it’s a typical story, and more so because of the romantic tension between Amani and Jin. The desert-setting helps to make it feel a little fresher, though the caravan travel section isn’t exactly unique, for all that.
In the end, it’s not a standout story that I’ll never forget. It’s entertaining, though, and I don’t regret the reread to bring myself back up to speed....more
It’s taken me so long to read this, and not for lack of wanting to. I even had it started for far too long and just stalled on it. Admittedly, that’s because it’s very short on one of the main characters of the previous books: the Great Detective archetype, Vale, hardly appears at all apart from at the beginning and end, and doesn’t play any part in the major action of the book. Still, it’s a great romp, as ever, this time taking Irene and Kai to a world with little magic, where they have to navigate through Prohibition era Boston and New York. The dragons also feature heavily, and the issue of Kai’s family finally really comes to a head. The next book is definitely going to have to be different; that might be a good thing, in terms of changing up the plotline and keeping things fresh.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. In The Lost Plot, Irene discovers that another Librarian is violating the Library’s neutrality by working directly for a dragon, in a matter of dragon politics. That interference can’t be tolerated by any of the parties, so Irene is sent by Library security to figure out what’s going on and fix the situation — and as usual, all the blame will fall on her if she fails. Chasing the errant Librarian, Kai and Irene end up in a Prohibition-era USA, swapping smart talk with mobsters and dodging the cops as best as they can. Since dragons are involved, Kai has to be especially careful: at some point, he’s going to have to make a choice about where his loyalties lie.
As I said, it’s a romp in very much the same vein as usual for these books. I’m not sure how I feel about the development of Kai and Irene’s relationship in this book: I feel like there’s been a bit too much will-they-won’t-they with both Irene and Kai and Irene and Vale, and honestly I was at a loss for how it was going to turn out. Now it has turned out, at least for now… I’m a bit disappointed. I did always feel that both potential relationships were a bit of a distraction: I just wanted the three of them, all together, all working on their problems, and all trusting each other. An intense relationship, perhaps, and one that didn’t have to become romantic — it was just pushed that way, almost as if the author can’t see any other way for it to turn out.
Anyway, it’s an entertaining read, though I think my favourite of the series is The Masked City. I’m interested to see how the events of this book will change the pattern for the next book. For one thing, Irene’s going to need a new student…...more
I wasn’t sure about this book from the blurb, but some trusted reviewers (e.g. Mogsy of Bibliosanctum) thought extremely highly of it, and I kept seeing it on the shelves, so when I finally spotted it at the library I thought I’d give it a go. I have to say, I’m not sold on it, but I also feel like I need to talk through my thoughts before I really decide.
So, what’s it about? It starts with the Pact: a group of four friends, who knew each other from childhood and grew up in the same Italian town, have agreed that every year they will meet again in the same place, back in their hometown, to eat pizza and talk and stay in contact, no matter what. They can’t call each other to set it up, they don’t necessarily stay in contact in the meantime, but every year, they meet there. The first point of view character is Fabio, a struggling photographer who hates his hometown, going back only to see the others. He missed the previous year out of shame for his less-than-spectacular career, and he’s not entirely sure what’s going to happen.
Two of his friends, Mauro and Tony, show up just as agreed. Mauro’s a lawyer, married with kids, and Tony has since they grew up come out, while maintaining ties to his home town and especially his sister. Art… has not turned up. Worried that this might be linked to their friend’s mysterious disappearance as a child, which had the three of them suspected of murdering him and which he never could satisfactorily explain, the three start to dig into what happened to their friend, talking to the local crime group, the police, anyone who might have information.
The book walks a line the whole time between the supernatural elements and the mental illness explanation, and it’s up to the reader really which you decide it was. The four characters are all fairly unlikeable in their own ways: one can sympathise with Fabio half the time, and then he — well, that’s probably too much of a spoiler. Mauro and Tony aren’t wonderful either, although Fabio is the most annoying. They’re all such boys, too, trying so hard to be macho. It’s realistic, but I tend to prefer likeable characters if I haven’t latched onto the plot/world, and I didn’t really latch on here.
And Art… is a whole ‘nother thing. In the words of Marvel’s Bruce Banner, speaking of Loki: “That guy’s brain is a bag full of cats, you can smell crazy on him.”
In the end, I just didn’t love it, I think. There are some amazing bits evoking the area they’re in, the food, the sense of community. And there are great bits of interaction and banter. But in the end, the whole business of walking the line between fantasy and madness-based mystery isn’t an original one, and I’m not that interested in reading about people being depicted as crazy in stereotyped ways that explain why they go and kill. (Most violence related to mental illness is against the mentally ill person, not committed by them.) Meh.
I’m torn between giving it two stars because I really didn’t feel it, and being coaxed up to three because people did love it and I can see why… but in the end, I rate based on my enjoyment....more
My wife was rewatching Stardust, so the urge was there and I… gave in. I read it in the space of a couple of hours, drugged to the gills on antitussive meds (aka codeine-based painkillers, so probably my familiarity with the book is a good thing; I don’t think I was up to the heights of intellectualism at that point).
It’s tempting to imagine that everyone knows all about Neil Gaiman by this point… all the same, what is Stardust? It’s a light-ish novel which is somewhat based on fairytales: Tristan is sort of a changeling child (not switched for a human child, but he’s half-fairy in a human world), and he goes through a fairly typical quest narrative, learns to take help from the people he meets, etc. At the same time, there’s wicked witches, people go off seeking their true loves, and there’s a kingdom with seven sons who have to fight out the succession. It’s a bundle of fairytale/fantasy tropes, dealt with in a self-aware and sometimes rather wry manner (Tristan is decidedly Wrong, for example, about the identity of his true love).
It’s a bit more morally complex than the movie, and perhaps has less of an emotional payoff because of that. I don’t honestly have a preference: I think the book is clever, but the movie is the kind of story that cheers me up. It has some interesting background stuff that I’d love to know more about (the Castle thing? What’s going on there!), but for all that I said it’s more morally complex than the movie, it stays pretty focused on Tristan’s quest and his path to a fairytale ending. It’s not really a complex story: it even skips over a ton of the potential development for Yvaine and Tristan’s relationship in a couple of pages.
It’s clever and amusing, but maybe not quite the epitome of wonderfulness I thought it was a few years ago. The love story isn’t all that epic because it kind of just happens, sort of inevitably; there are surprising depths to the characters at some points (Victoria in the book is more complex and interesting, in the end, than in the movie; Tristan’s human mother actually exists and has complex feelings about him), but… but…
I don’t know. I’m less wowed than I used to be. It’s still absorbing and charming and I do enjoy it very much....more
The first two books (The Red Threads of Fortune and The Black Tides of Heaven) introduce you to a world and a setting without making it essential to have read the other book first (though personally, I would read Black Tides first anyway). I found that by contrast, The Descent of Monsters was very much settled within that now existing framework, and relied on prior knowledge of the other two novellas to orientate you and help you understand who means what to whom and why, and why this character does x and y, etc.
This is a bit different in format to the first two books as well, focusing on the investigations of a new character into events that Akeha and Mokoya are involved in, without giving us much access to the actual thoughts of Mokoya and Akeha (and the other characters we already know). Part of it is written as an investigation report: there are also letters and a couple of interrogation transcripts.
Honestly, I found this not quite enough to re-orientate myself within the world. Before I read another book in this world, I think I might well make the time to reread these first three together, to make sure I understand all the nuances and how the events connect. I didn’t even read the first two books that long ago, but Yang doesn’t spoonfeed you (which is not a complaint! I think it’s reasonable to expect you to carry a certain amount of information between books, it’s just that apparently my brain is a sieve right now).
This one ends up feeling a bit slight compared to the other two: while we learn a bit more about the world and the machinations of those in power, I found it difficult to connect up. Again, rereading might help, but that was (sadly) my impression. I do find it enjoyable: Chuwan is a bit of an archetype (the oh-so-determined investigator, destined to find the truth!) and it works. This does stand alone in the sense that it’s a character we don’t know investigating events which, on their own, are fascinating and clearly shocking — but I think the connections to be made with the previous novellas are important in really getting the full effect....more
Coming back to this one for a reread was a good idea, definitely; reading it knowing a little about the fourth book and having had time to digest it, so to speak, worked out for me. The ending still feels a little inconclusive, like it surely can’t be that easy — it still feels like too much of an easy return to the status quo. But with the fourth book ready to go straight away, that felt less weird.
The series remains a romp through space and, sort of, through time as well. Although there are definitely romantic feelings flying around, it never becomes a show-stopping thing where everything grinds to the halt for some drama and everyone to figure out how they feel. Irene, Vale, Kai — they all get on with it, and the plot keeps on ticking over the whole time. Which I think is part of what actually makes me so invested in those three. Above all, they stick together, whatever their feelings are. I hope that’s something these books don’t lose.
Overall, this series just… goes down easy. It’s a lot of fun and it has so much scope for more hijinks, even after a fairly apocalyptic ending to this book....more
I’ve been meaning to reread this for a while, but after persuading my wife to read it and watching her tear through the series, I was ready to jump back in. It’s definitely a fascinating world, weaving together all sorts of fairy lore, and while Toby is stubborn and pigheaded — and ugh, how did she ever trust and sleep with that one particular person? All the warning signs are there in freakin’ neon — she’s also someone who cares, has her own sense of honour and duty, and is willing to do whatever necessary to abide by her promises and obligations.
It’s also interesting seeing the little hints here at the beginning for things revealed in later books: there’s a lot about Toby that just isn’t revealed here, even though when you look at retrospect, there were clues.
I’d forgotten some aspects of the books — like the Luideag’s rather unexpected appearance and attitude — so the refresher was definitely needed. I think An Artificial Night is a better book (I think that’s the third?), but I wouldn’t recommend skipping this one. If you’re not into the style of this one, you probably won’t want to try the other books anyway, as Toby’s voice is much the same (albeit she rolls with the changes in some ways and updates her viewpoints)....more
I know The Odyssey pretty well, by necessity: I did Classical Studies for both a GCSE and an A Level. In fact, I got a little sick of Odysseus. Circe obviously isn’t all about Odysseus, and brings in a lot of other sources as well, but I do have to pause to note that it does wonderful things with Odysseus. It manages to give us both the good and the bad in Odysseus, the things that make him an attractive person and the things which mar him, and it really works. I was both invested in his relationship with Circe and in his safety, and yet still horrified at the bad sides of his character. The book also does a great job with Telemachus, making him more than just a chip off the old block: the descriptions of him are lovely, even as you know it’s Circe’s feelings tinting the whole narrative.
The story as a whole does a great job of synthesising the different sources and giving Circe a voice. It reminds me of someone else’s writing, and I can’t quite put my finger on what, but I suspect it’s actually Ursula Le Guin. In fact, the descriptions of Telemachus and the way Circe’s story ends clinch it: something about this book very much reminds me of Ursula Le Guin’s work, and that’s a pretty towering compliment.
I’m usually stingy with my five stars, but when I try to think about anything that would make me dock a star with this book, I couldn’t put my finger on anything. It’s not one of my favourites ever that you can pry from my cold dead hands someday, but it’s good and I think Miller’s done an astounding job. I found it engaging and felt like she gave Circe a voice that worked, and I would recommend it to others....more
Hm. I’m not quite sure what to make of this. I found some parts of it quite interesting — like, I’d love to know what the hell is up with Sarah’s arm and then her foot and then, well, that’s spoilers. And I found it quite a fast read, too. But the narration drove me a little nuts: it’s rather stream-of-consciousness, and things keep repeating, or thoughts don’t quite seem to finish. Or you get through a long paragraph and then realise it was all hypotheticals and the character has yet to act at all.
I’d love to know a bit more of the background stuff, really: Oyemi, and what was going on there; why any of these powers and people existed; what’s going on with Sarah, because that was creepy and weird and fascinating. It feels like a mash-up of superhero/sci-fi tropes that doesn’t quite go anywhere, leaving you not even knowing which side to pick. It was fun enough to read, but at the end, I’m left staring a bit blankly, and I don’t think I could really explain why any of it happened. It just… peters out, boom, the end. I don’t get it....more
I was so excited to get this, and then I didn’t want to be over, and took longer than I should’ve to actually finish it. But while I was reading it, I was mainlining it: chunks and chunks of it all at once. I find Vivian Shaw’s writing just really easy to read, and it helps that I adore the characters. I was sad that there wasn’t more of Fass in this book, and I didn’t love some of the newer characters as much (Grisaille, but that’s obvious; Emily needs more development; more St. Germain wouldn’t go amiss; etc, etc), but I loved some of the little details — like the croissant-baking demon.
I think I prefer the first book, because it has more teamwork, more togetherness. This book is less comfortable, somewhat, even though I find myself sure Greta can get herself out of anything with her knowledge and her level head. On the other hand, Varney and Greta are just sweet — this is a romance that kinda works for me, though I feel like some development was missed out on in the time between books. (A bit unavoidable without making it a romance straight up front, though, and it isn’t: the romance is just part of it. Friendship is a far bigger part, to my mind, particularly that of Ruthven and Greta.)
All in all, I had a lot of fun and I think it lived up to how much I loved the first book. I’m looking forward to more with great eagerness! Also, I kind of want a whistler of my own. And a wellmonster....more
The Masked City follows on admirably from The Invisible Library, providing the same madcap mix of genre with aspects of metafiction (one of the main characters is a Great Detective; the Fae are living archetypes who really get on best by living up to their cliches) and the same pacy narrative. Vale, Irene and Kai continue being a heck of a team, although they’re all separated for a while. There’s some fascinating new layers to the Fae, there’s more contact with the world of dragons…
If you didn’t enjoy the first book, I can’t imagine this would really hit any new notes for you. But as the second book of the series, it works quite well. There’s an element of middle-bookness, in that Alberich doesn’t play any kind of serious role, after being set up as a Big Bad. But there’s plenty of adventure and interest, and I mainlined it the second time just as much as I did the first....more
Witchmark is a little bit of a lot of things — a romance, a mystery, a family power struggle against a fantasy background, dealing with social upheaval and war… It feels like quite an odd mixture of things if I think about it from outside, but while I was reading it I had no quibbles.
Miles is the only character who I feel is really well fleshed out, and I really could use knowing more about Tristan before I can really fully buy into the romance and the Big Romantic Thing that happens near the end. Grace is… interesting, and surprisingly weak — and I don’t mean that in a disparaging way. It’s just that she comes along and takes command and she’s meant to be the strong one, and yet she’s so led by her family and by adhering to the social customs. It’s interesting as a character study, and I think there was a surprisingly good job done of making her likeable if only she wouldn’t participate in what’s expected of her.
Everything builds together pretty well for the finale, except maybe that romantic plot. I felt like we needed less of the magical attractiveness and more of the two talking to one another and figuring each other out: there wasn’t enough to make me really root for them. It’s the interplay between Grace and Miles that really made the story, for me.
I’ve kind of been avoiding getting this review written, because I wasn’t wholly sure what to say. I wasn’t as wowed as I hoped to be, but I think on reflection it was enjoyable and I’d read more. If I went in for half-stars, this would probably get another 0.5....more
I loved the idea of this, a pulpy horror story in the tradition of something like The Mummy (not that I’ve seen that film). And honestly, it was quite a lot of fun, in a fast-paced way, with interesting stuff going on with the various mythical stuff brought into the story. It’s fairly tropey and predictable, and the pacing is a bit jerky, but I stuck with it and had a reasonable amount of fun. Not something that I’d recommend unless you really love pulpy Penny Dreadful type stories with mummies and vampires and all kinds of weirdness, but it wasn’t the worst way to spend the time either.
Things that would have made me like it more… more of Evangeline, less of Evangeline being an object of desire for Rom and apparently everyone else; more flesh on the bones of McTroy and what went on in his head; and… some kind of change to Rom’s character. He struck me as stuck up and ignorant in many ways, and the effect was something like Simon Tam from Firefly, except with no willingness to get his hands dirty (except maybe with grave dirt) and no trust of the people around him. Basically, Simon Tam without the good bits....more
It hasn’t been that long since I first read this book, but the sequel is now out and I wanted to refresh my memory, and honestly I found Strange Practice just delightful. I adored what it did with the idea of a doctor for the monstrous/undead/etc, and I don’t know who would fail to smile at the idea of treating a banshee for a sore throat or a ghoul for depression (I’m not sure I agree with the choice of venlafaxine for the reasons actually mentioned — it’s nasty for withdrawal — but that’s by the by). I loved Ruthven and his concern for all the supernatural denizens of London, his hospitality and generosity, along with his little flaws and quirks. I loved the examination of what it might be like to be immortal, to be Ruthven or Varney or Fass: the years seeing other people die, the years of having to come up with something to do all the time.
I adore that Ruthven drove an ambulance in the Blitz, speaks a bunch of languages and knows how to darn socks. It just makes sense.
The plot itself is maybe less delightful, because hey, crazy cult, but the way the characters come together is glorious, and the climax of the story is just whoooa. The Devil himself shows up, and nothing is quite how you’d expect.
Greta Helsing, who is really the main character, is pretty awesome too. She’s the kind of doctor who recognises her duty to help people, but she’s also a brave young woman who is determined to do what she can, no matter what. She’s not perfect, and sometimes her reactions are very human — there’s a bit at the climax where she’s meant to be helping her friends, something goes wrong concurrently, and just… aaah.
Normally I can see why other people don’t like books (apart from personal taste stuff on the genre level), but I don’t really get it with this one. I enjoyed the heck out of it and I want some of my other friends (and my wife, hello dear) to read it soon so we can discuss Ruthven’s silk curtains and whether Varney is ever going to stop being melancholy....more
Another reread! Mostly because I felt like it, and partly to refresh my memory of the series to read The Lost Plot. It remains tons of fun: heists, steampunk trappings, magic, dragons, fae and most importantly, books. I love Vale and Kai and the way they interact with each other and with Irene, and Alberich remains a creep-as-heck villain (come on, he impersonates people by wearing their skin). The whole lore of the worlds, the way Fae work and the way that chaos/order affect magic… that all makes a good background for a story that ticks along at a fast clip. It feels like Cogman’s put everything and the kitchen sink into these books (especially with the more sci-fi trappings of some of the other worlds) and it works.
Above all, I think, I love the fact that the people who work for the Library genuinely love books. That’s one of their chief motivations in life. They’re not after keeping the worlds in order, just after books — on the surface, at least, and definitely for the junior Librarians like Irene — and that’s just… fun, nice to read, because in that secret kid part of you that hoped for a Hogwart’s letter (if you’re that kind of person), maybe you could be a Librarian…
So yeah. No surprises I’m giving it a high rating again. It’s not perfect, perhaps, but it’s so much fun....more