Category Archives: upper class mayhem

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The Dazzling Heights Book 2 of The Thousandth Floor series by Katherine McGee

Standard

When I saw this one on Netgalley, I immediately requested it, having read the first book, The Thousandth Floor – see my review here – and really enjoying it.

New York City, 2118. A glittering vision of the future, where anything is possible – if you want it enough.

Manhattan is home to a thousand-story supertower, a beacon of futuristic glamour and high-tech luxury… and to millions of people living scandalous, secretive lives. Leda is haunted by nightmares of what happened on the worst night of her life. She’s afraid the truth will get out – which is why she hires Watt, her very own hacker, to keep an eye on all of the witnesses for her. But what happens when their business relationship turns personal? When Rylin receives a scholarship to an elite upper-floor school, her life transforms overnight. But being here also means seeing the boy she loves: the one whose heart she broke, and who broke hers in return. Avery is grappling with the reality of her forbidden romance – is there anywhere in the world that’s safe for them to be together? And then there’s Calliope, the mysterious, bohemian beauty who’s arrived in New York with a devious goal in mind – and too many secrets to count. Here in the Tower, no one is safe – because someone is watching their every move, someone with revenge in mind. After all, in a world of such dazzling heights, you’re always only one step away from a devastating fall…

This YA near-future thriller bristles with intrigue, including an intended con, a guilt-ridden girl desperate to cover her tracks and prepared to go to any lengths to do so and a young couple who have it all – except each other. Most of these characters are materially pampered, living as they do in the lap of luxury with all sorts of extra add-ons gifted by near-future technology that we don’t yet possess. I really like these futuristic nifty touches McGee includes throughout the story without impeding the pace in any way.

I also enjoyed the fact that McGee isn’t content to merely present us with an ensemble of privileged youngsters, who inevitably are saddled with entitled attitudes – she takes us into their lives to the extent that even if we don’t like them, we do understand what drives them. As it happens, there was no one among the cast who I didn’t like. While initially, it took me a little while to recall who was doing what to whom, once I rebonded with all the protagonists, I found myself caring about all of them. After that, the pages turned themselves as the storyline advances through the alternating viewpoints of each one of the characters trying to make their way in a glittering world where they are the object of a lot of jealous scrutiny.

There is a nice moral lurking within this story that McGee keeps downplayed, making it all the more effective. Happiness doesn’t equal the next designer dress, beautiful piece of jewellery or wonderful party – instead it is about friendship, trust and love, both within and outside families.

Any grizzles? Hm. There is a dramatic incident near the end of the story that radically shifts the dynamic and the person responsible apparently comes out of nowhere. Of course, if you have read the first book, you will instantly recognise the name and understand what is powering her actions. I did feel that it wouldn’t have unduly lengthened the book to have a couple of chapters featuring this particular character, giving us more of her backstory. Having said that, it certainly isn’t a dealbreaker and is more of an observation as someone who habitually picks up book series halfway through.

Once more, the story ends with a dramatic climax, so that I shall be eagerly looking out for the next slice of this adventure. Recommended for those who like their YA with plenty of tension in a very cool futuristic setting. While I obtained the arc of The Dazzling Heights from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
8/10

Advertisements

Sunday Post – 3rd September 2017

Standard

This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Book Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

It’s been a good week. I’ve managed to get lots of writing done – now 24,000 words into my major rewrite of Miranda’s Tempest, I am really delighted at how well it’s going. The weather continues warm and fine, though the evenings are drawing in fast, berries are appearing and autumn is knocking on the door.

Unfortunately, I ran into big problems with my knitting project – with all the typing I’m doing, my left hand got very upset about the knitting as well, so my sister stepped up and has taken it over, bless her. It should be ready for the film rehearsals next week.

I now have sorted out a release date for Running Out of Space, the first novel in my space opera series The Sunblinded – 11th October. I’ve decided to finally go for it now and get this series self published. Wish me luck!

The grandchildren are now staying over for their last stay with us before they return to school for a new academic year. They asked for a ‘lazy day’ time, so we didn’t go out and about with them yesterday. Today we’re going to have breakfast and the Look and Sea Centre with my sister and visiting the beach before taking them back home in the afternoon.

This week I have read:

The Uploaded by Ferrett Steinmetz

In the near future, the elderly have moved online and now live within the computer network. But that doesn’t stop them interfering in the lives of the living, whose sole real purpose now is to maintain the vast servers which support digital Heaven. For one orphan that just isn’t enough – he wants more for himself and his sister than a life slaving away for the dead. It turns out that he’s not the only one who wants to reset the world…
This one is fun. Lots of action set in a dystopian world with a really intriguing premise – I loved how the dead ended up running the lives of the living.

 

Just Off the Path by Weston Sullivan
Hansel never asked to be a hero. He never wanted to fall in love with Rapunzel, Queen of the East. He didn’t ask to be raised by Gothel the Wretch, and he certainly never wanted to be credited for her arrest. But more than any of that, Hansel never wanted to lie: but he did. He lied about everything. He thought that he was done with it all when he and his sister Gretel retreated into the woods to reclaim their land, but he should have known better. Years later, Rapunzel’s guards knock at his door, and they say the words he hoped that he would never hear: Gothel has escaped. As he and Gretel take refuge inside Rapunzel’s castle in the eastern capitol of Hildebrand, Hansel is thrust back into everything he never wanted in the first place: his lies, his legend, and his lust.
This is a really interesting idea – a real mash-up of a number of Grimm fairytales told by one of the child victims – Hansel. It goes in unexpected directions and it is huge fun waiting to see who next turns up.

 

Sea of Rust by C. Robert Cargill
BRITTLE started out his life playing nurse to a dying man, purchased in truth instead to look after the man’s widow upon his death. But then war came and Brittle was forced to choose between the woman he swore to protect and potential oblivion at the hands of rising anti-AI sentiment. Thirty years later, his choice still haunts him. Now he spends his days in the harshest of the wastelands, known as the Sea of Rust, cannibalizing the walking dead – robots only hours away from total shutdown – looking for parts to trade for those he needs to keep going.
I loved this one. Brittle’s strong first person narrative took me right into this shattered, dystopian world where the robots are locked in a final battle for survival. Beautiful writing and plenty of action – great fun.

 

The Dazzling Heights – Book 2 of The Thousandth Floor series by Katherine McGee
New York City, 2118. A glittering vision of the future, where anything is possible – if you want it enough.
Manhattan is home to a thousand-story supertower, a beacon of futuristic glamour and high-tech luxury… and to millions of people living scandalous, secretive lives. Leda is haunted by nightmares of what happened on the worst night of her life. She’s afraid the truth will get out – which is why she hires Watt, her very own hacker, to keep an eye on all of the witnesses for her. But what happens when their business relationship turns personal? When Rylin receives a scholarship to an elite upper-floor school, her life transforms overnight. But being here also means seeing the boy she loves: the one whose heart she broke, and who broke hers in return.
Avery is grappling with the reality of her forbidden romance – is there anywhere in the world that’s safe for them to be together? And then there’s Calliope, the mysterious, bohemian beauty who’s arrived in New York with a devious goal in mind – and too many secrets to count.
Here in the Tower, no one is safe – because someone is watching their every move, someone with revenge in mind. After all, in a world of such dazzling heights, you’re always only one step away from a devastating fall….
I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this series and was delighted when I saw this one pop up on Netgalley. We get to follow the tortuous lives of these youngsters who have it all – including a hatful of knee-buckling problems… A real page-turner with another cracking climax.

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 27th August

Review of The Cold – Book 5 of Star Wars: Adventures in Wild Sapce by Scott Cavan

Teaser Tuesday featuring Sea of Rust by C. Robert Cargill

Tough Travelling – Strongholds featuring The Just City by Jo Walton

Review of The Heir to the North – Book 1 of Malessar’s Curse by Steven Poore

Friday Face-off – Thunder is the sound of hoofbeats in heaven… featuring Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Death Shall Come – Book 3 of the Ishmael Jones series by Simon R. Green

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week and a bit, in no particular order:

SPRAOI – Source to the Sea https://inesemjphotography.com/2017/08/26/spraoi-source-to-sea/ This wonderful series of photos of this amazing parade is yet another slice of life by this amazingly talented photographer

Riders of the Storm – Hurricane Harvey Rising Water https://familytravelhostusa.com/2017/08/27/riders-of-the-storm-hurricane-harvey-rising-water/ Sad pictures this time – family photos no one wants to take…

Space Features of the Week http://earthianhivemind.net/2017/08/26/space-features-week-26-july/ This invaluable, enjoyable weekly roundup is becoming a regular feature on this blog – with good reason

Sex Scenes: How Did it Happen http://melfka.com/archives/2438 This enjoyable article made me realise this isn’t a subject much discussed by readers – and yet we all read them, don’t we?

Jo Walton Interview – 2017 Edinburgh International Book Festival  http://fantasy-faction.com/2017/jo-walton-interview-2017-edinburgh-international-book-festival I was thrilled to read this extensive interview where this highly talented, versatile author discusses her canon of work.

Thank you very much for taking the time and trouble to visit, like and comment on my site and may you have a great week.

Books I Wish I’d Reviewed…

Standard

I read a number of these a long time ago, before the internet existed or I even considered there’d be a time when I would share my love of books and reading with numbers of other people who also take part in this most solitary of hobbies. And the rest are books that I read before I really got bitten by the reviewing bug. Either way, I occasionally tell myself that I’ll go back and reread them some day to write the review. But if I’m honest – I probably won’t because I generally don’t reread books, in case the second time around they disappoint. In which case, I will have gained two miserable memories – the one of revisiting a favourite book and finding it isn’t that impressive after all, but even more devastatingly – it will also have smirched the lovely glow around my recollection of the delight when I read the book first time around.

In no particular order…

 

Cider With Rose by Laurie Lee
Cider with Rosie is a wonderfully vivid memoir of childhood in a remote Cotswold village, a villagecider with rosie before electricity or cars, a timeless place on the verge of change. Growing up amongst the fields and woods and characters of the place, Laurie Lee depicts a world that is both immediate and real and belongs to a now-distant past.

I read this when I was fourteen and immediately fell in love with the book and the depiction of a lost time in rural Gloucestershire. Much later, when pregnant with my daughter, I encountered Lee’s essay on when his daughter was born and cried as I read it. I was probably a tad hormonal, but it is beautifully written…

 

The Go-Between by L.P. Hartleythegobetween
“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” Summering with a fellow schoolboy on a great English estate, Leo, the hero of L. P. Hartley’s finest novel, encounters a world of unimagined luxury. But when his friend’s beautiful older sister enlists him as the unwitting messenger in her illicit love affair, the aftershocks will be felt for years.

Another wonderfully written book – a real mixture of humour and bitter poignancy and the ending is a shock. The dialogue is a masterclass in writing subtext and if you haven’t ever read it, do so. Set before WWI, it is another lost world, where poor little Leo is adrift in a social shark tank and is shamefully exploited by people who should have known better.

 

requiemforawrenRequiem for a Wren by Neville Shute
Sidelined by a wartime injury, fighter pilot Alan Duncan reluctantly returns to his parents’ remote sheep station in Australia to take the place of his brother Bill, who died a hero in the war. But his homecoming is marred by the suicide of his parents’ parlormaid, of whom they were very fond. Alan soon realizes that the dead young woman is not the person she pretended to be…

I’d studied A Town Like Alice at school and loved it, so went looking for everything Shute wrote, which was a fair amount. I loved most of it – but Requiem for a Wren stole a particular portion of my heart, as the story depicted all too clearly the personal cost of war. If you ever encounter a battered Neville Shute novel in a second-hand shop – they occur with surprisingly regularity – scoop it up. There is a solid reason why he was such a popular author for thirty-odd years in the last century.

 

Chocky by John Wyndhamchocky
Matthew, they thought, was just going through a phase of talking to himself. And, like many parents, they waited for him to get over it, but it started to get worse. Mathew’s conversations with himself grew more and more intense – it was like listening to one end of a telephone conversation while someone argued, cajoled and reasoned with another person you couldn’t hear. Then Matthew started doing things he couldn’t do before, like counting in binary-code mathematics. So he told them about Chocky – the person who lived in his head.

Another wonderful author, who is famous for The Day of the Triffids, but wrote a number of other really enjoyable science fiction stories. Again, I loved them all – but Chocky was a particular favourite.

 

rideratthegateRider at the Gate – Book 1 of the Nighthorses duology by C.J. Cherryh
Stranded on a distant planet that abounds with fertile farmland, human colonists appear to be in paradise. But all the native animals communicate by telepathy, projecting images that drive humans mad. Only Nighthorses stand between civilization and madness. When a flare of human emotion spreads to all the horses, chaos erupts.

I fell in love with C.J. Cherryh’s writing from the first sentence – and this is her at her unbeatable best. I’d also include the sequel Cloud’s Rider, which is another gem.

 

Sundiver – Book 1 of the Uplift Saga by David Brinsundiver
No species has ever reached for the stars without the guidance of a patron–except perhaps mankind. Did some mysterious race begin the uplift of humanity aeons ago? Circling the sun, under the caverns of Mercury, Expedition Sundiver prepares for the most momentous voyage in history–a journey into the boiling inferno of the sun.

I loved this take on what might befall Earth creatures should we encounter alien cultures – and how terrestrial species other than humans might fare.

 

fallingfreeFalling Free – Book 4 of the Vorkosigan series by Lois McMaster Bujold
Leo Graf was an effective engineer…Safety Regs weren’t just the rule book he swore by; he’d helped write them. All that changed on his assignment to the Cay Habitat. Leo was profoundly uneasy with the corporate exploitation of his bright new students till that exploitation turned to something much worse. He hadn’t anticipated a situation where the right thing to do was neither save, nor in the rules… Leo Graf adopted 1000 quaddies now all he had to do was teach them to be free

Another talented speculative fiction author, whose groundbreaking writing has taken me to wonderful worlds. I have reviewed a number of the Miles Vorkosigan adventures – but this particular story featuring the quaddies has always had a special place in my heart…

What about you – have you any books that you wish you had reviewed? Or books you dare not reread in case they aren’t quite as wonderful as you recall?

Favourite Alternate History Worlds

Standard

This interesting sub-genre that intersects with both science fiction and fantasy, is a real favourite of mine. I’m a sucker for a well-constructed alternate history that posits some of the more fascinating ‘what ifs’. And these are the best ones I’ve encountered so far. Again, in no particular order…

Ghosts of Columbia by L.E. Modesitt Jr
This nifty omnibus edition contains the first two books in the series – Of Tangible Ghosts and The Ghost ghostsofcolumbiaof the Revelator. This is a world where people who are killed violently or accidentally with sufficient time to realise that they are about to die, become ghosts. So large battles become undesirable – battlefields overrun with hordes of ghosts make an area uninhabitable until they fade. The point at which history has also diverged is when the colonists from the Mayflower landing in the New World succumb to the plague, denying England any foothold on the American continent. Which means a chunk of Canada and North America is settled by the Dutch, in a nation called Columbia with New France down in the south and the Mormon state of Deseret jostling in an uneasy truce. For the time being…

Drop into this interestingly original world, ex-espionage agent and political minister Johan Eschbach, now living quietly in New Bruges and working as a lecturer on Environmental Studies at the Vanderaak Centre who tells his story in first person POV.
The story and espionage are well constructed – but what sticks in my memory is this wonderful world Modesitt has created. I love the details he produces about the weather, Johan’s shopping habits and what he has for breakfast – so that when it does all kick off, the violence is all the more shocking. Read my full review here.

 

Farthing – Book 1 of the Small Change series by Jo Walton
In a world where England has agreed a peace with Nazi Germany, one small change can carry a huge cost… Eight years after they overthrew Churchill and led Britain into a separate peace with Hitler, the farthingupper-crust families of the ‘Farthing set’ gather for a weekend retreat. But idyll becomes nightmare when Sir James Thirkie is found murdered, a yellow Star of David pinned to his chest. Suspicion falls, inevitably on David Kahn, who is a Jew and recently married to Lucy, the daughter of Lord and Lady Eversley of Castle Farthing, but when Inspector Peter Carmichael of Scotland Yard starts investigating the case, he soon realises that all is not what it seems…

As ever, Walton braids the apparently cosy into something different and when you’re lulled into a false sense of security, she pulls the rug from under you. The familiar backdrop here is the classic country house murder. Guests are staying over – mostly the ‘Farthing set’, with the inevitable alliances and enmities, both political and personal. Inspector Carmichael and his loyal sidekick, Royston, set about the task of unpicking the various secrets of all the likely suspects. The investigation in alternate chapters is described in third person viewpoint, harking back to those Agatha Christie whodunits we all know and love.

But that sense of order being re-established is entirely false – as we get to discover in the two ensuing books… This is a storming start to an excellent trilogy by one of the most versatile, interesting speculative fiction writers around today. Read my full review here.

 

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
I picked up this copy of the book as an SF Masterworks because as a solid fan of many women fantasy doomsdayand science fiction writers, I had never read her work and I discovered it was a Hugo Award winner. I’m so glad I did…

When Kivrin Engle travels back through time to complete her doctoral thesis, due to an accident she lands in the middle of a major crisis her Faculty were struggling to avoid. Meanwhile the Oxford she left behind is laid low by a mysterious strain of influenza and, with no one willing to risk arranging her rescue, time is running out. Mr Dunsworthy – who opposed the whole hare-brained notion of Kivrin going back to this particular time, yet somehow found himself caught up in helping her – is an outstanding character. The book is largely in his and Kivrin’s viewpoint and as the situation in both timelines slides away into chaos, it is these two main characters on whom the whole story arc rests.

Willis lays bare the internecine struggles within the famous University with a sense of gentleness that is refreshing in a genre which often exposes human frailty with ruthless savagery. There are a couple of characters who resort to petty rule-hugging in order to protect themselves, but most of the people depicted step up and do their best in increasingly awful circumstances. Read my full review here.

 

Age of Aztec – Book 4 of the Pantheon series by James Lovegrove
The date is 4 Jaguar 1 Monday 1 House; November 25th 2012 by the old reckoning. The Aztec Empire rules the world, in the name of Quetzalcoatl – the Feathered Serpent – and her brother gods. The Aztec ageofaztecreign is one of cruel and ruthless oppression, fuelled by regular human sacrifice. In the jungle-infested city of London, one man defies them: the masked vigilante known as the Conquistador. Mal Vaughan, one of the Jaguar Warriors, who police affairs in London, is determined to track down and put a stop to the Conquistador – a determination honed by the knowledge that if she doesn’t deliver, her life will be forfeit…

We follow the exploits of the Conquistador as he rebels against the might of the Aztec Empire for his own reasons – a personal tragedy that sums up, for him, all that is wrong with the current regime. Britain had been one of the last countries on the planet to fall under Aztec domination and as a patriot, the Conquistador – or Stuart Reston, to use his everyday identity – yearns for the country’s lost freedom. But as the chase between Stuart and Mal intensifies, the unique twists that Lovegrove has made his own in this series transform this book into something far cleverer and more memorable. Read my full review here.

 

Dominion by C.J. Sansom
Twelve years have passed since Churchill lost to the appeasers and Britain surrendered to Nazi Germany dominionafter Dunkirk. As the long German war against Russia rages in the east, the British people find themselves under dark authoritarian rule: the press, radio and television are controlled; the streets patrolled by violent Auxiliary Police and British Jews face ever greater constraints. There are terrible rumours about what is happening in the basement of the Germany Embassy at Senate House. Defiance, though, is growing. In Britain, Winston Churchill’s Resistance organisation is increasingly a thorn in the government’s side.

What must be jumping out at anyone interested in reading the book, is that the event where Sansom’s version of history diverges takes place twelve years previously. So he has to construct a completely different world that emerges after Britain’s surrender. As Sansom is an accomplished historian, his version of this world makes fascinating reading. In this Britain there has been a prolonged period of financial stagnation, leading to widespread poverty without any Welfare State. This is a world where the BBC is strictly censored with newspapers, television and radio staying silent when violent protest spills into death – and morris dancing is upheld as a national dance… But perhaps the most startling demonstration of the difference is when young Queen Elizabeth – still unmarried – is commemorating Remembrance Sunday, with Rommel stepping forward and propping on the cenotaph a large poppy wreath, complete with a swastika.

This is a strong read for anyone interested in exploring alternative historical landscapes and Sansom has beautifully conveyed the fog-shrouded desperation of a country slowly grinding to a halt under a punitive rule. Read my review here.

My Top Ten Literary Heroes

Standard

In the interests of gender equality, I felt that I should write an article featuring my top ten literary heroes, after publishing the blog ‘My Top Ten Literary Heroines’ here. In no particular order, here they are…

1. Rincewind from the Discworld series by Terry Pratchettthelightfantastic
The timid wizard who finds himself in the middle of adventures despite himself. I love his aversion to any form of risk – a confirmed coward myself, I’ve always found the lantern-jawed sort of hero rather offputting. I also hugely envy Rincewind his Luggage, a chest made of sapient pearwood that will swallow any amount of clothing – along with particularly aggressive characters Rincewood regularly encounters on his travels.

thegobetween2. Leo Colston from The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley
I first read this book as a teenager, cried at the end – and it somehow wormed its way under my skin and never really left me. Leo’s bitter-sweet recollection of a particular summer holiday that altered his life when he was thirteen leaps off the page and deserves to be far better known for more than its marvellous opening sentence.

peterpan

3. Peter Pan from the play by J.M. Barrie

I fell hook, line and sinker for the beautiful, cocky little boy when I read the story of the play aged eight. And at intervals in my life, there have been other adorable, cocky little boys full of vinegar and spirit, who light up my existence…

4. Miles Vorkosigan from the series by Lois McMaster Bujoldmemory
Miles is a remarkable creation – chockful of testosterone and driven with a desire to prove himself in a series of wonderful science fiction, space opera adventures. He would be unbearable if he wasn’t also battling the congenital defects that he has to deal with due to an attack on him before he was born. As it is, his foolhardy bravery is awesome and admirable.

5. Lord Peter Wimsey from the series by Dorothy L. Sayersbusman'shoneymoon
Forget about Jane Marple or Hercule Poirot – the detective I’ve always loved is the shell-shocked, younger son of a noble family. He often affects the idiot, while being in possession of a keen intellect and a drive to see justice done. Dorothy Sayers confessed that she was in love with Wimsey – and I can see why.

6. Claudius from I, Claudius and Claudius the God by Robert Graves
IClaudiusAgain, a series I read as a teenager and fell in love with this complicated, damaged man who manages to survive by sheltering behind his physical disabilities most of his life. Derek Jacobi managed to bring a marvellous incarnation of the character to life in the acclaimed TV series.

7. Kvothe from The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfussthenameofthewind
Rothfuss took the Fantasy genre by the scruff of the neck and gave it a very good shake in The Name of the Wind. I love the character in all his driven complexity and secrecy – and am very much looking forward to reading The Doors of Stone when it comes out.

farfromthemaddingcrowd8. Gabriel Oak from Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
He has always been my ideal male – brave, physically strong, with an inbuilt instinct for doing the right thing and loyal right down his marrow… Bathsheba Everdeen is an idiot for refusing to marry him the first time around and I just hope she pulls herself together and is the wife he deserves.

wolfhall9. Thomas Cromwell from Wolf Hall & Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
Henry VIII’s bullying fixer is so much more in this remarkable portrayal. I love the way Mantel’s writing manages to get right inside the character – a man of extreme contradictions, but fascinating, driven, formidably intelligent and physically energetic… Yep. I’m smitten.

themartian10. Mark Watney from The Martian by Andy Weir
Did I mention that I was an inveterate coward? The one exception is that I’ve always longed to go into Space – indeed, as a little girl I was firmly convinced that I’d end up there. I picked up this book, hoping it would be a story of brave derring-do survival and I wasn’t disappointed. And yes… as a girl I read Robinson Crusoe and Swiss Family Robinson and spent hours playing versions of being castaway on a desert island…

Those are my offerings. The near misses include Hagrid from the Harry Potter series – I’ve always loved Hagrid’s sheer stubborn good-heartedness and his bluff inability to keep secrets. If only perfidious Dumbledore had half of Hagrid’s intrinsic integrity… Shakespeare’s Macbeth – yes, I know he turns into a murdering monster. But at the start of the play he’s a brave warrior in love with his wife who wants to do the right thing. For me, he has always epitomised the doomed anti-hero who could have been someone even more extraordinary, if only events and the people closest to him hadn’t stacked up against him. Hiccup from the How To Train Your Dragon series. No, not the magnolia hero of the animated film series – but the skinny, unsure and permanently anxious version Cressida Cowell brings to life in her outstanding humorous adventure series. Cade Silversun from Melanie Rawn’s intriguing and original Glass Thorns series about a magical theatre troupe. In addition to writing their plays, Cade is afflicted with prescient visions – and is one of the most interesting, layered characters in modern fantasy. Matthew Shardlake from C.J. Sansom’s Tudor crime series. A spinal abnormality has prevented Matthew inheriting the family farm, so he travels to London to seek his fortune practising the law and gets embroiled in a number of murder mysteries.

So that’s a roundup of my top literary heroes to date. Who are yours? I’d love to hear who are your favourites and why…

A Posh Night and Musings on Power…

Standard

You may or may not know that Number One Son is an actor – and this week-end we travelled up to Salisbury where he was appearing in Posh to see him. Obviously, I am not in a position to give a proper review of the play – but I did think I’d share with you my thoughts and impressions of the production.robbiejarvisposh1

An elite Oxford dining society has hired a gastro pub for their termly dinner with the sole aim of getting totally ‘chateaued’. As the evening progresses and the booze flows, tempers fray and things get disastrously out of hand. Darkly comic and disgracefully entertaining, Posh isn’t just one big party: the boys are planning a revolution. Laura Wade’s critically acclaimed play is inspired by the real-life Bullingdon Club, which counts the Prime Minister, Chancellor and Mayor of London among its former members. As we approach the 2015 General Election, this razor-sharp play portrays what Boris Johnson himself described as superhuman arrogance, toffishness and twittishness. Welcome to the Riot Club.

Glowing maternal pride aside, what first struck me was just what a very high standard of acting and ensemble playing is achieved. There is all sorts of business going on, with rowdy drunken games, eating and drinking and other 100_3827darker activities during the meal – plenty of opportunities for things to go wrong. And most of the time there are ten plus actors onstage, with the dialogue constantly firing between them. More opportunities for actors to lose their place, tread on each others’ lines and generally mess up. None of which happened. Neither is there a single weak link – everyone on the stage could be easily heard at all times and conveyed their parts with conviction and skill.

I knew the dialogue was funny, I was expecting a fair amount of mayhem – what I hadn’t expected, was to come away with such a prickling awareness that the class warfare which has hampered this country for generations is alive and thriving. As one of the Boomers growing up in the 60’s and 70’s when we were all telling ourselves that class boundaries were closing up and by the next century would be a thing of the past, I find it profoundly depressing.

Whatever the reasons – I’ve all sorts of STRONG opinions as to the various causes – the simmering anger against ‘the other lot’ is exemplified by the shocking climax in the play, and the chilling closing scene. And when we met up after the show, Robbie was telling me that as the first half came to an end when they were in Nottingham, a woman stood up, shouting, “Yeah – we hate you, too!” and regularly people have walked out of the show. In this election year, however, it behoves someone to shed some light on one of the long-running faultlines in British society, an undertaking that the cast of Posh delivers with energy and skill.

100_3844The following day before heading home, we visited Salisbury Cathedral. It was the first time I’d seen it since I was nine – what immediately struck me was the sheer size of the building, compared to Chichester and Arundel cathedrals. And as we went around with one of the wonderful guides and were shown a succession of tombs and artefacts, the most impressive being Salisbury Cathedral’s copy of the Magna Carta, I was again struck by just how much religious and political power has rested in the building since its consecration in 1258. So while some of the statues and images were a bit knocked about during the Civil War, the cathedral was sufficiently wealthy and powerful to protect its treasures – it’s no accident that the Salisbury cathedral’s copy of the Magna Carta is the best preserved. Unlike Lincoln, for example, they were never in the position of having to exhibit it around the country to raise funds. Power – who has it, and who wants it – is a theme I constantly return to in my own writing.

However, the real reward this week-end was appreciating the sheer quality of Posh and feeling very proud of Robbie’s part in it.