Tag Archives: Good vs Evil

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Spiderlight by Adrian Tchaikovsky

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Himself – a real fan of Tchaikovsky’s writing – had pre-ordered this one. I’m so very glad he did…

The Church of Armes of the Light has battled the forces of Darkness for as long as anyone can remember. The great prophecy has foretold that a band of misfits, led by a high priestess will defeat the Dark Lord Darvezian, armed with their wits, the blessing of the Light and an artefact stolen from the merciless Spider Queen. Their journey will be long, hard and fraught with danger. Allies will become enemies; enemies will become allies. And the Dark Lord will be waiting, always waiting…

spiderlightThis epic fantasy tale includes so many of the classic fantasy elements – a band of exceptional misfits, led by the chosen one fulfilling an ancient prophesy. There is said chosen one, a mage of great power, a couple of very capable guards – including the obligatory female warrior – and a thief for those sneaky chores that always need doing. Their quest to attempt to overthrow the Dark Lord is eventful and dangerous, including a violent encounter with a nest of huge spiders. And suddenly this classic fantasy lurches sideways and turns into something quite different.

Tchaikovsky once more takes a major genre, grasps it by the scruff of the neck and gives it thorough shaking, as in his excellent science fiction adventure, Children of Time – see my review here. However, this isn’t merely a parody. The story is too engrossing, the characters and adventure too gripping and genuinely engaging for this to be just used as a vehicle for ironic amusement. But there are some delicious moments that had me chuckling aloud – for instance when Penthos promises himself to magic the brave warrior, Harathes, another week of impotence for snapping at him.

He also thoroughly deconstructs the sexual politics underlying the inclusion of the mandatory female warrior by the inclusion of Cyrene – and her frustration at the way Harathes treats her. In a memorable scene, she rants at Dion that she is sick and tired of being treated as a sexual object by her male counterparts. Her bitter diatribe that she is always judged as a woman first and a warrior second is a scene that will stay with me for a long time. I’ve often thought the notion that fit young women can be given sufficient agency to overcome male dominance by dressing them in leggings and putting a weapon in their hands is far too simplistic a fix for the very complex dynamic that keeps women as second-class citizens around the world. Tchaikovsky rips away any fond illusions fantasy fans might have that bunging a handful of attractive sword-waving young women into the middle of an adventure successfully evens up the gender power imbalance.

But the book is transformed by the inclusion on this quest by the object the group brings away from the Spider Queen. We see the group reflected through an entirely alien, terrified viewpoint, which shifts the dynamic and provides a different, far less cosy viewpoint on our group of brave heroes. I am fond of spiders and thoroughly sympathised with the poor thing – but Himself admitted he also felt repulsed as he has an instinctive dislike of all things spidery. I’m guessing he won’t be the only one experiencing that uncomfortable mix of reactions to Nth’s plight. As a creature of the Dark, he is regarded by the righteous in the group as an abomination and it is interesting that the morally compromised Lief is the one to show Nth most empathy and compassion.

I’m conscious that discussing some of the underlying issues makes this book sound drearily earnest – and it’s nothing of the sort. It’s a rollicking adventure, full of incident and gory encounters to gladden the heart of any epic fantasy fan – and the climax with the Dark Lord will stay in my memory for a very long time.

If you enjoy this genre at any level, then I thoroughly recommend Spiderlight – it’s one of my outstanding novels of 2016 in a year marked by the general excellence of the books I’ve had the pleasure to read.
10/10

Review of Happy Hour in Hell – Book 2 of the Bobby Dollar series by Tad Williams

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I enjoyed Tad Williams’ Otherland series, so when I saw the funky cover and realised it was a new series, I scooped it off the shelves. Would I enjoy it as much as the epic fantasy door-stoppers I’m more used to reading from him?

happyhourinhellBobby Dollar, angel on Earth, has a couple of epic problems. Problem One: Bobby has fallen in love with Casimira, Countess of Cold Hants, who just happens to be Eligor, Grand Duke of Hell’s girlfriend. Problem Two: the Grand Duke, aware of the first problem, has whisked Casimira off to the Bottomless Pit itself, telling Bobby he will never see her again unless Bobby hands over a golden feather that Eligor desires more than anything else. But Bobby, long-time veteran of the endless war between above and below, is not the type of guy to be intimidated. All he has to do is toss on a demon’s body, sneak through the infernal gates, work out why Eligor wants the feather, and rescue the girl. Saving the day should just be a matter of an eon or two of anguish, mutilation and horror. If only it were that easy.

While the first person narration is humorously laconic, the overall tone puts the grrr into grimdark. Bobby spends a significant slice of the book in Hell, which Williams has managed to make convincingly hellish. Needless to say, this book isn’t suitable for your younger teens as Williams – known for inventive, detailed worldbuilding – doesn’t hold back when depicting the worst place on the planet. He has taken some of the classic representations of Hell, built on them and given them his own imaginative spin. The result is a graphic examination of hopelessness and despair. One of the grimmer details is that a fair number of its inhabitants don’t really deserve to be there – or the fact they are trapped there for Eternity. And the reason why I’ve capitalised it, is that is a very, very long time. One of the scenes that will haunt me for a while is the Forest of Suicides…

Any niggles? Well, I did feel a bit uncomfortable about the torture – while it wasn’t as graphically described as the backdrop, there were enough details for it to have been extreme. Bobby manages to prevail because of his unwavering belief in his love for Caz and the fact he’s an angel. If he’d been human, he would have folded like wet paper under a fraction of the abuse he endured, which is something that I felt should have been more explicit. But this isn’t a dealbreaker.

It is an original, dark and visceral take on the fight between Good and Evil – the ending wasn’t what I was expecting. But I certainly want to read the next slice of the adventure, Sleeping Late on Judgement Day. If you have enjoyed Tad Williams in the past and haven’t yet picked up this series, I recommend you do so – it is urban fantasy splashed with Williams’ own magic formula.
9/10