Tag Archives: Nick Harkaway

Top Ten Unique Reads…

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Once again those fine folks at The Broke and Bookish came up with a Top Ten Tuesday list I found irresistible, so I put my thinking cap on and came up with these – hopefully you’ll forgive the fact that it isn’t Tuesday…

Snowflake by Paul Gallico
A delightful story of the life of Snowflake, who was “all stars and arrows, squares and triangles of ice and light”. Through Snowflake’s special role in the pattern of creation and life, Paul Gallico has given us a simple allegory on the meaning of life, its oneness and ultimate safety.
A teacher read this one to us when I was in the equivalent of today’s Year Six and I was enchanted. I tracked down a lot more of Paul Gallico’s reads – and to be honest, many of them are unlike anything I’ve ever read, before or since. But they certainly fired up my taste for something different…

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
A carnival rolls in sometime after the midnight hour on a chill Midwestern October eve, ushering in Halloween a week before its time. A calliope’s shrill siren song beckons to all with a seductive promise of dreams and youth regained. In this season of dying, Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show has come to Green Town, Illinois, to destroy every life touched by its strange and sinister mystery. And two inquisitive boys standing precariously on the brink of adulthood will soon discover the secret of the satanic raree-show’s smoke, mazes, and mirrors, as they learn all too well the heavy cost of wishes – and the stuff of nightmares.
We were on a caravan holiday in France and I’d scooped this one off the shelves to take with us. I read it one heavy, hot summer afternoon while nibbling on chocolate – suddenly very glad for blazing sunshine and comforting presence of family. And as soon as I got to the end, I started reading it all over again, wanting more of that alluring prose and dark ideas.

Occupy Me by Tricia Sullivan
Tricia Sullivan has written an extraordinary, genre defining novel that begins with the mystery of a woman who barely knows herself and ends with a discovery that transcends space and time. On the way we follow our heroine as she attempts to track down a killer in the body of another man, and the man who has been taken over, his will trapped inside the mind of the being that has taken him over. And at the centre of it all a briefcase that contains countless possible realities.
There is no one whose imagination works in quite the same way as Tricia Sullivan – and this amazing offering is certainly unique. I loved this quirky story and the directions in which it went, while following the fortunes of all the remarkable characters who seem perfectly reasonable – until you realise the prism through which you are looking at them has refracted into something different…

The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway
The Jorgmund Pipe is the backbone of the world, and it’s on fire. Gonzo Lubitsch, professional hero and troubleshooter, is hired to put it out – but there’s more to the fire, and the Pipe itself, than meets the eye. The job will take Gonzo and his best friend, our narrator, back to their own beginnings and into the dark heart of the Jorgmund Company itself.
Another extraordinary tale that swept me up, held me rapt and then – finally – released me with a doozy of a twist ending I certainly didn’t see coming. This roller-coaster read snaps off the page with memorable lines and exuberant characters – see my review here.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
What if you grew up to realise that your father had used your childhood as an experiment? Rosemary doesn’t talk very much, and about certain things she’s silent. She had a sister, Fern, her whirlwind other half, who vanished from her life in circumstances she wishes she could forget. And it’s been ten years since she last saw her beloved older brother, Lowell. Now at college, Rosemary starts to see that she can’t go forward without going back to the time when, aged five, she was sent away from home to her grandparents and returned to find Fern gone.
This is a remarkable book – more so as it is based on a true event. And as we follow Rosemary when she goes on a quest to try and track down what happened to Fern, we discover a heartbreaking story of loss and abandonment that started with the best of intentions and ended up blighting the young lives of all the siblings in the family – see my review here.

Touchstone – Book 1 of the Glass Thorns series by Melanie Rawn
Cayden Silversun is part Elven, part Fae, part human Wizard—and all rebel. His aristocratic mother would have him follow his father to the Royal Court, to make a high society living off the scraps of kings. But Cade lives and breathes for the theater, and he’s good—very, very good. With his company, he’ll enter the highest reaches of society and power, as an honored artist—or die trying.
This remarkable series is a tour de force. I haven’t read anything quite like it and I don’t think I ever will… Cayden is a remarkable, spiky character cursed with genius and flashes of prescience. No one else has ever managed to depict the cost of this type of talent so thoroughly as Rawn in this magnificent series, which deserves to be a lot better known – see my review here.

Among Others by Jo Walton
When Mori discovers that her mother is using black magic, she decides to intervene. The ensuing clash between mother and daughter leaves Mori bereft of her twin sister, crippled for life and unable to return to the Welsh Valleys that were her own kingdom. Mori finds solace and strength in her beloved books. But her mother is bent on revenge, and nothing and no one – not even Tolkien – can save her from the final reckoning.
The writing is extraordinary in the pin-sharp description of the everyday, alongside the remarkable and Mori’s character is so compellingly realistic and nuanced, I’m undecided whether there is a large chunk of autobiographical detail wrapped up in this book. And I don’t really care – other than to fervently hope, for her sake, there isn’t too much that is borrowed from Walton’s own life. Memorable and remarkable art invariably is a fusion of imagination and reality – and this is both a memorable and remarkable book. See my review here.

A Kind of Vanishing by Lesley Thomson
Summer 1968: the day Senator Robert Kennedy is shot, two nine-year-old girls are playing hide and seek in the ruins of a deserted village. When it is Eleanor’s turn to hide, Alice disappears.
Thomson immediately plunges into the world of young girls, depicting first Eleanor’s rich interior landscape and then allowing us to access to Alice’s carefully modulated world, where her doting parents watch her every move. Thomson paints an exquisite picture of each girls’ fragilities, their aspirations and pin-sharp awareness of adult expectations. She beautifully inhabits the terrible, wonderful world of childhood – and the girls’ growing antipathy towards each other as they are forced to play together – until that disastrous game of hide and seek. This thriller/mystery is like nothing else I’ve read – see my review here.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
This is the first of the acclaimed Man Booker prizewinning books about Henry VIII’s bully boy Thomas Cromwell, who oversaw the dissolution of the monasteries. Mantel instantly had me off-balance with her present tense, third person deep POV when we first meet Cromwell being beaten by Walter, his drunken father, and he is lying on the ground trying to summon up the will to move. So Mantel quickly gains our sympathy for her protagonist – but rather than chart his adventures in Europe where he spent time as a mercenary and scholar, we then jump to when he is in Cardinal Wolsey’s employ and establishing himself as a man of substance.
The biggest problem for Mantel in choosing this period of history, is that many of us know the progression of events all too well. But while that is the frame and backdrop in this compelling read – it is Cromwell’s intense presence throughout that had me turning the pages and mourning the fact when there were no more pages… See my review here.

Embassytown by China Miéville
Embassytown, a city of contradictions on the outskirts of the universe. On Arieka, Humans are not the only intelligent life. Only a tiny cadre of unique human Ambassadors can speak Language, and connect the two communities. But an unimaginable new arrival has come to Embassytown. And when this Ambassador speaks, everything changes.
Miéville’s brilliant imagination produces a truly unusual alien species with a Language where emotion and meaning are inextricably linked, requiring human identical twins raised to be able to think and talk in tandem in order to keep the isolated human enclave, Embassytown, supplied with food and resources. Until it all goes horribly wrong… A fabulous examination of what it means to communicate. This book should be required reading for all prospective diplomats, in my opinion… See my review here.

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My Top Ten Fantasy Reads (including series)

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Thanks to Anastasia’s blog, which I reblogged here, there was a fair amount of interest in favourite fantasy books – many thanks Dylan Hearn for going to the trouble of giving us your list as well. So here is mine, in no particular order:-

1. Among Others by Jo Waltonamong others
This is an amazing book. In fact, ALL of Walton’s books are amazing, from Tooth and Claw right through to My Real Children. But Among Others has an extra dose of awesomeness. I happen to think she is one of the finest speculative fiction writers of this generation. I met her once, before I’d read any of her books and now fervently hope I get a chance to meet her again, though I’d probably embarrass myself with inappropriate fangirl noises.

2. The Little Broomstick by Mary Stewart
A firm family favourite, I just love the writing in this small children’s book – and even having read it aloud at various times to various classes and my own children and grandchildren, the ending still brings a lump to my throat…

3. The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher, starting with Storm Front + 14 others…
Set in Chicago, this urban fantasy series is about a snippy wizard who has trouble with authority and takes it on himself to try and right supernatural wrongs. It’s funny, sharp and entertaining.

4. The Realm of the Elderlings series by Robin Hobb, comprising The Farseer Trilogy, Liveship Traders Trilogy, The Tawny Man Trilogy, The Rain Wild Chronicles and The Fitz and the Fool Trilogy
I absolutely second those of you who nominated this wide-ranging, epic series – wonderful and magical slice of fantasy building…

5. The Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch, starting with Rivers of London + 4 others so far…
This sharp and interesting crime fantasy series took this sub-genre and nocked up the quality a notch. Though at times London descriptions occasionally become a little OTT, Peter Grant is a wonderful character and the narrative arc is going off in a fascinating direction.

6. The Magicals Anonymous series by Kate Griffin – Stray Souls and The Glass God so far…
This London-based urban fantasy series is a spinoff from Griffin’s the Midnight Mayor series and has all the superb descriptions we grew to love in those particular books, but with more wonderful humorous touches that regularly has me laughing out aloud. If you haven’t ever read her – do so, she’s a treat.

7. The Inheritance Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin – The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, The Broken Kingdoms and The Kingdom of Gods
When I first picked up The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, I simply couldn’t wrap my head around this wonderful writing and the sheer originality of the worlds. And years later after first reading it, the world still resonates in my head…

8. The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway
Like Jo Walton’s offering, this is simply a remarkable book with one of the greatest twist endings I’ve ever read…

9. The Glass Thorns series by Melanie Rawn – Touchstone, Elsewhens and Thornlost so far…
Again, an awesome, original series that has enriched my inscape and every book has me pining for more, as this magical theatrical cast manages to create something unique and special…

10. The Discworld series by Terry Pratchett, starting with The Colour of Magic + 39 others…
colourofmagicI’ve read ‘em all, loved most of them – and I don’t think any serious list of fantasy books could leave the Great Man off. He took the genre by the scruff of the neck, shook it thoroughly and left it forever altered. May he rest in peace…

Because it’s my blog, I can ALSO mention Fantasy authors it HURT to leave out – Juliet E. McKenna, Diana Wynne Jones, Miles Cameron, Cressida Cowell, Charlaine Harris, James Lovegrove, Sharon Lee and Tanya Huff…

Review of Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway

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I loved The Gone-Away World, as anyone who has read my review will realise. So when I managed to get my hands on Harkaway’s second book, I was delighted. Question is – can Harkaway manage to harness his exuberant prose and sprawling genre mash-up to provide the same breathtaking result?

All Joe Spork wants is a quiet life. He repairs clockwork and lives above his shop in a wet, unknown bit of London. The bills don’t always get paid and he’s single and has no prospects of improving his lot, but at least he’s not trying to compete with the reputation of Mathew ‘Tommy Gun’ Spork, his infamous criminal dad.

Edie Banister lives quietly and wishes she didn’t. She’s nearly ninety and remembers when she wasn’t. She’s a former superspy and now she’s… well… old. Worse yet, the things she fought to save don’t seem to exist anymore, and she’s beginning to wonder if they ever did.

These two main characters pick up this tale of an apocalyptic thriller, fantasy clockpunk, crime caper and spy noire with a Dickensian angelmakertwist – and plunge into this tale. All the things that Edie is, Joe isn’t. And alongside the story of the infernal machine with its golden bees (love the cover, by the way… fabulous!) it really is all about the progression of a struggling clockmaker, beset by guilt and anger over his father’s criminal past, into someone else. Do I feel completely comfortable at the transformation of a quiet, law-abiding man into a reckless lawbreaker? Well, yes, actually. Because it’s Fantasy… Had the prose, structure or characterisation set this book up to remotely reflect reality in any way – then I’d have felt a lot more ambivalent.

Harkaway’s prose is exactly NOT what modern readers are supposed to enjoy. There is more than a nod to a more florid 19th century style with plenty of descriptors scattered throughout; enjoyable and arresting imagery; long passages of descriptions, ranging from the physical appearance of all the main characters to every setting; slightly mannered and unrealistic dialogue – even the humour owes more to Dickens than, say, the likes of Pratchett. But this rich flavour, with the viewpoint veering towards the omniscient – another major no-no, in these days when the authorial voice is supposed to be completely subsumed by the thoughts and words of the protagonists – certainly works most of the time. And although there are sections in the first half where I feel that Harkaway’s writing does slightly silt up the pace, this may also reflect my personal preference for first person protagonists – I certainly don’t recall feeling the same sense of drift in The Gone-Away World, which was narrated in first person point of view.

However, the slightly old fashioned feel to the prose doesn’t mean that this is a cosy book – for all the rollicking adventuring feel, there are some gritty edges to this tale. There are lost loves, lives laid down in vain causes, cynically corrupt Governments – chiefly ours – where Justice is arbitrary and often unfair. There is also a prolonged episode of torture and plenty of graphic violence – and the larger-than-life feel to this book also extends to the darker aspects. Harkaway writes with passion about the lost souls in this tale, so we care because he demands that we do.

Any niggles? There are times during this monster read of over 550 pages, that Harkaway’s control does slip, and the prose stops singing off the page and instead slows everything down; where the dialogue stops being amusingly unexpected and becomes annoying; and where the authorial voice becomes a tad insistent. Overall, though, Harkaway successfully negotiates his way through this ambitious novel and ties everything up completely satisfactorily – which when working on such a large scale is a major achievement. If you haven’t yet treated yourself to this book, go and find a copy – it’ll certainly help you recover from the post-Olympic blues…
8/10