Tag Archives: Tim Lebbon

Talking About the Weather…

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I tend to do it a lot on Twitter. During the last few years I’ve whimpered – online and at home – about the long, miserably gloomy winters we’ve endured and whined about the disappointing dank summers. I was always aware the weather affected my mood – but didn’t really realise just how much until this heatwave started.

summer photoI wake up with the sunshine blazing through the curtains and a grin crawling across my face before I’m properly awake. Things that would normally have me cursing under my breath and bad temperedly slamming kitchen cupboards now get a mere shrug in response. I’m ridiculously happy. Yes, it’s hot. Yes, I’m sweaty. But the light levels flooding the house and the luxury of having the back door open ALL DAY is just marvellous. I skip around the kitchen singing…

So when I read books where the weather hardly gets a mention, I’m aware there is a thinness in the scene setting – even if I don’t immediately realise why. And when books do a particularly good job of weaving the weather into the plot, it just feels… right.

In science fiction and fantasy there are a number of stories that hinge around major weather events, so they become the engine of the plot. Rachel Caine’s Weather Warden series, where Joanne Baldwin is part of an elite secret force fighting to save millions from catastrophic meteorological events, is a classic example. Caine’s entertaining, snappy writing and high octane action makes this an enjoyable read, although like many long-running series, it does get steadily darker as it progresses.

Tim Lebbon’s The Island is an interesting offering – the cataclysmic storm that creates havoc brings another threat theislandalong in its wake and only one person in the devastated fishing community is aware of just how dangerous the newcomers may be. The storm is an agent of change and misery – and makes the community a whole lot more vulnerable to any kind of danger. Lebbon fully exploits that sense of nationshock and chaos – and rising sense of wrongness. Terry Pratchett’s Nation takes a similar event – a devastating tsunami – to reshape the lives of two young people who are literally flung together in a survival situation. It is supposedly a YA novel – though I think it should be required reading for every politician on the planet, but the vivid description of the killing wave was heart-wrenching and immediately ensured that readers felt sympathetic and protective of both young protagonists.

James Lovegrove’s Age of Aztec uses the stifling humid conditions to emphasise his unusual setting of a jungle-strewn London, dotted with ziggurats, and to also enhance the sense of pervading wrongness and menaceageofaztec. Britain, the last bastion of freedom against the Aztec Empire, has at last been conquered. The weather doesn’t present the kind of drama the other books I’ve mentioned have offered – but the oppressive heat effectively mirrors doomsdaythe subjugation of the population. And Connie Willis’s Doomsday Book gives the same energy to the action, by providing a strong feeling of rising tension in the bad weather that accompanies Kilvrin, a young Oxford-based historian who in 2054 travels back in time to explore medieval life. However, due to a number of factors, she ends up in the wrong time and place, entirely at the mercy of a tiny community in deep mid-Winter, who are suddenly afflicted by a terrible illness. Without any modern comforts, the bitter weather becomes a constant challenge.

What all these books have in common, is that they provide us with readable, convincing settings – including the weather. And if I ever need a reminder as to just how vital that ingredient is, I’ll just recall my sunny response to this year’s heatwave.

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Review of The Island – A Noreela novel by Tim Lebbon

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Tim Lebbon’s name keeps cropping up in chats with speculative fiction fans, so when I saw this book on the shelves, I decided it would be worth a read.

theislandKel Boon thinks he has managed to escape his past as an agent in the secret organisation the Core, protecting the blissfully unaware Noreelans from the threat of the lizard-like Strangers – creatures from beyond the known world capable of untold destruction. In the sleepy fishing village of Pavmouth Breaks, Kel has become a woodcarver, leaving fighting behind and forming a tentative relationship with trainee witch Namior.  But a storm is brewing and at its centre the witches sense something dark and deadly. What follows the wake of the storm threatens the Noreelans’ very way of life. With the people and land he loves in terrible danger, Kel quickly realises that he cannot escape his past.

Yes… I know it sounds fairly run of the mill – but it isn’t. For starters, Lebbon is excellent at delivering tension-filled fear without slowing down the action – partly because he is an extremely competent writer who keeps all the action centred around Kel and Namior. The terrible storm and the havoc it wreaks on the fishing community is very well portrayed as the villagers struggle to come to terms with the devastating waves that sweep away their homes, families and livelihoods. Kel is conscious that he doesn’t belong as he watches everyone around him grapple with the enormity of the disaster – and it is that sense of detachment, along with his Core training, that has him already alert for any possible threats. That and the inexplicable disappearance of magic… This tale is a real genre mash-up – dark fantasy, swords and sorcery and steampunk. I have seen claims that it qualifies as science fiction, but I personally think that there would need to be more emphasis on the technology to tick that box. Not that it really matters – it doesn’t stop this being a cracking read. While Lebbon has written other books set in this world, he has ensured that it is a standalone novel, so no one will find their enjoyment blunted by picking up this book before visiting any of the other Noreela books.

Kel’s character leaps off the page right from the start and his hopes, personal demons and increasing concern at what is happening was, for me, the reason to keep turning the pages. Namior, his lover and young witch who has been born and raised in the small community all her life, wasn’t quite as strong. She certainly suffers in comparison to O’Peeria, Kel’s former Core partner. Although we only learn about O’Peeria in flashbacks through Kel’s point of view, the gutsy, foul-mouthed fighter immediately engaged my attention and loyalty in a way that Namior didn’t until much further into the book. However, this is a minor niggle and didn’t stop me staying up way into the night to discover what would happen next.

Lebbon can definitely weave an engrossing tale, full of menace and punctuated by bursts of sudden violence. I enjoyed the fact that though Kel is a trained killer, the fight scenes are less about swashing buckles and much more about the gritted business of surviving any encounter without major injury or death. The world-building is exceptional and I loved the descriptions of the island and the stricken fishing village, which were depicted with cinematic clarity. Overall, this is an outstanding tale. Now knowing why Lebbon is regarded with such respect by committed speculative fiction fans, I will be looking for his other work.
9/10