Tag Archives: unreliable narrator

Five 5-Star Books in Five Words – Twice Over #five5-starbooksin5wordsx2 #BrainfluffWyrdandWonderChallenge2020

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The aim of this one is to select five of your all-time favourite books and sum each one up in five words as part of this year’s Wyrd and Wonder challenges. I read this fun challenge on one of my fellow blogger’s site (sorry – I made a note of who it was, then lost it…) and decided that I really, really wanted to have a bash at it. Then Himself also wanted a go and so I’ve added his choices, too.

My Selection

 

Among Others by Jo Walton
Battle-scarred schoolgirl seeking solace.
See review…

 

How to Train Your Dragon – Book 1 of the How To Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell
Naughty dragon trains small Viking.
See review…

 

Spiderlight by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Heroic quest – or is it?
See review…

 

Small Gods – Book 13 of the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
Pratchett does religion. Profound silliness.

 

The Fifth Season – Book 1 of The Broken Earth series by N.K. Jemisin
Mother’s mission – rescue her daughter.
See review…



Himself’s Selection

 

Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkein
The first, greatest epic fantasy

 

The Curse of Chalion – Book 1 of the World of the Five Gods series by Lois McMaster Bujold
Tattered hero dies three times.

 

Night Watch – Book 29 of the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
Vimes’ timeloop saves his family.

 

Furies of Calderon – Book 1 of the Codex Alera by Jim Butcher
Powerless hero surviving powerful world.

 

Dead Heat – Book 4 of the Alpha and Omega series by Patricia Briggs
Ancient werewolf visits old friend.

Friday Faceoff – Sea in a storm, night with no moon and the anger of a gentle man… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoffatmosphericcovers

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and this week we are featuring ATMOSPHERIC covers. I’ve selected The Wise Man’s Fear – Book 2 of the Kingkiller series by Patrick Rothfuss, which I absolutely loved – see my review.


This edition of The Wise Man’s Fear was produced by DAW Books March 2011. Full of shadows and intrigue and mainly featuring wet stone, some of it rough-hewn, some of it paved, not much seems to be happening. But I love this cover and it became – quite rightly – the default cover for this outstanding epic fantasy. It’s the play of moonlight on the rain-slicked cityscape… that archway… and the figure standing in a pool of moonlight. It doesn’t hurt that this is a relatively uncluttered cover and while the fonts are very plain, they work well with the design. This is my favourite…


Published in March 2011 by Gollancz, this another classy effort. The cover is beautiful with those fire-red leaves surrounding the figure dominating the middle of the cover with his flourished sword and lightning limning the stormy skies. But that’s part of the problem. Though it is pleasing on the eye, it seems far too generic to properly represent this remarkable, accomplished novel. It only lacks a rearing horse to tick all the epic fantasy tropes that generally end up on a cover.


This Portuguese edition, published in November 2011 by Arqueiro, has broken away from the darker, moodier covers that defined this book and produced something brighter. It is also beautiful – I love that shade of turquoise, which is eye-catching and unusual in this genre. The sense of the forest whited out behind the intense light is well done and this one could have been a real contender if the figure in the foreground didn’t look quite so much like a refugee from a Disney cartoon. I would have preferred a more travel-scuffed depiction of Kvothe.


This Finnish edition, published in June 2015 by Kirjava, is a great cover. I love that burst of colour on the skyline with the birds flying away from the gathering stormclouds. Young Kvothe crouched on the roof is well depicted – and I really like the fact that he isn’t looking at us. My problem with this one is that the execution is relatively crude. The definition is poor and the colours blocky, with the artwork lacking detail and shading. It’s a shame, as the design is great, but it looks as though the cover designer still hadn’t got to grips with Adobe Photoshop.

 

This Czech edition, published by Argo in October 2012, is another strong offering. I really like the stone ornamentation apparently staring down at young Kvothe, who is glaring out at us, while dealing with a flock of birds. There is a sense of movement and urgency about this cover that isn’t present in any of the others. I like the gradated shading on the author and title fonts, which nests them within the overall cover design, rather than making them look as if they were just plonked over the top as an afterthought. This is the one I so nearly went for… But which is your favourite?


March 2020 Roundup – Reading, Writing and Blogging… #BrainfluffMarch2020Roundup

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I’ve just read my roundup for February with a sense of unreality, because I didn’t once mention COVID 19. And whatever else I was chatting about, it didn’t include social isolation, daily death tolls and endless hand-washing. And now I’m going to take a deep breath and make that the last time I talk about that stuff. Because this is about carrying on as best we can, despite all that misery and fear. And maybe it’s rank cowardice, but I’m turning to the biggest consolation in my life, when the going gets tough. The one thing that never lets me down – books.

Reading
I read nineteen books in March, which I think is a record number. It was a really good month, with some cracking reads. This is the list:

Death of a Bean Counter – Book 12 of the Maggy Thorsen mystery series by Sandra Balzo – Review to follow

Song of Achilles AUDIOBOOK by Madeline Miller – this is my oustanding audiobook read of the month. Review to follow.

Feathertide by Beth Cartwright. Review to follow.

The Last Protector – Book 4 of the Lovett and Marwood series by Andrew Taylor

A Dying Fall – Book 5 of the Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths.

Longbourn AUDIOBOOK by Jo Baker. Review to follow.

On Writing by Stephen King

Minimum Wage Magic – Book 1 of the DFZ series by Rachel Aaron

By the Pricking of her Thumb – Book 2 of the Real-Town Murders by Adam Roberts

The Case of the Missing Servant – Book 1 of the Vish Puri series by Tarquin Hall

Magnus Chase and the Sword of Summer AUDIOBOOK – Book 1 of Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard series by Rick Riordan

No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished – Book 3 of the Heartstriker series by Rachel Aaron. Review to follow

Interdicted Space – Book 2 of the Interstellar Space Agency by Gillian Andrews

War of the Maps by Paul McAuley

The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie

The Clutter Corpse – Book 1 of the Decluttering Mysteries by Simon Brett. Review to follow

Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Macksey – this is my outstanding book of the month. Review to follow.

A Dragon of a Different Colour – Book 4 of the Heartstriker series by Rachel Aaron

Writing
I finally completed the first draft of Mantivore Warrior in the second week of March. The book ended up being just over 103,000 words long – so much for thinking I was nearing the end at the 75,000 words mark! It took another 12,500 words to finish it and then I was quite ill for nearly a fortnight. I do need to learn to pace myself…

I’ve put it on one side and have been working on my first Creative Writing How-To book on Characterisation. It’s going reasonably well, I’ve just finished Chapter Five on Viewpoint, but it’s very different to writing fiction. I’m hoping to have it completed by the end of April – but with all that’s going on, inevitably that has to be more of a hope than a solid target. Overall, I wrote just over 48,000 words in March, with just over 15,000 words on my blog and just under 30,000 words going towards my writing projects, which brings my yearly total to just over 136,000 words so far.

Blogging
Like many others, I’m finding my online friends a real source of consolation. I can’t tell you how grateful I feel having so many lovely people around me from the book blogging community to talk books with. It’s at times like these that you discover what really matters and who has your back… Wishing everyone a peaceful, healthy April and stay safe.xx






Sunday Post – 29th March, 2020 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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

Like most people, I’m staying at home, though Himself is still out driving trains. We’ve worked out a system whereby he puts his uniform into the washing machine before coming into the house and so far… so good.

Last Monday, on her second day in the new house, my daughter woke up with a temperature, joint and stomach pains and a cough. So she ended up being quarantined in the house without the children. She is now feeling a lot better, but it’s been a long week for her. Thank goodness she is recovering and the children don’t seem to have had any symptoms. Other than that, we keep in touch with family via Skype and Zoom. It was a huge relief to hear my brother-in-law caught one of the last flights from Melbourne and is now back home safely. And we go on praying none of the vulnerable members of the family go down with the illness…

Still enjoying Outlander – but mightily disappointed with that DREADFUL last episode of Picard, when it had been going so well. Thank goodness for marvellous books – I’m listening to Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light – so very, very good! And I’m working on my book on Characterisation, which is growing slowly but surely. It’s interesting how different my writing patterns are for non-fiction, as opposed to fiction.

Last week I read:
The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie
For centuries, the kingdom of Iraden has been protected by the god known as the Raven. He watches over his territory from atop a tower in the powerful port of Vastai. His will is enacted through the Raven’s Lease, a human ruler chosen by the god himself. His magic is sustained via the blood sacrifice that every Lease must offer. And under the Raven’s watch, the city flourishes. But the power of the Raven is weakening. A usurper has claimed the throne. The kingdom borders are tested by invaders who long for the prosperity that Vastai boasts. And they have made their own alliances with other gods. It is into this unrest that the warrior Eolo–aide to Mawat, the true Lease–arrives. And in seeking to help Mawat reclaim his city, Eolo discovers that the Raven’s Tower holds a secret.
This fascinating story, told from an unusual viewpoint – using the second person (you) pov – caught me from the start. I loved the tension and Leckie’s handling of the perspective from a god who has lived a very long time.


The Clutter Corpse – Book 1 of the Decluttering Mysteries series by Simon Brett
Introducing an engaging new amateur sleuth, declutterer Ellen Curtis, in the first of a brilliant new mystery series.
That’s all the blurb there is – and this intriguing cosy mystery does just that – sets up Ellen as an engaging, competent protagonist with a doozy of a backstory. While I enjoyed the whodunit aspect, I was even more engrossed in Ellen as a fascinating protagonist and very much look forward to reading more about her. Review to follow.

 



Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller
1976: Peggy Hillcoat is eight. She spends her summer camping with her father, playing her beloved record of The Railway Children and listening to her mother’s grand piano, but her pretty life is about to change. Her survivalist father, who has been stockpiling provisions for the end which is surely coming soon, takes her from London to a cabin in a remote European forest. There he tells Peggy the rest of the world has disappeared.
I burned through this one, finding it impossible to put down. It’s an amazing read in many ways. For starters, the prose is absolutely beautiful and I enjoyed so much about this one… But for me, the pacing and narrative stuttered in the final stages, leaving me unhappy with the ending, both with its execution and the outcome.


The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Macksey
A book of hope for uncertain times.
Enter the world of Charlie’s four unlikely friends, discover their story and their most important life lessons. The conversations of the boy, the mole, the fox and the horse have been shared thousands of times online, recreated in school art classes, hung on hospital walls and turned into tattoos. In Charlie’s first book, you will find his most-loved illustrations and some new ones too.
My lovely sister-in-law sent this to me and I absolutely love it – the beautiful drawings and the messages of truth and hope that shone off the pages. It had me weeping and laughing at the same time. It isn’t long, but I shall be returning to it regularly. Especially in the coming days and weeks…


My posts last week:

Friday Face-off featuring Circe by Madeline Miller

Review of A Season of Spells – Book 3 of the Noctis Magicae series by Sylvia Hunter

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of War of the Maps by Paul McAuley

Review of AUDIOBOOK A Hat Full of Sky – Book 32 of the Discworld series, Book 2 of the Tiffany Aching series by Terry Pratchett

Sunday Post – 22nd March 2020

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

Books That Made Me Smile, Laugh, Inspired Me & Gave Me Hope https://hookedonbookz.com/2020/03/26/books-that-made-me-smile-laugh-inspired-me-gave-me-hope/ A very useful list – that includes The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse…

Coping Tools https://randomactsofwriting.wordpress.com/2020/03/25/coping-tools/
Another useful and uplifting article that I really appreciated and thought others, too, might enjoy reading…

Book Tag – The Secret World of a Book Blogger https://comfortreadsbookblog.wordpress.com/2020/03/26/book-tag-secret-life-of-a-book-blogger/ I’m a nosy person – my excuse is that I’m a writer, but I couldn’t pass up this insight into a fellow book blogger’s process behind the articles…

House Arrest https://jaceybedford.wordpress.com/2020/03/24/house-arrest/ Another great insight into how successful sci fi/fantasy author is coping with self isolating…

Giving Up Oxford https://infjphd.org/2020/03/24/giving-up-oxford/ A beautiful homage to one of our loveliest cities and a thoughtful article about lost opportunities and curtailed plans due to the virus…

Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog – I hope you and yours have a peaceful, healthy week. Take care.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc You Let Me In by Camilla Bruce #Brainfluffbookreview #YouLetMeInbookreview

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I found the premise rather haunting and clearly full of paranormal content, so I requested this one, looking for something a bit different – I certainly got that, alright…

BLURB: Everyone knew bestselling novelist Cassandra Tipp had twice got away with murder. Even her family were convinced of her guilt. So when she disappears, leaving only a long letter behind, they can but suspect that her conscience finally killed her. But the letter is not what anyone expected. It tells two chilling, darkly disturbing stories. One is a story of bloody nights and magical gifts, of children lost to the woods, of husbands made from twigs and leaves and feathers and bones . . . The other is the story of a little girl who was cruelly treated and grew up crooked in the shadows . . . But which story is true? And where is Cassie now?

Before I go any further – a trigger warning – this book deals with both emotional and sexual child abuse.

The story unfolds in the form of a manuscript, which Cassie has left as an extended letter to her two surviving relatives – her niece and nephew. She talks of her fractured relationship with her mother, who clearly doesn’t like or love her much – and how that washes across and poisons her relationship with her sister, while her big bear of a father watches from across the table and says nothing. Or… from the age of five, Cassie’s life is invaded by a large fae man – Pepper-Man, whom only she can see. Who feeds off her at night, in her bed. Who accompanies her during the day and forces her to break things to distract him from hurting the people around her. He takes her to the fae mound, where she meets more of his kind and she becomes more involved in their community, while her odd behaviour increasingly alienates her from her family.

So this is a story of an unreliable narrator, telling the story from her own viewpoint, directly addressing her readers as ‘you’. Which version do we believe? And yes… if you put yourself in the place of those relatives – that becomes crucially important, as Cassie leaves a doozy of a twist, right at the very end, thus really upping the stakes.

It’s beautifully written. The child is heartbreakingly realised, and whether she wandered into a fae trap and is caught in their wiles; or the victim of sustained abuse at the hands of both parents – it’s a tough place to be. And yet… it isn’t a miserable read. Cassie finds wonder and beauty in the fae world she’s caught up in.

I loved it. The pacing, writing and characterisation is masterful and beguiling. It could so easily have gone horribly wrong. And it didn’t – it’s pitch perfect. This book won’t leave me alone – a sure sign it has wriggled under my skin – and I’ll be looking out for more from this highly talented author. Though I’m not recommending it – because of the nature of the story, only you can decide whether you want to plunge into this world. But I would say, it’s been wonderfully depicted. The ebook arc copy of You Let Me In was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
10/10

Sunday Post – 9th February, 2020 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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

Another busy week… It didn’t start all that well as I woke up on Monday morning with a headache, and took the decision to cancel my lesson with Tim. I probably could have struggled through it – but didn’t seem fair to either of us. Fortunately, resting up and looking after it meant that come lunchtime it had faded, so I was able to go to Pilates, at long last. But oh my – wasn’t I creaking on Tuesday! Fortunately Fitstep on Wednesday sorted that out… My poor sister woke up on Wednesday to no heating, so on Thursday afternoon I nipped up the road and waited for the engineers to come and sort it out – and she took me out for a meal at The Arun View in the evening. We had a lovely time – she’s been under the weather with a heavy cold that won’t leave, so we haven’t had a chance to get together recently, so it was lovely to be able to have a good old natter.

On Friday, Himself and I travelled up to Brighton to see Frankie perform in the school production of Bugsy Malone – he was Doodles and so got splurged early on, but we both thoroughly enjoyed the show. And on Saturday, we were back up in Brighton – this time to look after the three grandchildren, while Gareth took Rebecca to see Upstart Crow in London. It was quite a big deal – obviously the older two are very used to us – but this was the first time we’d looked after little Eliza alone, giving her supper, bathing and putting her to bed. It went like clockwork and the children were all a delight, although poor Frankie was very much under the weather with a feverish cold. It was the dogs who disgraced themselves by messing in the house!

We got home after 1 am, so I didn’t rise very early this morning – but decided to have a walk along the seafront as Storm Ciara was blowing a hoolie, and the rain hadn’t yet started lashing down. Which are the pics… Thinking of everyone at risk of flooding around the country and hoping those affected are safe.

Last week I read:
You Let Me In by Camilla Bruce
Everyone knew bestselling novelist Cassandra Tipp had twice got away with murder. Even her family were convinced of her guilt. So when she disappears, leaving only a long letter behind, they can but suspect that her conscience finally killed her. But the letter is not what anyone expected. It tells two chilling, darkly disturbing stories. One is a story of bloody nights and magical gifts, of children lost to the woods, of husbands made from twigs and leaves and feathers and bones . . . The other is the story of a little girl who was cruelly treated and grew up crooked in the shadows . . . But which story is true? And where is Cassie now?
I was drawn to this one by the paranormal element – and didn’t expect it to be such a heartbreaking, disturbing read. That said – despite the darker aspect, this is a beautifully written book and one that has stayed with me. Review to follow.

The Case of the Reincarnated Client – Book 5 of the Vish Puri series by Tarquin Hall
When a young woman comes forward claiming to be the reincarnation of Riya Kaur, a wife and mother who vanished during the bloody 1984 anti-Sikh riots, Puri is dismissive. He’s busy enough dealing with an irate matrimonial client whose daughter is complaining about her groom’s thunderous snoring. Puri’s indomitable Mummy-ji however is adamant the client is genuine. How else could she so accurately describe under hypnosis Riya Kaur’s life and final hours? Driven by a sense of duty – the original case was his late father’s – Puri manages to acquire the police file only to find that someone powerful has orchestrated a cover-up…
I thoroughly enjoyed this quirky book set in India, following the adventures of P.I. Vish Puri, a middle-aged private detective. To the extent that Himself went and bought the previous four books in the series for me as an early Valentine’s present. I love that man!

AUDIOBOOK Uprooted by Naomi Novik
Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life. Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood. But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.
I’d read this one back when it first came out and absolutely loved it – though was a bit horrified at just how much of the story I’d forgotten, as I listened to it all over again… It was a real treat – and made me grateful for having the chance to get lost in books, even as I’m cleaning the bathroom.

 

My posts last week:

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Last Smile in Sunder City – Book 1 of the Fletch Phillips Archives by Luke Arnold

Friday Faceoff featuring The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Journaled to Death by Heather Redmond

Sunday Post 2nd February 2020

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last couple of weeks, in no particular order:

William Gibson talks at Bristol’s Festival of Ideas https://rosieoliver.wordpress.com/2020/02/04/william-gibson-talks-at-bristols-festival-of-ideas/ Rosie did a very good job in summing up this fascinating get-together.

Frozen Wavelets presents: Waiting for Beauty by Marie Brennan https://earthianhivemind.net/2020/01/17/frozen-wavelets-presents-waiting-for-beauty-by-marie-brennan/ Steph gives us this gem of a story by one of my favourite authors – proving she can also handle the demands of short fiction as well as novels…

The Silvery Sands of Rosehearty Beach https://ailishsinclair.com/2020/02/rosehearty-beach/ What lovely pics of a beautiful place with an intriguing name…

Writing a Novel When You’re Too Busy to Write a Novel https://writerunboxed.com/2020/02/03/writing-a-novel-when-youre-too-busy-to-write-a-novel-video/ This quirky animated video is fun, whether you’re struggling to write said book, or not. Then you can just thank your luck stars you haven’t boxed yourself into this kind of impossible corner…

Screen Time vs Serene Tim https://wandaluthman.wordpress.com/2020/02/03/screen-time-vs-serene-time/ This practical tips might prove helpful when faced with setting boundaries around this vexed issue with our children…

Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog – I hope you have a wonderful week.

Review of My Real Children by Jo Walton

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This is the latest offering from one of my favourite fantasy authors – would I like it as much as her other work?

The day Mark called, Patricia Cowan’s world split in two.
The phone call.
His question.
Her answer.
A single word.
‘Yes.’
‘No.’
It is 2015 and Patricia Cowan is very old. ‘Confused today’ read the notes clipped to the end of her bed. Her childhood, her years at Oxford during the Second World War – those things are solid in her memory. Then that phone call and… her memory splits in two.

my real childrenThis book is different from anything else that Walton has written – but then books with a storyline like this aren’t exactly crowding the bookshelves. By a spooky coincidence, I’ve recently read and reviewed Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life, which is the nearest book to My Real Children that I’ve come across – although there are some important differences. Patricia’s life apparently divides at a particular point in her life, when a single event and two decisions cause two different futures to come to pass – so this is more Sliding Doors than Groundhog Day.

There is also a real sense of ambiguity about the whole business – Patricia is suffering from dementia and has been battling with it for some time. So… is this a complex illusion brought about by a damaged brain? At this point, the two alternate lives seem to collide – she gets muddled as to which nursing home she is living in and although she hasn’t yet mixed up the children, she knows it will only be a matter of time. The impact of her different lives doesn’t just affect her family – the world is quite a different place and I found this to be a fascinating consequence. Intriguingly, it wasn’t the life where she was fulfilled and happy that had the best outcome…

This isn’t a doorstop-sized tome, so of necessity – given the span of years that it covers – Walton has had to skim over quite a lot of important events in order to fit it all in. But I didn’t feel that I’d been short-changed in any way. Like Life After Life, there are some bleak, miserable periods and terrible events interspersed with shafts of happiness and examples of human goodness. Unlike Life After Life, the worst of the savagery isn’t always visited upon Patricia. Walton is excellent at summoning up the feel of an era and I was intrigued to note how nostalgia steadily drifts into alternate history, as political events increasingly diverge from our own timeline. Focused as I was on Patricia’s personal story, it took a while for the penny to drop – but when I went back and reread the sections, I was able to appreciate the subtlety Walton employs with occasional mentions of events, before the shock of the major crisis which changes the whole political backdrop forever…

Walton always writes with intelligence and coherence, giving this story an interesting twist at the end arising out of her misery when trapped in her miserable marriage, thus making a remarkable and memorable read even more so. I found it fascinating that Patricia’s greatest contribution was when she was most oppressed – a stark contrast to all those feel-good lifestyle coaching gurus, whose starting point is that in order to fulfil a destiny, we need to be personally fulfilled and happy. If you enjoyed Life After Life, track down My Real Children – it is every bit as engrossing, with a stronger more convincing ending. Walton just goes from strength to strength and this book establishes her as one of the foremost and most interesting writers of her generation in any genre.
10/10

Review of The Islanders by Christopher Priest

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Christopher Priest’s work is always a challenge. He regularly pushes the envelope with his beautifully written prose, as in The Separation, which I reviewed here. And this offering is no exception. So would I enjoy this book more than I enjoyed The Separation?

islandersThe Dream Archipelago is a vast network of islands. The names of the islands are different depending on who you talk to, their very locations seem to twist and shift. Some islands have been sculpted into vast musical instruments, others are home to lethal creatures, others the playground for high society. Hot winds blow across archipelago and a war fought between two distant continents is played out across the waters. The Islanders serves as an untrustworthy but enticing guide to the islands, an intriguing multi-layered tale of a murder and the suspect legacy of its appealing but definitely untrustworthy narrator.

Whether this book could be called a novel is a matter for debate – the overall narrative spine of The Islanders is a visitor’s guide to some of the islands within the Dream Archipelago with a series of short, factually concise guides to a range of islands. At the same time, we become increasingly aware that this task is doomed to failure. Because of temporal anomalies that are now routinely used by aircraft to shorten flights, it is very difficult to accurately map large sections of the Archipelago. It gets worse – even trying to standardise the names of these islands proves a challenge as there are frequently anything up to three alternatives names for each one. And at least one of the poorer, less attractive islands appears to have appropriated the name of one of its more prosperous, popular neighbours in the hope of attracting a section of their tourist trade.

Who has embarked on this project of writing a gazetteer? We are never told. At least we are on solid ground at the beginning of the book – the famous novelist, Chaster Kammeston has written the Prologue – an oblique and rather qualified approval of the whole undertaking. However, one of the sections near the end of the book describes Chaster’s death – so how can he have read and approved of the manuscript sufficiently to have written the Prologue? Again, don’t expect Priest to provide any answers.

If the book had merely contained a series of tourist guide details about a bunch of non-existent islands, it would have joined my growing pile of DID NOT FINISH books on the grounds that Life is too short. But Priest is a fine writer – and mixed in amongst the clipped, impersonal island descriptions are a number of vivid characters, some amusing, some dark and some plain sad. A handful of these characters, including Chaster, constantly keep appearing and reappearing, building up a drifting, insubstantial plot that shifts as soon as you start to rely on it as the thread that will pull this book into a coherent whole. Even the chronology jumps around – nothing is certain.

So… did I enjoy The Islanders? Oh yes. Priest’s evocation of a vast, shifting population of islands that are resistant to any firm cataloguing is a temptingly attractive backdrop to his flickers of characterisation and drama. I will be thinking about this book for a long time to come.
10/10

Review of Glasshouse by Charles Stross

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I’m a fan of Charles Stross’ writing – his work is intelligent, sharply witty, often funny and always enjoyably engrossing. So when I unexpectedly came across this offering on the shelves, I snatched it up with delight.

When Robin wakes up in a clinic with most of his memories missing, it doesn’t take him long to discover that someone else is trying to glasshousekill him… It is the 27th century: interstellar travel is by teleport gate, and conflicts are fought by network worms that censor refugees’ personalities and target historians. Robin is a civilian now – demobilised following a civil war – but someone wants him dead because of something his earlier self knows.

Fleeing from his ruthless pursuer, he volunteers to participate in a unique experimental polity, the Glasshouse. It seems the ideal hiding place for a posthuman on the run, but in this escape-proof environment, Robin will undergo even more radical change, placing him at the mercy of the experimenters – and of his own unbalanced psyche.

If that seems rather a lot of blurb, it is. Because this book carries a large amount of backstory that immediately impacts on Robin’s current plight. Problem is, he cannot exactly recall what it is about his past his would-be assassins are objecting to, because he has undergone memory surgery…

Posthumanity regularly crops up in far-future science fiction and the problem I generally have with it, is that these very old, highly evolved beings often appear so alien and different I find it difficult to really care about them. Not so Robin. He is short-fused, argumentative, judgemental, occasionally violent, amusing and suspicious of everyone to the point of paranoia. He is also very damaged. In order for Glasshouse to work, we have to care for this tricky protagonist, because in a shifting, difficult world full of secrets and treachery, it is Robin who guides us through this landscape. And I found myself immediately drawn into his worldview, his problems and this apparent solution.

But the Glasshouse isn’t all it seems, either. Neither is Robin… I’m not going to continue as I’m allergic to spoilers and the plot to this book corkscrews off in all directions. Maybe other cleverer souls who read it realised where it was going – but I regularly found there was yet another shock as the storyline revealed yet another layer of surprise. Robin finds it hard to keep up, too. And the damage he has sustained becomes all too apparent just at the time when he needs to be at his shiny best – and he isn’t. So as well as a flawed uncertain world, reeling from the savage wars when reality itself melts taking with it the pockets of humanity caught up in the folds, Stross also provides an unreliable narrator through whose first person viewpoint we access this world. It’s an almighty big task – and in many ways, Stross manages to pull this off.

I really cared about Robin – and when he undergoes major physical and gender changes, while the depiction isn’t as visceral and raw as Richard Morgan’s sleeved protagonist, Takeshi Kovacs, there is still a strong sense of confusion and anger. It was interesting to note that Robin never seems fully comfortable in a woman’s body, any more than he is happy wearing silk, which s/he describes as ‘bug vomit’. The steady trickle of amusing asides, while Stross ridicules our way of life through future eyes, adds to the pleasure of this thriller as it steadily builds towards the climax.

If you’re sensing a but, you’d be right. As to the major plot denouement, I have no problem – the climax and reveal are all enjoyable and satisfying. If only the final couple of pages weren’t there… For me, Stross’ final solution to Robin’s misery strikes an entirely false note and seemed utterly unrealistic. We’re into major spoiler country here, so I won’t go into details. But suffice to say, given Robin’s history, where he ends up and with whom simply didn’t convince me, which was a real shame.

With many other books, this would be sufficient to have given the book a 5 and not bother reviewing it – I don’t review books I don’t like – but despite the wrong ending, there is so much about this novel that is excellent, I’m still going to recommend you track it down and read it. Who knows? Maybe you’d even like the ending…
7/10

Review of Worldstorm by James Lovegrove

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Elder Ayn doesn’t really know why the Worldstorm comes to wreak devastation on the world any more than the next man. But, being a previsionary, he does know the exact time and nature of his death. He will be murdered and he will do nothing to prevent the killing blow.  Elder Ayn also knows why he has left the splendid academic isolation of Stonehaven and gone out into the world. He knows where his quest will take him. But he’s not about to tell his scribe, Khollo.

And meanwhile the world’s order is breaking down. In the country of Jarraine, war is brewing between the Earth and Fire Inclined, james-lovegrove-worldstorm-hbkbetween people who can shake the ground with a fist or pull fire out of the air with a simple thought. A storm is coming.

This being Lovegrove, the classic Fantasy template is tweaked more than a tad – so before you roll your eyes at the clichéd old Quest plotline that emerges from this intriguing world, I’ll reassure you that Lovegrove is a far too talented and original writer to fall into this overused trope without knowing exactly he’s doing. Elder Ayn is definitely the main character in this tale – again – a spin on the setup that has our plucky young hero mentored by a wise, all-knowing scholar/wizard who supports him because said scholar’s Second Sight has divined that this particular individual is crucial to the success of the mission… Ayn is driven by his previsionary powers to collect up Yashu and Gregory, the other two protagonists and is so convinced that he has the answer to the problem of the Worldstorm, that he also decides to hire Khollo for his powers of absolute recall to record the trip for posterity – as he also knows it will end in his murder.

Needless to say, the journey is uncomfortable and, at times, dangerous. But no one other than Yashu and Gregory will suffice – and I’m betting right now, that scenario of staple Fantasy fare is sounding very familiar.

Lovegrove depicts a fascinating conundrum surrounding these superhumans – Ayn is able to deceive Yashu and her lie-detecting skills by simply avoiding telling an outright falsehood. And increasingly, as we hear Ayn’s self-important justifications regarding his interference in Yashu and Gregory’s already difficult lives, the reader is encouraged to wonder about the extent of Ayn’s previsionary powers. Just how much of this adventure is fuelled by his drive to leave his mark on the world? We are left in no doubt of his drive, knowledge and supreme self-confidence – but how much of his belief that the Worldstorm is caused by the rise of humanity’s extra powers is based on his ability to see into the future, rather than the need to find evidence to fit his favourite theory?

Ayn is the classic unreliable narrator – and, as the plot unfolds, we begin to realise that Khollo also has his own agenda. Indeed, the interaction between Ayn and Khollo gives rise to most of the humour in the book – which is also counter-balanced by some of the graphic action scenes during the battle. I’m conscious that so far, I’ve managed to give the impression that this is a rather dry book concentrating on the characters’ motivations and Lovegrove’s subversion of the classic Fantasy tale. However, the staple of said Fantasy tale is adventure and Worldstorm provides it in spades – right down to the evil villain whose selfishness morphs into obsessive madness. The plot whips along at a clip, only slowing for Ayn’s narration to Khollo – which is just fine. Ayn is a wonderful character whose moods ranging from complacent smugness to grumpy annoyance leap off the page.

Any niggles? Well, when Lovegrove switches viewpoint several times, he reprises some of the events in the new point of view. Given that he’s already successfully established the characters along with their differences and conflict points, all this serves to do is silt up the narrative pace and undermine the importance of the one or two occasions when this ploy is actually necessary near the end of the book.

Apart from that, this book is an utter joy. Lovegrove is an intelligent, perceptive writer who delivers a cracking adventure, and (mostly) assumes that his readership can cope without having all the dots joined up. My one sorrow is that this is a stand-alone book as the world is a wonderful one with so much further potential.
9/10