The Emperor of the Eight Islands – Lian Hearn – read by Paul English

I had this as an audiobook, read chapter-by-chapter as I took the train to and from work. Each day I lost myself in a mythical Japan, where Shikanoko finds his powers and influence within the Islands rises and falls. A strongly mythical setting, magical powers are real, and as important for influence as military powers. Spirits truly haunt, and fate plays a strong part in the direction of the characters.

This last part was one of the most frustrating parts of the book for me. Used to more active protagonists, heroes who fate repeated drops into the right place and time, again and again seem to lack decisiveness, and makes the novel more of a blocking piece than dependent on the characters.

But I will read the rest of the Tale of Shikanoko, to discover what happens to all these intricate, well-written characters.

Fool Moon: Dresden Files 2 – Jim Butcher

There’s not all that much to write about book 2 in a fast-paced series. Only that Butcher manages both continuity and pan-series arcs as well as an original and compelling plot. Dresden is a wonderfully flawed hero, trying to do good, but coming up against his own issues that make it all much harder. I’m hopful that these will be worked on through the series, as his understanding of them is already increasing.

The “Moon” title is a dead giveaway as to the supernatural theme of this book, but even here Butcher manages some originality, and I love Dresden’s tendency to go away, research and write a report for his client. No simple “turn up and do the fun stuff” for him – he’s working the same as everyone else who deals with the public sector in this millennium.

The twist at the end is satisfying, and I look forward to seeing this cast of characters in the next book: currently heading my way on order.

Storm Front – The Dresden Files 1 – Jim Butcher

I’ve been aware of the Dresden Files before, but had never felt particularly pulled to them, until I read a Butcher short story a few weeks ago. I ordered it in the library reservation system, although have been disappointed to be unable to order Fool Moon (book 2) so Abe books has come to the rescue.

The Dresden Files is a take on the sterotypical consulting detective theme, with the additional twist of said detective being a practicing wizard in modern-day Chicago. Gritty and real, unlucky in love and hopeless at actually paying his rent, Harry Dresden is a hero it is easy to feel drawn to. He has the wit, the insight and the abilities to get through a fiendishly unlucky set of circumstances when all he really wants to do is pay (last month’s) rent.

The writing is compelling, drawing me into this world where so much criminality is down to other-worldly forces. The dark side of human nature is battled against as day becomes night, but we know all along that Dresden is somehow going to solve the case. For starters there are another 15 books for him to appear in!

As I mentioned at the start, I loved this enough to buy book 2, and am glad I have the whole series ahead of me.

The Man who Rained – Ali Shaw

The cover of this set the tone nicely – is a nice “chick lit” with a fable woven beneath it. Elsa is taking the normal “running away” approach to life, and settles  in a small town. But of course it is not an ordinary small town, and it takes a few chapters before we discover how unusual it is.

This is hardly deep literature, but covers both the bright and dark sides of the human spirit. We see displays of love and of jealousy, of loyalty and a brutal mob.  The human side alone is powerful. Then the magic is imaginative, running with the idea of spirits (mischievous or otherwise) which have local powers.

I loved how Shaw drew all the threads together for the ending, giving very satisfying conclusions to all the parallel subplots running through the novel.

Dangerous Women Part III – Edited by George R. R. Martin & Gardner Dozois

Dangerous Women is a collection of fast-paced stories centred around women. They vary in style and quality, and although one (by Melinda Snodgrass) I abandoned, it has also led me to reserve the first of the Desden Files novels to read. The Butcher story was typical, of the collection, a women who against the odds manages to use her wits and femininity to escape from dangerous enemies and end up ahead by the end of the story.

The editors don’t make an entry into this collection, outside a short introduction by Dozois, which I would imagine anyone picking this up for the George R. R. Martin name on the front would find a disappointment. However anyone who remains disappointed as the short stores unpack would be missing in taste. By the end I was only sorry that there were only seven stories, and I’m fairly likely to pick up the other parts of the Dangerous Women series.

Unseemly Science – Rod Duncan

Stored as Fantasy in the library, this is fabulous Steam Punk. Not only that, but a mystery in a misogynistic society where nearly all the main players are women, who don’t spend their time mooning over men.

Set in the East Midlands, during an era when it is somewhat colder than it is in real life, to such an extent that I ended up searching for Rod Duncan to find out where he lives. Its Leicester, so I assume he was deliberately economical with reality.

Elizabeth and Julie make compelling heroines, facing a complex criminal and political network which they have to unpick, making this a compelling page-turner of a novel. Even the antagonists are fully-formed characters with backstory, which I love.

It wasn’t obvious from the cover, but I gradually realised it is a sequel, and is in fact Volume II of “The Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire”. I hate it when that happens, I like to start series from the beginning. But it was good, so I’ll look for Volume I, even though I know what the outcome is. The library catalogue is down today though, so I will do it another day.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – J. K. Rowling, John Tiffany, Jack Thorne

Like a lot of my generation, I read every Harry Potter as it came out. I can tell you where I read each one, from the first I “borrowed” from my little brother aged 11, cycling to the local town on release day to buy The Prisoner of Azkaban, through to a group of friends driving to the supermarket to pick up all our copies of The Deathly Hollows (and snacks) just after midnight, and spending the whole morning curled up in someone’s parents’ lounge, all of us devouring it with equal enthusiasm.

With Harry Potter framing much of my teenage years, of course I picked up a copy of The Cursed Child. There are spoilers below the cut.

Continue reading “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – J. K. Rowling, John Tiffany, Jack Thorne”

How To Talk To Girls At Parties – Neil Gaiman, Fábio Moon, Gabriel Bá

I hadn’t been aware of this graphic novel’s release until I found myself sat knitting at a train table with someone who pulled it out of their bag to read on the journey. Of course we had a chat, and he told me that he’d found it in his local library, on the same network as my local. So I did the sensible thing and was straight onto the library website to request it when I got home.

So there is nothing quite like Sunday morning in bed than a devouring a graphic novel by one of my favourite authors with a cup of tea. This was perfect, setting up a separate world which can be trivially stepped into, and which is difficult to escape from afterwards.

Like many things in Gaiman’s writings, the fantastic is terrifyingly everyday, and very believably easy for anyone to innocently step into.We start with traditionally naive teenage boys, and swiftly move into something much darker.

The artwork was perfectly otherworld, depicting Gaiman’s imaginings as they depart from, and return to, the everyday world. I have now requested “Two Brothers” by Moon and Bá to read some of their own distinct work.

Loved it.

What have you been thrilled to discover recently?

Uprooted – Naomi Novik

I’ve previously read Novik’s Temeraire series, although apparently none since I began this blog. Unsurprising as although I enjoyed the concept, it got a little tedious towards the end. I was therefore glad to see her approaching new ideas, and new worldbuilding, so picked this up as soon as I saw it.

It has an intriguing start, with details gradually added to the world as it becomes clear how it diverges from our own. As we learn about Agnieszka she begins as a normal young woman, and gradually more is learned about the ever-present threat she, her valley and realm face. She of course is the key to tackle this, reluctantly at first, and then embracing it and all it means in true YA troupe style.

I do object to the romantic development in this – it felt unnecessary, forced and unethical. Why not just develop a good strong friendship bond instead? See the Pierce books for how this can work really well.

ETA: This is post 200! Given all the changes since I began this blog, its something I have maintained steadily for what feels like a long time. I’m glad to have my readers, and enjoy being part of the book-blogging community.

The Earthsea Quartet – Ursula Le Guin

The Earthsea Quartet is four semi-stand alone novels set in Le Guin’s fantasy archipelago Earthsea. It follows the thread of Ged’s life as he rises from goatherd of Gont, but for three of the novels we see him from the perspective of a different central character as they come of age and work out who they are in the world.

The world is well-developed, with institutions and power structures that can shift. I also like the limitation on magic – that you have to know the name of that specific thing to control it, as well as have the power to use that name. Everything then grows from that.

Of course the age of the novel is the era when power is shifting, and we are given a central position to see it happen and watch as it is adjusted to suit Ged.

I first read this in the school library aged 12, and at the time it put me off Le Guin’s work. This time around I’ve borrowed it from the children’s – not even teenage – library because I wondered why everyone else loved it. As an adult reread, I have greatly enjoyed it. There’s good character development, a common thread, worldbuilding and development. But each book stands alone to a great extent, the characters are mostly quite distant, there are plenty of references of adult relationships and quite sophisticated language is used. Then the final novel is not a coming of age but a retirement and moving on theme. Really I’d not leave it in the library intended for under 12s!

Have you revisited a childhood read recently?