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?

So You Want to Be a Wizard – Diane Duane

Nita is a stereotypical YA heroine. Chased by bullies, she seeks sanctuary in the library (because what else would appeal to bookworms). But there she finds a book to change her life, amongst the career advice she finds “So You Want to Be a Wizard“.

Of course, it is simply that book that enables her to change her life. To move into a previously unseen world where magic is real and there is a steady battle against evil entropy and death. It is a pleasingly modern urban fantasy world, where the settings are merely a step sideways from the world we know.

Its a well-paced book, ramping the tension up effectively to a satisfying end. Despite this, it leaves things sufficiently open to allow the series to continue. My only quibble is that I don’t like characters instantly becoming super-powered. Some development time and time for mistakes and weakness is good, especially for a book which is part of a longer series.

I’ll pick up the next and see how it goes…

Among Others – Jo Walton

This is the first of Walton’s work that I’ve read – picked from the library as I didn’t want to commit to a new series, and just wanted a stand-along fantasy novel. It is in a style that at first it would be possible to miss it being fantasy, if it wasn’t for the unicorn sticker on the spine.Among Others

I found Mori to be a compelling heroine, working out her own morals for magic and coping with the after-effects of a traumatic event. She has to deal with dramatic family changes, and a new boarding school. She manages all this through science fiction books. I did find some of the reading information a little tedious, I don’t want to deal with this much name-dropping.

Then we get onto the fairies. And the magic. She has had it all her life, and still does the “kid” things to make magic happen and change her life. But in the background is the shadow of what her mother did. Entirely shadow for much of the novel, with hints of horror, but thankfully the veils are lifted on this, and we understand what has shaped Mori.

Trigger Warning – Neil Gaiman

I have been dipping in and out of this little selection of well-crafted nightmares for a couple of months. They are all an exploration of the things that lurk in the edge of the psyche, the things that hide in the dark and the myths that might just come to life.

Mostly new material, this is fairytales grown up and given teeth. And there is the obligatory “what happened next” for a character in one of Gaiman’s best loved books: Shadow is still walking the earth. A couple echo through the imagination once the book is closed, and it is possible to see why authors love this form, which allows so much freedom.