The King’s Justice – Stephen Donaldson

The King’s Justice is a short and punchy novella, with the mysterious character “Black” who turns up in town shortly after an unsolved murder. But this book is not really about that murder, but about the balancing of forces and the understanding of who makes up “The King’s Justice” and how they become who they are.

“Very well,” begins Black. “You are aware, I hope, that you are both charlatans.”
The priests stare…

As so many fantasy novels are, it is in a pseudo-medieval setting. My only complaint is the origin of the enemy, but at least that is not gratuitous, but rather necessary to explain how he has access to magic that the King’s Justice doesn’t.

Well worth reading

Wicked – Gregory Maguire

I am a big fan of musicals, including Wicked, and wanted to revisit the novel that inspired the musical.

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West does not have the same plot as the musical, but the same starting premise. Elphaba is given a stronger destiny, and Galinda more socially constrained in the novel. Not to mention the stronger political tones with genocide and murdering dissidents.

This is a full story of a life, starting with a difficult childhood, and an escape to university which is more complex than expected, and full circle being reached again with family links. She has life-long friendships throughout this in the flawed but loving Nanny and Boq, her partner-in-crime. But fundamentally it is about the life of a woman who faces discrimination and battles it to try and be a force for good in the world.

Maguire’s reimagining of Oz manages to be magical and political. He weaves together complex characters with a range of motives, each of them flawed, but so many driven by a higher purpose or destiny.

And of course, it being Wicked, we need a video. I’ve had a good few weeks of concerts recently, and have heard Defying Gravity at both Idina Menzal’s world tour and at an orchestral performance sung by Ashleigh Gray.

The Obernewtyn Chronicles (7 titles) – Isobelle Carmody

I was lent this series by a friend with a shared interest in young-adult fantasy series to entertain me as I recuperated from an episode of ill health that left me with a month to rest. They more than half-filled the box, but thankfully started as quite slim paperbacks that didn’t look as intimidating as the Red Queen does, with this paperback coming in at over 1100 pages.

The chronicles all stand well as individual books, but make a compelling longer arc as well. However as each book moved on, I felt increasingly like Elspeth had primarily been set an artificial quest rather than facing external issues until very close to the end. She also spends much of her time dependent on her guardian’s protections rather than her own skills and planning, to the extent that I wanted to read the guardian’s book as her story sounded much more interesting.

Even with a dreamworld linked to the real world, we also seemed to spend too much time there, and it was very much a revelations-style dreamworld. If I wanted to read a drugged nightmare then I would have started with a different type of book!

However the general world-building is brilliant, a genuinely post-apoplectic world where all modern technology has been lost into legends. How earlier miracles were worked is gradually being uncovered, and bigotry is challenged. Wars are fought, peace is negotiated and promises are (mostly) fulfilled.

Obernewtyn is a lot of lightweight escapist dystopian future fantasy. Worth reading for the world-building, as long as you aren’t looking for something that stands up to a critical read.

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.

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