No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

#107: The Anvil of the World -- Kage Baker

I'm a great fan of Kage Baker's Company novels, but have been less impressed with her fantasy. Nevertheless (in search of a cheapish item to round up an Amazon order to £15, thus entitling myself to free delivery!) I decided to give this a try.

Baker's pacing is admirable, and she has a deft comic touch. One of the quoted reviews compares this novel to Pratchett (no) and calls it 'European' in flavour: despite my reservations about the value of this literary term, I can see what they mean. It's less in-your-face than a lot of humorous fantasy -- wry rather than ROFL.

The Anvil of the World reads a little like a set of connected short stories. (Which, after brief investigation, I find that it is: at least the first part, 'The Caravan from Troon', appeared in Asimov's, though I can't identify the other parts of the novel in story titles.) The novel opens with Smith -- ex-assassin looking for a quiet life -- becoming the master of a trade caravan from Troon to Salesh-by-the-sea, a trip involving a gross of glass butterflies, a screaming baby and several other characters who share his (assumed) surname. (Describing the story this way reminds me of the practice of commissioning a magazine cover, then requiring an author to write a story that fits the picture. Do they still do that?) Everyone is suitably heroic, though this isn't heroic fantasy and the violence is incidental. And no one is what they seem.

The second part of the novel is a murder mystery of sorts, with many of the same characters. (I am especially fond of Lord Ermenwyr, the decadent, drug-addicted, hypochondriac teenaged son of a demon and a saint, and his demonic nursemaid Balnshik.) There is romance, sex and intrigue, though one can't help but feel that the resolution of the murder is something of a cop-out.

In the final third of the novel, Smith (or whatever his real name is) takes centre stage. This part of the tale is most definitely epic fantasy, but it never loses sight of the individuals at its heart. There's an ecological dimension to the story, and some nice metaphors about gardening. And it has a happy, hopeful, new-beginning finale.

This was the ideal book to read during a busy week -- the plot's not so detailed that one loses track, and the overall tone is immensely cheerful. Light reading, but good writing.

reposted here from LJ in order to keep all my reviews in one place

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

#106: Dragon Blood -- Patricia Briggs

Sequel to Dragon Bones. Was woken this morning by the thud of this package on the doormat: but what a perfect excuse to go back to bed with a large cup of coffee and read!

This is much darker than the previous book, and it's very much to Briggs' credit that she can handle episodes of rape, torture and slavery in a way that gives them weight, without destroying the balance of the overall plot. She's not explicit, and she doesn't focus on her characters' suffering, but it isn't denied either.

Dragon Blood doesn't feel like a direct sequel to the earlier book: it features most of the same characters, but the plot is driven by new elements. Some of the loose ends from the previous novel are tied up: more potential continuation-points are introduced.

I still find the prose annoyingly lacking: needs a better proof-reader or editor ("a millenia", "a narrow grove between A and B", etc). Suspect that I'd feel the same about a lot of the books I read as a teenager -- that ability to turn a blind eye to the actual text, in favour of the content. I'm less forgiving nowadays, but the content of these novels kept my irritation in check!

reposted here from LJ in order to keep all my reviews in one place

Monday, December 05, 2005

#105: Haunted -- Kelley Armstrong

Sequel to Industrial Magic and Dime Store Magic, which I haven't read. Haunted is told from the POV of Eve Levine, a black witch (with a demon lord for a father) who's been dead three years, but is keeping busy. She's incurred a debt to the Fates -- who seem to be the major power controlling life and death -- and the favour's being called in: Eve's task is to locate and contain the Nix, an evil spirit who's made a career of inhabiting, or possessing, female murderers. Eve has plenty of help: she's teamed with an angel, and aided and abetted by her (equally dead) romantic interest, Kris, and by her daughter Savannah's foster-parents, Paige and Lucas. Problem is, Eve's her own worst enemy at times, with an agenda that complicates her task and her relationships with those around her. She can't let go.

I found this a surprisingly enjoyable read. The prose is unobjectionable (and given the percentage of novels with prose that I do object to, this is no mean feat!) Eve's far from perfect, and I suspect will get labelled as 'feisty' by some reviewers: but I found her confusion of cynicism and love quite compelling. There's a truly nasty scenario in here, a really hellish hell: sometimes, having a heroine who can't die is not a good thing ...

The ending felt a little anticlimactic, not the absolute that Eve / the reader had been led to expect But I'm intrigued enough (mostly by some of the characters) to want to read more by this author.

reposted here from LJ in order to keep all my reviews in one place

Saturday, December 03, 2005

#104: Four and Twenty Blackbirds -- Cherie Priest

I'm not sure whether I'd have interpreted the 'flaws' (mostly pacing / loose-thread issues) as 'features' if I hadn't known that this was the author's first novel. Read for review -- where I'll be saying more, and not starting out by praising with faint damns! -- but I'd certainly recommend this.

Southern Gothic is as good a tag as any. Eden, growing up in a kind of liminal zone on the outskirts of Tennessee, sees ghosts. She sees them often enough to take them for granted: only gradually begins to realise that their story is also partly hers.

Eden's quest for her identity, and the story of her parents and her more distant ancestors, uncovers black magic and slavery, madness, double standards and a peculiar sibling rivalry. Family feuds, ancient prophecy and the past seeping into the present: Priest writes clear, precise prose, without the purpleness that this genre often invites.

reposted here from LJ in order to keep all my reviews in one place

Friday, December 02, 2005

#103: Dragon Bones -- Patricia Briggs

I'd call this standard genre fantasy -- complete with map at the front, characters with jewel-tone eyes, dragons, dwarves etc -- except that there's something that, for me, sets it apart from the run of genre fantasy. Perhaps it's simply that I like the cast. The prose makes my brain itch: I want to scribble suggestions, and circle repetitions, and liven up the writing a little. But the story is a good one, with a couple of well-telegraphed twists and one that I truly didn't see coming. I'm very much looking forward to reading the next one.

reposted here from LJ in order to keep all my reviews in one place