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

Thursday, November 24, 2016

2016/60: Wicked Gentlemen -- Ginn Hale

When I had been very young, I had snuck up from Hells Below to drift up into the open night. I had thought that it was my kingdom. For a few weeks I had thought that perhaps I was the secret child of an angel. I had floated up into the frigid mists of clouds and imagined that the moon, shining above me, was my promised halo.

It's three hundred years since the Covenant of Redemption, which pardoned Lucifer's angels and gave them the promise of salvation for themselves and their descendants. Belimai Sykes is one such descendant -- 'Prodigal', those with demon blood are termed -- and has achieved an uneasy equilibrium between his second-class status as a Prodigal and his (intermittent) career as an investigator. Mostly, he spends his time alone in his room, high on ophorium and regret. He is a person with a past.

Into his present comes Captain William Harper of the Inquisition, a quasi-religious order responsible for policing the city of Crowncross. He, and his brother-in-law Dr Talbott, have a case for Sykes: but Sykes' help does not come cheap.

Wicked Gentlemen comprises two linked novellas, one from Sykes' point of view and one from Harper's. Sykes' voice is the more appealing, because he has a richer sensorium and a darker past, but Harper's perception of him is intriguing.

Class, religion, the thin veneer of respectability: Ginn Hale has created a very interesting setting for this M/M romance. The characters are three-dimensional, and though the plot is full of romance tropes -- not least 'opposites attract!' -- the setting confers novelty on them.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

2016/59: Europe in Winter -- Dave Hutchinson

"Europe is inherently unstable. It's been in flux for centuries; countries have risen and fallen, borders have ebbed and flowed, governments have come and gone. The Schengen era was just an historical blip, an affectation."[loc. 5535]

Third in the series -- trilogy? or will there be more? -- that began with Europe in Autumn and continued with Europe at Midnight. I liked Europe in Winter a great deal though suspect I need to reread the entire sequence before I can make sense of the ways in which the various plot threads weave and tangle together.

The Community has ended decades of isolationism and has laid a transcontinental railway line -- 'not so much a mode of transport, more a lifestyle choice' -- from Spain to Siberia. There are problems with bringing down borders, though. Some people would much rather keep the outsiders outside. And other people might make their living from facilitating illicit crossing of said borders. Thus, a terrorist attack on the Paris-Novosibirsk Express.

Meanwhile Rudi, erstwhile chef and Coureur du Bois, has managed to infiltrate Dresden-Neustadt, and has made a number of disconcerting discoveries -- about the Community, about the Patrons, about the Line and about himself. It's a complex and incomprehensible reality, so of course Mr Hutchinson throws further spanners (or, more likely, kitchen implements) into the works. Characters from the previous two novels (or people very like them) reappear: rival powers exchange hostages: old-skool spies do old-skool spy stuff straight out of Le Carre: a man with amnesia is travelling on forged papers, carrying a photograph from the 1919 Versailles peace conference: and Rudi begins to uncover the identity of the Coureur mastermind who's turned his life upside down and inside out.

With hilarious consequences.

I've struggled to write this review because there is simply so much plot: an unfolding fractal landscape of connections, identities, loyalties, topography. Then I happened across the perfect description of this novel: the bastard son of The Third Man and Inception (from The Eloquent Page). Yep, that sounds about right.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

2016/58: Fool's Run -- Patricia A. McKillip

"I learned something strange. When you run, you run backwards, you never reach the future. The past runs faster than you and waits for you to reach it. You have to walk out of danger, out of the past. Because you look back when you run, but you look to the future when you walk."[loc. 1737]

Reread: I absolutely adored this novel when I first read it, but haven't revisited it for years. Having recently read Kingfisher -- which reminded me of Fool's Run in its mythic resonance and its relatively sparse imagery -- I wanted to reread this and see if my memory had become rose-tinted.

As usual with rereads, it was interesting to see what I remembered and what I didn't. Last time around, I think I was more focussed on the band and the romance: this time, I found the story of Jase -- unwilling King of an Underworld which is actually an orbitting penal colony -- fascinating. The echoes and distortions of the Orpheus myth are still impressively intricate, and critical of the source: the future, with its First World Government and its Sectors and music from all eras, seems much further away than it did in the Eighties.

Irritatingly, this ebook publication has a problem with typos: specifically, the word 'colour'. We have 'the brilliant colourcoloured lights'[loc. 807], 'a pair of colourrose-coloured cube-sticks' [loc. 1316], the 'colourcolourless or of all colours' [loc. 2198]. And this is, as usual with McKillip, a book full of colour: gold, rose, amethyst ... even Viridian, the surname of the woman whose quest for more light affected so many of the characters.

I wish McKillip wrote SF more often.

Friday, November 04, 2016

2016/57: A Little Familiar -- R. Cooper

That was one of the problems with dating ordinary humans; eventually it became necessary to either tell them the truth or break up with them. Relationships with them could be done, of course, with the right sort of person, the kind already inclined to gaze longingly at full moons, the ones who searched for fairies when they saw a circle of mushrooms, or ran toward breaking waves instead of away from them.[loc. 44]

Piotr Russell is a powerful witch, but his very power makes him lonely: he can't face a relationship with an outsider, and all the witches and magic-users he knows are paired up or otherwise ineligible. Instead, Piotr keeps to himself and channels his energy into providing for his coven: he's an excellent cook and gardener, and he bestows blessings liberally.

Piotr's ancestors have sought solace in the companionship of their familiars -- yet when Piotr is approached by Bartleby, a 'human familiar' who has no magic of his own and yet is capable of augmenting another witch's power, Piotr rejects him, because he is old-fashioned enough to hope for love as well as expedience. And surely Bartleby, gorgeous and gregarious, can never love him ...

Okay, you can probably see where this story is going: it doesn't surprise, but it is sweet and warm and often funny. Also quite short. It wasn't quite the 'pairing of equals' that I prefer in my M/M romances: Bartleby is described in terms that, while not feminising, do present him as more fragile, fey and lacking in agency than Piotr. I did like the setting, though, complete with the ghost of Piotr's great-aunt in the parlour.