Broken Homes, Ben Aaronovitch
Reading the end of this book for the first time made me realise I really was hooked on the series. It just punched me in the gut and made me realise how much I cared. Reading the whole series again, I’ve been anticipating this book. And yet… for most of the book, you have no idea what’s coming. It’s pretty much like the other books in the series: police work, friendship, the mysteries of various characters… It widens up the world again, of course, giving us another glimpse at magic elsewhere in Europe. But the tone feels the same.
Even the ending is, I suppose, not that big of a twist: we get a similar shock ending to Rivers of London itself. But it’s something about the particular circumstances that really make it work. We really care now, and we definitely weren’t expecting this.
I don’t know how to review Broken Homes except in terms of that ending. Until that point, it’s a fairly typical book for the series. There’s some interesting stuff, the characters remain fun, etc. But it’s that ending that pulls things together and raises the stakes.
I haven’t read Foxglove Summer yet, but I hope it takes the momentum of this and, well, runs with it.
Dark Run, Mike Brooks
Dark Run is a fun, very Firefly-ish sort of story — in that, I mean both the setting (the world situation, the character lineup, the tone) and the actual storyline are quite like Firefly. There are a couple of lines which seem like homages, like the pilot saying “I am a leaf on the wind”… but since that doesn’t lead to disaster in quite the same way as it does in Serenity, it kind of ruins the moment? Like, I read the line and braced myself, and then it was just… a throwaway comment? Hm. It’s things like that which made me wonder how deliberate the references were.
Whatever that situation is, the book is fun enough on its own merits, and it does things Firefly should have done, like introduce more diversity. Asian characters, most obviously, but also a Maori character, which is an interesting choice. I tried not to think too much about how things related to Firefly, and instead enjoy the book for its own merits: the pacing is pretty good, the crew is a mismatched bunch who come together in that endearing sort of way without it being ridiculously easy, there’s interesting background stuff, and there are character backstories which have yet to be unravelled and dug into… In short, there’s a lot of potential.
I’m not sure I succeeded in not thinking of it as an imitation of Firefly, but I did enjoy reading it for what it was as well. Enough that I’ve ordered the second book and am ready to dig into it right away. It’s fun without requiring too much thought, and if you do want a bit of a Firefly feel (though it can be hard for stuff to match up, given the way we’ve all built Firefly up!) then this delivers.
The Empty Kingdom, Elizabeth E. Wein
Flashback Friday review from 13th February, 2011
The Empty Kingdom is quite a long way away — in time, in distance, and in the kind of story it is — from The Winter Prince. Medraut and the Arthurian characters are much less in evidence now, and Telemakos is definitely our hero, and one I enjoy completely independently from his links to the Arthurian story, which is almost unimportant by this point in the story.
Unlike The Winter Prince and The Lion Hunter, this book is less about healing and focuses more on the political intrigue. One thing I found very interesting about these books was how unpredictable I found them: I’ve read a lot of books and usually am able to predict their twists and turns. While some parts of this were easy to guess, most were not. So it’s a breath of fresh air in general, as well as an interesting and — so far as I know — new addition to the Arthurian tradition.
I can easily imagine that more might be written for this series, and I’d be interested to read it.
The Two Towers, J.R.R. Tolkien
As with The Fellowship of the Ring, it’s hard to know how to review this with objectivity. I’ve been trying to think which of the three sections is my favourite, but even that is difficult; I think the whole they make — and were intended to make, by Tolkien, who did not view them as a trilogy but as a single book — is most important. It’s a little odd in this book to go straight from the whole fellowship at the end of the first ‘book’ to such a fragmented company, spending the whole first half with Merry, Pippin, Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli, and then the whole second half with Frodo and Sam. It feels a little unwieldy, like that — I could wish for more alternation between the two.
But really, Tolkien knew what he was doing very well. What I find interesting having read it now is that I know the land of Rohan well, from playing LOTRO. Yet as soon as Frodo and Sam reach the Emyn Muil, I can no longer visualise the world, because I haven’t been there in LOTRO. That says a lot more about me than about Tolkien, though: the physical description is still there, and LOTRO is built on that rich resource. But for me… suddenly, there are no pictures in my head for Mordor. And perhaps that’s for the best!
I always find The Two Towers the quickest read, yet perhaps my least favourite; so much of it is about getting the players into position. But at least it features Faramir, who in the books has a nobility to match Aragorn’s.
Everything Belongs to the Future, Laurie Penny
Received to review via Netgalley
I found this a pleasant short story on a fairly familiar theme, which never really got past the point of being readable and good enough to while away some time with. I think my problem was that I essentially knew where it all was going, and the social commentary was pretty obvious. Thus, I find that I have correspondingly little to say about it. It’s competently written, and the conflict of the central character between his deceit and his love was perhaps the best thing about it. His mixed feelings and confused decisions made sense and seemed very human, which is always important to root any story into reality, and especially useful with something speculative.
Overall, I wasn’t incredibly impressed, but I wasn’t bored either — I’d read more by Laurie Penny, though probably not more set in this world. I think the story said all that needed to be said about this concept.
The Lost Child of Lychford, Paul Cornell
Received to review via Netgalley
I was a little worried I wouldn’t remember enough about the first novella to follow all of this, but I quickly cottoned on again. The characters were fairly memorable, after all, particularly Judith — her cantankerous practicality was as fun and refreshing this time round as last. I felt like that character had a little less screen time, so to speak, while the Reverend Lizzie had more, but it did make sense in the context of the story — Lizzie is really the key figure in the plot, this time. If there are other novellas to come, I’d guess they’d focus on whichever character is more central to the plot.
It does pick up on some interesting threads from the first book, too, like Judith’s husband and what exactly is going on there. It resolves things a little more, as well.
My quibble would be that I saw the problems sooner than the characters — as soon as the couple who wanted to get married on Christmas Eve were mentioned, I wondered — and that it isn’t so fun to read something where characters are out of their own control for much of the story. If that section had been shorter, I might have enjoyed it more.
The Lion Hunter, Elizabeth E. Wein
Flashback Friday review from 13th February, 2011
The Lion Hunter is less able to stand alone than the other books of this series: the story ends in a cliffhanger, which goes directly on to the last book, The Empty Kingdom, so beware of that! It does help if you have read the other books, too, but really you just need to know what happens in them, what the main characters did in previous books.
Early in this book, Telemakos is severely wounded, and part of the point of this book is his adjustment to that, his ways of dealing with it, and also his ways of dealing with the mental scars from what happened to him in The Sunbird. It’s a story of recovery, and it goes carefully with it — it’s not a magical healing, by any means.
Easy to read, like the other books, but yes, dark and even quite saddening, near the end.
Hammers on Bone, Cassandra Khaw
Received to review via Netgalley
Hammers on Bone is a fun novella which blends both noir detective fiction and something that looks to me like the Cthulhu mythos, though I’m not very versed in the latter. It drips with cliches in a way that works, because the main character is a man out of time — straight from hard-boiled detective fiction, despite the modern setting. The story draws you on with the mystery of what exactly John Persons is. It’s apparent from the beginning that he’s a monster, as his client notices, but what kind of monster? What does he want? Is he actually here to help anyone?
At times I felt like I was lacking information, but I think that might be my general unfamiliarity with the Cthulhu mythos. At least, I assume so, from the little I do know. If it’s meant to stand alone, perhaps it’s a little underexplained — though that can make for great uncanny moments. We fear the unknown the most, after all.
I enjoyed the voice, and even if it’s laid on pretty thick, it makes sense and makes for a fun story. I’d happily read more in the same world. It didn’t strike me as exceptional, but it was enough fun to come back to the world again if there’s ever a chance.
The Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien
It’s difficult to know how to review something I’ve read so many times, and loved so much, with any kind of objectivity. I’ve been through phases with Tolkien: uncomplicated adoration of a plot I could get my teeth into and a mythic world it took work to imagine; disgust at the lack of female characters and the assigning of certain racial characteristics primarily or wholly to evil characters; nose-wrinkling at the moral absolutism; appreciation of the mythic framework and the sheer amount of time that went into the world.
Lately, I’m at the appreciation end — to me, the invented history around all aspects of this, including texts-within-the-text, is just so much fun, and the playing with language is inspired. From Elvish to Klingon (ed. Michael Adams) had a chapter which really made me appreciate the way Tolkien built his languages, including with a sense of history and an understanding of the fact (and the way!) that languages change. We are so ridiculously lucky to have this book, Tolkien’s mind at play on his ‘secret vice’ — it could have remained in his head and been lost, and we’d have been poorer for it.
This time, though, what I noticed mostly was the maps. I’m not a visual person, so I’ve never been good at imagining the sheer scale of the Fellowship’s journey, or understanding the geography. Perhaps unsurprisingly, hours spent riding around the Shire, Eregion and the Gap of Rohan while playing Lord of the Rings Online has given me a much keener sense of the geography (if not so much the scale, since obviously LOTRO isn’t set up to make you take days to cross Eregion). Suddenly it’s much easier to picture, and to realise that Tolkien had a very clear sense of where everything was, even when it came to small scenes. All the details work together — such and such is on the left, so the east wind does [x] — to make it a fully realised sensory experience. You have to have a heck of an imagination to keep all that straight, and for the most part, Tolkien does.
When you know that he also did illustrations for his own books and was a prominent scholar, one whose work on medieval texts is still relevant to undergraduates today, you just have to marvel. The man was a genius, and for all the flaws of moral absolutism and sexism I can see in his work — which nonetheless do make sense in the mythic context he’s creating — I can never again undervalue it. Anybody who dismisses J.R.R. Tolkien’s work is foolish. (Enjoying it is another matter, of course.)
A Local Habitation, Seanan McGuire
When I started this, I found myself wishing I’d read it straight after Rosemary and Rue, even though it hasn’t really been that long since I read that. The world is just complex enough that I felt at sea coming back in — and I was a little surprised by Toby having friends, who I didn’t remember being mentioned before, who she’d actually go out clubbing with. It doesn’t fit the image of Toby I’d formed, somehow. So I’m now determined to chew through this series at speed, because it’s fun — I love the complexities of the world, the rules binding the fae.
Maybe the thing I like a bit less is the constant teasing at romance between Toby and… a bunch of other characters. At least, that’s how I read (for example) Toby’s relationship with Tybalt. I’d actually enjoy it if that sort of thing resolved as friendship. Knowing how my friends feel about McGuire’s work, I wouldn’t be surprised, though; possibly, I’m just reading it too simplistically, a la the Kate Daniels books.
The plot itself for this one was a bit obvious to me, somehow. One character just kept showing up, and one mystery surrounding another of the characters just seemed obvious somehow. But I loved the bit about the digital dryad, and I was rather surprised by the way some aspects of this turned out. We also learn fascinating things about the night-haunts, get an interesting twist to Toby’s relationship with the Luidaeg, spend more time with different kinds of fae… and perhaps, get a peek at Toby’s mother and where she is now, though not in any detail.
I’m looking forward to reading the rest of these, particularly as I hear they get better as they go on.