Tag: Neil Gaiman

Review – Stardust

Posted October 7, 2018 by Nicky in Reviews / 7 Comments

Cover of Stardust by Neil GaimanStardust, Neil Gaiman

My wife was rewatching Stardust, so the urge was there and I… gave in. I read it in the space of a couple of hours, drugged to the gills on antitussive meds (aka codeine-based painkillers, so probably my familiarity with the book is a good thing; I don’t think I was up to the heights of intellectualism at that point).

It’s tempting to imagine that everyone knows all about Neil Gaiman by this point… all the same, what is Stardust? It’s a light-ish novel which is somewhat based on fairytales: Tristan is sort of a changeling child (not switched for a human child, but he’s half-fairy in a human world), and he goes through a fairly typical quest narrative, learns to take help from the people he meets, etc. At the same time, there’s wicked witches, people go off seeking their true loves, and there’s a kingdom with seven sons who have to fight out the succession. It’s a bundle of fairytale/fantasy tropes, dealt with in a self-aware and sometimes rather wry manner (Tristan is decidedly Wrong, for example, about the identity of his true love).

It’s a bit more morally complex than the movie, and perhaps has less of an emotional payoff because of that. I don’t honestly have a preference: I think the book is clever, but the movie is the kind of story that cheers me up. It has some interesting background stuff that I’d love to know more about (the Castle thing? What’s going on there!), but for all that I said it’s more morally complex than the movie, it stays pretty focused on Tristan’s quest and his path to a fairytale ending. It’s not really a complex story: it even skips over a ton of the potential development for Yvaine and Tristan’s relationship in a couple of pages.

It’s clever and amusing, but maybe not quite the epitome of wonderfulness I thought it was a few years ago. The love story isn’t all that epic because it kind of just happens, sort of inevitably; there are surprising depths to the characters at some points (Victoria in the book is more complex and interesting, in the end, than in the movie; Tristan’s human mother actually exists and has complex feelings about him), but… but…

I don’t know. I’m less wowed than I used to be. It’s still absorbing and charming and I do enjoy it very much.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – American Gods

Posted August 16, 2017 by Nicky in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of American Gods by Neil GaimanAmerican Gods, Neil Gaiman

I know that there’s probably a ton of “problematic” themes/scenes/descriptions in this book; without paying much attention to the specifics, I’ve still gained the impression that Gaiman isn’t exactly beloved of the social justice crowd, for various reasons. And I can definitely understand the criticisms of some of his actions, statements, aspects of his writing… but American Gods is still a really satisfying, solid read, and I enjoyed it. I found some of the mythology a little too obvious this time round — “Low Key Lyesmith”, really? The hints were just way too obvious for someone with a solid knowledge of Norse mythology.

Still, the other mythologies that are glimpsed are less well-known to me, and I love the way they’re all woven together to make a rich story that’s like a tour of the US and of its people’s history. I’ve no doubt there are gods that should have been included and aren’t, and that other gods have more prominence than they probably should (well, Odin for one). But honestly, I wasn’t thinking that while I was reading. I was just enjoying it.

It’s true that Shadow, the main character, is a bit of a cypher — intentionally. It’s hard to like someone who seems to go through life so numbly. But really, I’m here for the game Gaiman’s playing with the mythology, so it works for me all the same.

Some of the stuff that really doesn’t work for me, though, would include the way the female characters are treated: so much sex and lying, and “bitchiness” (for lack of a better word)… I don’t know, it just doesn’t feel quite right.

It’s a fun read, though not perfect. I think that has to be my conclusion.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Norse Mythology

Posted April 1, 2017 by Nicky in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Norse Mythology by Neil GaimanNorse Mythology, Neil Gaiman

Great excitement always sweeps the book community when a Gaiman book is due out, and this was no exception. I was less interested, as I prefer rewrites and reinterpretations — like Gaiman’s American Gods — of mythology I know well rather than simple retellings in modern language, which is what this seemed to be. That’s more or less true: the stories stick very close to the Eddas, and are entirely familiar to me. The fun part is really Gaiman’s own touches; his sense of humour, and his fine sense of timing. “Shut up, Thor,” is a refrain that becomes surprisingly comical in one or two of the stories, for example.

It’s not, however, a groundbreaking reinterpretation. It’s just like sitting with Gaiman and being told the stories, more or less true to their sources, with a sense of humour that sometimes illuminates their inconsistencies and the things which startle or amuse a modern audience. It’s not a bad book, by any means, but as I expected it’s not the kind of retelling I really enjoy. For something more complex which really uses the Norse mythology and creates a new story, American Gods is a great choice — it’s not that Gaiman doesn’t handle the material well.

I am glad I’ve got a physical copy, though; it’s a gorgeous looking book, both with and without the dust cover. I don’t think it’s going to fit on my shelf next to my other Gaiman books, but that’s beside the point. It’s pretty.

In any case, my rating isn’t a criticism as such — I read this because it’s Gaiman and my (former, I guess) field and it was bound to be amusing, and it was, but no more than that for me.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Unnatural Creatures

Posted January 16, 2016 by Nicky in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of Unnatural Creatures ed. Neil GaimanUnnatural Creatures, Neil Gaiman

Unnatural Creatures is a fun collection with a rather diverse set of authors, including Gaiman himself, Peter S. Beagle, Nnedi Okorafor, Nalo Hopkinson, Diana Wynne Jones… it includes some stories published before which fit with the theme, and a couple which seem to be published for the first time here. Most of them weren’t stories I knew already, and I thought overall it was a good selection; there were none which really didn’t work for me, though I wasn’t so interested in ‘The Compleat Werewolf’, particularly given how long it was.

Some of the creatures are more traditional than others: werewolves and ancient animal gods and the spirits of trees juxtaposed against a predatory bicycle, the story by Gahan Wilson, etc. Which is always good, to my mind, because werewolves and unicorns and such have been done, and a bit of new blood is always interesting.

My favourites of the collection? Hmm. ‘The Griffin and the Minor Canon’, by Frank R. Stockton; ‘The Sage of Theare’, by Diana Wynne Jones; ‘The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees’, by E. Lily Yu; ‘Prismatica’, by Samuel R. Delaney… Stockton’s story, for example, is fairly traditional in the sort of structure and moral, but then there’s that odd sad note of pity for the Griffin, despite — well, you should probably read it for yourself. ‘The Cartographer Wasps’ is a fable, too, with a different sort of feel. And then ‘The Sage of Theare’ has a figure familiar from Jones’ other books — Chrestomanci!

Yes, it’s definitely an interesting combination, and a collection worth spending some time with, I think.

Rating: 4/5


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Review – The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Posted January 1, 2016 by Nicky in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil GaimanThe Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman
Originally reviewed 8th September, 2013

I don’t know how to review this. Skimming other people’s reviews there’s a lot of debate over whether it’s adult/young adult fiction (haven’t seen anyone advocating for “new adult”, or whatever the term is — that is one genre it certainly isn’t, even saying that as someone in my mid-twenties), or about the length. Or people just enthuse (or don’t). It’s certainly a very quick read. As for who it’s suitable for — there’s a quote somewhere in it about myths, about how they’re stories that just are. “I liked myths. They weren’t adult stories and they weren’t children’s stories. They were better than that. They just were.” That’s how this felt to me.

It certainly has points best appreciated by different audiences. I don’t know if Diana Wynne Jones was alive to read it in any form, but she would have been an ideal reader for it, I think. There’s something on the mythic level that would appeal to a child (at least one like the narrator, which I think I was — certainly you could say of me that “I lived in books more than I lived anywhere else”). And there’s an adult level, about memory, and forgetting, and nostalgia for childhood. Some of which I think Gaiman is very wise about. For example…:

I do not miss childhood, but I do miss the way I took pleasure in small things, even as greater things crumbled. I could not control the world I was in, could not walk away from the things or people or moments that hurt, but I took joy in the things that made me happy.

A lot of people think they miss childhood, but they’re looking back at a utopian fantasy. But here Gaiman’s narrator (which people to some extent seem to identify with him himself) is picking out something about childhood that we really do lose: the ability to live in the moment. Or at least, he gets nearer the heart of it than many people do.

Despite that, just as a story… I don’t know how much I enjoyed this. I suspect I’m the wrong age for it, in a way. I’m still a bookish kid at heart in enough ways that I appreciated the mythic aspects, but I think the adult aspects, the question of memory… I think that’ll be more meaningful when I’m older. If it helps to pin down my reaction, I will certainly read this again someday. Right now I do resonate with the brief image we get of the narrator at twenty-four, uncertain and unhappy, searching for reassurance.

The mythic aspect of Gaiman’s world is fascinating: ultimately unknowable, somehow, even as it focuses on mundane things like broken child’s toys and mending clothes. That leaves you with little to get hold of — and, as with many things about this book, I’m ambivalent about that, too.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Graveyard Book

Posted December 11, 2015 by Nicky in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of The Graveyard Book by Neil GaimanThe Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman
Originally reviewed 26th December, 2008

I got The Graveyard Book for Christmas, yesterday, and devoured it in a single day despite also reading other stuff, watching movies, going shopping, seeing friends and all those things you do when you’re home for Christmas. It’s lovely. I like some of Neil’s other books, like Neverwhere and American Gods, better, but at the same time this one has its attractions. It feels more… bite-size. Easily digestible.

I haven’t actually read The Jungle Book, so I can’t make comparisons with that original inspiration, but I do love the idea of this: a boy gets raised, in a graveyard, by ghosts. In some ways, I wish there’d been less Bod and more Silas, but on the other hand it was quite nice to feel that there was a whole world of stories there and we got glimpses into many of them. I liked the episodic sort of form; I wish there’d been more episodes, though. I also liked that although we are given many, many hints about Silas, the word “vampire” is not used once.

The strength of this book for me was the voices. The narrative voice included. The dry little comments about Silas, the parenthetical dates of births and deaths… it all added up to make me smile often and giggle a few times. Silas’ character was lovely, and the glimpse we got into his feelings in the last chapter was fascinating. The Owenses were good, I could virtually hear their voices as I read their lines — helped, of course, by having listened to the recordings of Neil Gaiman reading this aloud.

Not my favourite book in the whole wide world, but nonetheless a keeper, something easy and smooth for when I’m not feeling up to a mammoth undertaking.

Rating: 4/5

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted August 18, 2015 by Nicky in General / 2 Comments

This week’s theme is auto-buy authors! I think I did this topic the last time it came round, but these things are prone to change. It’ll be interesting after I’ve made the list to look for the old one!

  1. Scott Lynch. Even seeing a short story of his is in a collection is enough to prompt me to at least consider picking it up.
  2. J.R.R. Tolkien. I’m not sure he’d even approve of the state of the stuff Christopher Tolkien is putting out for him is in, but I will always be fascinated with every word the guy wrote.
  3. Jo Walton. If I can’t get the ARCs, at least… Jo is my friend as well as a favourite author.
  4. N.K. Jemisin. I think I knew she’d be an auto-buy author from the first page of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.
  5. Jacqueline Carey. I’ve seen her deal with stuff I wouldn’t be that interested in ably, in a way that comes out fun. Yeah, I’ll buy anything.
  6. Guy Gavriel Kay. Person most likely to make me cry at his work, except possibly Jo.
  7. Garth Nix. I haven’t even read all his backlist yet.
  8. Patricia A. McKillip. It took me a while to get into some of her books, but I think I’m securely hooked now. I’m glad there’s still a whole bunch of backlist titles I haven’t got to yet.
  9. Neil Gaiman. Okay, I’m not 100% a fan of everything the man says, and the title of his latest collection of short stories didn’t work for me, but if he writes a book, I’ll probably get it. Maybe not immediately. But in the end.
  10. Rainbow Rowell. It surprised me, but I just preordered Carry On and realised that yeah, I probably will automatically buy anything by her. Something about her style just… works for me.

What about you guys?

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Stacking the Shelves

Posted February 7, 2015 by in General / 37 Comments

And another week gone! This year is flying by already… which in a way is fortunate, because I was excited for the two books I picked up this week, both out on 03/02 (coincidentally, my mother’s birthday). Now it’s just A Darker Shade of Magic to go and then I’ll have the books I’m most eagerly coveting…


Cover of Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear Cover of Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman

The cover of Karen Memory is just perfect. I’m already partway through — might even have finished it by the time this goes live — and enjoying it very much. I’ve already finished Trigger Warning


The Periodic Table Cover of Stonehenge by Mike Parker Pearson

Guess who’s onto the chemistry section of their Open University textbook? And Stonehenge, well, who can resist archaeology about Stonehenge?

For review

Cover of The Mechanical by Ian Tregillis Cover of The Errant Prince by Sasha L. Miller Cover of Gates of Thread and Stone

Cover of Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas Cover of Nightshade by R.J. Scudiere Cover of The Adventures of Monkey Girl and Tiger Kite by Kai Schalk

I still haven’t read a single book by Ian Tregillis. I have them. I just need to, you know, read them. Oops.


Ms Marvel Operation Sin #2

Peggyyyyy. I really need to watch Agent Carter, too. Mind you, I still really need to watch Agents of SHIELD and, uh, Norton’s Hulk (though really Mark Ruffalo is the only Bruce Banner for me, sorry).

Anyway, this was quite a big haul for me, but I’m still keeping to my resolutions! For now, at least. I do need to hurry up and get reading my review copies, though. How’s everyone else been doing? Any massive hauls?

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Review – Trigger Warning

Posted February 5, 2015 by in Reviews / 14 Comments

Cover of Trigger Warning by Neil GaimanTrigger Warning, Neil Gaiman

It’s difficult to rate a book of short stories, for me. They can be so different from each other, so that one is totally to your taste and another is not. Throw in some poetry too, and there’s even more opportunity to leave people cold (I don’t know many people who aren’t picky about poetry). So the good, first: this is pretty typically Gaiman’s work, wry and dark and twisted, rich with implications and things lurking in the shadows. His stories all flow well, so that it all leads logically on to the ending (which is not to say that the endings are predictable, though familiarity with Neil Gaiman’s imagination might give you a pretty good idea).

The bad: I did find it a mite too familiar. That might partially be because I read the introductions to each story first — always something of great interest to me, but it does flavour how you’re going to experience the story. Secondly, Neil Gaiman’s poetry pretty much doesn’t do it for me. And thirdly, the opinions on “trigger warnings”, from which Gaiman took his title, were… fairly typically as though he had not actually discussed them with anyone. I’m a big advocate for them, and I think most quibbles against them are nonsense; sure, life itself doesn’t have trigger warnings. And? Why should that stop us from giving other people notice when we can? “Here be bad things” is something, but triggers are so different for different people… Stick a label on the story like you do nutrition information on food: not everyone will read it, but those who can benefit from the additional knowledge and preparation. And not “this product may contain nuts, soy or dairy products”, but “this product does contain nuts” or “this product was manufactured in a factory which also processes nuts”. Actual, precise information about common triggers. It’s not going to cover every eventuality, and we can’t pretend it will, but it would make sense to try.

And not just by saying “these stories end badly for at least one person in them”.

All in all, that sounds very critical. I did enjoy reading the stories, though, and I think Gaiman does clever things with the form. I’m just a bit too used to his kind of cleverness.

Rating: 4/5

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted January 20, 2015 by in General / 6 Comments

This week’s theme from The Broke and the Bookish is a freebie, so I’m gonna go with ‘top ten desert island books’. These are the books I’d take for when my ereader runs out of charge, which would happen all too soon…

  1. The Dark is Rising sequence, Susan Cooper. It comes in an omnibus, so this only has to count as one. I can’t imagine life without this series at least once a year.
  2. The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien. I am positive I could read this over and over again and get different things out each time.
  3. The Earthsea Quartet, Ursula Le Guin. A long-term favourite of mine, and even better, it’s been a while since I read it.
  4. I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith. Another one I periodically reread; I love the development of Cassandra’s character, and I don’t know a first and last line that stick better in my head.
  5. Tigana, Guy Gavriel Kay. I don’t think the Fionavar Tapestry books come in an omnibus, so I’d have this instead, although those might be my actual favourites.
  6. The Inheritance Trilogy, N.K. Jemisin. Just come out in an omnibus! I love these books so much, and I think they’d stand up to more rereading.
  7. Among Others, Jo Walton. This book means too much to me to be left behind.
  8. The Complete Brandstetter, Joseph Hansen. I think I’d enjoy rereading these, and there’s plenty of them in this omnibus.
  9. Good Omens, Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett. Because I think I’d need a touch of humour now and again.
  10. The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison. I’m taking a bit of a chance on this, as I’ve only read it once so far, but I’m pretty sure I could enjoy reading it over and over, imagining myself into the world, etc.

Looking forward to seeing what other people have done with the freebie theme, now!

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