This is a relatively quiet fantasy with a spot of mystery and romance, with a rather fascinating world. I didn’t follow the economics entirely, but the magic, the metaphors, the people’s roles in lives — it was very clear that this was all set up with a great deal of thought and care. I didn’t absolutely love the characters — and I have no idea why Torin liked Valdart at all, or thought he wanted to marry Sharys — but some of the interplay was pretty good, and I enjoyed the fact that the gender of the judge was never mentioned at all.
If you read the author’s note, it’s obvious she envisioned it as our world, post-apocalypse and a lot of growing up for the species. In that light, it’s interesting to see what she thought would change and what she thought would stay the same, and why she thought that (for example, she thought that theft would continue to be a problem, largely because the idea of individual property was breaking down; I’m not sure that follows, since we have a pretty robust idea of individual property now and plenty of theft).
All in all, it’s not groundbreaking, but it works as a gentle read for a quiet evening.
It hasn’t been that long since I first read this book, but the sequel is now out and I wanted to refresh my memory, and honestly I found Strange Practice just delightful. I adored what it did with the idea of a doctor for the monstrous/undead/etc, and I don’t know who would fail to smile at the idea of treating a banshee for a sore throat or a ghoul for depression (I’m not sure I agree with the choice of venlafaxine for the reasons actually mentioned — it’s nasty for withdrawal — but that’s by the by). I loved Ruthven and his concern for all the supernatural denizens of London, his hospitality and generosity, along with his little flaws and quirks. I loved the examination of what it might be like to be immortal, to be Ruthven or Varney or Fass: the years seeing other people die, the years of having to come up with something to do all the time.
I adore that Ruthven drove an ambulance in the Blitz, speaks a bunch of languages and knows how to darn socks. It just makes sense.
The plot itself is maybe less delightful, because hey, crazy cult, but the way the characters come together is glorious, and the climax of the story is just whoooa. The Devil himself shows up, and nothing is quite how you’d expect.
Greta Helsing, who is really the main character, is pretty awesome too. She’s the kind of doctor who recognises her duty to help people, but she’s also a brave young woman who is determined to do what she can, no matter what. She’s not perfect, and sometimes her reactions are very human — there’s a bit at the climax where she’s meant to be helping her friends, something goes wrong concurrently, and just… aaah.
Normally I can see why other people don’t like books (apart from personal taste stuff on the genre level), but I don’t really get it with this one. I enjoyed the heck out of it and I want some of my other friends (and my wife, hello dear) to read it soon so we can discuss Ruthven’s silk curtains and whether Varney is ever going to stop being melancholy.
Another reread! Mostly because I felt like it, and partly to refresh my memory of the series to read The Lost Plot. It remains tons of fun: heists, steampunk trappings, magic, dragons, fae and most importantly, books. I love Vale and Kai and the way they interact with each other and with Irene, and Alberich remains a creep-as-heck villain (come on, he impersonates people by wearing their skin). The whole lore of the worlds, the way Fae work and the way that chaos/order affect magic… that all makes a good background for a story that ticks along at a fast clip. It feels like Cogman’s put everything and the kitchen sink into these books (especially with the more sci-fi trappings of some of the other worlds) and it works.
Above all, I think, I love the fact that the people who work for the Library genuinely love books. That’s one of their chief motivations in life. They’re not after keeping the worlds in order, just after books — on the surface, at least, and definitely for the junior Librarians like Irene — and that’s just… fun, nice to read, because in that secret kid part of you that hoped for a Hogwart’s letter (if you’re that kind of person), maybe you could be a Librarian…
So yeah. No surprises I’m giving it a high rating again. It’s not perfect, perhaps, but it’s so much fun.
I remember quite enjoying Tanglewreck, so I was somewhat surprised to be rather unhappy with The Battle of the Sun. The opening is fairly promising — the description of Jack being so, so eager for his spaniel, so full of thoughts of the spaniel, that he’s practically a spaniel himself, it really works and paints exactly the picture it needs to. Not that vivid imagery has ever been a problem for Winterson, and it’s so surprise that her writing is poetic and vivid and phantasmagoric.
However, it’s also quicksilver, jumping from thought to thought, and things aren’t explained — they just happen, one after another, and who knows why? I can’t remember if I found Tanglewreck to be like that, but I can’t say I enjoyed it in this book. In the end, I zipped through to the end on my ereader and put it down with a sigh of relief. Just not one that worked for me.
It took me a while to get into this — around 50% of the book, actually — because it all felt like Kaz was being driven by Van Eck, instead of the crew banding together and calling the shots, which I badly wanted after the ending of Six of Crows. Kaz felt too cold and distant for a lot of it, and his POV took a long time to come round. Still, once it did, I did enjoy the way Kaz’s need for vengeance was handled, and his difficulties in touching people and expressing his feelings, etc. There’s a great bit which just describes perfectly how those OCD behaviours get established if you don’t fight them every step of the way.
And once you hit that 50% mark, the crew really start to take back what’s theirs and fight back, and it’s a lot of fun. Wylan and Jesper’s relationship is adorable, and I rather enjoy Jesper’s father’s part as well. The comeuppance is great, and the end of the book did not go quite exactly as I’d pictured. Gah, some of the last imagery of Nina and Matthias… But ahh, Inej’s ending is everything I needed, and Wylan’s position at the end is awesome.
If you enjoyed Six of Crows, you’ll probably enjoy this, and if you find it slow at first you probably just need to hold out for about 50% of the way through.
The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home, Catherynne M. Valente
It’s been a long road with September, and she’s grown up so much. The final book does so much, winding all the stories to a graceful close and doing so with style, emotion and a lot of cleverness. In other words, exactly as you’d expect from Valente and this series. I won’t say she can’t put a foot wrong, but the narrator is so charming and the world of Fairyland so wild and wonderful that I’m willing to forgive it any number of sins. (Whether it’s willing to forgive me entirely depends on its mood that day. But there, that’s the whimsy getting hold of me.)
And again, the ending is why I think this series is really more for adults than it’s been marketed, or even reviewed by a lot of people: you need to know the stories and have the experiences to understand what Valente does with them fully. The cleverness isn’t all obvious, and if you think you’re too adult for this series, well… I can understand it not being your thing, but there’s also a fair bit of snobbishness going round about books that get classed as YA.
In any case, it’s always a relief to come to the narrator’s reassurance at the end that she’s waiting for us to come back, settle in, and read it all again. I have no doubt I will.
As an idea, this is a really fascinating novel. There’s the fall of human civilisation, a not-quite-a-generation-ship ark of humanity trying to find old terraformed worlds after humanity began to rebuild itself, there’s genetic experiments, there’s a whole novel society in the form of uplifted arachnids… For me, it was more of a novel of ideas than one in which I got to care about any particular character — especially since the spider characters may have shared names, but weren’t the same people or even roles across generations. There was some pathos in the relationship between the main crew member we follow and Lain, but… Mostly it wasn’t about individuals.
As a biologist, I’m not sure I agree with how Tchaikovsky has set up the uplift story. He uses a nanovirus, which… I guess is basically magic handwaving, because an actual virus wouldn’t be able to do nearly what he suggests. The ‘message’ of the virus would be scrambled within a couple of generations, if not immediately, and a virus couldn’t work intelligently toward a particular goal — especially not with multiple different species. It sounds like hard science because the explanation is there and holds up if you don’t have detailed knowledge of viruses, but it isn’t really hard science because once you’re talking about a “nanovirus” that isn’t really a virus (which it manifestly can’t be) then you’re just magically handwaving. We can’t do accurate gene editing yet at all, even with CRISPR/cas9, let alone with a viral vector, so he’s extrapolating way too far from the data for it to be hard science (which is how the person who recommended me this sold it, as an antidote to wishy-washy socially based science).
Obviously, that’s all a bit of a personal peeve since I love CRISPR and understanding diseases: most people wouldn’t want to argue so much with it, I think! After all, it’s really just there to explain how the uplift happens — and one key event at the end. As far as I’m concerned, hard science should be much more closely beholden to known facts and existing technology, or it’s just magic. (Any sufficiently advanced technology appears to be magic…)
That aside, I did enjoy the book as an exploration of uplift, as an exploration of the uplift of an Earth species very different to us, and as an exploration of the clash between that species and what’s left of the human race. The AI and her struggle to understand herself and what happened is also well done: her loneliness and obsession is well depicted, even if you can’t really like her as a character. I’m not sure how to feel about the ending, how the spiders resolved things, but all in all… definitely worth chewing on and thinking about some more.
I left this a few days to stew before trying to review it, and I still can’t really decide what to make of it. There’s a plethora of names with too many similarities to really keep track, and to what extent it matters is kind of up in the air as well, and that sense of confusion kind of permeated the whole thing for me. It does emerge into the light a bit at the end, with you being able to get a clearer sense of the cyclical story the novel follows, and the potential changes wrought by this particular version of the cycle… but, I don’t know, it never quite worked for me.
Reading some other reviews helps me appreciate it more, but on its own I was just left feeling… meh. I was a heretic and felt that way about Little, Big, too, so maybe it’s a me-thing.
I just… didn’t enjoy it, however much of a classic (or an SF Masterwork) it might be.
It’s rather weird and jarring to go from the last book into this one focused on someone who isn’t September. The narrator nods to that fact, but really it’s no less infuriating: the last book left September in the lurch and I needed to know. It wasn’t so bad on this reread, but still. Still!
It’s not that Hawthorn isn’t a darling and his companions aren’t excellent and that the depiction of our world through the eyes of Fairylanders isn’t funny and wry and all wonderfully aslant, because all of those things are there. Hawthorn is a darling, his Rules for understanding the world are great, Tam is great. But. September!
Reading it a second time and knowing that, though, and having some more patience with it, I did love all the callbacks to September’s story, the little narrative references and mirrorings. It’s all very clever, in a very typically Valente-ish way, and it’s enjoyable to read it and notice what she’s up to. (And that level of the reading is what makes me think the series had so much to offer older readers as well as young: there’s just so much cleverness to savour.)
But I’m still very glad to get back to September and Ell and Saturday when this book is over.
Hannah Green and Her Unfeasibly Mundane Existence, Michael Marshall Smith
This is perhaps a little less dark and twisty than one might expect from Michael Marshall Smith, and I felt at times that it wasn’t quite sure of its audience — at times the knowing narration seemed more appropriate for an adult audience (mostly the opening; the ending makes it obvious what’s going on there) and some of the book metaphors for relationships felt a little much for kids. It deals with divorce a fair bit, partially through the eyes/close POV of Hannah, who is eleven or so.
It was a fun read, and I did tear through it very fast. It’s not that it’s bad — there are some great observations of people, and I enjoyed the ambiguity of the Devil in some parts (at other times he was just straightforwardly evil in a kind of offhand “that’s the way it is” fashion). It ticks along at a great pace, and Vaneclaw is a fun character, etc, etc.
But. I don’t know. I finished it in record time, I did have fun, but I’m still left feeling lukewarm — like it could’ve been more. Maybe it’s the sense that the audience isn’t quite right, some of the relatively straightforward morality (in the end, after all, the fallen angels who oppose the Devil are the ones in the wrong and unequivocally evil), some of the simplicity in Hannah’s character… I don’t know. It didn’t quite come together for me, is all I can conclude.