The night was rank with the smell of man.
This is another book out of a series, and this time it’s (luckily) not the final one. The author took its time, but -on most parts- it was worth the wait. And, because it had been a while, it wasn’t all that bad that the first one/third of the book was a repetition of the previous one, only from other characters’ point of view. It refreshes the mind a bit.
A less refreshing thing is the lack of development of some characters. It seems like Martin wasn’t all that inspired or just didn’t know what to do with some of them, making their chapters exist out of little more than ‘She ate. She slept. She mourned. She didn’t know what to do.’ It’s not only a waste of paper (because come on, if you write a 1100 page novel, make every page count), it’s a waste of the coolness of the character.
The author turns some of the characters from likeable to unlike-able and vice versa but the Big Bad is clear and looming (and hereby giving some much needed excitement to the book). Sometimes A Dance with Dragons feels too much like filler, how second books in trilogies can feel sometimes, even though this is number five in the series ofA Song of Ice and Fire.
But besides that it was -for me- good to be back again in the wonderful, disgusting and colourful world that Martin creates. I just hope he doesn’t take too long before I can return there again.
A Dance with Dragons, George R.R. Martin, Harper Voyager 2011
On the second day of darkness they rounded them up.
The Strain Trilogy of Guillermo del Toro & Chuck Hogan doesn’t give the reader an easy, fluffy experience. The story of a vampiric virus let loose on civilization isn’t a pretty one. The three books go through the stages of denial, fighting back and trying to survive a new world order. The Night Eternal shows that not every human being can or will be a hero.
The vampires and their Master rule the world, and yet, as it goes, there is a small group of rebels. They are looking for ways to end the vampire-reign, although the odds are very much against them.
This is one of my favorite things about this trilogy: Del Toro and Hogan paint an incredibly gritty, desperate and depressing picture. As a reader you’re pretty sure that there will be a happy ending (that’s how fiction works, right?), but both of the authors deliver you plenty of hints and pokes that you might be wrong. There is no One Hero, no MacGuffin that suddenly shows up in the second-to-last chapter. Characters are corrupted and self-centered, badly adjusting to being placed at the bottom of the food chain. It is ugly.
If you love that, want to be scared and get uncomfortable because of what humans turn into when society disappears, go for it. If you want an original version of the creature we can vampire these days, go for it (start with book #1 though) . And enjoy, with delicious thrills and the feeling of ‘Oh no’, running down your spine.
The Night Eternal, Guillermo del Toro & Chuck Hogan, HarperCollins 2011
Locke Lamora stood on the pier in Tal Verrar with the hot wind of a burning ship at his back and the cold bite of a loaded crossbow’s bolt at his neck.
Back to Locke Lamora and his (unintentional) (mis-)adventures. This time ’round he’s in a new country and spends a lot of time on the ocean. Because Lamora becomes a pirate. Sort of. And it wasn’t his idea either.
Red Seas under Red Skies being a sequel means there is less joy and surprise over characters, plots and world building. Yet again Lamora (and his friends) aim high, but have to stumble through a lot of hoops before they get it (sort of). This time he lands in the middle of a tug-of-war between the rulers of the underworld and ‘upper’-world. And some pirate captains.
But even without the surprises, there is another bout of gorgeous (and lethal) world- and character building. One of the things I liked best is that the women have numerous functions in high places without them being femmes fatale or butch masculine creatures. Equal opportunities don’t happen all that often in fantasy. Again, the tempo is high, a lot happens and -in comparison with the first book- there are more story lines.
And just like with the prequel, I breezed through it, thoroughly enjoying myself. If the other books don’t fail (and maybe step away from the ‘Big heist in a creative way’ plot), this could turn into one of my favorite fantasy series.
Red Seas under Red Skies, Scott Lynch, Gollancz 2007
At the height of the long wet summer of the Seventy-Seventh Year of Sendovani, the Thiefmaker of Camorr paid a sudden and unannounced visit to the Eyeless Priest at the Temple of Perelandro, desperately trying to sell him the Lamora Boy.
This is everything a (fantasy) story should be. There is gorgeous world building, well-rounded, fascinating characters, exciting plot lines (pretty much all of them), humour, excitement and so on. It’s a book you want to finish in one go and not to ever let it end.
The Lies of Locke Lamora tells the stories of Locke Lamora and his adventures as growing up from a little orphan to a Gentleman Bastard, stealing from the rich in elaborate ways and ..doing nothing with the majority of the bounty afterwards. He and his ‘brothers’ are small parts of the mob-like constitution that rules the underworld of the city, pretending towards them and everyone else that they’re just small fish.
Of course things go wrong. A dark figure attacks the constitution and Locke Lamora seems -somehow- to be involved. The tempo picks up and the whirl-wind starts.
I would recommend this to a lot of people. Look past the fantasy tag if that’s not your thing and dive head-first into this delightful experience. Only one warning: it’s part of a series (up to seven books) and the author isn’t finished yet. So there might be a time that we will have to do without Locke Lamora and his adventures.
The Lies of Locke Lamora, Scott Lynch, Gollancz 2006
The goblin experience of the world is the cult or perhaps religion of Unggue.
Finally, finally, the library had a Discworld novel for me that I hadn’t had read yet. Without even bothering to read the flap text (surely I would like the plot), I took it with me. And was disappointed (am I too often disappointed in the books I lend?).
Snuff is about Commander Vimes and therefore the Ankh -Morpork Guard. The Commander and his family go on a holiday in the country side, leaving the exciting (and loud) city behind. Luckily his police man senses start tingling pretty soon.
Except after ‘pretty soon’, it takes about 150 pages to get the action started. And while the Discworld series usually makes me laugh out loud on every other page, it didn’t happen this time. Only ‘sometimes’ instead of ‘often’ I smiled a small smile. I was flabbergasted. Is Pratchett trying to tune it down? Write in a more ‘adult’ way? I was bored for several pages and -when things finally got moving- wasn’t that interested any more. Where were the play on words, absurdness, originality? I’m not interested in how torn Commander Vimes was over acting like a Duke or acting like a copper and the second story line is thrust in at the most confusing times.
A die-hard Pratchett fan told me that she wasn’t sure about wanting to read Snuff, having heard very mixed reviews about it. I wish I had followed her example.
Snuff, Terry Pratchett, Doubleday 2011
“War,”says Mayor Prentiss, his eyes glinting.
The final book of the Chaos Walking Trilogy gives you more of the same. Here might be mild spoilers from earlier books.
Todd is still -less and less reluctantly, even though he tells himself otherwise- on the Mayor’s side. The Mayor seems to be cleaning up his act after all, and most people -including Todd- just want to see the best in other people.
Viola is still on the opposite side, trying to juggle The Answer with a part of the convoy arriving and not letting them be claimed by either side.
Patrick Ness takes a lot of time to show Todd’s doubts and how ugly people can become because of war. He also repeats scenes from earlier books to show that the protagonist really can’t kill. It was a bit dissappointing after two previous books full of (small) surprises in world- and character building.
Luckily, the Spackle finally get a voice, showing more about the world where this all happens. And a lot of violence happens, because this is war and terrorism yet somehow it completely passed me by, no matter how gruesome the details.
Near the end Ness shows why his trilogy received several awards. He turns a few things around, has a few surprises and the ending isn’t from How To Write 101.
My only thought after finishing this series is how it could be even better if the author hadn’t clung to ‘YA’ and had made this less of a soul search through teenage eyes and more a story of how a new world is created. Maybe we should cherish Todd’s naivity.
Monsters of Men, Patrick Ness, Walker Books 2010
The taxi’s radio was tuned to a classical FM broadcast.
1Q84 was one of those books that has been on my To Read list for a while. I was curious about the premise, curious about Murakami’s writing and hopeful that hundreds of positive reviews couldn’t be wrong. I was disappointed.
There is no easy, straight-forward way to say what the book exactly is about. It’s a boy-meets-girl story with a dollop of loneliness, a cult and so many fantasy details that -into the second book- you could simply call it ‘fantasy’. Except a lot more pretentious. And that started to chafe after a couple of hundred pages.
I could appreciate Murakami’s world building, helping the reader understand what the main characters experience. But when -as a reader- you start to wonder when the story will start and how many times you need to hear about a random crow or spinach-eating dog ..I think you wrote too much while communicating too little.
Maybe I’m simply an impatient reader because I have read so many books and therefore might pick up hints and foreshadowing faster than anyone else. Maybe ‘ordinary’ readers wouldn’t feel as talked down to as I did on several pages.
And that’s a shame, because there is a lot of potential in this book. I am curious about what was going on and why, but 1Q84 is fine with telling you very little about it. Maybe I’m just a reader who prefers her books with answers, instead of only questions.
1Q84, Haruki Murakami, Knopf 2011