Saturday, June 30, 2012

Among Others by Jo Walton

Jo Walton's Nebula award winning and Hugo nominated novel Among Others is not the sort of book I would generally read. It came to my attention because it was nominated for the Hugo and as someone who is eligible to vote for the award I thought I should read all the nominated novels.

It's a very personal story and it's hard to classify. The inclusion of the fairies and the magic makes it fantasy, but their existence is rather ambiguous and the reader is left at the end of the book wondering if in fact they do exist or they were something that the story's protagonist; Morwenna Phelps, came up with as some sort of coping mechanism in order to deal with the loss of her twin sister, her mother's descent into insanity and the rather joyless existence she has at her strict and anachronistic boarding school.

Among Others is extraordinary for a fantasy novel, it doesn't concern any great quest or really have a conventional plot, there are no heroes or heroines as such. The book is presented as Mor's diary written  between September 1979 and February 1980 (with the exception of the prologue which is set in May 1975).

Mor is a precocious, bookish girl, she's highly intelligent and reads voraciously, almost exclusively science fiction and fantasy. During the period the diary covers Mor tries to deal with the loss of her twin sister Morganna, an injury which leaves her lame in one leg and the life at her school, which she hates. Most of the students don't much like her and those that she is close with she really only tolerates because they're outsiders like her.

Aside from the fairies, which only Mor can see, and the magic that only Mor knows how to perform, she escapes into books, largely classic science fiction and fantasy. I saw a lot of myself in Mor, which may be why I connected so much with Among Others. I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy at her age. It was weird enough for me to read unassigned work for pleasure, but to compound it by reading SFF, well that just made me into an oddball. Even my parents; keen readers themselves, always referred to SFF as 'that stuff you read.' Mor's in a very similar situation, although her estranged father, with whom she is trying to build a relationship, is also a fan and understand's his daughter's interest.

When the town library tells Mor that they have a Tuesday night book club, and that they discuss SF work, the girl's life changes and for the better.

Among Others is a love letter to classic SF and to the libraries and librarians that stock it and recommend it to people. It is a book written by a reader for readers. I hadn't read a lot of the books that Mor had and talked about in rapturous tones, but I understood where she was coming from and her love of reading and books.

This is one for the fans and I encourage anyone who likes reading, and especially SFF fans, to read this and fall in love with it as I did.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan

The J’s have been good to me, admittedly there were only 3 of them, but they were still a good letter. I’d read two and liked them both after multiple rereads, and although I hadn’t read Howl’s Moving Castle, I had seen the film and enjoyed it, so the book stood a fair chance of getting a thumbs up, which it did.

I first picked up Robert Jordan’s Eye of the World (the opening volume to his immense The Wheel of Time saga) not long after it was originally published. I didn’t love it, but it did grab me enough to hook me into the series for about 8 or 9 books until I lost interest, but determined to read it all once the final volume had come out. The book coming up where it did in the list is fairly good timing, as the Wheel of Time’s finale is due out later this year, so by the time I read through the whole saga at the rate of a book a month the last one will be well and truly out.

I’ve read The Eye of the World about 7 or 8 times (I used to read it every time a new book in The Wheel of Time was published), and it’s always entertained. I hadn’t read it in many years, so I was interested to see how it would hold up this time. Surprisingly well is the verdict.

The first book is at times rather Tolkienesque, with some elements very obviously influenced by Professor Tolkien’s masterpiece. The world has echoes of that, too, but the idea that it is built on the remnants of a technologically advanced society that was wiped out by some cataclysmic event had echoes of Terry Brooks The Sword of Shannara.

The story is very typical of epic fantasy. Young farmboy finds out that he has a mysterious destiny, gathers a band of like minded individuals with various skills or personality types around him and leaves his home to have an adventure and fulfil said destiny. That’s pretty much it in a nutshell. The band will be split, have adventures on their own and discover things about themselves, they’ll be reunited and ultimately fight the good fight against the bad guy, in this case he goes by multiple names and guises, but is most commonly known as the Dark One. They’re reluctant to give him his true name, which made me think of Harry Potter and Voldemort, but Jordan predates Rowling, and I doubt she ever read any of his work.

It’s a long book, and it’s going to clock in at a staggering 14 books when it’s done, all of a similar length to The Eye of the World, it may actually be a little on the short side compared to some of the others. It takes a bit of work to read, and it had been so long for me that I had the order of things and what happens in which book rather jumbled up in my head. I did enjoy returning to Randland and reacquainting myself with him and his friends. I know Mat was always my favourite character, but now I kind of like Nynaeve more.

It’s become one of the classics and is considered a bit of a must read for anyone wanting to get into epic fantasy. It’s got me all keyed up for The Great Hunt next month.

Similar works to explore are of course the sequels, the last 3 being written by Brandon Sanderson, after Jordan tragically passed away after a battle with a particularly virulent blood disease. The Lord of the Rings, which clearly inspired some of The Eye of the World. Tad Williams’ Tolkien homage: Memory, Sorrow and Thorn. George R.R Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire is often mentioned along with The Wheel of Time, but I don’t see many similarities, other than scope and the fact that fans worry George Martin may also not be able to see his project finish. There’s also Steven Erikson’s Malazan Books of the Fallen, but despite length and size there aren’t a lot of similarities. If you wanted something lighter and not as well written you could also look at Terry Brooks The Sword of Shannara.             

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Flashman in the Great Game Chapter 11

The 11th chapter of Flashman in the Great Game is relatively short, and I think it probably could have been fitted into other chapters or left out altogether without much fuss.

Most of it is devoted to the wholesale looting of Indian palaces once the British forces gained control. This was very common for the time, although it was becoming more frowned upon, and the correspondent Billy Russell certainly disapproved of it. Flashman did say that although Russell may not have liked it, but he suspects this was largely driven by the fact that he didn’t have enough money on him to buy things off the looting soldiers. Flashman himself had a couple of enlisted men getting items for him, they actually paid for his Leceistershire estate; Gandamack Lodge.

There’s another passage where Flashman shoots the breeze with a number of other notables from the conflict, dropping names like only Flashman can. Of most interest is Sam Browne, he of the belt fame. Harry doesn’t think a lot of Browne as a soldier, yet he’s the best remembered and Flashman muses that the best way to ensure your legend as a fighting man lives on is to get an item of clothing name after yourself: Cardigan, Raglan, Browne. One does wonder what item would best suit Harry Flashman, the buttons or zipper of a pair of trousers perhaps?  

The end of the chapter sees Harry being posted back to Jhansi to complete the mission he came to India for, get the Rani on the British side. Flashman knew this was going to happen, and he’s resigned to it, in fact even knowing how dangerous it may be he’s rather looking forward to it, as he is besotted with Lakshmibai, no doubt about it.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Flashman in the Great Game Chapter 10

The 10th chapter of Flashman in the Great Game gives readers and the hero a brief break from all the bloodshed.

Despite the above words no book about the Mutiny is complete without mention of what happened at Cawnpore after the original massacre. The remaining women and children were taken in custody by Nana Sahib and his cohorts and imprisoned under harsh conditions. They were then slaughtered when the tide turned against Sahib and the British forces came in. What they found when they arrived sickened them and reprisals were equally dreadful. History has deservedly condemned both sides.

Harry and his fellow escapees were rescued and sheltered by an Indian maharajah who had remained sympathetic to the British. When it was safe they were returned to Cawnpore.

Harry actually seemed to enjoy his time helping the women and children get back to some sort of normality. He knew that he could very well be sent back to his original mission of trying to bring Lakshimbai onside, and despite his infatuation with the woman, he was not looking forward to it, and as he so often does during his adventures, he really just wanted to return to home and Elspeth. It was not to be.

As part of his enjoyment in telling stories to the ladies, he’d played at being Makarram Khan for a laugh. This put the seed of an idea into the mind of Havelock; a grave faced British commander Flashman had first encountered in Flashman. This chapter would also reunite Harry with the gruff Scottish commander Colin Campbell, one of the few celebrated soldiers of the Victorian age that Harry Flashman had any respect for.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Flashman in the Great Game Chapter 9

The 9th chapter of Flashman in the Great Game is an action packed one, maybe a little too action packed.

Just when things looked dire for the besieged defenders they received a note from the Indian leader; Nana Sahib, offering to treat with them. Flashman was sent along with another officer to meet and assess the offer. Attending Sahib were his chief general Tantia Tope, who although Flashman made very little reference to, was a tough proposition for the British forces, the other person was one of this extraordinary characters who seemed to pop up in the sub continent back during the days of the Raj, his name was Azeemoolah Khan. He spoke French and English, had spent time in Britain, knew all about Harry and his reputation and even seemed to be acquainted with one of Flashman’s friends; the journalist Billy Russell. Russell and Khan were actually enemies, but Harry was unaware of that at the time.

The offer seems genuine and even without Flashman’s histrionics, as he plays the noble hero card to the hilt, the British forces had little choice, but to accept it. The alternative is to be overwhelmed where they are. At least this way, even if they are betrayed, they may get the women and children to safety.

As it turns out they are played by Nana Sahib and his forces do massacre the surrendered British. They’re indiscriminate about it too. They kill soldiers, defenceless women and children. Very few escaped. Harry believes that he and a handful of men were possibly the only ones.

Prior to Harry fleeing for his life two incidents occur. Harry’s present at one and hears about the other. Before the actual betrayal some British officers and their retinue which consisted of some loyal native officers, one being Ilderim Khan, were murdered. Ilderim had been given the opportunity to leave and had refused, largely due to his concept of honour. When Flashman is told that Ilderim was shot and left to die in a ditch by the side of the road he can’t initially believe it. Ilderim had always been so indestructible, even when Harry first met him as a teenager. He does appear to be quite angry with Ilderim, because all his honour bought him was an ignominious death by the side of the road. This is probably yet another incident in Flashman’s career that forms his lowly opinion of concepts like courage and honour. The other incident is that East is stabbed in the back during the massacre and dies. His last thoughts and words are about a doctor, the other officers think he’s asking for the doctor. Flashman knows he means Arnold. Flashman never showed anything but contempt for East and his friends, but he is moved by the death of someone he’s known since they were a child and I think angered in the manner of it.

Once he and his fellows escape from the mutineers they are set upon by savages, stirred up by the madness engulfing the country and in running from them find themselves fighting crocodiles in the Ganges. There is some musing by Flashman that the crocodiles may have been a species known as gharials, but that’s unlikely as the notes explain that gharials only hunt fish.

As with many of Harry’s escapades it’s pretty hard to believe that this could all happen to the one group of people and they’d still come out of it alive, but there is documented proof from some of the actual survivors that it did all happen as related by Flashman in his memoirs. Of course the historical people who this happened to weren’t dealing with the twin blows of losing long time friends, although it’s reasonable to assume that some of them did lose people they were close with during the massacre.

Ilderim’s death affected me, and I wished that the news was incorrect and he survived somehow, but he didn’t. I liked the character and was sad to see him go and to have it happen in such a way only rubbed salt into the wound.

Saturday, June 16, 2012


After I finished Howl's Moving Castle I had a look at the list in the book that started me doing this and it was the 50th book, so I'm halfway to my original goal of reading 100 Must-Read Fantasy Novels. I have actually read more than 50, because I reread A Game of Thrones last year in preparation for the release of A Dance with Dragons, and A Game of Thrones is on the list under the M's.

So halfway there, have I learned anything? How do I feel about the list in general? Some of this stuff I never would have touched, some of it I'm glad I never did, but I would have also missed on reading some excellent work, and it has given me an all around better grounding in the genre.

I do occasionally question the selections and the fantasy credentials of some of the books. Some of the older more classic works seems to suffer from age and the improvements later writers have made on them.

Up to this point the list seems to be heavily skewed to work predominantly aimed at younger readers, that may change as I read through the latter half of the alphabet.

I hope to read the second half of the list a little quicker than the first. I do think this far in that the project has been well worth doing, and I am for the most part, enjoying the reads. There are a few notable exceptions, but then there's others thai I wouldn't have read otherwise and I would have missed out. Plus some of the rereads have proven to be really fun, and in one case forced me to reassess my original view of the book.

50 down! 50 still to come!

Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

I was pleased to see Diana Wynne Jones' name pop up on the list, because I haven't read anywhere near enough of this wonderful writer. I read at least one of the Dalemark series when I was a kid (Cart and Cwidder, spent ages trying to work out exactly what a cwidder was too), and then I read The Dark Lord of Derkholm and Year of the Griffin, followed by the work that inspired them; The Tough Guide to Fantasyland.

I'd seen the film of Howl's Moving Castle, but not read the book. I don't remember the film particularly well, mostly Billy Crystal's performance as the fire demon; Calcifer, although I do remember liking it. I had been told the book was very different.

What Diana Wynne Jones has done in Howl's Moving Castle is take many of the elements from a classic fairytale (rather idealised medieval setting, an evil witch, a good wizard, a plucky heroine, a magical assistant and various magical items including seven league boots and a moving castle), mixed them up and added in some elements of her own, then bound them all in to a totally delightful and thoroughly enjoyable confection of a story.

One of Jones' strengths is her heroines; and Sophie Hatter is a great one. She's a practical and intelligent young woman who strangely enough seems more at home in the appearance of a crotchety old lady than she ever was as the young woman who ran her late father's hat shop, in the process raising her younger sisters and ensuring that her stepmother had a decent life. She goes from doing that to finding herself in the company of the fearsome wizard Howl, who despite his power and reputation is really rather like a teenage boy that never properly grew up. In the course of the book Sophie will have to sort out Howl's love life and that of his young apprentice Michael, lift curses from Calcifer, a dog who is an enchanted man, and herself, all while trying to defeat the Witch of the Waste and restore order to the fairytale kingdoms in which Howl lives and operates in.

The idea of making the castle itself a sort of inter dimensional portal which enables Howl to easily move between kingdoms on Sophie's world, that are really many miles apart and in between that world and our own. Howl is actually a young Welshman, and while this was never covered in the film I really wish it had been, because it was one of the most enchanting parts of the book.

Howl's Moving Castle, like all good fairytales, has a happy ending, but there were a couple of sequels written. I don't believe they're necessary to read, but Jones was a wonderful writer and any of her work is hugely readable by all ages. Classic fairytales, if you hadn't already read them are in a very similar vein, and part of the fun of reading Howl's Moving Castle is trying to work out where Diana Wynne Jones got many of the elements in the book from. The aforementioned Tough Guide to Fantasyland, The Dark Lord of Derkholm and Year of the Griffin also deal with the concept of people from this world going to a magical world. Frank L. Baum's classic Oz series has the same idea at it's heart, too. Some of Enid Blyton's work (The Faraway Tree and Wishing Chair series) also does this, although for much younger readers.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Leviathan Wakes by James S.A Corey

As I'm sure I've stated before I'm not really a science fiction reader, and when I do read it, it tends to be things like Feed or Ready Player One, which aren't what you'd call traditional science fiction. Leviathan Wakes is old school space opera, so for me that's a different thing to read. It came onto may radar largely because of the author. James S.A Corey is a pseudonym for Daniel Abraham (the author of, amongst other things, The Dagger and the Coin series, which I'm loving the heck out of) and Ty Franck (who tends to be better known as the assistant of George R.R Martin, Leviathan Wakes may change that). Being a fan of Abraham and Martin, the collaborative effort held some interest for me. Then it got nominated for a Hugo. The Hugo's have become a subject near and dear to me over the last couple of years and I like to be involved in some small way in the nomination and award process by voting. To make an informed vote I read at least all of the nominated novels. I'd already read A Dance with Dragons and Deadline, the other three are Leviathan Wakes, Embassytown and Among Others. I'd wanted to read Leviathan Wakes, so having it as a Hugo nomination and included in the voter package was ideal for me.

Leviathan Wakes is set in the future, Earth has colonised Mars and even set up communities amongst hollowed out asteroids. The people that live and work in the space stations on those moons are known as 'belters', and lifetimes spent under low gravity tend to make them physically different to the Earthers and the Martians.

The story in Leviathan Wakes is filtered through the PoV's of two people: the idealistic, womanising ice miner Jim Holden, mostly based out in space, and the world weary, cynical 'belter' detective Miller. Holden is trying to find out who blasted his ship and why and if possible bring them to justice, while Miller is searching for missing heiress Julie Mao and has fallen in love with the memory of a girl he never knew. Eventually the two men's lives will intersect, and when they do that's when Leviathan Wakes really takes off.

While Miller and Holden are multi dimensional wonderfully written and explored characters and dominate the book (that's got Abraham and his fantastic characters written all over it), the other characters are also well drawn. Holden's XO Naomi, the foul mouthed and often very funny mechanic Amos, Miller's boss Shaddid, and even Julie Mao. The story is also highly involving. The discoveries that Miller and Holden make in a quest for justice will bring Earth, Mars and the Belt to the brink of an all out self destructive war and could change the course of humanity.

While Leviathan Wakes is very much a space opera, there's also some very noirish elements to it, especially when Miller's the focus of the story, he could have been written by Dashiell Hammet or Raymond Chandler if they'd set their stories in outer space. I've been getting into Babylon 5 recently, and I kept flashing on the show, especially during the sequences on the stations. It's becoming rather redundant to compare science fiction crews to Joss Whedon's short lived, but much loved science fiction western series Firefly, but it's true of Leviathan Wakes; Holden, Naomi and Amos all recalled crew members of Serenity, Jim Holden and Mal Reynolds would have been great mates, although Holden's better with the ladies.

Leviathan Wakes is a ripping read, it's a worthy Hugo nomination, and I wouldn't be surprised it's sequel Caliban's War is up there for the rocket ship again next year.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Comet in Moominland by Tove Jansson

I was really pleased when I saw Tove Jansson on the list. I loved the Moomin books as a kid, and this gave me an excuse to revisit my childhood.

I think I was about 7 or 8 when I first discovered the Moomins in Finn Family Moomintroll, which my mother gave me. I eventually managed to track down the others at our school’s miniscule library. For years Moominsummer Madness was my favourite, but these days I think Finn Family Moomintroll edges it out, largely because of Thigummy and Bob. They’re one of my favourite literary duos.

Although Comet in Moominland was the first of the books published in English (the prequel The Moomins and the Great Flood was not translated into English until 2005. I still haven’t read it. I may need to track a copy down), it was one of the last I read. It’s a good introduction to the series, because it shows how Moomintroll met his best friend; the carefree tramp Snufkin, and the love of his life the Snork Maiden and her pompous brother, as well as the Hemulen and how the philosophising Muskrat came to live with the Moomins. The character of Sniff is already a regular by Comet in Moominland, he was first found by the Moomin family in The Moomins and the Great Flood. Most of the characters are described as belonging to a particular species or race. The Moomins are moomintrolls; a gentle, white skinned, large nosed, roly poly type of troll, Snufkin is human, the Snork Maiden and her brother are snorks, the Hemulen is a hemulen, but readers never really find out what Sniff is. He’s described as a small animal, and from Tove Jansson’s drawings throughout the book he looks rather like a vole or a shrew.

In Comet in Moominland, Moomintroll and Sniff see signs of an approaching comet and journey to the observatory in the Lonely Mountains to ask the Professors there if the comet will destroy the world. Along the way they meet Snufkin, the Snork siblings and the Hemulen. They arrive home just in time to get Moominmamma and Pappa to safety in the beachside cave they discovered at the beginning of the book. The comet misses Moominvalley and everyone rejoices.

The books have a lovely feel to them. Comet in Moominland is rather lighter on adventure than Finn Family Moomintroll or Moominsummer Madness and the later Exploits of Moominpappa. There’s also less of the Moomin parents than in other books, except for Moominland Midwinter. Moominmamma appears as the fussy, but loving mother figure she has always been, but Moominpappa is hardly in Comet in Moominland.

I can’t recommend these books highly enough. They’re always a delight to read, whimsical and illustrated throughout with the author’s drawings (Tove Jansson was a very accomplished artist), they flow naturally and have a light touch to them. The later books (Tales from Moominvalley, Moominpappa at Sea and Moominvalley in November) are rather more serious and somber. They can be read easily by children and understood, they don’t preach or moralise and they’re just fun.

I couldn’t really recommend anything similar because I simply have never encountered anything quite like them. There’s no real suggested reading order, but Comet in Moominland is a good place to start. After that you get the real cream of the series with Finn Family Moomintroll and Moominsummer Madness.      

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig

To be honest Chuck Wendig’s Blackbirds isn’t the sort of thing I’d normally be induced to pick up, although Joey Hi Fi’s amazing cover certainly does draw the eye.

I saw a number of positive reviews by people whose judgement I ordinarily trust, and the Fantasy Faction forum made it their read of the month for June, so I decided to try it out.

Powerful, compelling, dark and raw are 4 words I’d use to describe Blackbirds. The narrative drags you in with it’s brutal opening chapter and holds on for grim death right until the last page.

Miriam Black can see people’s deaths with a touch of their skin. This isn’t a particularly new idea. Similar themes have been explored before in books and movies, most notably the TV show Medium worked on a similar premise. The way Wendig tells Miriam’s story, and the character herself, are different, though.

It’s a brave writer who deliberately selects a fairly unpleasant and abrasive character as their protagonist, and it’s an even braver one that surrounds this protagonist with a cast of characters who for the most part are even less likeable, okay 3 of them are villains, but they were awful people. There’s only one genuinely good person amongst the cast, so it’s not surprising that Miriam fixates on the easy going truck driver Louis and determines that for once she is going to try and outwit fate to prevent what she has seen as his predetermined death.

Chuck Wendig explores what it would be like to have Miriam’s ‘gift’ in an intelligent manner. She doesn’t want it, it’s not fun, she can see what’s going to happen, but she can’t stop it. On one occasion when she tried she actually became the cause of the incident. For most  part people aren’t murdered, people die in relatively mundane ways; old age, illness, traffic accidents, etc… Miriam finds herself living on the fringes of society, drifting, using her ‘gift’ to scrape a living, not getting close to anyone or letting anyone get close to her.

The way Wendig has chosen to tell the story is another thing that stood out in Blackbirds. It’s told in 3rd person (most urban fantasy tends to be 1st person), and it’s present tense. This is really hard to do and in less skilled hands would probably have been jarring and irritating. It worked for me in Blackbirds, early on I had to check to see if each chapter was actually written 3rdperson, because it was just not something I expected. The blanks in Miriam’s life are largely filled in during the interludes as she is being interviewed by a college student about her ‘gift’.

The prose is filled with profanity, but even that’s used differently. I’m used to profanity in books, it’s good for emphasis or to display what a character is like by the way they talk, but Wendig uses Miriam’s foul mouth as a tool of description, it’s shocking and amusing at once, and provides a good deal of humour in what is at heart a fairly bleak story. He uses short choppy sentences and rarely is a word wasted or out of place.

Blackbirds is entirely self contained, but a sequel; Mockingbird, is planned. In fact I hope it’s being written right this minute so I can read it as soon as possible.

No review of Blackbirds would be complete without talking about Joey Hi Fi’s mind blowing cover. It’s in stark black and white, it features a woman’s face with her hair being composed entirely of blackbirds. If you look closely at the birds you’ll see images directly from the story hiding amongst them. It’s rare for a cover to so accurately match the contents of the book it adorns. It must win an award!

A brilliant book that will stay with me for some time.

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Drowning City by Amanda Downum

Amanda Downum’s The Drowning City is the first of The Necromancer Chronicles. The necromancer of those books is Isyllt Iskaldur, and she is also the main character of The Drowning City.

I had been waiting to read this book for a while, I held off partially because I’m getting a little sick of diving into never ending series, and having to wait for cliff hangers to be resolved forever and a day. When the author produced the 3rd book in the series two years after the 1stcame out, it really started to intrigue me, and it also seemed as if the books were relatively self contained, so I jumped in, oh and Larry Rostant’s cover art is extremely alluring.

The best word to describe The Drowning City is noir. Although this book is a secondary world fantasy, and set in a pre industrial world (although they do have gun powder, pistols are used rarely) it still has this very noirish feel about it. The city of Symir is for me the real star of the book and Amanda Downum’s writing. It’s rare to find an Asian influenced city in fantasy, and rarer still to find one written so well and created with such loving care. A steamy city on the edge of jungle, where criminals and nobles live cheek by jowl and at times it’s hard to pick the revolutionaries from the appointed power brokers.

Unfortunately the story got a bit lost in the setting. Symir had a very distinct character, but the characters themselves weren’t quite so well drawn. I could usually work out when Isyllt was the focus, but other characters were so remarkably similar, even down to their names that they became rather confusing and mixed in my mind. I liked Isyllt and her bodyguard Adam, although Isyllt didn’t seem to need Adam most of the time, so he became a bit superfluous.

There was an interesting story at the heart of The Drowning City about infiltrating a group of revolutionaries and using them to foil the plans of a more radical group of revolutionaries, but it appeared to be rather redundant as an explosion of magic caused largely the by actions of the book’s protagonists destroyed the city altogether.

There were some great ideas at work here; the city itself, Isyllt’s necromantic arts, the rather Asian flavoured culture, the ghosts who were as tangible as any living person, and I was also rather partial to the flesh eating water spirits; the nakhs.

Despite having some flaws and leaving me a little dissatisfied after a great start I will try to continue with the series and look at getting The Bone Palace, the sequel to The Drowning City.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Hounded by Kevin Hearne

When Hounded; the first of Kevin Hearne's Iron Druid chronicles first hit the shelves last year, to be quickly followed by Hexed and Hammered, it created a bit of a stir. This technique had worked with a couple of epic fantasy trilogies, the most notable being Brent Weeks' Night Angel. I have to admit I liked what I heard about Hounded, and the idea of an ancient druid masquerading as a twenty something hip Irish lad in Arizona was pretty clever and appealing. Various things prevented me from reading Hounded until now.

I'm very glad I took the plunge, though. Atticus O'Sullivan, the hero of Hounded, and the Iron Druid of the series title is not dissimilar to Jim Butcher's wise cracking wizard Harry Dresden. On the face of it the two are vastly different. Atticus is over 2,000 years old and he seems to have a better handle on his magic than Harry Dresden ever has, he also runs an occult bookshop, not a magical detective agency, but they do have a lot in common. Mostly it comes from the pop culture references, which Hounded is littered with, and something that I've always appreciated about the Harry Dresden books.

The story is a lot of fun, too. The sword Atticus wields; Fragarach, is coveted by the Celtic god Aenghus Og, and he'll stop at nothing to get it. The easiest way is to kill Atticus, and it's going to take every dirty trick the druid has up his sleeve to get out of this one alive. Fortunately he's got allies like the Morrigan, a law firm composed of vampires and werewolves, a Hindu witch of great power and his wolfhound Oberon.

There's a lot of set up in Hounded, as you'd expect from the opener in an urban fantasy series. I actually kind of preferred Atticus' stories about his past, complete with references to Thor as a 'major asshat', and his interactions with the Morrigan, Flidais, the sexy possessed bartender Granuaile and of course Oberon (in fact I think Oberon is my new favourite urban fantasy sidekick) to the actual story about Atticus' fight with Aenghus Og and his attempts to hang onto his sword. Honestly, Hexed could be entirely about Oberon and there'd be no complaints from me. It's also kind of different for the wizard/witch to have a dog familiar rather than a cat, and it may appeal to me because I am very definitely a dog person.

The book has a few problems, at times some of the situations Atticus found himself getting into and out of verged on the farcical, and there was a feeling that the author was stretching credibility to breaking point and a little beyond on at least one occasion involving a shooting. Some of this is expected of a debut novel, and it was easy enough to get past, although it wouldn't want to become a trend.

Kevin Hearne's got me in and I'll be looking for Hexed once I've kicked a hole in the TBR pile. If you like Harry Dresden and you're looking for something to pass the time in between installments, then make the acquaintance of Atticus O'Sullivan.