Tuesday, July 31, 2012
Wednesday, July 25, 2012
After the events of Fables 16 - Super Team things should have been rainbows and puppies for our favourite story book characters. The evil Mr Dark had been defeated, and they were free to live their own lives back on the farm.
However things never work out like that in the Fablesverse, and ending one threat only seems to uncover another. Mr Dark was beaten, but his apprentice, the new slimline version of the former Mrs Spratt, was still in Fabletown, and plotting her revenge.
One of the casualties of the fight against Dark was Bigby Wolf's father; the North Wind. With one of the Winds gone there's an imbalance and someone has to take his place. The North Wind's servants contend that it's too much power for any of the other Winds to have, Bigby doesn't want it, and his brothers aren't suitable. It falls to one of Snow White and Bigby's cubs. My thought was that the seventh child; Ghost, being a wind of sorts, was the perfect fit, but he's not even supposed to be alive, so couldn't very well take up his grandfather's mantle.
The kids are put through a series of tests and one of them proves their worth to take their grandfather's place. The other Winds all have problems with this, and are still jockeying to see who of them can bring the chosen one around to their way of thinking when the book ends.
The story of Rose Red and her compatriots returning from where ever they had been back to the Farm was largely incomplete and fairly pointless. I can only assume it will also be concluded in the next book.
The story I liked most was that of Bufkin the flying monkey as he and his friends, especially Lily Martagon, the game Barleycorn Bride, journey through an Oz under the iron fist of the Gnome King, who has taken the opportunity to fill the void left in Oz with the defeat of the Adversary. That story too ended on a major cliffhanger.
I always look forward to a Fables collection. I have to confess to being disappointed by this one. The last one came out in December, I picked this up in June and we don't seem to be getting as much content as before. Maybe they need to alter the schedule so that there's only one a year. I felt a little short changed this time. I probably shouldn't. Willingham's story and Buckingham's pencils are as good and solid as ever, but there seemed to be remarkably little substance here, and it was only 4 fairly short issues packaged together as well.
I wasn't particularly enamoured of the shorts either. The Christmas story; All In A Single Night was downright depressing, and things in the other short In Those Days were strangely off.
I hope for something more in Fables 18, which judging by the current release schedule will be out sometime before Christmas.
As I said in my review of The Eye of the World I've read a number of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time books a few times. The Great Hunt; the second book of the Wheel of Time, has always been one of my favourites in the series. I think it's probably the one I like the most.
I did find it hard to get into The Eye of the World. There's the Tolkien similarities for a start, but I could get past those fairly easily (I'm one of the few people who doesn't really have issues with Terry Brooks' Sword of Shannara on those grounds), there was a lot of world building in The Eye of the World, also plenty of scene setting, plus readers were getting to know the characters, and Jordan's love of intricate description. These all made The Eye of the World a challenging read. It wasn't the best thing I'd ever read, I didn't get that whole shot of nitro glycerine to the brain thing that I got with A Game of Thrones and The Lies of Locke Lamora, but I was intrigued and I picked up The Great Hunt as soon as I saw it.
To a certain extent it's a very different book. It has the same characters and it continues the story begun in The Eye of the World. The setting is slightly different. The Shienarans have a distinct Asian flavour to them, and are very different from Tolkien, and with some exceptions, from most epic fantasy of the time.
Robert Jordan decided to split his central group up as well in The Great Hunt, this had also happened in The Eye of the World, but I felt the split was more emphasised, and certainly more deliberate than the previous book. Rand, Mat, Perrin and Loial go off to look for the Horn of Valere and the dagger from Shadar Logoth, while Nynaeve and Egwene head off to Tar Valon to become Aes Sedai.
Rand, Loial and a 'sniffer' called Hurin break away from the rest of the group and get stuck in the wilds of Cairhien with a bewitching and beautiful young lady called Selene. Rand, Hurin and even Loial become besotted with her, despite her being central casting's perfect femme fatale. Admittedly she's not totally evil, but she will cause problems later on. One thing that was present in The Eye of the World, and was also here was Rand and Perrin's belief that the other knows how to talk to girls. It's funny once or twice, but two books in it's rather tiresome, besides the only one of the trio that is any good with girls is Mat.
Rand's story does eventually see him reunited with Mat and Perrin, as well as the gleeman Thom Merrilin, believed by Rand to have perished in an encounter with a Fade in The Eye of the World. Rand's story contained two sequences I thought were very strong. One was him being taken through all the possible lives he could have lived, and dying in each one with the Dark One whispering in his ear 'I win again Lews Therin' at the moment of death. This was done well and it was very powerful, it also confirms that Rand is the true Dragon reborn. The other was his sword fight with the Seanchan blademaster. The descriptions of the sword movements are a bit silly and over done, ie: The Basset's Ears Flap In The Breeze, etc..., but they're fairly effective in giving you the idea of the fight, without using intricate descriptions of each and every movement in the encounter, this is unusual for Jordan who has never been accused of being ecomomical with his use of words. On the other side of the ledger Rand's story does also contain some of that pointless wandering around that appears in so many fantasy epics, and really only serves to eat up pages and frustrate readers.
I've always said Mat was my favourite, and I hold to that, but it hasn't happened yet. He's not in this all that much, and he's fairly unpleasant when he is, however my other favourite Nynaeve shines. The Aes Sedai as an organisation really interest me, and the way they do what they do. So to see Egwene and Nynaeve in the centre of that, along with Elayne Trakand, the Daughter Heir of Andor was quite a treat for me. I hadn't really experienced anyone go into an organisation like the Aes Sedai and study them in the way Jordan did in The Great Hunt.
I know I've gotten the order in which things happen in the books all messed about in my head, because the Seanchan appear in this, and they're really a villain. I didn't think that happened until a few books on.
There's some fairly extraneous stuff through the middle of the book, which I think a more ruthless editor could have trimmed, and would have possibly made it stronger, but it comes home strong and the last 200 pages are gripping. It still remains one of the best books in the series, as far as I got anyway, and it's still my favourite. Next month: The Dragon Reborn.
How long has it been since I've done one of these? Oh...right...that long. Sorry about that. I've had a lot to read and not enough time to do it, and there's been a waning of interest with this particular volume of Harry's adventures. I've never been the biggest fan of Flashman in the Great Game. Harry often seems to act in very unFlashmanlike ways at times. There's also the subject material itself, it's largely a series of unrelenting blood soaked atrocities by both sides. I know, aside from Flashman himself, that it's all real, but it's still rather tedious to read.
Chapter 12 is a little different, although it's still frustrating at times. Harry is sent back to Jhansi to finish off the mission he was originally dispatched to India to perform. Although the mutiny has largely been put down, Jhansi, or rather the Rani, is still a problem. Harry makes the remark that if Lakshmibai weren't so attractive or young then there may not have been an issue with killing her, but she is both beautiful and young, she's also beloved by her people. Simply killing her is only going to make a bad situation worse.
The British, under Hugh Rose, have Jhansi under bombardment. Flashman likens Rose to another of his brothers in arms General George Custer. According to Harry both men looked similar and acted alike, but that's where it ended. Rose was very competent, Harry didn't share that opinion of Custer. He goes on to intimate had Rose commanded at Little Big Horn, instead of Custer things may have turned out differently. Harry can comment, he was at Little Big Horn (see Flashman and the Redskins).
MacDonald Fraser has managed to dig out an obscure text that supports the book's idea that the plan was to let the Rani escape and take her into custody that way. Flashman's obsession with Lakshmibai resurfaces. They have no problems convincing him to put the plan to her. He does this largely because aside from Elspeth and Havvy, the only person in the world Harry has any real affection for is the Rani. This interest has, to me, never really been explained.
Harry does worry that something will go wrong, that's his nature, it however goes worse than he ever could have imagined. He's intercepted by, of all people, Ignatieff. The Russian plans to out Harry on the rack to get him to give up information, he knows that won't take long, given Flashman's aversion to physical pain, and then rack him to death, just for the fun of it. Before Flashman can break, the Rani's major domo, who knows Harry, runs and fetches his mistress, who orders the torture to stop and roundly scolds Ignatieff.
While she cuddles up to Harry and accepts his message, she won't untie him, and has him escorted somewhere he can be kept under guard by her loyal Pathan Sher Khan. The name always reminded me of the villainous tiger in Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book. I wondered if the writer had been influenced by Flashman. I eventually concluded that as there's no mention of it, and Harry never misses an opportunity to drop a name, that it's just a coincidence.
When the time comes to escape Harry is taken with the Rani, and he's manacled to the saddle. The penny finally drops and Harry wonders if in fact he ever did have an encounter with the Rani all that time ago, and if he's being used. He can't get past his love of her, though. Very odd.
Friday, July 20, 2012
Wednesday, July 18, 2012
Monday, July 16, 2012
Friday, July 13, 2012
Tuesday, July 10, 2012
Friday, July 6, 2012
I thought from what was said about Anna Kavan's Mercury that it would be litfic uncomfortably fitted into the fantasy genre. This was largely confirmed when I saw that Doris Lessing had written the foreword, and what she had said about the book. Litfic and I seem to have an uneasy relationship. I generally don't like it, I'm getting the feeling I must be some sort of literary philistine.
I guess you could classify Mercury as fantasy, the people who wrote the list did. There's a rather dreamy unreal quality about the world the characters wander through, and I don't think it's ever actually confirmed that any of what they are seeing is real, or if in fact they are real. The man sized lemurs on the tropical island of Indris certainly aren't real, although they may have once existed.
The writing is beautiful. Anna Kavan chose her words carefully, and she paints a vivid picture with them. That unfortunately for me was where the good ended. It's easy to read, and a great example of how to write descriptively, however this is a novel (albeit quite short at 136 pages) and I always have a better relationship with a novel when it has a plot and characters that are not only real and believable, but have reasons for doing what they do. Mercury doesn't have those.
The two totally unbelievable protagonists Luke and the ethereal Luz see each other, fall in love, but never actually get together. Luz winds up marrying Luke's unstable and violent artist friend Chaz, who she later leaves. They spend their time wandering through this beautifully described landscape heading towards Indris for no discernible reason other than because the author seemed to like writing about the tropical setting and it's noisy lemurs. Eventually they find themselves in the one place at the one time and have sex. Finis. And this is literature? Okay.
I wouldn't recommend reading anything like it, because I wouldn't want to read anything else like it. Luke's way of behaving, and his lack of reason for doing things did remind me of Russell Hoban's equally inexplicable and plotless Kleinzeit. Kavan's best known work is the science fiction Ice, which Brian Aldiss chose as his favourite work of 1967. I haven't read it, so can't comment, but I know I didn't think a great deal of Aldiss' Malacia Tapestry so may not agree with his assessment.
I went on a little bit of a steampunk kick last year and one of the things I read was Phoenix Rising, the first of Pip Ballantine's and Tee Morris' Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series.
The first book introduced readers to the odd couple pairing of the fiery colonial (she's from New Zealand) Ministry Agent Eliza Braun and the ministry's inoffensive archivist Wellington Books. It was a thoroughly enjoyable romp, so I was really looking forward to the next book in the series; The Janus Affair.
I was delighted to see it pop up amongst the new releases at my local SFF bookshop, and snapped it up eagerly. Books and Braun are a great couple. They complement each other so well, and although they both resist it, both they and readers know that somehow they'll wind up together.
The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences are as much romances as they are steampunk mysteries. It's an interesting mix and one I really enjoy reading, the steampunk influences, the romance and the English Victorian setting are something they share with another one of my favourite series; Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate, although the style of writing is very different. Gail Carriger recalls P.G Wodehouse and Jane Austen, whereas Ballantine and Morris are much more modern in style and tone.
Last time the agents were up against the dreaded House of Usher, and while this time that organisation may be pulling the strings (the rogue British peer Lord Sussex is almost certainly associated with them in some way whether he realises it or not), it's not as obvious and Books and Braun have to find out who is beyond the mysterious deaths of prominent suffragettes before they themselves become the next victims. They'll have to fight not only their enemies, but a prominent Victorian criminal, House of Usher agent Sophia del Morte, and one of their own in the form of double agent, Australian Ministry agent Bruce Campbell.
The Janus Affair took a little long to set up for mine, but once you got past that, and the story really got going, the sparks flew, the action rolled and the pages flew by.
Readers get more glimpses into Books rather cold and dysfunctional upbringing, and how it affects his relationship with Eliza and his life in general. They are also afforded a look at Eliza's past with the introduction of the prominent suffragette Kate Sheppard, and her dashing adventurer son; Douglas. As Douglas was one of Eliza's former boyfriends, and he's well known as a boys own hero of the realm he manages to put Books' nose severely out of joint. Books does get some of his own back by cleaning Douglas up during a rugby match. I'm sure that was Pip Ballantine's influence there, New Zealanders revere the game of rugby union with something approaching religious fervor. Being an Australian Rules follower I'm not really sure what all the fuss was about when Books put the shoulder into Sheppard. In Australian Rules Football (no, it is NOT rugby!) we call that a shirtfront, and it's a common occurrence.
The rugby match is one highlight. The caper with Books and Eliza's gang of street urchins; the Ministry Seven (who actually have eight members), is another. I loved his interaction with the gang's only female member; the cute blond Serena. Eliza's showdown with criminal queen bee Diamond Dottie is also worth mentioning.
Phoenix Rising was a bit of a mash up of steampunk, romance, mystery and urban fantasy. The Janus Affair is far more of a steampunk book with lashings of romance, it seems more comfortable in that slot, and the writers voices are stronger and more assured throughout because of it.
Some loose ends are tied up, and others are left deliberately flapping in the breeze to be followed up in future installments. At the end Eliza and Wellington looked set to travel to the United States, I do hope that's the focus of the next book, because I'd love to see them set loose on an unsuspecting American populace.