4 September 2011

Recent Reading

OK I've left it a while between book blogging again. I got distracted by television blogging. This doesn't mean that television distracted me from reading -though that happens on occasion- it just means I that I have been writing TV blog posts more than books. Then again TV stuff needs to be done reasonably soon for it to feel current, whereas books can be re-read whenever so there's less time pressure. Of course this approach does mean I forget things I was going to say and the contents of the book aren't as fresh in my mind. I expect I've missed out various things I was going to say and apologise for that.

Having gone to a workshop run by Juliet E. McKenna at Alt-Fiction this year, and having found her to be interesting and intelligent, I thought it was high time I actually read one of her novels.
Though I read a lot of fantasy I sometimes find I go through long stretches of not reading much traditional/epic fantasy, partly out of a vague assumption that it will end up being a lot  like all the epic fantasy I read as I teenager. This is a silly and unfair attitude to have and it's mostly an unconscious. I suspect it's my brain trying to steer away from things that will remind me too much of my own teen angst (which I discovered a couple of years ago can simply re-emerge from the depths of the mind like a sea beast you thought had died but actually had only gone into hiding). Of course I read partly to escape from teen angst and so I doubt that anything I read between the ages of 14 and 18 will actually hold any taint, and anyway it turns out the sea beast would much prefer to surprise me.

Goodness that got kinda personal there, anyway onto the books!

The Thief's Gamble by Juliet E. McKenna
As I expected this turned out to be an excellent and entertaining book. The world created was traditional in that it was pre-industrial and had magic, however it wasn't just the pseudo-medieval. McKenna obviously created the world of Einarin carefully and thoughtfully and I was happy to note that she had included various details -especially the new practice of enclosing fields (finally a use for all the Social & Economic GCSE History stuff)- that gave the world -or at least certain countries/regions- a fairly specific technology level.

The characters were engaging and varied, the main character (or at least the only first-person narrator) Livak was kinda amoral but also sensible and fun to be around. It is surprising how often authors forget that characters can be fun, obviously plots tend to bring about seriousness and danger and drama, but it's good to know that you're reading about someone who knows how to have a good time when things are going well. Other characters varied in likability, most benefited from being seen from other characters' point of views as well as their own making them far more rounded and three dimensional than they would have been had we just occupied their heads.

The plot was interesting and galloped along at a fair place. It (and the characters) roved around the continent, showing the reader various places that appear on the map at the beginning. A relative small act of revenge turns into involvement in part of a wizardly scheme, which becomes an intriguing and dangerous mystery, which leads us off the map entirely into a whole new area of peril.
Highly recommended. I have already ordered the next book and look forward to reading it.

Sixty One Nails by Mike Shevdon
I bought this Angry Robot in the dealer's room at Eastercon and only recently got round to reading it. Angry Robot put handy tips on the back of their books and on back of this one it said it would be enjoyed by those who liked Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, A Madness of Angels by Kate Griffin, and Tithe by Holly Black - I have read and enjoyed all these books, so it seemed like a good bet.

It's a British urban fantasy and as such is set in London, however there are scenes that take place outside of London in the rural Midlands (which is where I grew up). I liked this because urban fantasy has a tendency to ignore or be suspicious of the countryside (then again so do some urban people, so I guess it's not surprising) and English urban fantasy tends to forget that there are parts of England that are not the south east. This isn't a complaint so much as an observation, and if I've just missed out on the books that have bucked this trend I'd be happy to hear recommendations.

The book is about an ordinary Londoner who discovers the magical, secret world that he never knew existed. In this case it is a world of the Feyre (hence the Holly Black comparison) and Niall Petersen must try and survive in this strange world of magic and rules. Niall himself is an everyman figure, understandable and mostly likeable, although I didn't feel that he was particularly special. His companion and guide is Blackbird, a (very) mature lady who later transforms into a lovely young woman and love interest. I liked Blackbird and thought that her position of power and knowledge over Niall made sense, although (as with so, so many other books) I found that the romance part of the plot seemed rather accelerated considering the book takes place in under a week. However this is a personal preference and I didn't feel that the romance was unlikely or over-sentimental, things which I often find in books.
Although it was a familiar story Sixty One Nails was a good read that distinguished itself well. I particularly liked the fact that it's founded on a real event, proving that reality can be delightfully strange.

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