15 May 2017

Recollected Reading: Novels

Being pregnant then having a baby has had a bad impact on my reading and book blogging. In no particular order here are thoughts on some of the novels that stood out to me in the last year.

Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor 
Set in Lagos this is the story of aliens coming to Nigeria. Although the story focuses on 4 people who are changed by the aliens it features a broad spectrum of characters (mostly human) from across the city and beyond. The joy and skill of the book lies in the way that such a massive and diverse set of characters are all depicted realistically as people (even those that are beyond traditional personhood) and so that their very divergent viewpoints are understandable. The story spreads from the arrival of the extra-terrestrials and radiates out along familial/friendly/religious/political connections to encompass those who are touched in some way by the extraordinary events in the lagoon. I have very limited knowledge of Lagos or Nigeria, so I found myself learning a lot from the book. It is a story filled with the vibrancy, danger and joy of the city, with the setting becoming like an additional character.

The Vagrant by Peter Newman
A silent, hooded man with a baby and sword crosses a wasteland corrupted by demonic forces. This science fantasy starts off rather bleak, but the story becomes more engaging as the eponymous mute encounters allies and makes friends on his quest to take his charges to those distant lands untouched by the blight of invasion. The central relationship is strong, if a little ambiguous (which I assume is on purpose), and I began to like the Vagrant as I saw him through the eyes of his companion Harm. It can be hard to engage with a character who has no dialogue, but the characters surrounding him work well. Some levity is provided by the goat and the baby, though I suspect now that I have a baby myself I would find this a harder read as there's a lot of darkness. As well as following the unusual central party the reader sees the viewpoints of the antagonistic forces arrayed against them. These are mostly different factions of the infernal force that invaded the land and also the people who live and survive on the edges of this twisted world. The nature and variety of these characters shows a lot of imagination, and there's much that is both unusual and gruesome. The setting reminded me of Alan Campbell's Deepgate Codex, though this book is neither as weird nor as gory as that series. The Vagrant is the first in a trilogy and the final volume was launched recently.

The Galaxy Game by Karen Lord
This is the sequel to The Best of All Possible Worlds (which I loved), but it's a different sort of story. It follows on from the previous volume to an extent but focuses on Rafi, nephew of Grace Delarua (the protagonist of the previous book). It starts with Rafi at a school/institution for people with psionic abilities, and then becomes a story about him leaving the planet he's always lived on and setting himself up in a very different society. The thread running through Rafi's plotline is a Game that turns out to be more important than entertainment. The story also centres around Rafi's friends and there are continuations of events in the previous book. In some respects this books fills in details that were in the background of the last book, so I now have a better understanding of the different humans featured and the wider Galactic politics and factions in play. I didn't love this the way I loved The Best of All Possible Worlds, but that would have been a hard book to top. I felt with was a good read and a strong story, though it felt distinctly more melancholy there were lighter moments. The way the author pulled so many threads together was intriguing and again the characters were very convincing.

Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis
Whenever Nolan closes his eyes he is transported into the mind of Amara, a girl who is forced to be the companion of an exiled, fugitive princess. Nolan is basically absent from his body whenever he closes his eyes, even blinks, which makes it difficult for him to live a normal life in our world. Amara has no idea Nolan is there, has always been there, until he is suddenly able to control her. Then they can communicate and Amara is angry. As they discover more about their situation the harsh realities and secrets of Amara's world come to the fore. This is an interesting concept, and feels like a standard what-if taken to extremes to create a compelling story. The author has clearly researched the real world implications of this seemingly-fanciful notion. Nolan's health problems and the burdens they place on him and his family (they live in the US, so there's financial stuff as well as the emotional/social impact) are as important as the other world with its politics and magical scheming. I enjoyed this book and engaged with the characters. The author manages to make the characters engaging, their situation feel grounded and as the story intriguing.

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