Whispers Under Ground (Peter Grant, #3)

By Ben Aaronovitch

Rating: 5 stars

Ben Aaronovitch’s ‘Peter Grant’ series continues with this story of death and magic in the London Underground. This time round, our favourite apprentice wizard has to deal with the deal of an American senator’s son, as well as the over-enthusiastic FBI officer sent over to ‘observe’ the case. The book cover blurb makes a big play of Agent Reynolds’ religious convictions and feelings towards magic, but this wasn’t something that came up in the actual book. In fact, apart from a few requests to the British officers not to blaspheme, she seemed remarkably accepting of the whole thing. That may be an over-enthusiastic sub-editor at work, I suppose, but Agent Reynolds didn’t seem to add a huge amount to the story in my opinion. There were quite enough characters to drive the plot forward as it was without her.

The ongoing arc plot with the Faceless Man is still bubbling away, with some new details being drip-fed in this book, and there’s obviously still a lot of mileage in him. As there is with Peter’s colleague Lesley, who is upgraded to fellow apprentice in this book, following the revelation at the end of the last one. Both Peter and Lesley continue to be engaging and likeable characters, with Peter’s geek references continuing to flow freely, and his attempts at beginning a science of magic being both educational and entertaining. The supporting characters are all present and correct, from DCI Seawall and DI Stephanoplulos to the goddesses of the river Thames (although only a brief cameo from Lady Ty this time round).

The writing continues to be witty and light. The book is very quick and easy to read, light in tone but with deeper stuff going on underneath. London itself remains a major character in the book, something which is both endearing and somewhat wearing, for someone who is mostly unfamiliar with the city.

Book details

ISBN: 9780575097643
Publisher: Gollancz
Year of publication: 2012

Look To Windward (Culture, #7)

By Iain M. Banks

Rating: 5 stars

Look to Windward is amongst my favourite novels of Iain M. Banks. A sort-of sequel to Consider Phlebas, it tells a story set to the background of one of the (what the book calls) less glorious incidents of that war: the destruction of two stars into supernovae. The light of these two novae, travelling in real time, is only now, eight hundred years later, reaching Masaq’ Orbital, whose Hub Mind was once that of a warship that played a vital role in that battle and the war. Alongside this, we have the story of a Chelgrian coming to Masaq’ on a mission that is more than it seems, more insights into the Culture’s meddling in the affairs of other races and a mind-bogglingly big airsphere, containing mind-bogglingly big sentient creatures.

I’ve been a fan of the Culture for some time (if I could move to any SFnal setting, it would be the Culture in a heartbeat), and this book started to give us more of an insight into how the Culture interacts with other civilisations, particularly lower-level “Involveds”.

As usual, Banks weaves multiple story threads together, interleaving them and bringing them together for a stunning finale. The only thread that I find not entirely satisfying was that of the scholar, Uagen Zlepe and the events on the airsphere. But that may just be me.

The usual complement of outrageous ship names, brilliant tech and self-satisfied drones are all present and correct in what is a truly satisfying story. And the Hub avatar’s speech to Ziller towards the end about what it is, what it’s seen and what it’s devoted its existence to makes me well up every time.

Book details

ISBN: 9781841490618
Publisher: Orbit
Year of publication: 2000

Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Illustrated Short Stories

By Arthur Conan Doyle

Rating: 4 stars

This is a lovely volume of Sherlock Holmes stories, all with the original illustrations. I’m not sure that there’s a huge amount to say about the stories themselves, beyond the obvious. Watson is a likeable everyman narrator who puts up with Holmes smugness better than most people would, and some of the deductions seem a little tenuous to me, but that detracts nothing from them. To me, Conan Doyle’s detective is as readable as he ever was and the companion volume containing the four Holmes novels is on my shelf, to be tackled soon (although after fifty-six stories, I may need a break first).

Book details

ISBN: 9780907486862
Publisher: Chancellor Press
Year of publication: 1927

Good Omens

By Terry Pratchett

Rating: 5 stars

I always enjoy this witty novel about the end of the world. It’s got a real charm to it, and it was written when both writers were arguably at the height of their powers (Gaiman was in the middle of Sandman and Pratchett was still funny).

Re-reading it again for the first time in some years, I’m struck all over again by just how humanistic it is. How much it’s about the choices we make and the very fact that we are able to make those choices. It’s a warm book, and one that makes you care deeply about the characters, whether that be both the angelic beings who drive the plot, or the others who get caught up in Armageddon; from Anathema and Newton to the Them to Madame Tracy and the hilariously horrific Sergeant Shadwell. As this book makes very clear, your destiny isn’t fixed, and is altered with every choice you make.

Book details

Publisher: Corgi
Year of publication: 1990

Doctor Who: A History of the Universe in 100 Objects

By Steve Tribe

Rating: 4 stars

This is a somewhat odd book. The idea is stolen from the BBC’s History of the World in 100 Objects, which examined the history of the world through objects in the British Museum. This book picks a hundred objects from Doctor Who and creates a timeline of the series from before the dawn of time to the end of the Universe. The format is interesting and fun: the object is described, and placed in its context around the episode in which it appeared, tying it to other objects and times as required. Then we jump of out the story and you’ll find sections on the production of the series, and notes about wider real-life history.

The history is certainly very diverse, taking in the full range of the series, from the first Doctor’s pipe (object 10) to the eleventh Doctor’s fez (object 65). In places, we jump from Bowie Base One to Gallifrey to Mondas with an even-handed mix between the New and Classic series.

As a reference book, however, it fails, with no index, table of contents or other way to quickly look something up. It’s a great book for randomly picking up and browsing though.

Book details

ISBN: 9781849904810
Publisher: BBC Books
Year of publication: 2012

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