Midnight Never Come (Onyx Court, #1)

By Marie Brennan

Rating: 3 stars

As Elizabeth I takes the throne of England, so another monarch ascends the throne in a different court, below London. Thirty years later, Michael Deven, a young gentleman joins Elizabeth’s personal bodyguard also joins Francis Walsingham’s rank of spies and gets enmeshed in a web of intrigue that draws him to the faerie Onyx Court and it’s terrible Queen Invidiana. He and Lady Lune of that court must penetrate the web of deceit, intrigue and danger to the pact that threatens both courts and both Englands.

It took me a long time to warm to this book. For the first few chapters in particular, I had to stop on a fairly regular basis to look up names and references (thank you Wikipedia!) and try and distinguish historical personages from invented ones. That didn’t help my attention, which wavered until nearly half way through the book, when it suddenly started to click, as the various strands of the story started to come together. Deven is a likeable enough character, although he doesn’t really have a huge amount of personality. Much more interesting is the faerie Lady Lune who gets more development and an intriguing mystery to her background.

The story was well weaved into the historical narrative, with the fantastic emerging at major points in Elizabeth’s rule, as the Onyx Court interferes in Elizabethan politics and diplomacy while also mirroring it below the ground.

I was interested in this following recommendation from a friend and because I adore the Lady Trent books by the same author. However, while I enjoyed it, I’m not that desperate to pick up the next book in the series (unlike the Lady Trent books!). Thankfully, for readers in my situation, the story is entirely self-contained. You might want to find out what happens next to the Onyx Court, but even if you don’t, you’ll certainly not feel short-changed at the end of this one.

Book details

ISBN: 9781785650734
Publisher: Titan Books
Year of publication: 2008

Ireland and India

By Michael Holmes

Rating: 4 stars

This book was a bit of an accidental discovery. I was on an adult education day course and talking to the lecturer during the break. He was Irish and I told him about my own Irish-Indian heritage, which reminded him that he had contributed to this book looking at connections and comparisons between Ireland and India. I was obviously intrigued and found a copy (say what you will about Amazon, between their own catalogue and their marketplace, there are few books that are impossible to find). I was a bit wary, since it’s obviously an academic tome and I’m not always great at reading that sort of work, but since I had some time over Christmas, I sat down and started reading.

The book is split into rough sections, the first looking at historical connections and later sections looking at more contemporary issues, whether that be political, economic or international and diplomatic.

The first few chapters, the more historically inclined, were amongst the easiest to read for me and it was interesting to read about Irish soldiers and their impact in India from the beginning of the East India Company right up to Indian independence. The elite political connections and the comparison of women in both independence movements and their status in both countries since were also interesting.

It was also interesting to read about the differences in both states. Obviously Ireland and India are very different in terms of size, population and economy but looking at how the two countries dealt with the trade union movement was interesting (in India, there isn’t a single overarching trade union federation (like the TUC) but almost one per party, and this fragmentation and political alignment has led to a weakening of the movement as a whole, unlike Ireland where a a single federation and things like national bargaining have led to stronger unions.

I thought that the chapter on Irish missionaries in India was probably the weakest. The author had some letters I didn’t recognise after her name and when I googled it, it looks like she was a member of a missionary order herself. This obviously gives her a particular bias and there was no mention of any negatives of missionary work in India, which I felt was a flaw (but then I’m an atheist, so I bring my own baggage as a reader)

The chapter I enjoyed the most was the one on the settlement of Indians in Ireland (a subject obviously very close to my heart) and one of the references actually led me to a whole book about Indians in Ireland and the Irish in India (The Irish Raj) which I intend to follow up on.

The chapter on women’s rights focused entirely on India. There’s no doubting the scale of the challenges there, but it would have been nice to mention some of the issues surrounding women’s rights in Ireland as well, particularly in terms of the woman’s right to choose.

The last couple of chapters were devoted international and diplomatic affairs, looking at how the two countries’ different foreign policies developed and comparing the Irish policy of neutrality with Indian non-alignment and also looking at missed opportunities for strengthening the connections between the two countries, as despite a shared history under the British empire and similar struggles for independence, bonds between Ireland and India are relatively weak. The book ends by looking at potential ways for these ties to be strengthened, as both countries have moved away from earlier policies of protectionism to more liberal economies and are more involved with international trade (although regional organisations tend to be the focus of that).

All in all, the book was really interesting, only falling occasionally into the dryness that makes some academic text almost unreadable. I would dearly love to see an updated edition, as this one is now 20 years old, and a lot has happened in both Ireland and India in that time.

Book details

ISBN: 9780861219384
Publisher: Folens
Year of publication: 1997

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Vol. 1: Squirrel Power

By Ryan North

Rating: 4 stars

This was a fabulous introduction to the most excellent Squirrel Girl, aka Doreen Green, a girl with the proportionate speed and strength of a squirrel! Well, when you think about it it, I suppose it’s no more stupid than any other superhero origins!

What I mostly loved about this comic was the lack of angst. She’s a superhero (complete with a Deadpool collectible supervillain card deck) who eats nuts and kicks butts, along with her adorable (and not super powered at all) squirrel sidekick, Tippy-Toe. And when kicking butts fails, she thinks her way out of the resulting fracas. And it turns out that there are a surprising number of ways of using a squirrel army to help defeat your enemies (said enemies including Kraven the Hunter, Whiplash and Galactus). I love the little Twitter-style catch-up at the start of each issue and the fact that this collected trade paperback keeps the letters pages from the issues.

The art is cartoony and fun, and SG herself is drawn as a normal sized woman, wearing a sensible outfit. I enjoy the fact that each page has a little (easily missed) caption at the bottom of the page, with a narrator (possibly SG herself?) commenting on what’s going on on the page in a really fun way.

This volume collects the first four issues, containing the first arc of Unbeatable Squirrel Girl as well as the story that SG first appeared in, from 1992 where she tries to impress Iron Man into joining forces with her.

Squirrel Power was an awful lot of fun, and I certainly look forward to reading more of Doreen’s adventures in future collections (I just hope that she manages to steer clear of the stupid crossovers and Events that eventually put me off G. Willow Wilson’s Ms Marvel).

Book details

ISBN: 9780785197027
Publisher: Marvel
Year of publication: 2015

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (Fairyland, #1)

By Catherynne M. Valente

Rating: 3 stars

September is bored, so when the Green Wind turns up on his Leopard of Little Breezes and offers to take her to Fairyland, she doesn’t hesitate and goes away with him, without even a backward glance. But all isn’t well in Fairyland: wings are in iron chains, rules proliferate and the people fear to speak out. In short, Fairyland needs saving, and September rushes in, where angels fear to tread. But can she save herself, never mind Fairyland?

It took me a while to understand the rhythm of this book. In terms of writing, it’s very Fairy Tale and childlike, but as you continue to read, it deals with concepts and emotions more complex than would initially seem, but in such a subtle way that you almost don’t notice.

September is a likeable heroine who learns more about herself as she progresses through her adventures (as is right and proper for a fairy tale). We learn less of her companions, although I suspect that they may get more screen time in the sequels, especially the Marid, Saturday. The Marquess, when we finally meet her, is also more complex than first appearances suggest, and the final showdown between her and September is particularly satisfying.

There is a prequel short story, The Girl Who Ruled Fairyland – For a Little While, about September’s predecessor Mallow available to read for free at which I enjoyed a lot, and sheds more light on some of what takes place here (I’d wait until finishing this one before reading the prequel though, as it’ll make more of a emotional impact that way).

Book details

ISBN: 9781780339818
Publisher: Little, Brown
Year of publication: 2011

The Girl Who Ruled Fairyland – For a Little While (Fairyland, #0.5)

By Catherynne M. Valente

Rating: 4 stars

Lovely little prequel to The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, which I just finished earlier today. This tells the story of how Mallow became queen of Fairyland, and gives extra depth to The Girl Who Circumnavigated. It lends another dimension to the novel but also works perfectly well on its own, with a very similar feel to the novel: charming yet with a layer of darkness under the surface.

Book details

Publisher: Tor Book
Year of publication: 2011

The Burning Page (The Invisible Library, #3)

By Genevieve Cogman

Rating: 5 stars

Irene is on probation after her escapades in The Masked City but now a new threat has arisen, one that is destroying gates back to the Library and possibly threatening the existence of the Library itself. Irene must go up against the traitor Alberich to save everything she holds dear. Oh, and her own life, if she can manage it.

I loved this book. I’m a big fan of the series as a whole but I think this may be my favourite entry so far. The threads of the previous two books are pulled together and the long-promised threat to the Library itself is realised. Irene has to try and protect Kai and Vale, not to mention try to separate friend from foe while avoiding assassination attempts left, right and centre. We see her fraying more than we have done before, and we see more of Inspector Singh, although he’s still just a face without really an awful lot of personality. The story went on at a cracking pace rarely giving the reader (as well as Irene) space to breathe before the next threat was upon us; it’s an effective device.

Although Tor have signed two more books in the sequence, this does feel like the end of an arc, with various things tied up and brought to some sort of a conclusion. Of course, there’s lots of things still left dangling: Irene’s relationships with Kai and Vale; the politics of the Library; Alberich’s fate and more, but this is a satisfying book and a decent enough end that I’m happy to reread the earlier books with this as a conclusion point, without waiting for the others (which I will, of course, buy as soon as they’re out).

Book details

ISBN: 9781447256274
Publisher: Pan
Year of publication: 2016

Unnatural Death (Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries, #3)

By Dorothy L. Sayers

Rating: 4 stars

A chance conversation leads Lord Peter Wimsey to investigate a case that the doctor is convinced is murder, but all the evidence points to a natural death. But as he investigates further and the bodies start to rack up, it’s a race to find the murderer before he becomes one of the victims.

Although I’m a bit of a fan of Agatha Christie and like that style of whodunnit, I’ve never read anything by Dorothy L. Sayers, but a mystery-loving friend of mine has talked about her in the past and I found this in a second hand bookshop. Peter Wimsey is an interesting character, more self-doubting than, say, Hercule Poirot but putting on a whimsical face. He’s got his sidekick in the form of his butler Bunter, and the the police inspector Charles Parker as well as Miss Climpson, an elderly spinster who is employed to make the sort of discrete enquiries that only an elderly lady of a certain variety can.

While some casual racism exists in the book, I thought it was interesting to see how Sayers portrayed it as the lower classes who engaged most in it, while the aristocrat Lord Peter and middle class Inspector Parker treat Hallelujah Dawson most sympathetically. It’s difficult to know where the author fell along this axis, but I’m tempted to say that she sided with her protagonist on this. The language, of course, is shocking to modern ears, with the ‘N’ word thrown around quite casually, but of course, it’s a product of its time, and like I say, I think it’s handled well, and in service of the plot, by the author.

I enjoyed the story, the mystery and the writing here and I’ll certainly look out for more of Lord Peter’s[*] adventures

[*] although in my head the ‘Lord’ honorific normally goes along with a title or surname, it seems that Lord Peter isn’t the heir to the family title (the Duchy of Denver), so as second son, the honorific goes with the first name

Book details

Publisher: Four Square Books
Year of publication: 1927

Powered by WordPress