The Furthest Station (Peter Grant, #5.5)

By Ben Aaronovitch

Rating: 3 stars

While I’ve been wanting more written Peter Grant for a while now, and while this novella was fun, it didn’t entirely fill the gap. It’s a story about ghosts on the Underground, ghosts whose message may be a matter of life and death. But it just felt a little slight to me. This could have been expanded to be a whole novel, there’s plenty of ideas here, and the compressed format didn’t really give Peter a chance to shine.

I’m moaning here, but it was still fun. Peter’s voice is still there and is still a lot of fun. Perhaps a bit lighter on the pop culture references than of late, and lacking the acerbic wit of DC Guleed to bounce off, but still there and still Peter. I’ll be interested to see what happens with Abigail, who’s already an intern at the Folly here, and it looks like she may become more later.

Book details

Publisher: Orion
Year of publication: 2017

Confluence (Linesman, #3)

By S.K. Dunstall

Rating: 5 stars

After a comparative slow down in the previous book, I’m pleased to see that the Dunstalls are cooking with gas again (or should that be, have a strong line ten?). This book sees main series protagonist Ean Lambert have to deal with increasingly impatient ships who want crews, his bodyguard Radko being sent off on a special mission, and intrigue from his own side.

The Linesman books have always had secondary PoV characters, and I was pleased to see that in this one it’s Radko, who’s been a constant presence in the previous books. She starts off with family problems and to get her away from those, her commanding officer puts her in charge of a team and sends her off on a covert mission. She’s as competent in the field as she’s been by Ean’s side and it’s a pleasure to spend some time in her head (as often worrying about the kind of trouble Ean will get into without her as the matter in hand).

There’s a lot of politics again here, but I felt more on top of it than in Alliance, although I’m not sure why. The machinations of the Emperor Yu against what is nominally his own side should have been headache-inducing, but I felt that it was very readable. Various plot strands that have been building for several books now come together here as well. Oh, and although the previous books have been pleasingly romance-free, that streak gets broken here. It’s not unexpected, but it did feel a bit predictable

(Ean/Radko, I mean; Michelle/Abram felt inevitable and has interesting consequences).

There’s several plot threads still available for future books to weave, but this felt like a satisfying conclusion to a trilogy. I’m happy with where it ended up, but will happily buy and read more books in the series, if they get written (*cough*aliens*cough*).

Edit September 2020: upgrading from 4-stars to 5 this time round, to reflect how much darn fun I had reading it, despite the comments above (which still stand).

Book details

ISBN: 9780425279540
Publisher: Ace Books
Year of publication: 2016

Alliance (Linesman, #2)

By S.K. Dunstall

Rating: 4 stars

Ean Lambert is trying hard to unravel the mysteries of the lines, now that he’s discovered that they’re actually sentient, and the New Alliance is trying hard to to keep their alliance together and find and train crew for the fleet of new alien ships that Lambert uncovered at the end of Linesman. Into this comes Captain Selma Kari Wang, broken and grieving, who is thrust, unwilling, into the limelight and given command of one of the new ships.

Although Linesman was pretty political, this book feels like it turns that up to eleven (no pun intended). Ean has to work through layers of politics and politicians trying to keep the fragile New Alliance happy while also trying to help determine a threat that wants to destroy everything they have built. While politicking can be fun, I felt a bit lost at times, trying to keep up with who was allied to whom at the moment and who’s double-crossing who. The mysterious enemy was more interesting to me, as was the slow rehabilitation of Captain Kari Wang. She starts of as a broken woman (the link between a captain and their line ship is very strong) as the only survivor after her ship is destroyed but we see the strength in her, and it’s nice to see her develop as a character.

The major flaw for me in this book was that the ending was very low-key. I guess that’s middle-book syndrome all over, but it felt like there were lots of plot hooks flapping around without a hugely satisfying resolution. Still, that’s all the more reason to move straight on to volume three.

Book details

ISBN: 9780425279533
Publisher: Ace
Year of publication: 2016

Fables: The Deluxe Edition, Book Four

By Bill Willingham

Rating: 4 stars

The fourth deluxe volume of Fables starts with a story arc involving Bigby Wolf during the Second World War, which is a nice war story, and reinforces what we already know about Bigby, that he’s loyal, a bit soft and hard as nails. Next we have a four issue arc about Snow White and Bigby’s babies, with one of them being very different to the others. This sees Snow have to leave Fabletown for the Farm (since most of the babies can’t pass for human) but Bigby is banned from the Farm, so chooses to go into exile. We also see Prince Charming have to face the realities of power, and Beauty and the Beast also deal with the roles they’ve taken over from Snow and Bigby respectively. I’m slightly confused when the North Wind shows up and nobody seems to be particularly surprised or confused as to how he got into the mundane world, given that all the gates to the Homelands are supposed to be shut.

The second half of the volume is taken up with 1001 Nights of Snowfall, a prequel story where Snow ventures to the Arabian fables to try and build an alliance, but ends up having to tell stories to the sultan every night for her life. There are a number of guest artists here, including Charles Vess (who illustrates the prose framing story) and although they each have differing art styles, most of them have a soft edge to it, appropriate to stories within stories. The stories that Snow tells are all of the Homelands, generally during the invasion by the Adversary, and we learn more about King Cole, Bigby, Snow herself and others in the process.

I’m still loving this series. We’re drip-fed details about the past and the Adversary, but it’s the characters who make it. The tragic history of Flycatcher, the ongoing tension between Snow and Bigby, the smarm and machinations of Prince Charming. These are all characters that have become fleshed out over the last four volumes, and I look forward to spending more time with them all.

Book details

ISBN: 9781401233907
Publisher: Vertigo
Year of publication: 2012

Leave it to Psmith

By P.G. Wodehouse

Rating: 4 stars

As fond as I am of Wodehouse, I’ve managed to never encounter Psmith (the P is silent) before. However, he’s quickly introduced as a dapper young man, in need of employment (anything but fish) but with impeccable dress sense and a can-do attitude. It’s the usual Wodehouse froth, but with an extra layer of action on top. Involving a “borrowed” umbrella, impersonating poets, diamond necklaces and even a pair of crooks, Psmith gets stuck right into the middle of things, all while trying to avoid the watchful eye of the Efficient Baxter.

Wodehouse characters are charming caricatures. This book doesn’t change that at all, but it doesn’t need to. I already know and love the inhabitants of Blandings (yes, even Rupert Baxter) and Psmith fits right in, as he tries to woo the library cataloguer whilst trying to bring a happy ending for his old pal Jackson (with a little light theft thrown in for good measure).

As always, there are double-crossings, misunderstandings and improbably complex plots, all with lashings of Wodehouse’s trademark whimsy and humour. I know what I want from a Wodehouse book, and they invariably deliver. I’d happily leave my problems to Psmith.

Book details

ISBN: 9781841591254
Publisher: Everyman
Year of publication: 1923

Linesman (Linesman, #1)

By S.K. Dunstall

Rating: 5 stars

Human spaceships travel the stars by means of the lines. And the lines are maintained by the linesmen. Ean Lambert is a linesman of the highest order, although one shunned by his fellows for his low origins and self-taught ways, not to mention his eccentric nature of singing to the lines. But now a mysterious force has appeared in the galaxy which may rewrite everything we know about the lines, and ignite a political bonfire that Ean won’t be able to put out with song.

I loved this book. The worldbuilding is pretty good, with the political factions being laid out for us and Ean’s own history being revealed slowly, over time. Ean started off a bit watery but is moulded by events and people around him and grows substantially as a character. The others around him don’t necessarily fare so well, though, and I couldn’t get over the way that the princess royal (and heir to the throne) took him under her wing as she did.

Despite all that, the plot cracks along apace and is huge amounts of fun. The alien ship eventually reveals (some of) its secrets but opens up wider questions about the nature of the lines and the wider galaxy at large. Unusually for me, I’ve already ordered both the other books in the series in one go and I suspect they’ll end up pretty near the top of the to-read pile.

Edit September 2020: I’m upping this from 4 to 5 stars on a reread, because although the niggles are still there, it’s just so much fun to read.

Book details

ISBN: 9780425279526
Publisher: Ace
Year of publication: 2015

Raven Stratagem (The Machineries of Empire, #2)

By Yoon Ha Lee

Rating: 4 stars

The second book in this series starts pretty much from where the last one left off. Shuos Jedao, who has possessed the body of young captain Kel Cheris captures a Kel war-swarm and bends it to his will, with only the personnel officer Kel Brezan able to resist his influence. Brezan is immediately ejected from the swarm and vows to return to free his general, Kel Khiruev, from Jedao. Jedao, sworn enemy of the hexarchate, immediately starts using his swarm to, er, attack the hexarchate’s enemies. But what is his plan and will Khiruev and Brezan survive it?

Now that I’ve got over the, to me, very fantasy-ish idea of belief affecting the laws of physics, I thoroughly enjoyed this second book in Lee’s sequence. It’s fast-paced, we spend a lot of time inside both Khiruev and Brezan’s heads and the idea of trying to resist formation instinct and what it does to a solider is fascinating.

Another interesting facet of this book is how it makes us re-evaluate monsters. Another character we spend quite a lot of time with is Shuos Mikodez, the Shuos hexarch. This is someone who has had many people killed, both at his own hand as he rose to become hexarch, and by his people. And yet he’s painted in a moderately sympathetic way, with foibles, and as caring a lot about his family. We’ve already spent a lot of time with Jedao, someone who the hexarchate as a whole regards as a monster, and we also see some of Nirai Kujen, the undead Nirai leader who broke and recreated Jedao’s mind and who developed the FTL technology based on the high calendar that relies on ritual torture and murder to work. All these people are deeply unpleasant and yet Lee helps us to see them as people, not things. A lesson to remember in our fractured world.

So very interesting, a lot of fun and also thought-provoking. I look forward to the conclusion of the trilogy.

Book details

ISBN: 9781781085370
Publisher: Solaris
Year of publication: 2017

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