BooksOfTheMoon

The Cat Who Saved Books

By Sōsuke Natsukawa

Rating: 4 stars

Rintaro Natsuki is a high school kid whose grandfather, and closest relative, dies, leaving him to pack up the family bookshop and go and live with an aunt he’s never met. And then a talking cat comes into his life, asking him to come with it, on a mission to save books. Well, how can he refuse?

This is a sweet little book mostly about love of books and reading, with a side order of dealing with grief. The four labyrinths that Rintaro must navigate all have something different at their centre, and each helps him learn a bit more about himself, and to teach the labyrinths’ masters something as well.

At times, the book can feel a little didactic on what constitutes “good” reading. As someone whose reading is usually quite light (particularly these last few years!), I sometimes felt a metaphorical finger being wagged at me, but it felt quite good-natured, for the most part. There are a handful of other characters in the book – Rintaro’s fellow student and book lover Ryota Akiba and his class president (and love interest) Sayo Yuzuki, but they don’t get more than broad brush strokes of characterisation.

There were some Japanese terms that the translator chose not to translate (there’s an explanatory note at the back explaining the reasons). This is fine, but a glossary would have been useful. I can understand why you would struggle to translate words like hikikomori in the text, and there’s always Google, but a glossary would have provided for a longer explanation where required, while still leaving the text intact.

It’s a short book and a pleasant and, dare I say it, light read. Albeit one that leaves you thinking afterwards. Definitely one for anyone who loves books.

Book details

ISBN: 9781529081473
Publisher: Picador
Year of publication: 2021

Blackthorn Winter (Comet Weather, #2)

By Liz Williams

Rating: 3 stars

Picking up a few months after Comet Weather, Blackthorn Winter once again follows the lives of the four Fallow sisters, this time in the deep midwinter, around Christmas and the early new year. While the last book was very much an ensemble piece, this one feels much more like Serena’s story – with her latest collection being shredded just before Fashion Week and Christmas. Poor Luna gets hardly any chapters from her point of view and while Bee gets a bit more to do, her part of the story seems vague and unfocused, and Stella is often relegated to being Serena’s sidekick.

Part of what I loved about Comet Weather was its deep attachment to place, and rural place. Magical London has been done to death, but having contemporary magic in rural England felt fresh to me[1]. This one is more focused around London, and less around the Fallow family home in Somerset. That makes it feel less special to me.

We did get a lot more of Ward in this book, and I really enjoyed that. He’s a plummy chap, I imagine as a mid-career Hugh Grant, perhaps, but he’s not thrown by the magical world he’s thrown into, and his devotion to Serena is a pleasure to read. We also get a new character, Ace, who’s somewhat mysterious, but fun as well.

The major problem with this book, which was an issue in the previous one too, but somehow left less so, is that the sisters are mostly quite passive. Things happen to them, and they’re often saved by other people, but don’t often get to do any heroics themselves. They’re mostly wandering around in the dark while others hoard their dark secrets (looking at you, Alys!). There’s also a lot of threads left untied. We still have no idea where Alys was off to, or what agreement she has with the Hunt, or why various magical things are after (or, indeed, want to protect) the Fallows. And after feeling like Nell had some secret in the last book, she isn’t even mentioned in this one.

So I found it a little frustrating, but still enjoyable. If there are more books in the series (which I very much hope there are), I shall certainly read them.

[1] yes, I know we’ve had Alan Garner and many others doing that sort of thing, but this series is resolutely twenty first century, rather than 1970s or earlier

Book details

ISBN: 9781912950799
Publisher: NewCon press
Year of publication: 2021

The City We Became (Great Cities #1)

By N.K. Jemisin

Rating: 4 stars

I read Jemisin’s collection How Long ‘Til Black Future Month and very much enjoyed it, especially The City Born Great, so when I heard that this was an expansion and extension of that story, I was excited. Some cities are alive, and their souls are human avatars. New York is just being born, but it’s already under attack by extra-dimensional horrors. Its new avatar manages to fight them off, but it’s too much, and he falls into a coma. But he’s not alone – the city has five other avatars: one for each borough. They need to come together to find the primary and to defeat something that wants to destroy them all.

I really enjoyed this book. Most of the urban fantasy that I’ve read tends to centre on London, so having this one focus on New York was a bit more “exotic”. I mostly know that city through Hollywood films, but Jemisin is deft enough to take you with her as she explores the city, even if you’re not familiar with it. We’re introduced to the avatars one at a time, starting with Manny (aka Manhattan), and we have different ideas of what it means to be a New Yorker – the bright-eyed newcomer; the up and coming; the hard as nails, takes no crap; the immigrant.

And then there’s Staten Island. I have to assume that Jemisin is being fair in her assessment of Staten Island: a haven of conservatism, inward looking, and which doesn’t want to be part of New York. Staten Island’s avatar is a young white woman called Aislyn and the chapters from her point of view are, for want of a better word, sad. She’s living with her parents, particularly her overbearing cop of a father, and is terrified of everything that might be different or foreign. I feel desperately sad for her, but also want to shake her and tell her to get a grip.

Something I quite liked is that the Lovecraftian horrors from Beyond Reality get their own avatar, and she’s quite talkative. This lets us see things from their point of view, and you actually sort of think that she’s got a point. Although her solution is terrible, it feels like the sort of thing where it might be possible to try and work out a solution, if everyone wasn’t so busy trying to kill each other. It’s something I hope will develop over the course of the trilogy.

For a book with five nominal protagonists, someone was bound to get the short straw. In this case it was poor Queens. Being an immigrant of Indian descent, she was the one I was most interested in, but apart from being young and good at maths, we don’t get much about her at all. Manhattan, the Bronx and Brooklyn, as well as Staten Island get a lot more screen time. In fact, I think Queens only gets one chapter from her PoV (each chapter is from the PoV of one of the characters). I hope that this will change in later books.

Apart from that minor quibble, it’s greatly enjoyable book, and I’m very much looking forward to the rest of the series.

Book details

ISBN: 9780356512686

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