BooksOfTheMoon

The Secret Chapter (The Invisible Library #6)

By Genevieve Cogman

Rating: 5 stars

The world in which Irene grew up is in danger of turning towards chaos, and she must retrieve a book from another world to stabilise it. However, that book is owned by a Fae who demands that she steal a painting for him in exchange for the book. Irene and Kai now have to work as part of a larger team to steal the painting, as long as they don’t kill each other first.

I do love a good heist story, so I enjoyed the painting theft. It involved a classic trope of collecting experts in different fields together who don’t trust each other and watch them in a delicate balance of collaboration and betrayal to achieve the objective. Great fun to read.

For me, the stakes were lessened a bit, because this is really the first time that we’ve really heard Irene talking in any great detail about this world where she went to school, so we aren’t as invested in it as she is. But that’s more than made up for by the story of the painting, and the secret that it hides. And we do also get to meet Irene’s parents and discover just how dysfunctional a family they are, while still loving each other dearly.

Cogman is great at writing action scenes. The chase with the dragon is fantastic, and she obviously has a lot of fun writing Fae who are within their strong archetypes. Mr Nemo is a fantastic character, something between information broker and Bond villain (complete with Island lair) and the other members of the gang have their own charms. I’d love to see more of Ernst, in particular.

The hints thrown in here about dragon back-story, and the setup for the future at the end has me excitedly looking forward to the next book. Almost no Vale in this book, but that’s about the only negative I’ve got.

Book details

ISBN: 9781529000573
Publisher: Pan
Year of publication: 2019

Rivers of London Volume 7: Action at a Distance

By Ben Aaronovitch, Andrew Cartmel, Brian Williamson

Rating: 3 stars

A funeral is an occasion for Nightingale to suggest that Peter Grant do some reading in the Folly archives, and what he finds sheds a bit of light on his governor’s mysterious past. This is quite a slight story, but it’s nice to see a bit of what went on with the Folly in the years before Peter, when Nightingale was the only official wizard in England. This sheds little light on the time during the War, which is sort of the period that I’m most curious about, but a post-war event.

This story, set mostly in 1957, and touching on the Windscale fire that was the turning point of the British love affair with all things nuclear, is interesting and fun, but I’m sort of disappointed that Nightingale didn’t get to take on Fischer properly. We’ve seen magician to magician battles so rarely (the Faceless Man is about the only worthy opponent that we’ve seen in the books, and he couldn’t come close to touching Nightingale in a fair fight) that it felt like a missed opportunity.

The main artist of the series has changed with this volume, losing some of the distinctive “cartoon-iness” of the series. The replacement is decent and workmanlike and, no doubt, I’ll get used to it, but I do miss Lee Sullivan’s work.

So a fun story, all in all, but not essential, and not as much a delve into Nightingale’s psyche as I might have hoped for.

Book details

ISBN: 9781785865466
Publisher: Titan Comics
Year of publication: 2019

Ten Little Aliens

By Stephen Cole

Rating: 3 stars

The First Doctor, Ben and Polly find themselves in a hollowed-out asteroid, along with a group special forces in training – and ten of the Earth empire’s most wanted terrorists, dead. And then people (and corpses) start disappearing…

This is an interesting adventure with the First Doctor. This edition, part of a set for the 50th anniversary, has a new foreword by the author where he talks about the inspirations that brought the story together. Although he plays up the Agatha Christie connections, it felt like Starship Troopers or Aliens were the stronger elements. It was difficult to keep track of the marines, and some of them didn’t have hugely distinct personalities. Some of Ben’s comments about the races and sexes of the marines weren’t exactly endearing either, and I’m glad that Polly pulled him up on those.

I quite enjoyed the choose-your-own-adventure section. It was unexpected and an interesting way to get into each of the characters’ heads. In the end, though, the plot felt unnecessarily convoluted, in a way that Christie’s rarely do and I still don’t quite understand it. There’s also a huge amount of blood and gore. Certainly more than I would have expected from a Doctor Who story (especially the First Doctor). One scene where someone was literally torn limb from limb was especially distasteful.

2 1/2 stars, rounded up.

Book details

ISBN: 9781849905169
Publisher: BBC Books
Year of publication: 2002

Gunnerkrigg Court Vol. 7: Synthesis (Gunnerkrigg Court #7)

By Thomas Siddell

Rating: 5 stars

Volume 7 of Gunnerkrigg Court collects chapters 60-68 of the fabulous webcomic. It starts where volume 6 left off, finishing the story of Jeanne that ended the previous volume. After that, we have a couple of chapters of fallout, first with the fairies and then with Kat and her father. Anja spends a chapter telling a story of how Annie’s mum and dad fell in love. We also have the formal introductions of Juliette and Arthur and the Shadow Men organisation (and, may I say, that these two are a somewhat delightful pair) before the story moves on to what seems like its next phase: Coyote’s gift to Ysengrim and the emergence of Loup.

At times, reading the story online, page by page, three times a week you can sort of lose track of its threads. Reading a large chunk in one go not only reminds you of why you love the characters, but helps clarify the story again. And the story is still hugely engaging. I thought that the end of the Jeanne storyline would be the beginning of the end, but instead Siddell has found really interesting new directions to take the comic, and I’m glad of it. It means I get to spend more time with Annie, Kat and all the rest (even Anthony).

Book details

ISBN: 9781684154418
Publisher: Archaia

A Pocketful of Crows

By Joanne M. Harris

Rating: 3 stars

I started this book back in the summer, but put it down for a long period because I could see what was coming and it felt “cringe-y”. I did eventually pick it up again, and I’m glad I did. As much as anything, the writing is poetic and beautiful to read, as much as for the story.

Our protagonist is a young woman of the travelling folk, who travels in all manner of birds and beasts, not tied to anyone or anything. Until she falls in love with a young prince. An inevitable betrayal and revenge follows, but it’s the journey that it takes that is worth staying for.

Based on some of the Child ballads, the story is simple enough, and Harris’s embellishments and feminist reading make for an interesting interpretation. As I say, the writing is a pleasure to read, and helps raise the fairly simple story to something greater. Also, the art, even in my Kindle edition, is gorgeous.

Book details

Publisher: Gollancz
Year of publication: 2017

Monstress, Vol. 4: The Chosen

By Marjorie M. Liu, Sana Takeda

Rating: 4 stars

With the core group separated, Maika finds her way to her father and learns about his plans in the upcoming war, as well as about Zinn. Kippa has her own adventures and while it seems that her gifts are awakening, she has lost nothing of the sweetness and belief in others that make her my favourite character by a mile: “I can’t abandon people because they make mistakes – I would have to abandon myself” is an example of what makes her so. Despite all she’s been though, all the betrayal, this is still how she thinks, and I love her for it.

The complex storyline does make it difficult to keep track of who’s who, who’s currently allied with who and who’s in the middle of betraying who. I look forward to the story being completed, so that I can go back and read the whole thing in one go.

Takeda’s art is still utterly delightful. The manga-inspired style fits the story well and brings the whole thing alive. Roll on the next volume!

Book details

ISBN: 9781534313361
Publisher: Image Comics
Year of publication: 2019

The Amazing Maurice & His Educated Rodents (Discworld, #28)

By Terry Pratchett

Rating: 4 stars

Riffing off the story of the Pied Piper, here Pratchett has more animals become intelligent after hanging around Unseen University too long. First it’s the rats, and then Maurice, a cat. The rats may be clever, but Maurice is streetwise. They band together, along with a stupid-looking-kid™ to do the old plague of rats trick on unsuspecting towns, but in Bad Blintz, they find something very unexpected, and very dark.

Maurice is a fun character. While I’m not their biggest fan, Pratchett really gets cats and he writes a good one. The rat Dangerous Beans, on the other hand, is at least partially well named. As Darktan realises, he makes maps of the earth, while Dangerous Beans makes maps for the mind. He thinks the thoughts that the others don’t. He’s an idealist, and a visionary and a naive young thing. He’s a wonderful creation.

In the character of Malicia, Pratchett takes another swipe at those who get too carried away by stories and storytelling. This was a central theme of Witches Abroad and while it’s somewhat less subtle here than it was in that book, the point is well made, and the character is very fun to read.

I think this was the first Discworld novel “for younger readers”, preceding the Tiffany Aching books. I’ve put ‘for younger readers’ in quotes since at times this book can feel very dark, covering, as it does, topics including faith, its gaining and loss, ageing, hate and man’s inhumanity to anything it considers ‘other’. Despite this, it retains Pratchett’s trademark lightness of touch and humour. An older (or less sensitive younger) child will devour this, as will adults.

Book details

ISBN: 9780552546935
Publisher: Corgi Books
Year of publication: 2001

The Testament of Loki

By Joanne M. Harris

Rating: 4 stars

Ragnarok has come and gone. The Aesir, including the trickster Loki, aren’t dead, but are trapped in the Netherworld. It wouldn’t make for much of a story if Loki didn’t escape, of course, and he duly does, straight into the body of a 17 year old girl. Not his ideal body, but it’s something to work with, even if his host is neurotic and full of emotions – i.e. a typical teenage girl. The thing is, Loki isn’t the only one to escape, and he’ll need all his guile and cunning to survive.

I had enjoyed The Gospel of Loki some time ago, which retold the Norse mythology from Loki’s point of view. This continues the story after the end of the world, which, it turns out, isn’t the end of the Worlds. Jump, the girl that Loki, er, jumps into is a sympathetic character and the rapport that develops between her and Loki is pleasurable to read.

The plot was pretty slow to get going, with a lot crammed into the third act, which sometimes made it a bit difficult to keep up towards the end. I would have liked to see more of the interactions between Loki, Jump and Meg, but the latter was there more to drive the plot than provide character depth.

The book is very readable, with short chapters and Loki is a compelling narrator, if entirely unreliable. There are plenty of hooks for a sequel and I’d certainly be up for more his adventures.

Book details

ISBN: 9781473202412
Publisher: Gollancz
Year of publication: 2018

Neverwhere

By Neil Gaiman

Rating: 4 stars

Richard Mayhew is just an average guy who performs an act of kindness, and, in return, finds himself thrown out of the life he knew, and deep into an underworld, beneath and around his London. He has to help the girl Door to find out who killed her family and perhaps in doing so, can get his life back.

I think this may have been one of the first books I encountered in the “magical London” subgenre. Back then, just after having seen the TV series that it was written alongside, it was new and fresh. It still retains some of that power, although I’m more worldweary of that particular subgenre now (I am totally there, however, for magical Glasgow, of which there is far too little literature). I must confess that I mostly visualise the book through the TV series. In particular, the Beast of London always makes me giggle a bit, as it’s a highland coo in cosplay. Croup and Vandemar, on the other hand, are truly chilling, as portrayed by Hywel Bennett and Clive Russell respectively.

Richard, is our everyman protagonist, and we explore London Below through his eyes, as he first tries desperately to find his way home, and later, as he starts to become accustomed to this new life. What mostly strikes me about Richard is that he is kind, not necessarily a survival trait in this world (or, one might say, if feeling cynical, for a Londoner in general). He got sucked into the world because he couldn’t leave a young woman to bleed out on the street, and all his later actions are also to be seen in this light (when he’s not doing his best Arthur Dent impression of confused bewilderment; at least Richard can get a decent cup of tea).

Door is more a macguffin than a character, although I like both Hunter and the Marquis de Carabas. I’ve already mentioned Croup and Vandemar, who feel like the best characters in the whole book, at times; their somewhat comic exteriors never distracting from the terror that they beget.

It’s not a hugely complex book (certainly nothing compared to, say, Sandman or American Gods) but it’s good old-fashioned hero’s journey, and Richard is a hero you’ll be happy to trod alongside.

Book details

Publisher: Headline Feature
Year of publication: 1996

This is How You Lose the Time War

By Amal El-Mohtar, Max Gladstone

Rating: 4 stars

I read this novella immediately after finishing The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t With her Mind and the contrast couldn’t be more extreme. From the short, clean prose and breathless action of the former to the leisurely pace and beautifully crafted letters of this, about the only thing the two have in common is the short chapters.

Red and Blue are agents on opposing sides of a war that rages through time. Against orders and, indeed, common sense, they strike up a correspondence that slowly turns into something more.

The time war is very much a background to the evolving relationship between Red and blue. In the early chapters they taunt each other after after thwarting the other’s plans, but the tone of the letters shifts as the backgrounds do and the reader comes to care for these two extraordinary individuals as they come to care for each other.

I loved reading this book. The language is beautiful and is something to savour. Short as it is, it took a while to read it first time round, partially because of a lack of time, and partially because I was reading it slowly. After finishing it, I went back and read it again, much more quickly, which gave me a stronger overall view of it, and the references which had passed me by the first time (as I’d forgotten the details of the earlier chapter by the time I got to the payoff later).

The two sides in the war are mostly stereotypical views of opposing SF worldviews: the technological Agency vs the Garden of bioengineering. While I would love to know more about them and the war, that’s not this book. This book is all about Red and Blue and paints them as a microcosm for the wider conflict. If you accept that, this is a very rewarding read.

Book details

ISBN: 9781529405231
Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books
Year of publication: 2019

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