BooksOfTheMoon

The Kingdom of Copper (The Daevabad Trilogy, #2)

By S.A. Chakraborty

Rating: 2 stars

Sometimes a book stays in the mind after it’s over for the wrong reasons. Not for the cool action scenes, or the way the characters grow and develop but for the frustration at the book and the pain the characters cause each other. This, unfortunately, was the case with this book. I enjoyed the big action sequence at the end (the only memorable one in the book, really), I could see various characters developing and changing, but the overriding impression that I was left with was one of harm and unkindness.

So many of the characters in this book choose to cause harm to others. Whether to grasp or hold on to power, or because they’re in pain themselves, they lash out at others, and that wasn’t something I enjoyed reading. I enjoyed The City of Brass because of Nahri’s outsider’s view, and her wonder at Daevabad. Five years later (when this one is set), all that wonder is gone, replaced by fear, entrapment, and loneliness. Ali is still a zealot, unbending and unwilling to compromise, while Dara comes across as powerless (ironic, given his huge new powers) and just a tool in the hands of people willing to wield him to destruction.

I struggle in cases like this to give a rating. The book is well-written and tells a compelling story. It’s just that it’s a story I didn’t care for. I don’t think I care enough to read the final book in the trilogy, not unless I can get it in the library or from a friend.

Book details

ISBN: 9780008239473

The Glass Woman

By Caroline Lea

Rating: 2 stars

In 17th century Iceland Rósa marries the wealthy Jon, a chief in a distant village, so that her elderly and ill mother will get the food and warmth she needs. In her new husband’s home, she finds no love, only fear and distrust, and something lurking in the attic.

The comparisons in this book to Jane Eyre (the locked attic) and Rebecca (the mysterious first wife) are clear, but I didn’t find The Glass Woman nearly as compelling as the other two. There’s a relentless misery to Rósa’s life with Jon, and her fear, rising to terror at times, of him is painful to read. His isolation of her and his insistence that she be an obedient wife just make make angry. It may be accurate for the period, but it’s still infuriating.

What’s also really infuriating, is that so much of that could have been resolved simply through trust and conversation. Not all of it, perhaps. Jon’s apprentice Pétur is a troubled young man, and Egill, the priest, is greedy and small-minded. Trouble would be inevitable, but it needn’t have been so between Jon and Rósa, if he’d been able to trust her enough that she felt able to come to him with her fears. And that’s frustrating.

Also, from the time that she marries Jon, Rósa’s life is unrelentingly grim. There’s no bright points in their marriage at all, which makes it unpleasant to read, for my taste, at least. In saying that, it’s a very readable book, with the mystery drawing me ever onwards.

The Icelandic landscape and climate is very vividly drawn, becoming a character in its own right, as it draws the characters in, ever more claustrophobic. The clash between the new religion of Christianity and the old, Nordic, gods is interesting and feels real. The new religion needs to stamp itself to the land and so any reference to the old is forbidden, on pain of exclusion or death, but the roots aren’t so easily expunged.

I was promised a modern gothic novel and I suppose I got one. But one that felt too unrelenting to my taste.

Book details

ISBN: 9781405934619
Publisher: Penguin
Year of publication: 2019

Strength Of Stones

By Greg Bear

Rating: 2 stars

I found it difficult to engage with this book at all, I’m afraid. I loved the idea of mobile cities (long before Mortal Engines), who had kicked out their inhabitants, and yet yearned for citizens to fill their streets and be lived in. I found the characters not hugely engaging, but most of all I found the end unsatisfying.

With the final of the three linked novellas pulling together threads and characters from the previous stories, and the appearance of (a simulacrum of) the architect Robert Khan, who had created the cities, I felt like there would be change. Instead, we’re left with stasis. Nothing changes at the end; entropy wins. The living cities all die, religious zealotry prevents the improvement of the lot of the people of God-Does-Battle, and the city part Jeshua is left completely alone on Earth.

I didn’t entirely understand the whole thing with the multiple versions of Khan, but it seemed like his plan was to create matter transportation bridges to move the entire population (along with possibly the rest of the human race?) to a giant sphere, where they’ll exist in energy form. Or something? But the fanatic Matthew decided that God had decreed that everyone had to stay where they were, so he destroyed two of the cities that were to take part. And what was up with Thule? I still don’t understand that at all. Is the moral that gnosticism is bad…?

So some good ideas, but a muddy and disappointing (not to mention pretty bleak) ending.

Book details

ISBN: 9780441790692
Publisher: Ace
Year of publication: 1981

Magic for Beginners

By Kelly Link

Rating: 2 stars

I’m afraid I really didn’t enjoy this book much, and what’s worse is that I feel bad for not enjoying it. The author is obviously very familiar with story and storytelling, and the stories in this collection reflect that familiarity and her playing with it and twisting it. Unfortunately, what we ended up with was something well out of my comfort zone and into the surreal. Now I don’t mind a certain level of surrealism (I’m very fond of Robert Sheckley, who didn’t object to going down strange narrative roads at times) but this was too much for me.

I got the book as part of a Humble Bundle and it took me literally years to get past the first story. Having managed that in the end, I struggled with the rest of it. Sometimes the story was just bizarre from the start, without much in the way of structure or plot (The Hortlak, The Cannon) but others start off interesting, or at least hinting that there’s a plot but spiral into strangeness (The Lull, Stone Animals). The one I found most disappointing, possibly because it was the one I enjoyed the most, right up until the last page, was Some Zombie Contingency Plans about a guy who’s not long out of prison and drives around, with a painting in the boot of his car, crashing parties. I was enjoying the slow pace and the actual structure of this. I just don’t like where it went in the end (assuming that I’m reading it right).

So a strong collection if you like works that know the limits of story and are happy to go beyond that, or works with a strong streak of surrealism running through them. Unfortunately, I like neither of those, so I’m afraid this is not for me.

Book details

Publisher: Small Beer Press
Year of publication: 2005

Ship of Magic (Liveship Traders, #1)

By Robin Hobb

Rating: 2 stars

I’m afraid I didn’t finish this (on this occasion, anyway). I got about a fifth way through it but just wasn’t enjoying it. I had no joy in picking it up, even though it was a moderate page turner once I was reading it. But there are other books to read, so I’m giving up on this one, I’m afraid. I didn’t hugely like any of the characters and was told that there’s no conclusion at the end of this book, that for that, I’d have to finish the whole series, and that’s far too much commitment for something that I’m not enjoying.

I’m sure there’s a huge, complex world to unpick in here, but (as I say, at the moment, at least), it’s just not doing it for me. I’m not hugely fond of high fantasy ( The Lord of the Rings being a clear exception), preferring urban fantasy and science fiction so this was always going to be a struggle. Maybe I’ll pick it up again later.

Book details

Publisher: Harper Voyager
Year of publication: 1998

A Better Way to Die: The Collected Short Stories

By Paul Cornell

Rating: 2 stars

In his introduction, John Scalzi claims that Paul Cornell is, possibly, the nicest man in science fiction. I’ve only met the chap once or twice, but from those, and from Twitter, I wouldn’t argue the proposition. That makes it difficult to come out and say that I didn’t really enjoy much of this collection. Although Cornell has written some cracking Doctor Who, this volume, as well as my reading of the first of his Shadow Police series and his Lychford books suggest that his personal style doesn’t work for me. He seems to write from a dark place, something which comes out moreso in his short fiction. The stories in this collection are set in chronological order (with the Hamilton stories sorted at the end), so we can see his style and his writing develop.

The early stories, The Deer Stalker, Michael Laurits is: DROWNING and Global Collider Generation: An Idyll feel quite experimental, and I struggled to understand a lot of them; The Sensible Folly was a lot more fun, as were the two Wild Cards stories (Cornell’s contribution to George R. R. Martin’s shared universe). The Ghosts of Christmas felt really bleak all the way through and I really struggled to read that story.

The Hamilton stories were interesting because they start out almost as James Bond pastiche, in a world where Newton’s musings took him in a very different direction, where the great powers of the 19th century have survived and still play their Great Game, while maintaining a “balance” to avoid all-out war. It feels like these stories in particular get very dark as they go on. Hamilton is a complex character, trapped by ties of loyalty and love in a very cruel world. It’s easy to feel sympathy for him, and even what he does, and still be appalled at his world.

An interesting collection, with a strong authorial voice. Read if you enjoy going to dark places, but not really to my taste.

Book details

ISBN: 9781907069840
Publisher: NewCon Press
Year of publication: 2015

Of Women: In the 21st Century

By Shami Chakrabarti

Rating: 2 stars

Unlike Chakrabarti’s last book, On Liberty, I’m struggling to find a central thesis to this book. It takes as its premise that gender injustice is the greatest human rights abuse on the planet. The eight chapters describe the position of women in different fields of life, including the home, reproductive rights, schooling, conflict, and faith.

I ended up reading the book quite slowly as it felt denser and less engaging than its predecessor and never felt that it had the clarity of thought or of purpose of ‘On Liberty’. The problems that she articulates are all well understood and I didn’t feel that she offered anything new to the discussion, nor do I feel that solutions were offered. I’m not sure that many of the conclusions that she does reach were wildly original – the chapter on faith concludes that change has to come from within faith communities, for example.

Apologies for returning again to her previous book, but I thought ‘On Liberty’ was a great book and, alas, this didn’t live up to it.

Book details

ISBN: 9780141985350
Publisher: Penguin

Out Of Space And Time

By Clark Ashton Smith

Rating: 2 stars

I was vaguely aware of Clark Ashton Smith as a collaborator of H. P. Lovecraft but little beyond that, so I thought this collection of short stories might serve to provide a flavour of his work. It did, but not in the way that I’d hoped. Although I enjoyed the first story in the collection, The End of the Story, I could probably have just read that and then stopped. The prose is so purple it heads towards infra-black and the tone is rarely anything other than portentous and pompous, to a degree that I found quite infuriating (but which did mean that the rare flashes of humour were all the more unexpected and welcome).

The work, to an amateur eye, like mine, reads like Lovecraft (on a bad day) but feels quite heavy and kludgy. I did finish the collection and, for what it’s worth, my favourite story of the collection, The Monster of the Prophecy is quite near the end, so I’m (mostly) glad that I got that far. This story concerns a human encounter with an alien and contains one of the aforementioned rare flashes of humour, that made it stand out for me.

On the whole though, whilst tolerable in small doses, I struggled with this one and I won’t be looking out any more by Smith.

Book details

ISBN: 9780803293526
Publisher: Bison Books
Year of publication: 1942

The World Set Free

By H.G. Wells

Rating: 2 stars

This may be a prophetic book, but I didn’t hugely enjoy reading it. Wells foresees atomic energy and the horrors of atomic bombs, although in very different shapes to reality, as well as the use of aircraft in warfare. I must confess that I nearly gave up after the prologue, which just felt didactic and leaden, but the first proper chapter (after a dull introduction to radioactivity, as understood at the dawn of the 20th century) was interesting, as it sketched the problems of humanity and nations in that era. However, it didn’t really last. Wells’ “war to end all wars” didn’t happen until the 1950s (bear in mind this book was written in 1913, before the First World War) and his war really did end all war, by creating a new world government that set about creating a utopia in fairly short order.

With the advantage of hindsight, we see what would really happen after a globe-spanning war with the use of nuclear weapons – what always happens: politicians squabble and jostle for advantage. What unity there is never lasts, which makes the speed and ease by which the world government is set up difficult to suspend disbelief for.

The last chapter is somewhat odd as well, as it focuses on an individual in the new order, as he is dying. Said person holds forth on the nature of humanity, and that knowledge, not love, is the driving force behind it. This is puzzling, because it doesn’t really fit well with what came before, and seems sort of pointless. It’s not like Wells needs a mouthpiece for his views – the whole book has been nothing but, and the narrator has quite happily fulfilled that role previously.

Disjointed, didactic, stuffy and generally not a captivating book. Has historical merit, and is of interest for its prophetic power, but not as a novel.

Book details

Publisher: Collins Clear-Type Press

Five Red Herrings

By Dorothy L. Sayers

Rating: 2 stars

Lord Peter Wimsey is spending some time hanging around artists in the Scottish Borders when one of them is murdered. It turns out that any of about half a dozen people could have done it and he ends up helping the police with their enquiries.

I must confess that I found this one a bit difficult to wrap my head around. Keeping track of all the suspects, their motives, stories and alibis got quite tricky, and the fact that travel was important made it difficult as well, as the train timetable became central. Not to mention little things that would have been so common as to be barely worth mentioning in Sayers’ day but because train travel has changed so much in the last eighty or so years, it’s confusing when she talks about bicycles being ticketed separately to the person and held in a different compartment, and rather than taking it in, you’re left going, ‘eh’? Oh, and the idea of trains mostly running to timetable as well seems less than credible!

Lord Peter is a fun protagonist, ever cheerful and bimbling about in an inoffensive way that ferrets out information without people even noticing, and yet with an edge that lets him push if he has to. Neither he, nor the rest of the cast, get much in the way of character development – I suppose with six suspects, hangers on and a number of police officials, there just wasn’t room for it. I certainly struggled to keep things clear in my head, even with the handy list near the start and the police recap near the end.

I wasn’t sure about writing the Scottish characters in dialect to start with, but it did grow on me and I was enjoying it by the end. I also laughed out loud at Sayers’ little wink to camera in a section near the start where Wimsey is frantically searching for something to do with the murder and when the policeman asks what it is, the author puts in an insert to the effect that Wimsey tells him, but leaves it hidden from the reader, in a very post-modern way.

So enjoyable enough and it wouldn’t put me off reading more Wimsey stories, but it’s definitely one that needs attention and to be read in reasonable chunks.

Book details

ISBN: 9780450038457
Publisher: New English Library
Year of publication: 1931

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