BooksOfTheMoon

The Folk Tales of Scotland: The Well at the World’s End and Other Stories

By Norah Montgomerie, William Montgomerie

Rating: 3 stars

This was an interesting collection of folk- and fairy-tales from across Scotland. Most of them are very short, only a few pages each, which hardly leaves any space for characterisation or plot development. There’s a lot of repetition within stories as well – the power of three crops up again and again where the hero must do things three times to get the effect. I imagine this works better in the oral tradition than written down. There are also variations on well-known stories (including Cinderella and Rumpelstiltskin) and lots of very traditional roles (princess offered in marriage as a prize for the hero recurs often).

But it’s interesting to read older versions of some of these traditional stories to see how they’ve evolved over time and where there are seeds for other stories. It’s also nice (if somewhat surprising) to see several stories featuring Finn McCool, who’s more closely associated with Irish mythology.

Book details

ISBN: 9781841586946
Publisher: Birlinn Ltd
Year of publication: 1956

The Clyde: Mapping the River

By John N. Moore

Rating: 3 stars

Like its predecessor, Glasgow: Mapping the City, this book is meticulously researched and does exactly what it says on the tin. It consists of various maps of and around the river Clyde, providing different insights to the river valley and firth. The maps are organised by theme, with early historical maps of the river coming first, followed by sections on navigating and improving the channel, military-related maps, agricultural and commercial maps, those indicating the bridging and fording of the river, tourism and leisure, and finally, mapping around the towns along the Clyde.

Obviously, I’m most interested in those maps that focus on Glasgow (and there’s some overlap with the previous book in that regard) and the maps from elsewhere along the river, especially the military ones (which tended to be quite technical) were less interesting. There’s also less scope for interesting sociological maps in this book, although it still manages to include maps relating to sewage disposal (I didn’t know that for many years, waste would be loaded on to barges in the Clyde and driven out to be disposed of out where the firth meets the sea) and the orchards of Lanarkshire.

There’s no skimping on the physical artefact either. Although slightly too large to hold comfortably, the large pages mean lots of detail in the glossy full-colour maps. I’d recommend having a magnifying glass to hand as well, to zoom in on the detail as you’re poring over the immaculate reproductions.

So not as personally interesting to me as its predecessor, but still an excellent resource on the cartography of Clydesdale and the firth of Clyde.

Book details

ISBN: 9781780274829
Publisher: Birlinn Ltd
Year of publication: 2017

Battle Angel Alita Deluxe Edition 2

By Yukito Kishiro

Rating: 3 stars

After losing her first love Yugo, Alita abandons her old life and throws herself into the sport of motorball, rising up the ranks pretty quickly. She challenges the reigning champion, Jasugun, to a match, and in the course of that, she learns more about her past.

I didn’t find Alita hugely likeable in this volume. After the fairly bubbly personality from volume one, she goes full emo here, as she abandons Ido (even ignoring him when he comes looking for her), wanting to forget her loss. Ido finds new family with the trusting young woman Shumira and her brother, who he helps when he has seizures.

I’ve mostly never felt that the characters in this series are sexualised. Even when Alita isn’t wearing clothes, she’s very clearly more machine than person, and the images (to me) don’t feel sexual. Which is why a full-frontal nude scene of Shumira in the shower felt so out of place. As well as feeling unnecessary, it felt entirely gratuitous and not required for the plot at all.

Some of the action scenes are still difficult to follow, and I thought it got confusing towards the end. I’m still not entirely sure how the fight between Alita and Jasugun played out. But there was some tantalising back-story in there, and the art does remain pretty, quite distinctive and very evocative.

Book details

ISBN: 9781632365996
Publisher: Kodansha America, Inc

The March North

By Graydon Saunders

Rating: 3 stars

I got this book recommended to me by a friend as the opposite of grimdark fantasy. I enjoyed quite a lot of it, but I did have some trouble with it at times. For a start, I understand the book was self-published, which is all very well, but I do feel like the author could have done with an editor at times; many passages felt obtuse and I had to read them several times before I had a decent idea of what they meant. Something else that I found grating was the deliberate refusal to provide genders for characters. I have no problem with this in principle, but please use constructs like “they/them” or one of the other sets of adjectives. Repeatedly using the characters’ names in a sentence to avoid he/she just felt clunky. It also didn’t help that Saunders is very fond of archaic or jargonistic language. I’m really glad that I was reading on a Kindle, so I could consult the built-in dictionary (which I found myself doing more frequently than I would have liked). Expanding one’s vocabulary is all very well, but it did start to feel like hard work at times.

Speaking of hard work, Saunders really throws you in at the deep end and leaves you to sink or swim. There’s no hand-holding going on here. We start with a military man of some kind expecting (sorcerous) visitors to his area and rapidly go on from there to repealing a military invasion from another country. What the Commonweal is, what a Standard-Captain is, or the focus, or the Shape of Peace are things you’re left to figure out for yourself. There’s no harm in making the reader work for their story, but this, combined with the editing issues I mention above mean that it took a while for me to get through this book. I still don’t know if I’ll go on to the others in the series.

But despite that, my friend was right: I did enjoy the shape of this story, in which an egalitarian, democratic nation exists in the midst of its more traditional fantasy neighbours. Where extremely powerful (basically immortal) sorcerers, who used to behave like Dark Lords in the past, agree to bind themselves into the nation for the greater good. In a world filling up with strongmen and “leaders” whose only goal in power is to stay in power, it’s good to have examples to look up to.

Book details

ISBN: 9780993712609
Publisher: Tall Woods Books
Year of publication: 2014

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

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

The October Man (Rivers of London, #7.5)

By Ben Aaronovitch

Rating: 3 stars

This novella is a bit more substantial than The Furthest Station and is the first mainstream work that moves away from the PoV of Peter Grant. Looking at the GR series for the Rivers of London I did notice the name of Tobias Winter though, so it turns out that this wasn’t his appearance in the series, even if the previous one was a flash fiction piece on Aaronovitch’s blog summarising the lead up to Tobias becoming a practitioner.

In this novella, Tobias is well on that journey, and is sent to investigate the potentially magical death of a man in the city of Trier. His local liaison is Vanessa Sommer (and more than one person cracks a joke at the expense of Winter and Sommer) who turns out to be competent, enthusiastic and ambitious.

Although we’re not in London any more, the local river goddess does make an appearance and Tobias is a decent enough Peter Grant substitute. I do miss the familiar crowd though. I liked both Tobias and Vanessa, but the former doesn’t really have a distinct narrative voice for me, and it did feel like Aaronovitch spent a long time covering basics that readers would really be familiar with by now, after seven novels, six graphic novels and a handful of short stories. Although, to be fair, it is interesting to see the German perspective on things that we think we’re familiar with.

That’s really the most interesting thing about this story, really: seeing familiar things from a different perspective and seeing how another culture deals with magic. Towards the end of The Hanging Tree Peter Grant muses on establishing communications with other national magical police forces. It’s clear from Tobias that this hasn’t happened yet (although Tobias keeps tabs on Peter, he doesn’t think that Peter knows about him) and that would make for an interesting story.

Book details

ISBN: 9781473228665
Publisher: Gollancz
Year of publication: 2019

Love Among the Chickens (Ukridge, #1)

By P.G. Wodehouse

Rating: 3 stars

Stanley Featherstonehaugh Ukridge descends upon his friend Jeremy Garnet and persuades him to come to the country and help him farm chickens. Whilst there, Garnet falls in love with a nearby resident but love’s course never runs smoothly. And while Garnet is wooing (or, at least, trying to woo) the young lady, the chicken farm goes from calamity to calamity.

This is very early Wodehouse and I found myself skipping entire pages in frustration. I just didn’t like the character of Ukridge. Unlike other (later?) creations, he has all the flaws of a Wodehouse character, but none of the compensations; he’s not charming, just boorish, arrogant and completely self-absorbed. Thank goodness he’s not the protagonist of the book; it would have been too much to take. Thankfully, large chunks of the book are focused on Garnet and his love life which is much more like the Wodehouse we know and love, coming up with a plan Jeeves himself would have been proud of (and then dealing with the consequences when it went horribly wrong). That’s the only reason this book is scoring as highly as it is from me.

Book details

Publisher: Herbert Jenkins
Year of publication: 1906

The Broken Kingdoms (The Inheritance Trilogy, #2)

By N.K. Jemisin

Rating: 3 stars

I’m not sure if it’s just down to my state of mind at the time of reading, but I didn’t enjoy this as much as its predecessor. Our environment and the things going on in our lives definitely affect how we consume media and I feel that possibly that I wasn’t quite in the right frame of mind for this book. It’s set about a decade after the events of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms as Oree Shoth takes in a strange, homeless man and, as a result, gets drawn into a plot that starts with killing godlings, but has much bigger implications.

We get to see many more of the godlings in this book than we did in the previous one. That one was focussed entirely on the imprisoned ones, but the others had been banned from coming to the mortal realm. With that injunction gone, they flock there. We see gods of hunger, shadow, debt and more. Jemesin plays them with a light touch; although they supported Itempas in the Gods’ War, they don’t necessarily love him. And speaking of, we get some insight into the mind of Bright Itempas as his time with Oree starts to help heal him. Despite his terrible actions as revealed in the first book, we end this one feeling pity for him, even as Oree does.

And Oree is an interesting protagonist. Not as hard as Yeine from the first book. She’s a blind artist who was never near the halls and corridors of power and finds it difficult to cope with everything that happens to her, although when push comes to shove, she does have the strength to deal with it.

While I wasn’t completely wowed by this book, I’ll still look out for the final book in the trilogy.

Book details

ISBN: 9781841498188
Publisher: Orbit
Year of publication: 2010

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