BooksOfTheMoon

The Ten Thousand Doors of January

By Alix E. Harrow

Rating: 3 stars

I’m sort of struggling to write a review for this one, because it doesn’t seem to have made me feel as much as I think it should. It had so much that I enjoy in a book: a feisty heroine, a book-within-a-book, it’s a book about books and storytelling, but somehow, it hasn’t left as much of an impression as I thought it would.

January Scaller is the ward of the wealthy Mr Locke, whose father is his employee, scouring the world for rare and beautiful objects for Locke’s collection. When January finds a strange book, her world changes entirely.

There’s a lot to this book, with race and racism being pretty high up the list. January is the “Coloured” ward of a rich white man in early 20th century America, and we see early on how his influence protects her, and what happens when that protection is withdrawn. Race is very much on our minds now, in mid-2020, with the Black Lives Matter movement still strong after the death of George Floyd, and this book has a strong treatment of the various characters who are treated badly because of their race, and also their class. In particular the power disparity of those who have money and those who don’t. Locke’s New England Archaeological Society is full of the rich and powerful and they take pride in making it clear just how wide that gap is.

This is also a book about change, and travel. In the book, the Doors are a means of change, of new ideas travelling between worlds, and there are attempts to close the Doors, to prevent change and impose a strict order on the world. On my less good days, I feel that those forces are winning. While I wouldn’t describe the early 21st century as “orderly”, it does feel like moneyed interests (such as those in the book) are very much on top. But as the book reminds us, it isn’t forever. Change is inevitable, and those who try to stop it are eventually washed away.

One final thing, something I discovered quite by accident: the book is Augmented Reality-enabled. If you point Google Lens at the front cover, you get a beautiful little animation, and if you point it at the back, you get a little talk from the author about the book. I really like that, and I hope more publishers start doing something similar.

Book details

ISBN: 9780356512464

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

Lumberjanes: To the Max Edition, Vol. 5

By Shannon Watters

Rating: 4 stars

The first story in this collection moves away from Roanoke cabin to Zodiac, as Barney settles in with their cabin-mates following their move to the Lumberjanes camp last volume (incidentally, there was a nice little introduction to the idea of people’s pronouns here, which wasn’t too thickly laid on, but a good way to show it handled well). Diane has been allowed to stay, and she takes them off on a treasure hunt for magic. After this, we’re back with Roanoke, as we move into a sports-based storyline involving roller ball. I’m not a huge sports fan, but there’s enough fun in this (especially given who the opposing team are) that it keeps my attention.

The second arc sees Parents’ Day, where the various parents come to visit. This revisits previous hints that Molly’s family life isn’t happy. Seeing her watching, smiling slightly sadly, as the others make happy reunions with their families is a little heartbreaking. This seems to be something that the authors are going to leave simmering and come back to in future.

The artists change between the arcs in the volume. While I enjoyed the Carolyn Nowak’s art on the first story, Ayme Sotuyo’s work on the second felt “more Lumberjanes” to me. Both are very good and fit the type of storytelling going on here, but the second just spoke to me more. As always, everything to do with art is subjective, and YMMV.

The themes of friendship to the max, and found families persist in this volume, as the girls grow ever-closer, and the camp becomes ever-weirder. Lovely stuff.

Book details

ISBN: 9781684153121
Publisher: BOOM! Box
Year of publication: 2019

Flotation Device: A Charity Anthology

By E.M. Faulds (editor)

Rating: 4 stars

This anthology from the members of the Glasgow SF Writers’ Circle was put together quickly after the start of the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic, in aid of various charities. All the authors donated their stories, so all the money (minus PayPal fees) went to the chosen charities. Given the cause, how could I refuse?

There’s quite a variety of stories here, light and dark, and of varying lengths. The opener, Of Gods and Monsters was strong, with a modern take on a fantasy Quest, where the princess gets pregnant with the Chosen One’s child and the Mighty Wizard storms off in a huff, so they have to find another solution. Sweet and funny, a fun way to start the collection.

Other highlights included The Map, or a Pocketful of Dog’s Teeth about a carny and their con trick against a punter; Amaranth, a metaphor for depression wrapped in a superhero story and The Snow Baby about a boy and his younger brother who’s been hidden from the rest of the village for fear they’ll kill him, which turned out better than I was expecting.

Some stories are short but pack quite a punch, such as The Anniversary by Ruth EJ Booth. Christopher Napier’s The Sea Calls its Own is longer, but has father-son feelings going on, and an end that punched me in the guts.

There are some well known names in here, such as Hal Duncan, with Threnody. I’m sorry to say that having read several pieces by Duncan in different collections, I’ve never entirely clicked with his style. Neil Williamson also contributed a story: Rare as a Harpy’s Tear, which is lyrical and melancholy.

I’m saving my favourite story for the end though. I must proclaim an interest here, in that I know Brian Milton personally and he’s a lovely chap, but I always perk up when I see a new story by him. His style is whimsical and light, but always full of heart. Here, he contributed Some of the Great Old Ones are on the Pitch, a story in broad Scots about a kerfuffle at a Partick Thistle football game. And, because some people apparently found this difficult to interpret, he’s provided a translation into the Queen’s English on his website. Heartily recommended if you need a smile today.

This is a good collection, with many of its stories based in Glasgow or Scotland, and for a good cause. Definitely worth your money and your time.

Book details

Publisher: Glasgow Science Fiction Writers Circle
Year of publication: 2020

Robots vs. Fairies

By Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe (editors)

Rating: 4 stars

This is another gem from Scalzi’s “The Big Idea” over on Whatever. The idea of an anthology features robots and/or fairies tickled me, and I’m very glad I picked it up, as it’s a very strong anthology with a lot of big names in it.

It opens with Seanan McGuire‘s Build me a Wonderland (featuring both robots and fairies), which is a great read that satirises theme parks, consultants and HR. This is followed by a thoughtful story by Ken Liu on life in Silicon Valley, robot nannies and the way they change the social fabric around them. It’s also filled with geek popular culture references (particularly from the Star Trek episode Darmok), which always goes down well with me.

Other highlights include Murmured Under the Moon by Tim Pratt, about a human librarian of a fairy library, which is a huge amount of fun; Just Another Love Song about a New York banshee just trying to make a living as Fae disappear around her; and To a Cloven Pine, Max Gladstone‘s science fictional take on The Tempest.

Hmm, looking at that list, it looks like I’m on Team Fairy, which surprises me, since I would consider myself much more Team Robot. The things we learn about ourselves.

Special mention to Catherynne M. Valante‘s closing story A Fall Counts Anywhere, which, like the opening story, also features both fairies and robots, this time in a very literal take on the anthology title, with robots and fae fighting it out, Battle Royal-style, in a WWE-style wrestling ring. Very fun, and with a surprising amount of pathos for such a silly concept.

So a great anthology for any fan of fairies and/or robots. With an absolutely beautiful cover to boot.

Book details

ISBN: 9781481462358
Publisher: Gallery / Saga Press
Year of publication: 2018

The Wicked + The Divine Deluxe Edition: Year One

By Kieron Gillen

Rating: 4 stars

I’d heard some good things about this series and it was the hard recommendation of a friend whose taste I trust that finally sold me. Firstly, the physical object here is beautiful. It’s a hardback book with a minimalist black cover showing the logos of the twelve gods who have been reincarnated for this Recurrence.

The art is of a style that I generally enjoy and I really liked it here. The story is intriguing and has kept me engaged the whole way through: every ninety years, twelve gods return as young people, help inspire and change the world, and within two years, they’re all dead. That’s quite the hook, and Gillen and co make good on it. This time round, the gods are all pop stars, allowing the writers to talk about our culture through that lens. Our PoV character is Laura, a fan, maybe acolyte, of all of them who Lucifer (aka Luci) takes a shine to. This is followed by attempted murder, actual murder and a mystery over a death.

Gillen is happy to build up his mystery slowly, as he builds his world. And you can’t help but get drawn in. With such a large cast, to start with, it is sometimes difficult to remember who is who and what their shtick is. This gets easier as the book goes on, and it ends on a heck of a cliffhanger, that completely threw me.

I’m definitely going to be picking up more WicDiv, and how can I not get these gorgeous hardbacks? My favourite ‘extra’ in this volume is the writer’s commentary at the back. Gillen goes through pretty much the entire comic, page by page, with his own thoughts and analysis, pointing out things that I missed in my first desperate rush to read the next page. It’s a great way to read the whole thing again in a more thoughtful manner.

Book details

ISBN: 9781632157287
Publisher: Image Comics
Year of publication: 2016

City of Miracles (The Divine Cities, #3)

By Robert Jackson Bennett

Rating: 4 stars

Shara Komayd is dead (not a spoiler, it’s the first sentence on the blurb on the back). Her old friend and ally Sigrid finds out and sets out to find her murderer and avenge her. Amongst his grief, he finds himself in the middle of a hidden war and learns me than he wanted to about his own past.

This book is about cycles. Cycles of violence and revenge and, eventually, forgiveness. The Divinities of the Continent were the source of so much pain to Saypur; Saypur in turn imposed its will on the Continent, returning the favour. The book questions these sorts of cycles and what is required to break them.

Sigrid was probably my favourite character from City of Stairs. He was huge, inscrutable, competent, and just destroyed things that got in his way. But I wasn’t sure about making this book about him. But it was good to get inside his head and find what’s been driving him through the series. The way he held on to his anger and pain until it became a millstone around his neck. His fear of being unable to change, and the anger at losing the last person in his life that he truly cared for.

It’s exciting, with lots set-pieces, as the hidden enemy slowly starts to reveal himself, leaving Sigrud as the last thing in his way, now that Shara is gone. The pace is good, as well, and there’s a neat twist right at the end which made me smile (and, for once, I worked out the main ‘twist’ before it happened, which is something I’m normally awful at).

It left me with a feeling of melancholy, but this feels like a good way to end the trilogy.

Book details

ISBN: 9780857053596
Publisher: Jo Fletcher
Year of publication: 2018

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Chronicles of Narnia, #1)

By C.S. Lewis

Rating: 4 stars

I read and enjoyed The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe several times as a child, but it wasn’t until I went to university, that I heard about its religious subtext, which surprised me (not growing up in a Christian household). This was the first time that I’ve re-read it as an adult and the religious subtext is pretty blatant coming to it now (I especially liked the mention of Jadis as being a Daughter of Lilith, rather than Eve), but it’s still a very enjoyable read. Despite the allegory, I still felt the pain of the temptation of Edmund and the humiliation and death of Aslan just as much as I did as a child.

It reads very much of its time, in terms of language and assumptions, not to mention style. I pretty much grew up on Lewis and Enid Blyton, so it was all very familiar to me, and comforting, in a way, but it does make assumptions about gender, class and status that would be more challenged today. The voice of the narrator talking directly to the reader is also something that has fallen out of favour in modern writing. It definitely feels, not exactly ‘dated’, but recognisable as not being a modern story (even setting aside the contents).

Even so, I still think it holds up well as a children’s book that draws the reader in and holds their attention well. Characters such as Mr Tumnus, the beavers and, of course, Aslan will live long in the memory and affection of readers for a long time to come.

Book details

ISBN: 9780006716631
Publisher: Fontana Lions
Year of publication: 1980

City of Blades (The Divine Cities, #2)

By Robert Jackson Bennett

Rating: 4 stars

General Turyin Mulaghesh resigned her commission in anger to live out her days, looking for a peace she may never find. But her country still has need of her, so by fair means and foul, Prime Minister Shara Komyad (hero of the previous book, City of Stairs) enlists her to a secret mission to the city of Voortyastan, former home of the divinity of war and death.

This is a book in which war and soldiers loom large. There is obviously Voortya herself, the goddess of war, and General Mulaghesh, hero of the Battle of Bulikov, and with dark rumours to her name. But there’s also General Biswal and the different ideas of what being a soldier means to these old friends. It’s no secret that I’m an old leftie, who often looks on in horror at the acts of the military, carried out in my name. Mulaghesh sees being a soldier in a different light: she sees it as a chance to serve, to do what is required and nothing more, while Biswal sees it as a grand endeavour, worthy of praise and lauding. The tension between these two world views is what drives the book.

There’s as much cool history and mythology as in the previous book, this time focused on Voortya, and I especially loved the idea of the strength of the contract between the gods and their people. Its’ a clever idea. Sigrud from the first books shows up again, this time as a leader of his people. He hasn’t let it make him soft, though, and he’s there for Mulaghesh to rely on when she needs him.

Mulaghesh herself is an interesting character, much more fleshed out than she was in City of Stairs. She’s haunted by her past and has spent most of her career trying to make up for what she did during the war against the Continent; and meditating on the meaning of war and what soldiering is about; and trying to protect those under her command.

It’s not nearly as chin-stroking and head-nodding as I’ve been making out, though. It’s also a fast-paced adventure with some great action sequences. Very much a worthy sequel, with some real depth of character.

Book details

ISBN: 9781848669598
Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books
Year of publication: 2017

Witch Hat Atelier, Vol. 2

By Kamome Shirahama

Rating: 4 stars

The second volume of this delightful manga picks up directly from where the first left off: with the four apprentices having been teleported to an unknown destination and facing a dragon. They have combine their skills (which Coco is painfully aware that she’s lacking) to escape.

We learn more about Coco’s fellow apprentice, Agott, in this volume, and what drives her, and we learn more about the world that Coco inhabits. The book is a lot of fun, even if it doesn’t seem all that substantial. It’s an intriguing world with some great characters. I look forward to reading more of Coco’s adventures.

Book details

ISBN: 9781632368041
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Year of publication: 2019

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