BooksOfTheMoon

Nation

By Terry Pratchett

Rating: 4 stars

In my head, this and Dodger are sort of a set, since they were written at roughly the same time and are both YA books. But while I read the latter years ago, I’ve never quite got around to Nation, until now. But goodness me, I’m glad I did! Mau is on his way back from the Boys’ Island, having completed the task that will make him a man, when a tidal wave destroys his island Nation and everyone he knew, leaving him alone. But it also wrecked a ship, leaving a single survivor: a teenage girl who was voyaging to join her father who is governor of a British colony in the “Great Southern Pegalic Ocean”. Together, they welcome other survivors from the seas and try to build something good.

There’s a lot to unpack in this novel, and I think it will need reread at some point. At this point in his life, Pratchett had a lot on his mind, and some of those themes find their way into the book: what it feels like when your expected future has been taken away from you; religion and its purpose in the world; what it means to be a nation. Mau and Daphne are great protagonists, very different from each other, but complementary to what the other needs at this moment. I am reminded of Granny and Tiffany in Daphne, while Mau has shades of Vimes’ anger and determination.

The book is set in a sort of alt-hist Victorian era, with a British Empire, but other aspects of the world are different. And the shades of the past elders talk (although whether they have anything worth listening to is another matter).

Sometimes there’s not a huge amount of subtlety in the metaphors, such as when the British mutineers show up. They’re there pretty much to bang you over the head with the idea that that “civilised” and “savage” are defined by actions, not in dress or technology.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and appreciated a lot of its themes. While I wasn’t hugely fond of most of the Discworld novels written in his later life, between this, Dodger, and the Tiffany Aching books, his YA work sparkled.

Book details

ISBN: 9780552557795
Publisher: Corgi Childrens
Year of publication: 2009

Snapshots from a Black Hole and Other Oddities

By K.C. Ball

Rating: 3 stars

K. C. Ball is an author I’m unfamiliar with, but I got this collection as part of a Humble Bundle and it’s a good one. It’s a very heterogeneous collection: the author is happy to turn her hand to pretty much any genre and she makes a good go of it. As always, some stories work better for me than others (for a start, I’m not a horror fan, so those weren’t generally fun for me) but there are some gems in the collection.

The title story is interestingly told from an AI perspective and leaves a haunting image in the mind. There are (attempted) alien abduction stories, zombie stories, ghost stories, (kind of) time travel stories and more. My favourite in the collection is probably Flotsam about a disaster in low Earth orbit that happens to a small crew, trying to clean up orbital waste. I like the characters, the believable actions of the corporation and the solution.

There are author’s notes at the end of the book (although I might have liked to have these after each story, while the story is still fresh in my mind, rather than all collected at the end) which are an insight into the author’s mind while she was writing.

The collection shows a talented and versatile author who passed away too young. I will look out for other of her work.

Book details

ISBN: 9780984830114
Publisher: Hydra House Books
Year of publication: 2012

Monkey King: Journey to the West

By Wu Cheng'en

Rating: 4 stars

Unlike others around my age, I never encountered the Monkey TV show, when it was shown on British TV. My only knowledge of Journey to the West before reading this was the Netflix TV show The New Legends of Monkey, but it intrigued me enough to look for some of the source material. Serendipitously, at around this same time, something about this new translation scrolled past my Twitter feed, so I grabbed it.

It’s obvious that it’s something that was part of the oral tradition, with the over-arching quest narrative, and lots of individual adventures in between, so that the storyteller/bard could pick and choose what to tell on any given evening, depending on their audience’s taste or mood. I think it was probably wise of the translator to cut some of those out – she says in the introduction that she tried to ensure that the stories that she kept retained the essence of the characters and how they develop throughout.

The style is interesting, as it’s pretty irreverent, with religion(s), rulers and bureaucracy all being lampooned at different times. Given that, it surprised me that the book has made it through the various purges and political changes that have taken place in China over the centuries since its publication.

The translation is very clear and easy to read. I’ve not read any other versions, but this has a very modern feel to it. Maybe too modern for my tastes. While I don’t want language to be difficult for the sake of it, this is an epic quest, and I would have liked to see that reflected a little in the language. Mostly it’s fine, but there was one joke riffing on “Human Resources” that made me raise an eyebrow. But then I love the language in Lord of the Rings and its ilk, so that sort of slightly old-fashioned “epic” language just fits this sort of story for me.

It’s an interesting and fun book though, and one that made me laugh out loud several times. I’m glad that I’ve read it, since I know so little of Chinese literature, especially classic Chinese literature.

Book details

ISBN: 9780141393445
Publisher: Penguin Classics
Year of publication: 2021

Vasilisa the Wise and Other Tales of Brave Young Women

By Kate Forsyth

Rating: 4 stars

This is a lovely retelling of lesser-known fairy- and folk-tales, with a feminist slant. It tells stories that aren’t necessarily romantic love stories and stories where the heroine has to rescue herself (and maybe her true love). The stories are lavishly illustrated by Lorena Carrington, in a silhouetted, photographic style that suits the tales themselves perfectly.

There are stories from Russian, Scottish and European folklore, although none from Asia or Africa. I think my favourite was probably The Stolen Child, a tale of pure maternal love and what a mother would do to recover her child.

Whilst I’m slightly disappointed in the lack of stories from further afield, this is still a great antidote to the Disney-fied fairy tales prevalent in modern media.

Book details

ISBN: 9780648103066
Publisher: Serenity Press Pty.Ltd
Year of publication: 2017

Lumberjanes: To the Max Edition, Vol. 6

By Shannon Watters

Rating: 4 stars

The sixth volume of the rather marvellous Lumberjanes starts with Molly feeling like she wants the summer to last longer. So much so that she makes a deal with a mysterious voice in a waterfall. Inevitably, it goes horribly wrong and the Roanoke girls end up in the thick of it, ably assisted by councillor Jen and the usual supporting cast. Although is nobody going to say anything about what happened when Rosie got magically aged up?

I feel really sorry for Molly, she seems so happy at camp, but her home life is obviously difficult. I expect we’ll be seeing more of that, as well as whatever seems to live in the waterfall and has it in for the Lumberjanes.

The second arc in the book consists of the Roanoke girls in a bit of a funk after their last adventure and Jen leading them on a search for the mythical jackalope. They encounter a traveller with her own set of fantastic beasts, and learn about her her history. Emmy seems like a fun character and I hope we meet her again. The final story in the volume is a single issue story of Zodiac cabin starting up a camp newsletter and the trouble caused by people reading their horoscopes. It’s a light, fun little story to round off the volume.

I think this is a well-balanced volume, with the quieter, more character-focused back half balancing out the action-heavy first arc. I love all the characters by now and I look forward to see where the story goes. At some point, I’m going to need to binge-read the story-so-far in order to remind myself of the wider goings-on though.

Book details

ISBN: 9781684154944

Not So Stories

By David Thomas Moore

Rating: 3 stars

I don’t think I’ve ever read the Just So Stories all the way through, although I’ve probably encountered individual ones over the years, but I have read other Kipling, so am perfectly prepared to believe that the original stories had Issues. Moore uses this volume as a response to the Just So stories, stories that look at colonialism and racism from the other side of the lens.

As with any anthology, it’s a mixed bag, some really good stuff and some that didn’t work quite so well for me. I really enjoyed the opening story by Cassandra Khaw, How the Spider Got Her Legs, which mimicked the style of the Just So Stories to a tee, but taught a very different lesson, especially to the arrogant, thoughtless Man.

There are other stories that tell of the dangers of despotism and the vigilance always required by democracy, such as Stewart Hotston’s How the Ants Got Their Queen and How the Snake Lost Its Spine by Tauriq Moosa.

There were a couple that I felt didn’t work hugely well, like Serpent, Crocodile, Tiger by Zedeck Siew, which I had trouble following; and The Cat Who Walked By Herself, by Achala Upendran which felt bleak, and, in some ways, a bit simplistic to me.

On the other hand, I loved How the Simurgh Won Her Tail by Ali Nouraei, partly because it didn’t go where I expected and partly because of the heart-bursting framing story around it. This was my favourite story in the collection.

Speculative fiction, and literature in general, is always in conversation with itself. The Just So Stories have been important in the past, and many people grew up loving them, but they were written with a specific mindset and from a specific point of view. This response to them is long overdue.

Book details

ISBN: 9781781086124
Publisher: Abaddon
Year of publication: 2018

Fables: The Deluxe Edition, Book Six

By Bill Willingham

Rating: 4 stars

The sixth hardback collection of Fables collects three story arcs (maybe four, but the middle two are linked). The first takes us into the occupied Homelands, and tells the story of two of Geppetto’s wooden people who fall in love and petition him to make them flesh, and the price that is extracted from them. This is interesting as it’s the first time we’ve had a story from the point of view of the occupying forces of the Homelands. It’s nominally tangential to everything else that’s going on, but the end suggests that plans are being laid.

The second story sees Mowgli’s search for Bigby through Asia and North America, and his eventual return to Fabletown, where Prince Charming makes him an offer he can’t refuse. The third story starts out with Bigby’s mission (and the trip to the cloud kingdoms is really fun) and ends with him and Snow White finally getting their Happily Ever After.

The final story is a really fun adventure with Cinderella as she tries to sign a treaty with the cloud kingdoms to get their cooperation against the Adversary. It shows her in full badass mode, chewing gum and prodding buttock. I don’t think we’ve got to see much of Cinderella thus far, and showing her spy skills and getting to do cool action stuff is really good fun.

I enjoyed this volume a lot. With the Bigby/Snow White plot winding down, it feels like a good place to pause the series. Regular artist Mark Buckingham shares duties with guest artists for the first and last arcs. All the artists are excellent at their work and make reading the book a pleasure. Now, I just need a bit more of Flycatcher and Red Riding Hood…

Book details

ISBN: 9781401237240
Publisher: Vertigo
Year of publication: 2013

Gideon the Ninth

By Tamsyn Muir

Rating: 4 stars

There’s been some positive buzz around this book on social media which intrigued me, but I was wary that it was the first part of a trilogy, until someone I trust said that it was (mostly) readable as a standalone. I’m glad I did pick it up, as it’s very enjoyable. I especially like the narrative voice of the protagonist, Gideon. She’s fairly young at just eighteen, and something of this immaturity comes across in her voice, in a good way (I laughed much more than I should have done at the “that’s what she said” jokes).

Gideon is an indentured servant of the Ninth House – owing them for her upbringing. She’s been trained as a swordswoman, and when the head of the house, the necromancer Harrowhark, is called to service by the Emperor, she reluctantly follows Harrow as her cavalier. They find themselves along with pairs from the other Houses in a race to unlock the secret of immortality.

There’s something a little And Then There Were None about the way that the groups are taken to an isolated location with a mystery to be unlocked in a race against time, which I enjoyed quite a lot. The necromancer/cavalier pairs from the other houses were distinctive and interesting, from the jovial married couple of the Fifth House to the “terrible teens” of the Fourth to the creepy, sanctimonious Eighth. Maybe the military Second House didn’t get much beyond being uptight military types, but they were probably the exception.

I loved the relationship between Gideon and Harrow, how these two girls who have known and hated each other their entire lives have to start to rely on each other to survive the challenges they’re thrown and how that eventually turns into trust. It’s an old trope, but carried off with aplomb.

The world is classic science fantasy. Although there’s a thin veneer of SF in the form of space travel and genetics, most of the action involves magic and the fights are all sword fights. I’ll handwave it away via Clarke’s Third Law though. There’s enough worldbuilding to keep us interested without drowning us in exposition (although there are more hints in the glossary at the end).

Spoiler
From the moment we find out what Ianthe had to do to achieve Lyctor-hood, we sense that Gideon’s days are numbered. This is a shame, but what a way to go out. There’s scope for her to come back in some form (they never found the body!) and there’s still a number of mysteries around her. As I said above, I enjoyed her narrative voice a lot. I’ll miss her if she’s gone permanently. I mean, I’ll read a book about Harrow, but I’ll be thinking about Gideon.

The epilogue sets up the next book and I’ll be intrigued to see where it goes – it seems to be getting ready to widen the scope an awful lot, from a single isolated mansion to the whole galaxy. I can’t wait to see where the story goes.

Book details

ISBN: 9781250313188
Year of publication: 2020

Rivers of London Volume 8: The Fey and the Furious

By Ben Aaronovitch

Rating: 4 stars

Alongside the excellent pun in the title, this is probably one of the better recent Peter Grant graphic novels, as the Folly is called to investigate a drowned boy racer with a boot full of very unusual cargo. Once again, Peter finds himself entangled with the fey, reliant only on his wits to help him through.

Moreso than even usual, this graphic novel was Grant-heavy, with minimal appearances from Nightingale and Guleed (and none whatsoever from Molly, boo). There was an incident with Guleed that I think would have been interesting to expand upon, although with space restrictions, they made do with what they could, and the visual medium does help here, with facial expressions and body language.

The artist has changed again for this story. They’re good, and handle the fast action of the car racing well, but I still miss Lee Sullivan.

The story is very plot-heavy, with little character development, and possibly the most interesting snippet in that area comes right at the end, with some internal captions from Beverley musing on her relationship with Peter which is both sweet and kind of ominous.

Like the last volume, there’s some articles at the end discussing the historical background to some of the story elements, including street racing and fairy myth. These are interesting, but I’d have preferred it if the text were in straight columns rather than at an angle. It might look cool, but it does make it a bit harder to read.

All in all, a fun, standalone story. Not essential, but a good read for fans of Peter Grant and his world.

Book details

ISBN: 9781785865862

The Dark Archive (The Invisible Library #7)

By Genevieve Cogman

Rating: 5 stars

Irene is juggling the peace treaty between the dragons and the fae, helping her pal Vale out on a case, dealing with a new apprentice, and trying to keep up the day job of stealing books for her interdimensional Library. She’s quite put out, then, when there’s a number of assassination attempts on her and her friends, pointing to a mysterious new criminal mastermind. Irene needs to find them and stop them, before it’s too late.

This is very much a book of two halves. Whilst you can’t complain that the first half of the book is slow, the pace definitely picks up in the second half. We get to meet Irene’s new apprentice, Catherine, and start to get a feel for her as a character. She’s fae, so is inevitably drawn into stories and archetypes. She wants to be a librarian archetype (subtype TBC, but not spy) and so is quite upset that her work involves more running and hiding than cataloguing and recommending). It’s early days, but I’m warming to Catherine quite a lot already.

The rest of the supporting cast is present and correct, with Vale a major presence in this one, which I always like to see. I wonder where Vale’s story is going – since he’s got fae heritage and the “Moriarty” character plays into his Great Detective archetype. I fear as much as Irene that he might get sucked into his own story. We also get to meet more of Kai’s family, no spoiler to say that we end up liking them about as much as Kai does.

The second half of the book really shifts up a gear as revelation is piled upon revelation, old enemies crawl out of the woodwork, and Irene has to work harder than ever to just stay alive. This feels really exciting, even if you’re reasonably confident that our protagonists will get out of it in one piece. And the epilogue gives us just a taste of the secrets buried in the Library itself.

There are some great set-pieces, with the oversized science fair (in my head like something out of Girl Genius) being my favourite. But there’s also time for some character beats. There’s a moment near the end where we’re reminded about how ruthless that Irene has to be and the sorts of split-second decisions that she has to make, and that she’ll have to live with the consequences for the rest of her life.

An excellent addition to one of my favourite series, I can’t wait to see where it goes next.

Book details

ISBN: 9781529000603
Publisher: Pan
Year of publication: 2020

Older Posts »

Powered by WordPress