BooksOfTheMoon

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

Sunspot Jungle: The Ever Expanding Universe of Fantasy and Science Fiction

By Bill Campbell

Rating: 4 stars

This is a pretty huge collection, and the range of stories is impressive as well. There’s no real theme to the collection, but it’s a set of well-told tales. The opening is as strong as you would expect from someone with the reputation of N. K. Jemisin, being a dystopia where the alien Masters control the earth, and the very bodies of its people. The tone of the stories varies up and down, but seems to get darker towards the end of the collection. That particular beat isn’t to my taste, but there’s enough else here to enjoy, and no story really outstays its welcome (the only story that I mostly skipped was Clifton Gachagua’s No Kissing the Dolls Unless Jimi Hendrix is Playing as I just found it impenetrable).

Some highlights for me include Sarah Pinsker’s A Song Transmuted about the power of music; Real Boys by Clara Kumagai, telling the story of one of the boys turned into donkeys in Pinocchio (that scene in the Disney film terrified me as a kid); Madeleine by Amal El-Mohtar, about a woman who may or may not be going mad; How to Piss Off a Failed Super Soldier by John Chu, about a super-powered person who needs help to learn how to live. I perhaps shouldn’t have read Hal Duncan’s A Pinch of Salt — tale of sex and blasphemy — while I was eating, but then knowing what I do about Duncan, that was my own fault.

So a strong collection, with a lot of variety, and contributions from all over the world. It’s nice to see an editor willing to pull contributions from beyond the usual anglophone sphere.

Book details

ISBN: 9780998705972
Publisher: Rosarium Publishing
Year of publication: 2018

Turning Darkness Into Light

By Marie Brennan

Rating: 4 stars

I’m always a little wary of sequels to books that don’t necessarily seem to need them, but I loved this. Audrey Camhurst is Isabella’s granddaughter and is struggling to overcome her famous family name and make her own mark on the world of philology, so she jumps at the chance to translate some recently uncovered ancient Draconean texts. Of course, it’s not as straightforward as that, and soon she, and her fellow scholar Kudshayn, are drawn into a conspiracy that could incite war.

We’ve jumped forward in time by a couple of generations, (maybe now the equivalent of our inter-war period?) and the technology and social mores have moved accordingly. There are now motor cars and telephones, and people willing to address each other by their first names!

The book is written in an epistolary format, with diary entries, newspaper articles and letters from a variety of different people, although Audrey is our main PoV, with the Draconean Kudshayn the secondary. What they find as they translate the tablets is the founding myth of the ancient Draconean people, and seeing how this shapes the thinking of these two individuals, especially the priest-scholar Kudshayn is fascinating, given that what he learns impacts on his faith.

The characters are all great. I had a soft spot for Cora, Audrey’s assistant, as being someone we would recognise as being on the spectrum. Even Audrey’s one-time beau, Aaron Mornett has depth, and both Audrey and Kudshayn are painted in some depth. Audrey is driven by her famous family. Unlike her sister, she doesn’t want to be involved with Society, she wants to be an academic, in a field which her family have basically created out of whole cloth. She especially worships her grandmother, although she doesn’t always take the right moral from her adventures. What Would Grandmama Do is often on her lips.

The keystone of the plot really lies along the lines of attempts to resist the changing of the world, and the ways in which “moderate” bigots can be as dangerous, if not moreso, than the sort who shout their opinions to the world. Very much a lesson for our time. But also a reminder that there will always be people willing to stand up to the bigots and show how we can, together, turn darkness into light.

Book details

ISBN: 9781789092516
Publisher: Titan Books
Year of publication: 2019

The City of Brass (The Daevabad Trilogy, #1)

By S.A. Chakraborty

Rating: 4 stars

I’d heard some good buzz about this book but had known nothing about it when I picked it up. Nahri is a young woman who doesn’t believe in magic and makes a living conning the rich in 18th century Cairo. All she wants is to make enough money to get out of Cairo. Well, be careful what you wish for, because when she accidentally summons a djinn warrior to her side, she starts a journey that ends in the eponymous city of the title, and she learns about her family’s past and that her conning ways haven’t necessarily prepared her for court intrigues.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel of magic, politics and good old-fashioned trickery. Nahri thinks she’s world-wise, but she’s lost amongst the djinn of Daevabad, relying on her warrior Dara, and later on prince Ali who befriends her. She’s an interesting character, strong on the outside, but with the vulnerability of someone who’s never been able to rely on anyone or allow themselves to love.

Ali is interesting in a different way. He is sympathetic to those without pure djinn blood in Daevabad (the shafit), who are treated as second class citizens at best, and this sympathy leads him down paths that his more politically astute brother would never sanction. He’s also the most religiously devout character in the book, which can sometimes have him seeming like a wet blanket, as he refuses the wine and women that surround the rest of the nobility. This rigidity can sometimes make him difficult, especially in his dealings with the religion of Nahri’s people, but his actions, to both the shafit and to Nahri, keep him sympathetic.

The warrior, Dara, is probably the least developed character, falling into the cliche of the mysterious warrior with a troubled past. He is devoted to Nahri from early in their relationship but inflexible in his thinking.

There’s a lot going on here, and keeping tribes, races and the various politics clear in my head wasn’t always easy. It’s going to be some time before the next book is out in paperback, so I imagine I’ll have forgotten most of it by the time that comes around, and the same for the final book in the series. This is very much the end of an act though, and not a fully contained story in itself. It’s a great story though, and with plenty to hold interest and many hooks for future books.

Book details

ISBN: 9780008239428
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Year of publication: 2017

Goblin Quest (Jig the Goblin, Book 1)

By Jim C. Hines

Rating: 4 stars

This a fun wee story about a Goblin just minding his own business, doing his Goblin-y things (mostly involving being picked on by other Goblins) when a group of adventurers come into his mountain, kill the other members of the scouting party and capture him to be their guide further into the mountain.

As other reviewers have noted, there’s a strong influence from D&D-style roleplaying involved here (it was, actually, one of the reasons I picked it up – in one of my group’s RPGs, we encountered a stray Goblin child and adopted him as our mascot for the party). Jig here is a fun character, a Goblin who is actually competent and refuses to just barge in and try and kill things, while also stabbing his own colleagues in the back (something his fellows despise him for). He grows as a character a lot during his time with his captives and even bonds with one of them. Not being particularly strong or fast, he has to think his way out of situations, and he does so with flair.

A fun wee fantasy story, with a heavy D&D influence that’s easy to read, with a sympathetic protagonist. It certainly makes me re-evaluate my actions as a PC in our D&D campaign!

Book details

Year of publication: 2004

Monstress, Vol. 3: Haven

By Marjorie M. Liu, Sana Takeda

Rating: 4 stars

In the third volume of the incredibly pretty Monstress, Maika and her pals enter yet another city while looking for answers. This time, Zinn, the monster living inside her, pretty much manifests itself whole and remains connected to her only by tendrils. By now it feels like the whole world is looking for Maika, and the constant running is getting a bit exhausting (and I’m just reading).

There’s a focus on Kippa that hasn’t been there before, as she continues to prove that she’s the best, sweetest and kindest character in the whole series. I fear that even if she doesn’t die, her innocence will. The cat, Ren, here is quite interesting. I’m conflicted by him. He’s betrayed Maika in the past, but it’s hinted here that he’s not entirely acting of his own volition and I’ll be interested to see where that goes.

Once again, Maika continues to make poor decisions, and sometimes it feels like she’s a sulky teenager. She’s got the attitude and the manners, although she does also have the strength to rip you limb from limb (quite literally). This, tied to anger management issues, causes a problem. I don’t find her hugely sympathetic, to be honest.

I’m glad that I read the whole three volumes in pretty quick succession, since otherwise I think I would really have struggled with all the different factions, who’s currently betraying whom and who or what is currently possessed by tentacled horrors with too many eyes.

The storytelling and panel layout sometimes felt a little muddled and it took a few reads of a few pages to figure out the structure and what was going on. Despite this, the art remains absolutely stunning and the little comic drawing of Seizi cuddling a young Maika at the back is worth the price alone.

Book details

ISBN: 9781534306912
Publisher: Image Comics
Year of publication: 2018

Monstress, Vol. 2: The Blood

By Marjorie M. Liu, Sana Takeda

Rating: 4 stars

The second volume of Monstress is just as lushly illustrated as the first. It’s an absolutely beautiful piece of art. It can also be incredibly violent and grotesque at times as well, so beware, if you have problems with that.

Maika Halfwolf, the fox cub that she rescued in volume one and the cat, Master Ren, have travelled to the pirate city of Thyria in search of answers about Maika’s past and her mother, as well as of the mask fragment that she carries and the monster living inside her. Their search takes them to the Isle of Bones and yet more questions.

I find Maika both inspiringly strong-willed and frustratingly stubborn. She makes poor decisions and fails to make sure of those around her who might offer her aid. And yet, we still feel for her. We learn more about the creature inside her in this volume and we get more of Kippa, who is the innocent caught in the centre of all this. The way things are going, I fear for her, before the series is over. There’s machinations between different political factions and war grows ever closer.

For all its unyielding hardness and its violence, the core story here is intriguing, and the world-building remains excellent. Combined with Sana Takeda’s incredible art, I look forward to the next volume.

Book details

ISBN: 9781534300415
Publisher: Image Comics
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

Spinning Silver

By Naomi Novik

Rating: 4 stars

I enjoyed this book a lot, but it did take me longer to get through than I expected, since I kept stopping throughout it, especially early on. It took me a while to figure out why, but I eventually realised that the two main protagonists, Miryem and Irena both end up married against their will (or at least, not actively wanting it) fairly early on, and this is something that touches a nerve with me. It was delicately handled and both women are able to think on their feet and deal with their respective situations. But still.

The blurb on the cover talks only about Irena (the duke’s daughter, who he schemes to marry to the tsar) and Miryem (the moneylender’s daughter, who’s much better at his job than he is, and attracts unwelcome attention because of it), but there are several other PoV characters as well and Novik does an excellent job of differentiating them and making them feel distinct.

Through one of these characters, the peasant girl Wanda, we discover a different kind of magic to that encountered by Miryem or Irena. We discover again the power of literacy and numeracy. Miryem brings Wanda into her household as a servant to help pay off her father’s debt and she teaches her the meanings of the scratches on the paper and how they create credit and debt. We see the magic of literacy through fresh eyes, which reminds us of the immense power that each and every one of us has and barely even realises it. The power to verify the truth, to travel to impossible times and places, to understand and appreciate how long a debt will last. That is magic indeed.

An excellent story, drawing on Novik’s own heritage to create a wonderfully believable setting and all too believable fears of the Jewish residents of the country.

Book details

ISBN: 9781509899043
Publisher: Pan
Year of publication: 2018

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