BooksOfTheMoon

Alif the Unseen

By G. Willow Wilson

Rating: 3 stars

When the grey-hat hacker who calls himself Alif, living in an unnamed city in an unnamed Emirate, comes into possession of a book called The Thousand and One Days, his life suddenly becomes far more exciting than he would like. He, and his childhood friend, Dina, find themselves on the run and enter into a world of shadowy State security agencies, djinn, hidden cities and quantum computing.

It took me nearly half the book before I started warming up to it. This is because (and I appreciate that this is a failing on my part) I have trouble with books where I dislike the characters, especially the protagonist. And Alif starts here as very unlikeable. Shallow, entitled and whiny, it’s not until he’s pulled out of his comfortable world and gets properly stuck into his Hero’s Journey that he starts to become tolerable, as the plot also starts to speed up.

A lot of this starts because the woman that Alif (thinks he) loves rejects him so rather than spending some time crying and then getting on with his life, he decides to build a surveillance system that will wipe him from her electronic life, so that she never has to encounter him again. Uh huh, that’s a normal way to process a breakup, sure.

As someone who writes software for a living, I always wince a bit when any sort of computing (especially hacking) happens in popular culture, as they inevitably get it hilariously wrong. But thinking of this as cyberpunk sort of eased the pain of that, since that’s supposed to all be metaphorical and I just sort of glazed over that.

One thing I did really like about this book was how it portrayed the messiness of revolutions. The way that idealism and mob rule are all tangled up and can’t be easily separated. And what do you do once you’ve started a revolution? Especially one where you can’t even steer it, never mind control it. That sense of powerlessness and things spinning out of control was nicely handled.

So an interesting book, and one that evokes the deep history and conflicted present of the Middle East. I struggled with this, and still don’t really understand what happened at the climax or what Farakhuaz was or how the magic computer was even supposed to metaphorically work. So this didn’t really work for me, but gets pulled up for its setting and the delicious writing.

Book details

ISBN: 9780857895691
Publisher: Corvus
Year of publication: 2013

Changeless (Parasol Protectorate, #2)

By Gail Carriger

Rating: 3 stars

The second book of the Parasol Protectorate series sees Alexia, now Lady Macoon, have to investigate a plague of humanity that affects London’s supernatural population. A quest that sees her follow her husband north to Scotland, and the pack of werewolves he once abandoned.

This was mostly fun, but I did have some issues with it that I didn’t have with the first book. Firstly, the whole Scot-bashing thing is wearing a bit thin. It was bad enough in the last book with just Lord Macoon in London, but much of this is set in the Highlands and I spent a lot of time rolling my eyes.

Secondly, Alexia’s relationship with her best friend Ivy is just weird. This was something that I’d seen mentioned in a review of the last book, but which I didn’t really agree with at the time (I put the whole “ugly hat” thing down to being an in-joke between old friends). Here, I honestly can’t see much of the way of affection between the two women, and their friendship is stated to only be four years old. I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt since Alexia does go from crisis to crisis throughout the book, but it’s still odd, and doesn’t leave me thinking well of either woman.

And then there’s the treatment of empire. It’s an interesting and clever notion to use werewolves as the shock troops of the British empire, enabling it to conquer a quarter of the world. Here, a major plot driver is the return of the Kingair pack from active duty in India. There’s nobody here that even suggests that the imperial project is a bad thing, or acknowledges that atrocities that must have been carried out in its name. This might be something that I wouldn’t have noticed when I was younger, but I’ve become much more sensitive to it as I’ve got older, and although yes, the upper classes of the period especially would have had their wealth based on empire, I feel the author should have acknowledged the pain that it caused to the colonised nations.

On the plus side, it was fantastic to see Genevieve Lefoux and Sidheag Kingair make appearances, since they were characters I was very fond of in the Finishing School books. And it looks like Genevieve may well have a role to play in future books in the series.

The relationship between Alexia and Conall Macoon is genuinely wonderful, having a strong bond, and very healthy respect for each other that isn’t overly sentimental. Which makes the ending all the more shocking. I will be very disappointed if the next book turns into one of my least favourite tropes: that of misunderstandings caused by wilful lack of communication, but I’m going to get to it as soon as possible.

Book details

ISBN: 9781841499741
Publisher: Orbit
Year of publication: 2010

Soulless (Parasol Protectorate, #1)

By Gail Carriger

Rating: 4 stars

I came to this series after reading Carriger’s Finishing School series which I enjoyed a lot. This is set in the same universe, maybe a generation later. You can tell it was written earlier as some of the world that was fleshed out by the time of Finishing School was still a bit vague in this one, but Carriger already has a good sense of world-building, and her prose is a pleasure to read.

Our protagonist is Alexia Tarabotti, a young woman with the ability to cancel out the powers of supernatural creatures, such as vampires and werewolves, by touching them. The polite term of this is preternatural, but the less polite call her soulless (as opposed to the supernatural, who have a surfeit of soul). At the start of the book, she’s attacked by a vampire (without even introducing himself!) and she’s forced to kill him. This leads her into contact with Lord Maccon of the Bureau of Unnatural Registry, and himself a powerful werewolf, who has to investigate. As Alexia investigates further, she gets sucked into a plot that could shake the Empire to its core.

That sounds quite dense, but the book is really readable and a lot of fun to read. It’s as much comedy of manners as it is investigative thriller. And it’s also really rather sensual, and quite sexy too, which I wasn’t expecting, after the very chaste Finishing School books. Alexia and Lord Maccon share a mutual attraction and there’s quite detailed descriptions of Alexia discovering the joys of kissing. And the thing about attraction to a werewolf is, that when he changes back from wolf to human, he’s naked. And, oh, Alexia has to hold on to him to use her powers to keep him in human form. How awful. Let’s just say she doesn’t stop her hands from roving.

There’s a lot of scope to explore the world that Carriger has constructed here, and I’m looking forward to following Alexia as she steps into that wider world. I just hope that, after a lot of Scots-bashing in the first book (Lord Maccon is Scottish and there’s a lot of jokes about how uncouth the Scots are), there’s less of that in future.

Book details

Publisher: Orbit
Year of publication: 2010

Rivers Of London: Deadly Ever After (Graphic Novel)

By Ben Aaronovitch

Rating: 3 stars

This tenth (tenth!) graphic novel in Aaronovitch’s long-running Rivers of London series moves the focus to a couple of side-characters we’ve not seen much of until now – Mama Thames’ twin daughters, Chelsea and Olympia. They accidentally undo the enchantment on a mulberry tree which releases something that had been trapped for over a hundred years. And as the Folly are too busy with ghosts in the Underground, the twins have to investigate themselves.

I didn’t think this was one of the stronger instalments of this series. The twins are supposed to be insipid layabouts, but they acquit themselves quite well, I thought. And I never entirely believed Jeter’s transformation from loving father to evil fairy-tale master. We didn’t really spend enough time around the people affected by the fairy-tale magic to care about them either, and I didn’t think the Little Mermaid metaphor worked at all.

We only get cameos of Peter and Nightingale, although the excellent Abigail gets a slightly bigger role. The narrative knows what it’s talking about when it calls her a fan-favourite (along with the brilliant military foxes).

They’ve got the same artist as the last few volumes and I’ve definitely enjoyed that style, so was happy to see them back.

I’ll continue to read these, but I hope the next one goes back to the main cast. Or maybe a Molly special. Can’t ever have enough Molly.

Book details

ISBN: 9781787738591

Envy of Angels (Sin du Jour, #1)

By Matt Wallace

Rating: 4 stars

This book manages to fit an awful lot of plot into a short novella, starting with the supernatural catering outfit that hires Darren and Lena, just when they’ve been blackballed in New York and are desperate for work. From there we have a story that encompasses catering a demon peace deal, severed limbs, angels, dogs, creepy clowns, fast food corporations and much more.

I don’t necessarily feel I got to know any of the characters, but with so much plot going on, I barely had time to notice. I’ve still got no idea what’s going on with the sous-chef with the attitude, but I certainly intend to read more of Sin de Jour’s adventures and hopefully get more characterisation along the way.

Book details

Publisher: Tor.com
Year of publication: 2015

Amongst Our Weapons (Rivers of London, #9)

By Ben Aaronovitch

Rating: 4 stars

From the blurb, I initially thought this was going to be a locked room murder – with a murder being perpetrated in the London Silver Vaults, but it turns out those (which are a real thing) have been opened up and turned into a shopping arcade, so the door was wide open. What we actually get is a thriller of a story as seven former prayer circle members, all with certain platinum rings, are being picked off, one by one. And yes, of course Peter makes the requisite Tolkien jokes.

Alongside the investigation, there are the elaborate preparations around Beverly’s pregnancy and the twins that she’s carrying. This gives us a different view into Lady Ty, now that she’s going to be an auntie. Less the terrifying political player and more, well, human. In a different way, that’s also true of DCI Seawoll, as the investigation takes the Met up to his home territory, around Manchester and we get to spend some time with him, and even his father.

Aaronovitch is slowly expanding his wizarding world. Peter is eager to deepen his US links, and expand them to the Continent as well, and re-establish the broken connections with the Sons of Weyland and bring their engineering expertise back into the Society of the Wise. Personally, that’s the sort of stuff that I’m more interested in. The crime-of-the-week in the book is there to drive these things, but isn’t as interesting to me as the world and the people in it. But after nine books, as many graphic novels and several novellas and short stories, I would imagine (and, indeed, hope) that I’ve come to care for the characters as people, not just mcguffin-solving machines.

The edition I read was the Waterstones one that has a short story included, Miroslav’s Fabulous Hand. This, along with a couple of references in the main book, shed new light on Nightingale’s chapter of Monday, Monday, the last graphic novel, and gives us the backstory to the pre-WW2 mission that Nightingale had been on when he was apprehended, as we see in that story.

Speaking of Nightingale, his announcement at the end made me sit up! It’ll be interesting to see what the implications of this are. I imagine it won’t stay secret for long, so I wonder how the demi-monde will react. And if it’ll have the effect on Peter that he wants.

So another really fun story in an evergreen series that I thoroughly enjoy. The one thing in the books that makes me uneasy is the black and white way that the Metropolitan Police is presented. They’re very much the Good Guys, swooping in to save the people of London from whatever befalls them. In the real world, the Met’s reputation is substantially more tarnished than that. Between corruption, institutional racism, servicing officers abusing and murdering women and the ongoing Black Lives Matter and #MeToo movements, it’s disappointing that there’s not much referencing any of these.

Notwithstanding that, which I can understand – these are fairly fluffy books, and I can see why Aaronovitch might want to keep real world ugliness out of them – it was a whole lot of fun, and I look forward to the next one.

Book details

ISBN: 9781399603096
Publisher: Orion
Year of publication: 2022

Grave Importance (Dr. Greta Helsing #3)

By Vivian Shaw

Rating: 4 stars

Dr Greta Helsing really needs to stop covering for her colleagues! This time, she takes a job covering as interim medical director for an exclusive mummy resort in France, and before she knows it, she’s got an epidemic of mummy weakness on her hands. And that’s not nearly the worst of it. Not if two angels roaming Europe have anything to say about it.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this whole series, and this final book, is great fun. Something I’ve enjoyed about the whole series is that it exudes kindness. Greta is a doctor, first and foremost. She’s got a burning desire to help people, and of course, her definition of people is so much more than just humans, and she puts her vocation to good use.

This book also explores the romance that finally began between Greta and Varney in the last book. I’m a sucker for a good romance, and this is a delight to read. Varney started the series withdrawn and miserable, and while he’s held on to melancholy for a long time, Greta’s influence has helped draw him back into the world and remind him that there are things worth living for. It’s all very wholesome and sweet.

There’s a jaw-dropping action sequence toward the end of the book that sort of feels like what might have happened in Good Omens if Damien hadn’t stopped his dad, and the mother of all deus ex machina moments, in an entirely fitting way.

There’s one minor thing that niggled me. Although hell is portrayed as a modern city and mostly devoted to bureaucracy, there was a mention, or at least an implication, in the previous book that humans were still tortured there. That makes the whole playing tourist thing a little more icky. It’s never referenced here, in fact, the demons are very much the good guys, riding to the rescue, but that little thing is still at the back of my mind.

That’s a minor issue though, because, as I say, there’s a core of kindness running right through this book, not just Greta, but Varney, Ruthven and Fass as well, all trying to just do what’s right. And the romance between Ruthven and Grisaille is equally as sweet, not to mention tender, as that between Greta and Varney.

Oh, and I can’t decide if the idea of Bosch-ear demonlets (little ears on legs) scuttling around the eaves of your home is utterly horrifying, or unspeakably cute.

Book details

Gobbelino London & A Contagion of Zombies

By Kim M. Watt

Rating: 4 stars

Gobbelino and Callum London are hanging out in a cemetery (for social, not work purposes). It’s all going swimmingly until a dog chases a stick and fetches an arm. From then on, Gobs and Callum are in a (hah!) cat and mouse game with the living dead. They need to find out who’s creating zombies and how to stop them.

This was a lot of fun, I like Gobbelino’s snarky tone. He acts all mercenary but he wouldn’t really walk away from someone in need. Not when Callum would spend the rest of the week giving him those big puppy eyes, anyway. We have several returning characters in this volume, as well as a number of new ones, the best of whom is Gertrude (aka Grim Reaper Leeds) who, when not reaping the souls of the dead, runs a pet cafĂ© featuring baby ghouls with her partner Emma.

There’s a surprising amount of action in the book, especially the big sequence where the zombies overrun the market towards the end of the book which was tenser than I was expecting! We also get a glimpse into Callum’s history. Not much, but enough to contrast well with who he is now and to pull us into the story.

Also, if I distrusted the Watch in the first book, I out and out loathe them now. Claudia might be okay (for a peeler) but the rest of them are a good example of why we need to abolish the police!

Watt writes deliberately upbeat and cheerful stories. This is a great example of doing that really well, keeping a tight plot and exciting action at the same time. Just what I needed after a whole collection of really miserablist Rachel Swirsky stories!

Book details

Year of publication: 2020

Gobbelino London & a Scourge of Pleasantries

By Kim M. Watt

Rating: 4 stars

Gobbelino London is a talking cat, something his human, Callum didn’t blink an eye at. Now they’re a PI team trying to eek out a living between the human and Fay worlds in Leeds and have a new case on their hands which will see them in somewhat more peril than they expect for a case that involves finding a missing book.

As much as I like whimsy and fluff, I found Watt’s Beaufort Scales books a little too twee for my tastes, but I enjoyed this an awful lot. While I’m much more a dog person than a cat person, who doesn’t love a snarky talking cat? Watt sketches out a surprising amount of world-building in a fairly short book, and left me with quite the unease at the Watch and some of their shadier practices.

This book told a satisfying story in its own right and also set up a bunch of stuff for future instalments. I liked Gobbelino and Callum, as well as the awesome Queen-Empress (or was it Empress-Queen?) of the rats, Susan. It was a lot of fun and I’ll definitely be picking up future volumes in the series soon.

Book details

Year of publication: 2020

Strange Practice (Dr. Greta Helsing, #1)

By Vivian Shaw

Rating: 4 stars

Dr Greta Helsing (the family dropped the ‘van’ some generations ago) is a London GP, but alongside all the usual travails of this profession, she’s got additional problems to deal with – her patients are all supernatural creatures. Whether that’s vampires with sunburn, ghouls who suffer from depression or mummies with joint problems, Greta has to do her job, and also prevent them from being noticed by the rest of the world. What she doesn’t need is London’s current serial killer taking an interest in her patients, and perhaps in Greta herself.

I really enjoyed this book – it was a huge amount of fun. I really liked Greta as a protagonist. She’s constantly tired, purely human but dedicated to her patients and her art. She wants to solve problems and help people, but the “Rosary Ripper” is enough to put a dent in anyone’s day.

We’re introduced to a number of different supernatural characters here. The ones that get the most attention are probably Lord Ruthven, a vampire whose most urgent problem is usually just staving off the boredom of the ages; and Fas, who’s got a really bad lung problem and nobody really knows his background.

The books reminds me of both the Athena Club books by Theodora Goss, in that it portrays creatures that are traditionally thought of as ‘monsters’ in a sympathetic light, and the Incryptid series by Seanan McGuire, for the modern setting and humans working to protect the supernatural. It blends these elements well, and I really want to know more about the history of both Ruthven and Fas, as well as get a wider view into Greta’s world.

There was a bit of deus ex machina towards the end, but nothing that hadn’t been hinted at prior to the fact, and certainly not enough to in any way spoil my enjoyment. I’ll definitely be looking out for Greta’s future adventures.

Book details

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