The Book Review Post

I never did get round to doing the post-Christmas book review post, did I? Since I actually had some time to read new stuff, perhaps I ought to.

1. Principles of Angels by Jaine Fenn. I try and experiment with new authors every now and then. This was one such. The book was … okay, I guess. I didn’t hate it. But I did find it slow going in places. Some important background stuff wasn’t really that clear, particularly relating to the politics of the setting. I also had issues with the idea of a ‘democracy’ by assassination. Also, some of the characters were a bit too unsympathetic. Elarn Reen (the female lead) spends too much time whining and never seriously tries to escape the situation she found herself in. And the male-prostitute character (whose name I don’t recall) never managed to catch my interest.

2. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. First of all, it’s written by Neil Gaiman, so you know you’ll get a reasonably well-thought-out and entertaining story. I wasn’t mad about the way I was for American Gods or Anansi Boys, but I did enjoy it. Also it did have some very powerful moments. The ending, to tell the truth, almost made me cry. (It’s not actually bad as such – arguably what’s happening is, in the long run, good – but it is quite sad.) The book had a tendency to dangle mysteries in front of the reader, though, without ever really tying them up. I couldn’t work out what Silas actually was, for instance, and I felt the world Ghulheim was in could have done with more exploration. I also wasn’t too keen on the artwork in this book. However, I can recommend this one, despite these minor quibbles. The characters are likable and have consistent personalities and I couldn’t find any holes in the plot.

3. A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin. I started this one in – I think – 2007 and didn’t get very far. I took on my Christmas break on a whim and I’m glad I did. You see, once I got past about page 100, something happened: the book had me. I subsequently lost most of an evening to it. I think the first 100 or so pages are a bit slow – this may be why it took me so long. Also, there are a lot of characters and a detailed world, so there’s a lot to keep track of at first. However, the book is thoroughly unsentimental, the characters in it all have believable personalities and they actually act like people. The plot is driven by what the people in it do, not by any imposed deus ex machina. It can be quite dark in places, but there is an odd attraction to the unpredictability of its past. The series is also quite good, too.

4. Unto Leviathan by Richard Paul Russo. Probably the best actual SF novel that I’ve discovered in the last year. Briefly, the premise concerns a generation ship that has been searching for centuries – except the crew no longer have any clear idea what for. Then they find an unpopulated planet – except it has some human ruins. This grizzly discovery then leads onto an encounter with what appears to be an alien spacecraft. Their experiences there lead its would-be explorers to even further confusion and self-doubt. This book has a good, page-turning story. The characters are well-drawn and the aliens (if even they are) remain offstage and enigmatic throughout. I found the lack of clear answers there a bit frustrating, but in fairness I can’t see what else the author could have done. Also, the book does a faith-vs-reason thing – and actually gets it right. (When it started, I was afraid that it would end like the awkward intellectual stillbirth that happened in the film Contact. Those pitfalls are avoided here.)

5. Zima Blue by Alastair Reynolds. This is actually a collection of short stories. I shan’t review them individually, but the general quality is high. The usual Reynolds themes are there – redemption, guilt, identity-changes – and the usual technicolour space opera backdrops. It’s an entertaining book and I found it an easy read. It’s good to see that it is possible to do hard science fiction without making it into a narrative textbook (Greg Egan, I’m looking at you…).

…So there you have it. I may expand on this if I think of any books worth writing about.

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