More Shiny Linkiness

Time for some more links to reviews I wrote for the latest edition of Shiny New Books. Please do click through and read the full things if these teasers interest you. Feel free to comment here or there. Today’s choices are YA titles:

Half Wild by Sally Green

half wildHalf Wild is the middle book in a trilogy which started with Half Bad last year (my blog review here.)  The first volume was rather unfairly described by some as Harry Potter for teenagers, as the story is about witches – black and white, good and bad. The tricky bit is to identify which lot are the good ones and which are the bad – and it’s not always the way round that you’d think. Stuck in the middle is Nathan Byrne, a young lad of mixed parentage, having a black witch father and white mother. He ends up on the run searching for his father who has to give him his three gifts and blood on his seventeenth birthday to fully fledge him as a witch.

In Half Wild, Nathan is still on the run from the white witch hunters, and the novel becomes a thriller – a classic chase across Europe, not made better by the object of Nathan’s affections being a white witch, Annalise. It is pacy and definitely more grown up than the first novel and huge fun.

Read my full review here.

The Door That Led to Where by Sally Gardner

door that led to whereSally Gardner is one of my favourite YA authors – her light touch with magic and soaring imagination make all her books a treat.
This, her latest, is all about a teenaged boy discovering his ancestral heritage. AJ, a failure at school apart from an A* GCSE English, gets a job as a ‘baby clerk’ in the law firm that his mum used to clean for. There he discovers a key with his name on, and it opens a door – a time portal into Dickensian London. It turns out that lots of other people want control of the key and AJ and his friends will have some interesting adventures in both worlds before deciding ‘when’ they want to be…

This book is a well-plotted adventure that has a lot to say about friendship. It was surprisingly gritty too, so not for the youngest of teens perhaps.

Read my full review here.

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Source: Own copy and publisher respectively
To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:

Half bad? Not at all … it’s all good!

Half Bad by Sally Green

half bad

This is the latest teen crossover fantasy hit that everyone’s reading, The Hunger Games is so last year dahling! At first I was resistant, but when it was picked for our book group choice, I grasped the mettle and am really glad I did read it.

If you read the blurb which mentions witches a lot and being kept in a cage – it immediately makes you think of Harry Potter and the broom cupboard under the stairs. There are some superficial similarities – The Ministry of Magic’s less benign aspects resemble Green’s Council of Witches, the Death-Eaters are certainly similar in some respects to the black witches here, but that’s as far as it goes. Potter may have been one inspiration, but in fact, Half Bad owes a lot more to Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking Trilogy in style, for it is a gritty and violent adventure too, although set firmly in our world rather than a frontier planet.

It starts in an interesting way.  A few pages in and we’re introduced to Nathan’s typical day:

Waking up to sky and air is OK. Waking up to the cage and the shackles is what it is. You can’t let the cage get to you. The shackles rub but healing is quick and easy, so what’s to mind? …
You’ve got to have a plan, though, and the best idea is to have it all worked out the night before so you can slip straight into it without a thought. Mostly the plan is to do what you’re told, but not every day, and not today.

In Nathan’s England, witches live amongst the normal folk, the ‘fain’, and the vast majority are white. Nathan’s mother was a white witch, his brother and sister too will become white witches when they reach seventeen. Nathan is different, his father was a black witch – he’s half and half by birth, and thus of special interest to the Council of Witches, who control all the white witches. Whilst growing up he will be tested regularly, to see if he’s showing black witch tendencies. Black witches are murderous loners, who’d as soon dispatch their own kind as their enemies, the whites. The Council is totally intolerant of black witches, and would like to destroy them all.

We periodically flash back to hear more of Nathan’s childhood, and find out how he came to live as a prisoner in a cage out in the wilds. Nathan is desperate to escape. His seventeenth birthday approaches – he needs to be given three gifts and blood from an ancestor. His mother died years ago, his grandmother is under the Council’s controls – he’s never met his father. He’ll die without the blood, he needs to escape and find Marcus.

That’s all I shall tell you, as there is a whole raft of adventure coming for young Nathan and it’s thrilling stuff. There are twists and turns and some shocking scenes and reveations along the way, not least finding out how bad the white witches really are, which I’m sure you will have surmised already.

Interestingly, the book is written totally in the present tense, but you can distinguish between the past and the present by the past being written in the second person, and the present in the first. This combination makes the narrative very immediate and intense. You’re instantly on Nathan’s side – for a lad who could turn out to be the next Voldemort so to speak, he appears to be a reliable narrator.

It will be interesting to see what our book group think, but I really enjoyed this novel.  It was pacy, easy to read, and very dark. Roll on the sequel. (Surely you didn’t believe this would be a standalone volume!)  (9/10)

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Source: Own copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below…
Half Bad by Sally Green, Penguin paperback, March 2014, 400 pages.

Annabel elsewhere – The Gospel of Loki

For the past couple of months, book reviews have been a bit thinner on the ground because I’ve been reading a lot for the first issue of Shiny New Books. In subsequent issues, we hope to spread out the reviewing a bit more amongst a whole host of wonderful bloggers who are also writing for us. (If you’d like to join the gang, do send an email to info@shinynewbooks.co.uk).

gospel-of-lokiBut I can now do some linky posts … Today I’d love to direct you to my review of The Gospel of Loki by Joanne M Harris (yes there is an ‘M’, and yes it’s the same Joanne Harris as Chocolat). Click here to read the review and feel free to leave comments here or there or both.

The Gospel of Loki is a really fun take on the Norse Myths and I loved it. It is totally different to A.S.Byatt’s Ragnarok which I recently read and reviewed here.  For all it’s lightness in the way Harris tells the story of Loki, Odin, all the other Norse Gods and Ragnarok, the underpinning myth is all there though.  It also has the most gorgeous cover with a myriad of little gold leaf highlights which don’t show up on the picture. (8.5/10)

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Source: Own bought copy. To explore more about this book on Amazon UK, please click below:
The Gospel of Loki by Joanne Harris, pub Feb 2014 by Gollancz, 320 pages, hardback.

 

Once Upon a Time VIII

I don’t do challenges as a rule, but having discovered the Once Upon a Time challenge hosted by Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings, now in its eighth year(!), I had to join in at the lowest level once I saw the gorgeous artwork.

onceup8275

Carl says:  “This is a reading and viewing event that encompasses four broad categories: Fairy Tale, Folklore, Fantasy and Mythology, including the seemingly countless sub-genres and blending of genres that fall within this spectrum. The challenge continues through June 21st and allows for very minor (1 book only) participation as well as more immersion depending on your reading/viewing whims.

The Once Upon a Time VIII Challenge has a few rules:
Rule #1: Have fun.
Rule #2: HAVE FUN.
Rule #3: Don’t keep the fun to yourself, share it with us, please!
Rule #4: Do not be put off by the word “challenge”.

While this event retains the word “challenge” from its earliest days, the entire goal is to read good books, watch good television shows and movies, and most importantly, visit old friends and make new ones. There are several ways to participate, and I hope you can find at least one to your liking:”

once8journey

“This is really as simple as the name implies. It means you are participating, but not committing yourself to any specific number of books. By signing up for The Journey you are agreeing to read at least one book within one of the four categories during March 21st to June 21st period. Just one book. If you choose to read more, fantastic! If not, then we have still had the pleasure of your company during this three month reading journey and hopefully you have read a great book, met some interesting people, and enjoyed the various activities that occur during the challenge. It has always been of utmost importance to me that the challenges that I host be all about experiencing enjoyable literature and sharing it with others. I want you to participate. Hence, The Journey.”

I can cope with that.  Just one book with three months to read it in.  I have so many that fit the criteria already on my shelves – but which one?

Some of the contenders are:

  • Mirror Mirror by Gregory Maguire (Fairy tale)
  • Runelight and Runemarks by Joanne Harris (Folklore/Mythology/Fantasy)
  • The Goddess Chronicle by Natsuo Kirino (Mythology)
  • The ocean at the end of the lane by Neil Gaiman (Fantasy)

I could read all of them, but which would you choose first? 

Where is your North?

Soonchild by Russell Hoban, illustrated by Alexis Deacon

220px-Soonchild_Cover

This was the last book that Russell Hoban finished before his death in 2011. It was published posthumously by Walker Books as an illustrated short novel for a teen audience, and it is dedicated to Hoban’s grandchildren who are probably the perfect age to read this modern folktale of the frozen north…

Maybe you think there isn’t any north where you are. Maybe it’s warm and cosy and outside the window the street is full of cars or maybe there’s just emptiness and a train whistle. There aren’t any Eskimos or dog sleds, nothing like that. But in your mind there is a North.

There’s a north where it’s so cold that your nose hairs get stiff and your eyeballs get brittle and your face hurts and your hands will freeze if you leave them uncovered too long. A north where the white wind blows, where the night wind wails with the voices of the cold and lonesome dead. Where the ice bear walks alone and he’s never lost. Where the white wolf comes trotting, trotting on the paths of the living, the paths of the dead. Where the snowy owl drifts through the long twilight without a sound. Where the raven speaks his words of black.

In this north there’s a place on the shore of the great northern bay with forty or fifty huts and a co-op and some boats and some of those motorized sleds they call skidoos. Some of the people still live by hunting and fishing but many have jobs and buy their food at the co-op.

These are the opening paragraphs of Soonchild, and those of you who’ve encountered Russell Hoban before will recognise his trademark way of bringing a flight of fantasy down to earth with the introduction of the mundane and a dash of humour.  This novel is full of these touches of humour, but underneath that is a rather dark and profound story of death and rebirth based on Inuit folklore. 

Soonchild is an unnaturally quiet baby, and she plans on staying in her mother No Problem’s womb. She can’t hear the ‘world songs’, so there is no point in coming out, she doesn’t believe there’s a world out there.

Sixteen Face John is her father, he is the local shaman, as was his father and grandfather before him, but he has got fat and lazy drinking Coke and watching baseball on the telly.  No Problem challenges John as shaman to fix it.

Illustration by Alexis Deacon from Soonchild by Russell Hoban

Illustration by Alexis Deacon from Soonchild by Russell Hoban

Somewhat reluctantly, John goes off and makes a big-dream brew – and he jumps into the raven’s eye to go and visit Nanuq, the ice bear, chasing these elusive songs. He will meet all manner of wildlife of the North as well as his ancestors in his quest in which he will die and be reborn many times in his search for the songs, and he will need courage as he finds out some hard truths about himself too.

With the exception of the mysterious snowy owl, Ukpika, many of the animals that John meets are straight talking and worldly.  “… my houth is youw houth and you’we my browther. What can I do fow you, bwo?” says Timertuk the walrus with a shocking lisp.  However, if you took out these playful bits of vernacular and the references to Coca-cola and pizza, what’s left could be a traditional folktale.

What makes the story really come alive, and takes it to a whole new level though are Alexis Deacon’s superb monochrome illustrations as above. They are ghostly and slightly savage – you can see the ribs and skulls of some of the wolves showing through their skin. You can sense that it’s hard to stay alive for the animals in this harsh landscape.

monster 1Given the fantastic nature of Hoban’s story, it lends itself to being illustrated. This was the same for Patrick Ness’s novel A Monster Calls, which I reviewed here. Jim Kay’s Greenaway Award-winning illustrations for that book were elemental, full of a life darker than the story itself. Reading the illustrated version was an absolute pleasure, yet Walker Books also produced an picture-less version of the paperback as a conventional adult crossover edition. I don’t think this would benefit Soonchild – it needs the illustrations to take you past the humour so you can savour the story underneath.

I’m a fan of Hoban, and the allure of the frozen North and its spirits, encountered from my cosy armchair made for a magical hour or two of reading. (9/10)

By the way: Another novel for older children and teens with its roots in the far north that I’d recommend is The Secret Ministry of Frost by Nick Lake, which I reviewed here.

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Source: Own copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Soonchild by Russell Hoban, illustrated by Alexis Deacon. Walker Books 2012, 144 pages, paperback – Feb 2014.
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, illustrated library binding.
The Secret Ministry of Frost by Nick Lake

Jazz Vampires – another case for Peter Grant

Moon over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch

This is the second novel in Aaronovitch’s ‘Rivers of London‘ series of humorous police procedurals involving magical crimes in contemporary London. If you’ve not read the first volume Rivers of London – head over here to find out about it – for you won’t understand much of what’s going on in the second book otherwise.

moon over soho

Detective Constable Peter Grant is continuing his tutelage as the Metropolitan Police’s only trainee wizard under DCI Nightingale at ‘The Folly’ – the Met’s secret magical crimes unit in Bloomsbury.

He’s called out to look at the body of a saxophonist who dropped dead after a gig in a Soho jazz club – there’s a definite aura of magic, ‘vestigium‘ in the air, typified by riffs from jazz standard Body and soul.  Grant will find that a suspicious number of jazz musicians have died in past years.

Grant recognises the recording of Body and Soul, but can’t place it and heads off to his parents flat.  His father used to be a great trumpet player, but had to stop. No longer able to play his horn, even though he’s retired, Richard ‘Lord’ Grant has turned to keyboards and is contemplating making another comeback.

Then there is a particularly gruesome murder in one of the Soho Clubs, again reeking of magic. They have a suspect but she’s going to be hard to catch. Grant enlists the help of Ash – one of the tributary river-Gods to follow her – but she twigs and Ash nearly ends up like her other victims, but Grant is able to get him back to the river in time by hijacking an ambulance – something that will get him in big trouble.  The murderer gets away though and soon news of another brutal killing comes through …

My Dad says that being a Londoner has nothing to do with where you’re born. He says that there are people who get off a jumbo jet at Heathrow, go through immigration waving any kind of passport, hop on the tube and by the time the train’s pulled into Piccadilly Circus they’ve become a Londoner. He said there were others, some of whom were born within the sound of Bow Bells, who spend their whole life dreaming of an escape. When they do go, they almost always head for Norfolk, where the skies are big, the land is flat and the demographics are full of creamy white goodness. It is, says my dad, the poor man’s alternative to Australia, now that South Africa has gone all multicultural.

Jerry Johnson was one of the latter type of non-Londoner, born in Finchley in 1940 by the grace of God and died in a bungalow on the outskirts of Norwich with his penis bitten off. That last detail explaining why me and the scariest police officer in the Met, her beard and two motorcycle outriders were doing a steady ton plus change up the M11.

Highlight the text above for the full goriness of Johnson’s murder if you dare.

All these elements will tie up in the end, and DCI Nightingale and Grant, aided by pathologist Dr Walid and DC Stephanopoulis will have their work cut out to solve the mystery.  Eventually they get a concrete lead – from a seedy agent cum pimp who is scared of the magic he thinks he saw.

‘At least, I think I saw it,’ said Mith, and he seemed to shrink down into the collar of his shirt. ‘You’re not going to believe me.’
‘I’m not going to believe you,’ said Stephanopoulos. ‘But Constable Grant here is actually paid to believe in this stuff. He also has to believe in faeries and wizards and hobgoblins.’
‘And hobbitses,’ I said.

I love all the throwaway one-liners.

Although lacking the impact of discovering the author’s magical world for the first time, Moon over Soho shows an author who loves London, and is keen to show us how messy life in the great metropolis can be.  The main plot is quite transparent, but we have great fun in getting to the denouement.  The recurring characters are all built upon from volume one, and I’m desperate to see how PC Lesley May does in the third novel, having been relegated to supporting in vol two due to having nearly died in the first.  It was lovely to meet Peter’s father, jazz fan and vinyl afficionado, (l.p.s – doncha miss them?).

Some might quibble about the series-aspects of this novel – it doesn’t stand alone, but not me.  These books would make a wonderful TV series – it would be wonderful to see what the Sherlock team could make of them for instance, (Sherlock is back on New Year’s Day – yay!).

So read the first book first, then if you like it (I hope you do), you’ll enjoy the second too.  I can’t wait to get stuck into the next two now.  (8.5/10)

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Source: Own copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Moon Over Soho (Rivers of London 2) by Ben Aaronovitch (2011), Gollancz paperback, 375 pages.

The grown-up conclusion to Garner’s Weirdstone trilogy

Boneland by Alan Garner

boneland
Last month I was privileged to attend a lecture given by Alan Garner, and came home enthused to read everything he has written, starting with the ‘Weirdstone Trilogy’.  I’d read the first two books as a child in the late 1960s, and re-reading them now was a joy which I wrote about here.

Boneland, the final part of the trilogy, although again set around Alderley Edge and featuring Colin (and Susan) is a completely different animal, yet it does cap off the story that began with a retelling of the Legend of Alderley Edge and the chamber of sleeping knights who lay under it, waiting until they are needed.

In The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, and The Moon of Gomrath, twins Colin and Susan aged twelve by the end, had some fantastic adventures with wizards, dwarves, elves and battled an assortment of nasty demons and goblins. They never questioned why they had been lucky enough to get a glimpse of this hidden side of our world and Susan had seemed to be very attuned to it in particular.

In his lecture, Garner told us he was quite sick of them, so didn’t write any more adventures. But he didn’t kill them off either, and when fifty or so years later, someone said something to him, it had sparked off an idea about them which lead to Boneland.

He told us he’d been inspired to write about what might happen to someone in later life who has had such magical experiences as a child. Wouldn’t real life just be so mundane in comparison – is normal life worth living after that?  He noted that CS Lewis never dealt with that in Narnia – indeed Lucy and co live out full and long lives through the wardrobe before trooping back through it and resuming their childhood.

Lovell TelescopeBoneland starts several decades after the original adventures. Colin is an astrophysicist working at Jodrell Bank (home of the iconic Lovell Telescope (right) at Alderley Edge).  Colin lives alone in an eco-pod. He is also an ornithologist, expert cook and carpenter, has many degrees – you would call him a savant.  His social skills are appropriately limited, and despite an eidetic memory, he can’t remember anything from when he was younger than thirteen.

Susan has disappeared, and Colin is obsessed by searching for her in the stars, believing her to have become a star, maybe one of the Pleiades, but it is breaking him.

Eventually, persuaded, he succumbs to psychoanalysis, ministered to him by the unconventional Meg Massey. She, being a black-leather-clad motorbiker in her spare time, effectively fulfills his fantasies and transference duly occurs. She seems too good to be true though – Is she an angel of mercy there to help him through his breakdown, or is she a witchy echo from the past?

Garner intersperses the main story with that of a stone age shaman, who collects bones and makes cave paintings – on Alderley Edge, his story paralleling with Colin’s. You can sense them gradually coming together as Colin realises the answers are to be found on the Edge.

This is a challenging novel to read. Garner’s prose is stripped back, the dialogue-driven passages are nothing but – the reader has to fill in all the gaps – and there are a lot of them. It’s not really quotable. With perseverance, however, all the pieces do start to fall into place. But when Garner does allow himself to describe the scene, the text is rather beautiful as in these examples:

The note of the wind changed, the stresses of the girders and of the dish made their own music as the telescope tracked, slowed to the measure of the Earth’s turning, and the motors died near to silence.

So the day shrank and night stretched. The clonter of the cobbles in the river was silent, and the river fell to sleep. Then was the time when day and night were the same, and the sun tipped towards death.

With Boneland, Garner may have completed his Weirdstone trilogy and achieved closure for Colin, yet I found I was left with a lot of questions.  Re-reading parts to help write this post a couple of weeks later, I find that understanding is percolating through, like ancient waters seeping through rock. To quote the blurb, the novel celebrates ‘the enduring resonance of myth‘, and how that collides and interacts with real life.  Although I would always advocate reading a trilogy in its entirety starting at the beginning, Boneland can stand on its own – but you would be missing a real treat if you didn’t read the other two.

As for Boneland, it is continuing to grow on me (8/10) 

You can also read Ursula K Le Guin’s rather brilliant review from the Guardian here.

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Source: Own copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Boneland (Weirdstone Trilogy 3) by Alan Garner. Fourth Estate paperback, 160 pages.

Rediscovering Alderley Edge’s Old Magic

The Weirdstone of Brisingamen & The Moon of Gomrath by Alan Garner

After going to see a lecture given by Alan Garner, reported here, I naturally wanted to read more by him, and especially to (re)read the Weirdstone Trilogy. In this post, I will look at my re-reading of the first two books, I’ll deal with the third another day.

Brisingamen 1Gomrath 1The Weirdstone of Brisingamen was Garner’s first novel, published in 1960, followed in 1963 by The Moon of Gomrath.

I read them in as Puffin paperbacks in the late 1960s and can well remember the covers pictured, although my own copies are gone.

Both concern the adventures of Colin and Susan, ten-year-old twins, who have been sent to live with their mother’s old nurse while their parents are away working abroad. Bess and Gowther Mossock live on a farm near Alderley Edge in Cheshire, a large hill which is the scene of local myths and legends.

Garner starts The Weirdstone of Brisingame with an account of the legend of Alderley Edge, in which a farmer taking his white mare to sell at market sold it to a wizard who appeared on the path over the edge. The wizard took him through iron gates into a cave where sleeping knights and their white steeds lay waiting to be called in the hour of need, but were one horse short. The farmer was allowed to cram his pockets full of treasure, but of course was never to find the cave entrance again.

Susan has a bracelet with a ‘tear’ jewel on it, which had come to her as an heirloom, and unbeknownst to her – it is the missing Weirdstone stolen centuries before. When her bracelet comes to the attention of the local witch Selina Place, the children find themselves hunted by the minions of the evil Nasrond, who had been banished centuries ago.  They find all this out from Cadellin – the Wizard of the legend and his friends the dwarves, who rescue them. Cadellin is then forced to let Colin and Susan be part of the action to rid the Edge of Nasrond and his ilk once again and restore the weirdstone to Fundindelve where the sleeping knights lie.

In The Moon of Gomrath, Colin and Susan are set to have another adventure when the elves borrow Susan’s replacement bracelet.  This is a powerful amulet given to her by Angharad Goldenhand the Lady of the Lake at the end of the first book. Being without the bracelet’s protection, Susan is possessed by an evil spirit, the Brochallan, which had been released when well-workings outside the pub set it free. Colin, with the aid of the dwarves has to seek the mythical Mothan, which only flowers at moonrise on the Old Straight Track – a path of the Old Magic to cure Susan.  More Old Magic is later set free by Colin and Susan when they light a fire to keep warm on the beacon on what happens to be the night of the Moon of Gomrath. This awakens ‘The Wild Hunt’ – the mythical wild horsemen and hounds of legend. To pile on the agony, Colin is abducted by the evil Morrigan and its goblin folk. A pitched battle ensues, primarily between the elves and the Morrigan, and Colin is rescued, but the Old Magic must still be set free.

'Druid's_Circle'_The_Edge,_Alderley_Edge_-_geograph.org.uk_-_43508Garner lives and breathes the landscape, mythology and history of Alderley Edge. All the places named in the book exist – like the Druid’s Circle, (which he claims was created by one of his forebears – a mason), and the Wizard pub.  It was rich mining area for metals, so the hills are dotted with tunnels. Now run by the National Trust, you can walk the trails and see magnificent views from the top of the escarpment.

Traditional Celtic folklore provides the basis of all the fantasy elements of the novels, and after the MoG, Garner explains where some of this comes from and gives some references including The White Goddess by Robert Graves. The spells are all from real texts – but are incomplete, he adds – just in case.

Around all the mythology is woven the adventures of Colin and Susan, a plucky twosome whose idea of fun is to go out roaming and exploring the edge all day every day.  They were obviously fit and healthy and thought nothing of walking or running miles at a time. Gowther and Bess give them this total freedom, with just little admonitions to come home for supper, or don’t go roaming on the Edge without a torch in the dark. Gowther and Bess understand the power of the place.

Reading these two books as an adult, it’s the mythological content I concentrated on, but as a child – they were such great adventures; grittier and more real than the world of Narnia. By letting the old worlds of magic and the modern age collide, the peril is much greater – there is no option of going back through the wardrobe.

Of the two, The Moon of Gomrath is the more accomplished and, the need for scene-setting over, there is more space for fantasy. The Elves, or lios-alfar, are particularly tricky folk – Albanac, a human who dwells with the Wizard Cadellin explains:

Remember, too, that no elf has a natural love of men; for it is the dirt and ugliness and unclean air that men have worshipped these two hundred years that have driven the lios-alfar to the trackless places and the broken lands. You should see the smoke-sickness in the elves of Talebolion and Sinadon. You should hear it in their lungs. That is what men have done.

What price progress, eh?  Cadellin, a couple of pages on, explains more about how the worlds of humans and magic have diverged:

“Why do you think men know us only in legend?” said Cadellin. “We do not have to avoid you for our safety, as elves must, but rather for your own. It has not always been so. Once we were close; but some little time before the elves were driven away, a change came over you. You found the world easier to master by hands alone: things became more than thoughts with you, and  you called it an Age of Reason.

“Now with us, the opposite holds true, so that in our affairs you are the weakest where you should be strong, and there is danger for you not only from evil, but from other matters  we touch upon. These may not be evil, but they are wild forces, which could destroy one not well acquainted with such things.

“For these reasons we withdrew from mankind, and became a memory, and, with the years, a superstition, ghosts and terrors for a winter’s night, and later a mockery and a disbelief” .

I like Garner’s explanation very much – and wish it were so in a way. The rationalist in me can’t believe in magical worlds, but I do love to let my imagination soar by reading books where magic is allowed to live in our world.

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Source: Own copies. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner, Harper Collins paperback, 288 pages.
The Moon of Gomrath by Alan Garner, Harper Collins paperback, 224 pages.
Boneland (Weirdstone Trilogy 3) by Alan Garner, pub 2013, Fourth estate paperback, 160 pages.
The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth by Robert Graves, Faber paperback.

Getting back on the quest for The Dark Tower #6

The Dark Tower: Song of Susannah Bk. VI by Stephen King

dark tower 6

King’s magnum opus is not a series that you can jump into midway through, so if you’ve not read it, I suggest you start at the beginning. See my series of posts: Vol 1, Vol 2, Vol 3, Vol 4 and Vol 5 and find your starting point, don’t read on.

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It’s fair to say that the penultimate episode in this saga is probably the weakest in the series so far. The largest part of it is devoted Susannah who is pregnant with a devil’s spawn, and possessed by another female demon Mia, as well as her own suppressed split personality Detta, transported back to New York to have the baby, or rather chap.  It is growing unnaturally, and Susannah is trying to suppress the labour until help arrives from members of the Ka-Tet.

Meanwhile back in the Calla, Roland and the others are trying to activate the door through to our world with the help of Henchick and the Manni.  Once opened they will split up.  Jake, Oy and Pere Callahan will go on Susannah’s trail.  Roland and Eddie will go to Maine 1977 to persuade Calvin Tower to sell them the vacant lot back in NYC which is pivotal to their quest, but also to seek out the author of a novel called Salem’s Lot.

Yes, it all goes metafictional – with King introducing himself as a character in his own novel. Tellingly, he doesn’t glamorise himself at all – in fact, almost the opposite:

‘Maybe I’m having a breakdown,’ said the man in the water, but he slowly dropped his hands. He was wearing thick glasses with severe black frames. One bow had been mended with a bit of tape. His hair was either black or a very dark brown. The beard was definitely black, the first threads of white in it startling in their brilliance. He was wearing bluejeans below a tee-shirt that said THE RAMONES and ROCKET TO RUSSIA and GABBA-GABBA-HEY. He looked like starting to run to middle-aged fat, but he wasn’t fat yet. He was tall, and as ashy-pale as Roland. Eddie saw with no real surprise that Stephen King looked like Roland. Given the age difference they could never be mistaken for twins, but father and son? Yes. Easily.

The last sentences above confirm to me that King is playing out his own fantasies of being a gritty gunslinging hero in this series. It must have been fun to write. The King of the novel is back in 1977 – at this stage, The Dark Tower books are just scribbled outlines in a box.

When we reach the climax in the final book to come – will King reappear in the future with the saga complete? Will Susannah survive having the chap? Will they find the rose in the vacant lot? Will they reach the Tower? Will Roland’s quest be ended?

There are so many questions still to be answered, many threads to be tied off. This may not have been the best novel in the series, but it ends on a cliff-hanger and I must finish it – just another 736 pages to go!

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Source: Own copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
The Dark Tower: Song of Susannah Bk. VI by Stephen King, paperback, 480 pages
Salem’s Lot by Stephen King, paperback 768 pages.

The Glass Books Trilogy – an awfully fun adventure!

The Glass Books Trilogy by G W Dahlquist

Bantam in the USA, reputedly paid début novelist Dahlquist an advance of $2,000,000 for the first two installments in this series. Although the first was well received, apparently they lost shedloads of money on the deal. Penguin, the books’ publisher in the UK, also published the first volume with a big fanfare.

Initially it was only available on subscription, in ten limited edition weekly installments – the covers of which got darker in hue as the story progressed. The last one arrived just in time for Christmas together with a special sheet of wrapping paper. A standard hardback followed, but no prizes for guessing that I discovered it in time to get the installments! (See below).

The third volume is just out in hardback, and I’ve been immersing myself in it and its companions this summer. Having read the first when it came out, I just reminded myself of the names and places of it and how it ended. The three together total over 1900 pages of tremendous adventure and fun.

So what are the books all about?

I shall attempt to concentrate on themes and character rather than give too much of the plot away. One note before I start, despite the assertion that you can read the volumes out of order (there is a too short synopsis at the beginning of the third), you should only read them in the published order, especially to experience the adventure as our heroine Miss Celeste Temple does…

The era is Victorian, the location is an unnamed city – much like London, but in a continental sort of way – a bit Dutch, Danish, Germanic too. The story opens at the Boniface Hotel where a young plantation heiress, Miss Temple, is recently arrived pending her marriage to Roger Bascombe. When the engagement is ended with no reason given, Celeste feels the need to investigate, and ere long she gets herself into a bad crowd of debauched aristos which the boring Roger had been drawn into, known as the Cabal.

At a masked ball at Harschmort House, the home of the Cabal’s millionaire backer, Lord Vandaarif, Celeste meets the other key characters – both good and bad who play a huge part in her future. There’s the sensitive military doctor Abelard Svenson, personal physician to the Prince of Macklenburg and Cardinal Chang, a killer for hire with a natty fashion habit – and they’re the good guys!  The villains are even more colourful – we meet the Comte d’Orkancz – a classic mad scientist firmly in the steampunk mode, and the Contessa di Lacquer-Sforza, a raven-haired, lusty Venetian who is playing the Cabal at their own game; here Celeste meets the Contessa for the first time…

Miss Temple turned to see the woman in red, from Roger’s car. She no longer wore her fur-collared cloak, but she still had the lacquered cigarette holder in her hand, and her bright eyes, gazing fixedly at Miss Temple through the red leather mask, quite belied their jewelled tears. Miss Temple turned, but could not speak. The woman was astonishingly lovely – tall, strong, shapely, her powdered skin gleaming above the meager confines of the scarlet dress. Her hair was black and arranged in curls that cascaded across her bare shoulders. Miss Temple inhaled and nearly swooned from the sweet smell of frangipani flowers. She closed her mouth, swallowed, and saw the woman smile.

The Comte has invented a new drug using mineral indigo clay – something Macklenburg has in abundance. This is used to make blue glass, a means to enslave and brainwash by putting people through a alchemical Process, or via blue glass cards, which can store memories and hypnotise anyone who views them and by which you can drain memories and then someone else can experience them, and once viewed, never forgotten.

The blue glass cards are very useful to the Cabal – programmed with erotic memories, users can have an orgy in their own heads. The effects can be lasting in a receptive mind, which horrifies the prim Miss Temple when she is subjected to a card containing some of the Contessa’s erotic adventures, which adds a certain frisson to the procedures!

The Cabal are out to overthrow the existing regime, using the corrupting influence of the blue glass process and the books, sowing chaos everywhere. Celeste finds herself linking up with Svenson and Chang to stop them – three against many. Their lives changed forever, the trio embark on an adventure, which will put their lives at risk countless times and take them to the limit of their physical being.

If the first volume is about the discovery of the Cabal and their plans, the second takes them out into the wider world with the trio individually searching for the key glass book, the third finally brings them together again.

Celeste, Chang and Svenson take it in turns to tell the story. All three volumes could have done with some editing, but they certainly are pageturners – once started, I had to finish. The sheer amount of action on each page is dizzying, be it fighting, spying, scheming, and not forgetting a lot of racy moments! The plot is totally convoluted, and the cast of supporting characters so huge, that you are always in danger of totally of losing where you are. Frankly, it doesn’t matter – as long as you believe that Miss Temple, Chang and Svenson are always doing the right thing.

My favourite characters were Chang and the naughty Contessa, visualising the dandy assassin Chang as Gary Oldman, (surely a great casting suggestion). While I couldn’t see a particular actress as the resourceful Contessa, she is definitely in the mould of ‘the woman‘ from the Sherlock Holmes mystery A Scandal in Bohemia – Irene Adler.

I think I enjoyed the first book the most for its mix of sheer inventiveness and heady action. The second was naturally perhaps rather transitory but certainly darker, setting up the grand finish in volume three, for as in Harry Potter, the Dark Lord of the Cabal must be defeated.  The epilogue also leaves some intriguing possibilities open for further adventures.

If you’re tempted to embark on this journey, do start at the beginning. If you enjoy The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters, you’ll likely get on with its sequels.  If you do, I hope you’ll find it as much fun as I did.

Vol 1 (8.5/10), Vol 2 (7/10), Vol 3 (8/10)

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I bought the first two, and got the third from the publisher – thank you.
To explore further at Amazon UK, please click below:
The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters – Penguin pbk 2006, 784 pages
The Dark Volume – Penguin pbk 2009, 528 pages
The Chemickal Marriage – pub July 2012, Viking Hardback, 528 pages