Life is good. It has books. - The Lyorn's Den
Sun Apr. 13th, 2008
11:58 pm - Life is good. It has books.
The cats are happily forming a heap of cat on the sofa. My motorbike has passed the technical inspection. The ficus benjamina which was in the way all the time has a new home. I have a new fandom (that I might write about soon), which is probably responsible for me dreaming about demonic chain saw murderers going after the unwary inheritors of a hundred-year-old curse (which was not as bad as it sounds). I have fanfic, tea, and chocolate cookies, and it's still Sunday.
So I think I'll catch up on reviewing books. Today: Three doorstoppers.
Kit Whitfield: Bareback (2006)
The US title of this book is "Benighted", and if you have sniggered when reading the title, you know why.
Surfing the internet is like looking into boxes in the attic: You never know what you will find. I found this book through a blog I'm reading, where the author is a regular commenter. Though the book only got mentioned in passing, it was introduced as "Noir thriller, with werewolves". Which made me go, "Hey, werewolves", and buy the book.
It wasn't quite what I'd been expecting. First, it's not Urban Fantasy. It's not our world with werewolves. It's a world close to ours where everyone is a werewolf -- everyone, that is, but for a few unlucky folks who were born defective and get swiped up by a government organisation (used to be a religious order, but times change) and given the great job of catching werewolves who do break the traditional and very reasonable law of the full-moon curfew. Werewolves, in this world, do not change into normal wolves, but into big, strong, hulking monsters the size of a large pony, and they keeping indoors during full moon is necessary to keep civilisation going.
Life sucks hard for the non-shapeshifters: Not only do they have to wrangle monsters, but the pay is bad, the hours are worse, and as no one likes to stay in and miss all the fun of hunting and howling, they are generally hated.
The heroine of the book is one of those curfew-enforcers, and if you ever wanted to write or role-play a badly damaged and broken character, you could take lessons from her. As any crime novel, the story unfolds around a case the heroine has to -- well, "deal with" describes it better than "solve". The case seems more of a pre-text to look at the world, the society, the characters, and the damage done.
It's quite intense book, quite dark, maybe a little too dark for my tastes. It also smells strongly of metaphor or even allegory, but as I couldn't track the smell to its source, it might not be the book's fault. Well-written, well-characterised, very well imagined, yet it's neither happy nor cathartic -- the heroine, after going through the wringer, heals some, but the world remains broken.
Scott Lynch: The Lies of Locke Lamora (2006)
The edition of this book that I have has a cover blurb by George R. R. Martin, which you can read as a warning as well as an endorsement: Here be blood and adventure and no quarter given, neither to the characters nor to the reader.
Lynch's first book (he's planning to write oodles more) is set in a high fantasy world, full of wonder, beauty, mystery and man-eating monsters, yet the story playing out is as far from epic as possible -- the miracles are a background and a fact of life, the gods are silent and the monsters neutral-hungry. The hero, Locke Lamora, is hilariously and outrageously good at lying and pretending, and tutored by a priest of the god of thieves, he becomes the leader of a small gang pulling complicated, daring and very entertaining cons on the city's nobility. Everything is going just fine when some stranger with the help of an enigmatic and very scary mage tries to take over the underworld of the city and Locke finds himself in a spot so tight that even a greased weasel would have trouble wriggling out.
The story is in bursts violent and gruesome to the point of being gratuitously so, yet in perfect contrast to the hero's basically good-natured sneakiness, just as the backdrop is both awesome and accessible, with shining glass towers left by an elder race, gladiators fighting sharks, floating markets and a crime boss holding court on a graveyard of dead ships.
Lynch handles time like a juggler handles bright balls: The narrative jumps forwards and back, providing info and filling in blanks as needed, weaving here and there, yet being very clear and also very efficient. The story needs a lot of background and very complex exposition: Lynch makes it seem not only easy, but fun.
I had a moment of doubt with 150 pages left of the book, when a new thread got added to the story and the familiar sinking feeling of "He's not going to make it, this is going to end with To be continued..." set in, and I hastily ordered book two of the series. But the story wins by it's genre: Emphatically not epic fantasy, it has the pacing of a suspense thriller, and instead of a slow winding down and a pointer to the next book, we get one hell of a showdown.
Yes. Loved it.
Jaqueline Carey: Kushiel's Scion (2006)
Carey's "Kushiel" series is set in an alternate universe renaissance Europe where Yahweh had a grandson born of Christ's blood and the Earth herself, where Christianity never rose to dominance and Antiquity never ended. You can sail across the Mediterranean from Venice (well, La Serenissima) to ancient Crete, meet wild Germanic tribes worshipping Odin in the vast woods of the East, and tall Celts and tattooed Picts on the British isles. Only what we know as France is not inhibited by the Gauls we know from Asterix, but instead by a people descended from humans and angels who followed Yahweh's grandson Elua, who are decadent, noble and kind of enlightened, and fervently believe in beauty, passion and free love.
The heroine and viewpoint character in the previous three books was Phèdre nó Delauny de Montrève, from her early years as an indentured servant, to becoming a courtesan and spy, her travels through the world, interaction with gods and angels, and rise to a peer of the realm of Terre D'Ange. There would be more to say, but I'm not reviewing the whole series here.
Fourth of the series, or first of the second trilogy in a series, "Kushiel's Scion" is about the adventures of Phèdre's adopted son, Imriel. Imriel's real mother happens to be the most dangerous plotter and traitor in her generation, so her son is not well-liked in the kingdom of Terre d'Ange, and even less well-trusted. And if that wasn't bad enough, Imriel is haunted by the horror of his abduction and slavery when he was a child, and troubled by his own bloodline, which even among the D'Angelines is known for being domineering, proud, and not exactly trustworthy.
The book, written in first person, follows Imriel's attempts to deal with his heritage in his teenage years: first refusing, then embracing the life at the Queen's court, taking advice from his adoptive mother, then rebelling against her, and never facing the shadow of his past. When the Queen proposes an advantageous marriage for him -- advantageous for the realm, that is, not for Imriel -- he tries to get away from it all by joining the university in Tiberium, but he cannot run from his name, and intrigue, unrest and his birth mother's heritage follow him, until he makes a decision about who he wants to be and sets out to act on it.
Through most of the book's close to one thousand pages, the story runs quite peacefully. Big events are rare, nearly everything is interaction between characters, with some discoveries and the occasional unrest on the streets of the city. The world becomes very alive on those pages, I felt that I could see, and hear, and smell, and touch the scenery. Imriel angsts, but mostly about things worth angsting about -- childhood trauma, a dangerous and manipulative mother, friends in danger because of him -- and keeps it within my tolerance for angsting.
Only in the last third of the book (which still makes impressive 330 pages), after all decisions are made and only need to be implemented, Imriel stumbles into a wholly unexpected war and siege, complete with a mercenary captain returning from the Underworld, and the gates to Hades opening. This makes the whole story strangely unbalanced, and it also had the unpleasant effect of keeping me reading until morning, when before I could easily put the book away after an hour or so and pick it up the next day.
As a note to those who have read the earlier books, there is less sex and far less kink in this one. Though there are sufficient amounts.