Tag Archives: Series

The Affinity Bridge, George Mann

The Affinity Bridge, George MannThe Affinity Bridge by George Mann

First Published: 2008

Pages: 350 (Paperback)
Form: Novel
Series: Newbury & Hobbes #1

Rating: 2.52.52.52.52.5

Welcome to the bizarre and dangerous world of Victorian London, a city teetering on the edge of revolution.

Its people are ushering in a new era of technology, dazzled each day by new inventions. Airships soar in the skies over the city, whilst ground trains rumble through the streets and clockwork automatons are programmed to carry out menial tasks in the offices of lawyers, policemen and journalists. But beneath this shiny veneer of progress lurks a sinister side. For this is also a world where ghostly policemen haunt the fog-laden alleyways of Whitechapel, where cadavers can rise from the dead and where Sir Maurice Newbury , Gentleman Investigator for the Crown, works tirelessly to protect the Empire from her foes.

When an airship crashes in mysterious circumstances, Sir Maurice and his recently appointed assistant Miss Veronica Hobbes are called in to investigate. Meanwhile, Scotland Yard is baffled by a spate of grisly murders and a terrifying plague ravaging the slums of the city.

So begins an adventure quite unlike any other, a thrilling steampunk mystery and the first in the series of Newbury & Hobbes investigations.

This book has all the ingredients for a fun steampunk romp that doesn’t take itself too seriously: zombies, automatons, airships, a ghostly murderer, Queen Victoria being kept alive by crazy steampunk science! Unfortunately, somewhere in the putting all those elements it all went horribly, horribly wrong. The plot is there, but my god, these are the blandest flattest characters I’ve read in a long long time. The dialogue is clunky and sometimes painful, oscillating between modern and exaggeratedly faux-victorian. The narrative can’t decide if it’s third person limited or third person omniscient, flicking between character perspectives randomly for a paragraph or two with no warning before flicking back… It’s not good writing. And that’s a shame because the plot, clichéd and predictable though it might be, would have been fun otherwise. There’s even a germ of fun to be found in the basic characters of Newbury and Hobbes but that is quickly extinguished by their poor execution. Continue reading

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Unseemly Science, Rod Duncan

Unseemly Science, Rod DuncanUnseemly Science by Rod Duncan First Published: 2015 Pages: 346 (Paperback) Form: Novel Series: The Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire #2 Rating: 4/54/54/54/54/5

In the divided land of England, Elizabeth Barnabus has been living a double life – as both herself and as her brother, the private detective. Witnessing the hanging of Alice Carter, the false duchess, Elizabeth resolves to throw the Bullet Catcher’s Handbook into the fire, and forget her past. If only it were that easy! There is a new charitable organisation in town, run by some highly respectable women. But something doesn’t feel right to Elizabeth. Perhaps it is time for her fictional brother to come out of retirement for one last case…? Her unstoppable curiosity leads her to a dark world of body-snatching, unseemly experimentation, politics and scandal. Never was it harder for a woman in a man’s world…

The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter, the first book in Rod Duncan’s steampunk series, The Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire, was one of my surprise favourite reads of last year. It had so much to love; a competent (crossdressing!) and pragmatic heroine, a genuine female friendship, gripping plot, fun victorian/steampunk trappings, limited hints at future romance, and wonderful alternate-history world-building. And all set in a part of the UK that I was pretty familiar with too (Leicester pride!). It had literally all the things I never even realised I wanted when I picked it up as a light holiday read. The sequel is not as strong. It is slower to jump into the ‘main’ plot and there is a lot more going on. For the first half of the book it relies more on the character of its protagonist, Elizabeth Barnabas, than it does on fast paced action (though there’s still plenty), and isn’t as instantly gripping ‘what’s going to happen next!?’ as the first book. But actually, I’m pretty fine with that. I love Elizabeth and I don’t object at all to spending more time in her head with her thoughts. Continue reading

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Night Watch, Terry Pratchett

Night Watch, Terry PratchettNight Watch by Terry Pratchett

First Published: 2002

Pages: 364 (Hardback)
Form: Novel
Series: Discworld #29
Subseries: The City Watch #6

Rating: 5/55/55/55/55/5

Commander Sam Vimes of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch had it all. But now he’s back in his own rough, tough past without even the clothes he was standing up in when the lightning struck.

Living in the past is hard. Dying in the past is incredibly easy. But he must survive, because he has a job to do. He must track down a murderer, teach his younger self how to be a good copper and change the outcome of a bloody rebellion. There’s a problem: if he wins, he’s got no wife, no child, no future.

A Discworld Tale of One City, with a chorus of street urchins, ladies of negotiable affection, rebels, secret policemen and other children of the revolution.

Truth! Justice! Freedom!
And a Hard-boiled Egg!

A reread in memory of Terry Pratchett. RIP.

I was first introduced to Terry Pratchett when I was twelve. My big sister was playing Ysabell in a year 10 house play production of Mort. Neither of us were familiar with Discworld at the time, but she borrowed the book from the student director and I borrowed the book from her. And that was it. It was wonderful and clever and different from anything I had read before.

Over the next few years I attempted to complete the whole series of (then) around 25 book. With no budget for buying books, and so many to read, I borrowed them from the town library, the school library, the earlier mentioned student director (who was then dating my sister and thought he was only lending them to her), and once I had older male admirers of my own, from them as well.I can’t remember what order I ended up reading them all in, but it was whatever was available at the time, and most certainly not the ‘correct’ order. I read Carpe Jugulam before Wyrd Sisters and got confused by the change of cast, and Feet of Clay before Guards! Guards! and was distressed to find Angua not in the earlier book. The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic (the first two books in the series) were the final books I read in my catch up – which was probably good as they are by far the weakest. But throughout this disorganised mishmash or chronology and characters there was one subseries, and one character, who always remained my favourites. The City Watch, and Commander Samuel Vimes.

I watched the City Watch of Ankh-Morpork shrink and grow and shrink and grow as I erratically read whatever I was able to get hold of at that moment. Only when I had caught up – and my parents had caught up enough on mine and my sister’s shared love of the series to start buying them for us at Christmas – did I start to read them in order. And the first of these Christmas presents gifted to me rather than my sister, was Night Watch. I had finished it by boxing day morning.

Still, when I heard the news of Terry Pratchett’s death this Thursday, it was Guards! Guards! I sought out, and the excuse to finally read The City Watch series in the correct order. As I could not locate the book, however, I picked up Night Watch instead. And I think, even had I found the book I was initially looking for, Night Watch was the right choice. It’s one of the most poignant and most human stories in the whole series. A policeman and a murderer, sent back in time through a freak magical accident (more details on that in Thief of Time) to a time when the city watch was incompetent, the ruler of Ankh-Morpok relied on torture and secret police, and rebellion was brewing in the slums. And a young Sam Vimes needs to learn to become the man (and the policeman) he will be. Only one problem – the murderer’s first act is to kill the man who would teach him that, and potentially change the course of history forever. Its up to Commander Vimes to step into his mentor’s role, teach his younger self the morals of policing, and become the leader of a revolution he already knows is doomed.

But Vimes (wonderful Vimes!) never half-arses a job. And, as the timeline changes in subtle ways, he realises that perhaps things aren’t so doomed after all. If he does things right this time and learns from his past, maybe this time the revolution will be successful, the friends who died might live – but doing so would change his future forever; he would lose both his wife and his unborn child. And this is why Vimes is my favourite character in the whole of the Disc. It’s all exemplified in this one book. Although Vimes is grumpy and pragmatic and cynical and never fails to fight dirty, he will always always do what is right and he will follow a job through right to the end. He adores his wife, but that’s who he is, and he cannot let the people around him down by not trying his best. Its one of the more angsty, more depressing, and most beautiful Discworld books from what I regard the best period of Pratchett’s writing.

And as it deals with Commander Vimes travelling back into his own past, well prior to the events of Guards! Guards!, it serves my rereading from the beginning purpose even better than the first book of the series itself! It sets up what the characters and the city were like before Vimes’ meteoritic rise through the ranks better than any of the early books do, and I’m sure will make me appreciate just how much Vimes achieves in the rest of the series.

So 5 stars. Forever 5 stars. Funny, sad, and thoughtful. A good book for grieving a wonderful wonderful author and a brilliant person. RIP Terry Pratchett. You will be missed.

Sidenote: My copy of Guards! Guards! has now been found, the next two books are reserved from the library. This City Watch reread is totally happening! Watch this space! And I promise future reviews will try to be more about the book than this one.

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The Lies of Locke Lamora, Scott Lynch

The Lies of Locke Lamora, Scott LynchThe Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

First Published: 2006

Pages: 537 (Paperback)
Form: Novel
Series: Gentleman Bastard #1

Rating:4/54/54/54/54/5

The Thorn of Camorr is said to be an unbeatable swordsman, a master thief, a friend to the poor, a ghost that walks through walls.

Slightly built and barely competent with a sword, Lock Lamora is, much to his annoyance, the fabled Thorn. And while Locke does indeed steal from the rich (who else would be worth stealing from?), the poor never see a penny. All of Locke’s gains are strictly for himself and his tight-knit band of thieves: The Gentlemen bastards.

The capricious, colourful underworld of the ancient city of Camorr is the only home they’ve ever known. But now a clandestine war is threatening to tear it apart. Caught up in a murderous game, Locke and his friends are suddenly struggling just to stay alive.

The Lies of Locke Lamora is one of those fantasy books that, if you’re into fantasy, it’s impossible to avoid people telling you how brilliant it is. And, as is almost invariably the case, it doesn’t quite live up to the hype. It’s a fast-paced, fun read with lots of great characters, a wonderfully creepy atmosphere, some interesting world building, and some surprising twists and turns, so it’s definitely not bad. I certainly won’t be giving people who recommend it as ‘the best fantasy in recent years’ the side eye in the same way I do Joe Abercrombie fans (that trilogy should have been one book, tops!). In fact, they may well be right. It’s a good novel, very good in places but, for me, those places fell mostly in the later half of the book and it didn’t quite come together enough for me to love it.

The book is set in the fantasy canal-city of Camorr and opens with Locke Lamore (the self styled conman the ‘Thorn of Camorr’) and his band of merry men starting a scheme to con a local nobleman out of all his money. These are not the most moral or idealistic or protagonists. But they have a strong bond that lots of readers loved and I found almost instantly tiresome. There’s a lot of banter and teasing, boasting, and laughter in the first half that, for me, felt like watching a group of incredibly self-aggrandising men that I don’t know making in-jokes about how great they are to each other. And my pervading thought was mostly ‘yes, you’re ‘Gentlemen Bastards’, well done, I got that, you’re the best, but where are the women?’ ‘Why are there no women?’.

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Foxglove Summer, Ben Aaronovitch

Foxglove Summer, Ben AaronovitchFoxglove Summer by Ben Aaronovitch

First Published: 2014

Pages: 394 (Waterstone’s Hardback with bonus short story)
Form: Novel
Series: Rivers of London/Peter Grant #5

Rating: 5/55/55/55/55/5

When two young girls go missing in rural Herefordshire PC Peter Grant is sent out of London to check that nothing supernatural is involved. It’s purely routine, Nightingale thinks he’ll be done in less than a day.

But Peter’s never been one to walk away from someone in trouble, so when nothing overtly magical turns up he volunteers his services to the local police who need all the help they can get.

But because the universe likes a joke as much as the next sadistic megalomaniac, Peter soon comes to realise that dark secrets underlay the picturesque fields and villages of the countryside and there might be work for Britain’s most junior wizard after all.

Soon he’s in a vicious race against time in a world where the boundaries between reality and fairy have never been less clear…

 

I’ve made no secret about my total love for the Rivers of London series (apart from the second book – that one’s crap). They’re one of my go to’s for comfort reading: quick, entertaining, easy to read, and a little bit different former standard modern fantasy. For a start, the protagonist, Peter Grant, actually acts like a real police officer! He doesn’t pull the maverick cop act (much) but co-operates with other officers and departments, does his paperwork, follows procedure (as much as you can do when dealing with the supernatural) and generally acts in a way you expect a real person who doesn’t want be fired to act.

And Foxglove Summer really is Peter Grant’s book – taken out of London and away from his cast of supporting characters, Foxglove Summer gives Peter the chance to shine on his own for the first time. Regulars like Nightingale, Lesley, and Beverly do make their appearances, but generally it comes from the other end of the phone and, I was surprised to find, I didn’t miss them at all. I didn’t even miss the London setting, which has always been one of the highlights of all previous novels. Quietly, and without me really noticing it, Peter has grown up enough to carry a book – and a police case – on his own, and it was great to read him doing just that, and doing it pretty dang competently. Continue reading

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Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins

Mockingjay, Suzanne CollinsMockingjay by Suzanne Collins

First Published: 2010

Pages: 455 (Paperback)
Form: Novel
Series: The Hunger Games #3

Rating:2/52/52/32/32/3

“If we burn you burn with us”

Katniss Everdeen has survived the Hunger Games twice. But she’s still not safe. A revolution is unfolding, and everyone, it seems, has a hand in the carefully laid plans – everyone except Katniss.

And yet she must play the most vital part in the final battle. Katniss must become their Mockingjay – the symbol of rebellion – no matter what the personal cost.

Catching up on some reviews that, for various reasons, I never got round to writing in 2013.

What happened? The first two books in this series were both four stars (flawed as hell but very enjoyable)! But MockingjayMockingjay I can barely summon up enough enthusiasm to give two stars. And it’s not because I hated the ending – bits of the ending I actually loved – but because everything leading up to the ending was interminably boring.

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Throne of Jade, Naomi Novik

Throne of Jade, Naomi NovikThrone of Jade by Naomi Novik

First Published: 2006

Pages: 391 (Paperback)
Form: Novel
Series: Temeraire #2

Rating:3/53/53/53/53/5

Soar on the wings of adventure

Captain Will Laurence, formerly of His Majesty’s Navy, has had only a few months to adjust to his new life as the captain of a fighting dragon, but now he can’t imagine a life outside the British Aerial Corps – nor a life without Temeraire.

Now the Chinese have demanded Temeraire’s immediate return, and the British government cannot afford to refuse them, even if it costs them the most powerful weapon in their arsenal. Laurence and Temeraire must journey to China, knowing that once they arrive in the exotic east, they could be separated forever.

The second book in the Temeraire series continues in much the same vein as the first; a solid read, but nothing mind-blowing. After the reveal at the end of Temeraire (His Majesty’s Dragon for you non-UK folk), the Chinese have taken offence and demanded their dragon back, prompting Laurence and Temeraire to travel to the Far East. Much like the first book, the pacing is still a little slow and the characterisation a little too simplistic to my taste – the main focus seems to be the world-building and showing how different cultures interact with dragons – but it’s a fun read.

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