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Of Darkness and Dawn (The Elder Empire: Shadow Book 2)

Fantasy Book Review

Fantasy Book Review

Of Darkness and Dawn is the second round of Will Wight’s experimental bifurcated story telling in the elder empire series.  This is Book Two of Shadow side where we continue to follow the mean underbelly of the impressive world that Wight has built.  The author reintroduces us to Shera, Lucan and Meia along with the rest of the Consultant guild.

I mentioned in my review of the initial round of books that I appreciated the experiment of telling the same story from two different viewpoints.  As the story goes on, I find myself liking the approach less and less.  In the first installment I read both books back to back over the course of several days.  While reading the first book it felt like I was always missing a piece of the story which the second book nicely wrapped up in a satisfying whole.

Now a year has passed.  In that time, I have read another hundred or so new books and I have forgotten a lot of the story.  Now, when I tried to pick up on the story that I knew had gaps that would be filled in by the opposing viewpoint I had a really tough time getting back into the flow of plot.  Anytime you pick up a subsequent story in a series you always spend a little time rebuilding the mental architecture that takes you back into that world and its characters.  The new book constantly gives you hints that brings you back into that flow.  However, when those hints are incomplete, as this experiment dictates, it becomes twice as hard to rebuild that mental framework.  Sadly, it made this book seem very disjointed and because of that, somewhat boring.

We can’t blame Wight’s writing style as there is nothing wrong there at all.  It boils down to the failure of the experiment during the writing timeline.  For a reader that picks these up five years from now, I doubt they will have the same problems if they can progress from one novel to the next without pause.  It just doesn’t seem to work if you are trying to stay current and picking up the books as they are released.

Anyway, back to the story.  This books picks up where the last one left off. Shera and her crew are now on the defensive after the passing of the emperor.  They, and the Consultant guild, find themselves in a battle with the factions of light.  Another annoyance with this book is that we spend very little time in the present.  Most of the novel takes us deep into the backstory.  This is something that is always appreciated as it really fleshes out and gives life and builds empathy to the characters but it feels like the plot that takes place in the present is just not moving forward at all.  If this were a marathon, the first book took us nicely past the nine mile mark.  This second installment takes us just one mile further while spending almost all of its time talking about why we decided to get into running in the first place.

I did appreciate that Wight was not afraid to move major characters to the headman’s block.  This keeps the sense of danger that anyone can die real and meaningful.  The characters become even more relatable and interesting over the course of the novel but again my primary complaint is that they just don’t accomplish enough in the present.

If you were a fan of the first round of this series, it’s worth continuing but I would recommend waiting until the second novel for the light side comes out so you can read the two book together.  My hope is that will bring a little more clarity to the plot.

Rogue: The Paladin Prophecy Book 3

Fantasy Book Review

Fantasy Book Review

Frost continues to deliver in the third installment of the Paladin Prophecy.  Frost is the real deal when it comes to writing, having paired up with David Lynch on Twin Peaks and solo writing a bunch of novels along the lines of The Greatest Game Ever Played.  It’s hard not be interested in a writer of this caliber’s attempt at some fantasy even if it is set in a young adult world.  It’s almost like hearing Dave Chappelle is going to do Shakespeare.  Whether or not he pulls off a compelling Othello or Macbeth you sure as hell know it is going to be entertaining.

Frost takes the urban fantasy approach.  He doesn’t veer too far from the Harry Potter formula: bunch of young kids enter a school where the outrageous begins to happen.  Our main character’s parents are missing/dead and he is ushered to the school by a Hagrid like character.  Thankfully, it begins to find it’s own tune shortly thereafter.  Our main character, Will, enters school as a late add and is inserted with four other extraordinary roommates in a school so elite that almost no one knows about it.  Throughout the first two novels, each of the four roommates begin to develop powers that complement Will’s own.  Will has always been fast, but as he exercises his powers they begin to evolve and expand until he could give the Flash a run for his money.  The same holds true for the rest of his team, they’re getting significantly stronger as they mature.  In the first two novels the team is trying to understand how and why they got into this situation.

In the third, some of these answers are revealed.  Frost goes the genetics route to explain what’s behind their amazing powers.  Not so surprisingly, we find out that the genetic tampering is an offshoot from the illicit eugenics programs that the Nazis gave us pre World War II.  What is surprising and a lot more interesting are the secret societies that back the Paladin program.  Behind these secret societies lies yet another level of power, the silent brokers behind the silent societies.  Turns out our characters are smack dab in the middle of a secret war between two powerful groups that have been here for millenia.

Frost uses a couple of very cool writing techniques that brings life and relatability to his characters.  The first is Will’s rules to live by.  In the first two novels, these were written by his father and passed down to Will.  In the third novel, Will has evolved to an extent that he has learned these lessons but is mature enough and experienced enough to start writing rules of his own.  What I like about the rules is that they are a list of explicit core values that makes up the heart of who our main character is.  Core values is a term that is bandied around a lot in business but very few people actually know what it means.  Core values means that these are the ingrained values that draw lines that you will not cross.  In business, they should be serious enough that you will hire by them and fire by them.  This firing also includes customers who push you in a direction that would require you to break your core values.  Frost does a wonderful job of turning every situation our characters find themselves in to a test of Will’s core values.  While Will doesn’t always succeed in the short term he never gives up his integrity and so his core values remain sacrosanct.  In the traditional definition of the word, this is what a paladin is, one who never gives up his own integrity no matter the situation.

Frost also does a good job of managing the interplay and dialog of a lot of different characters at once.  This is tricky, with a lot of characters in the same place at the same time it is very easy to lose track of each of those characters’ personal agendas or worse, have one of these characters fade into the background and no longer contribute in a meaningful fashion.  Frost does a masterful job of weaving this delicate balance in a way that all the characters evolve around the different situations in a very natural progression.

It’s a good, fast read and well worth your while.  My only complaint with these novels is that they are not long enough.

A Tale of Light and Shadow

Fantasy Book Review

Fantasy Book Review

I first read Jacob Gowans with his Psion series and absolutely loved it.  The first book of the Light and Shadow series really struggled to hold my attention.  I normally crank through these type of books but this one took me over a week because I just kept finding better things to do than read something that is only slightly entertaining.  Don’t misunderstand, reading the book is not like going to the dentist, more like going to a family wedding.  There is some fun to be had, maybe Aunt Maureen starts to grind on one of the groomsmen who is half her age, but at the end of the day, the weekend could have been much better spent.

The story is not bad, a young carpenter by the name of Henry falls hard for a down on his luck nobleman’s daughter named Isabelle.  It turns out that the nobleman is a world class prick who puts his daughter in a situation that requires some serious rescuing.  Our carpenter enlists some friends and through a barely believable scheme he does that rescuing in epic fashion.

The rest of the book is spent on the run.  Our carpenter and his merry band get themselves into and out of a number of perilous situations that ultimately ends in a cliffhanger eagerly awaiting the next book in the series.  The plot moves forward at an OK pace, but there is nothing remotely original in it.  Gowans creates some believable tension between the characters and the situations they find themselves in but the resolution to the tension is as bland as a nutri system cookie.

The thing that bothered me most about the series is that the characters don’t ever seem to evolve until the very last scene. Both Henry and Isabelle have very little depth.  They are both kind to a fault and their relationship feels like a third grade romance.  The most interesting character is the lovable rogue Ruther and he is not that lovable and not that roguish.  What is seriously missing is a taste of the extreme.  We read books either to learn or to escape.  Sadly, this novel didn’t offer either of these things.  I will not be continuing the series.  This is one to skip.

Shattered Sea Books 1, 2 & 3

Fantasy Book Review

Fantasy Book ReviewFantasy Book ReviewFantasy Book Review

Abercrombie writes books that are damn near impossible to put down.  His style is very similar to David Gemmell’s but they have been modernized a bit to add an even darker element to every page.  Abercrombie’s characters are raw and incredibly believable.  Each one of them is uniquely forged by the fires of circumstance into something hard, dangerous and painfully relatable. I got my introduction to Abercrombie in the First Law series.  Those books were regular Greek tragedies.  When starting this series I knew not to expect happy endings but I couldn’t wait to see the trials he would throw his characters through.

I wasn’t disappointed.  Abercrombie introduces us to another cold and dark world that seemed built from the nightmares of a 13th century Viking.  In the first book we are introduced to Yarvi, the crippled son of a king.  Abercrombie shares his fascination of the disabled yet again in this character who is universally disdained by his disability in a land where survival allows for no sympathy.  The author gives you the faint hint of having his main character rise above his impediment before ruthlessly taking everything away from him.

As Yarvi’s world is destroyed and he himself is sold into slavery, the only thing he is left with is an oath of vengeance.  Luckily, to a viking, vengeance is more sustaining than a pallet of powerbars and Yarvi rises above again and again.  He makes lifelong friends of his oar-mates who respect, if not his strength, certainly his persistence and definitely his ‘deep cunning’.  Yarvi trained to be a minister which, in the Shattered Sea, is an adviser to kings.  He uses this knowledge to turn the tables on his situation and by the end he fights his way free of slavery, misconceptions and even disability.  He becomes a character that is likable and respected.

In book two, Abercrombie takes a risky approach and presents us with an entirely new cast of characters.  Yarvi is still around but he plays a secondary role to our new characters Thorn and Brand.  Thorn Bathu is a fireball.  She is one of the first women to come close to passing the warrior’s trials and she is heavily discriminated against because of it.  While these northern women are expected to fight in self defense they are never expected to become actual raiding warriors.  This bias earns Thorn a one way ticket to a personal showing of the headman’s axe.

Brand, the young warrior that Thorn bested to win her warrior’s badge, struggles with the injustice heaped upon Thorn and ultimately stands up for her, even though he can’t stand her, by bringing up the injustice to Yarvi.  Brand is one of the good guys in a bad world and he ultimately gets punished for it.

By circumstance, Yarvi takes Thorn and Brand on an epic journey to the south to gain the support of the southern empress.  They bring along a cast of interesting characters with them, one of which is an old witch that trains Thorn into a formidable weapon.  By the end of the journey, no single man seems able to best Thorn in a fight and her reality becomes legend.  Interestingly enough, a romance also blooms between Thorn and Brand in a reverse chick flick sort of way.  The relationship is as endearing as it is fleeting and you find yourself truly rooting for these two while knowing that good things just don’t last long in the dark of the North.

Our author doubles down in the third novel by changing up the cast once again.  This time our heroine is Skara, princess and daughter of a slaughtered king.  Skara is no warrior but her battles are one of policy and politics as she does her best to wrench her kingdom back from the High King.  Only she has the power to bring warring realms together to fight a greater tyrant and she does it admirably.

One of the sneaky things that Abercrombie does with his characters is turn heroes into villains.  He changes characters you love into ones that you don’t like so much along the way.  This is a much more odious and painful way of destroying characters than the Martin approach of just killing them off.  It takes a lot more balls to shift the love of a reader into something akin to hatred.  He did it with Baez in the first law and he does it again here.  Don’t want to ruin the surprise but it teaches an interesting lesson that all men are fallible when pushed in the right way.

Read the series if you are willing to give up all your free time for the next week or two.

Graceling (Graceling Ream Book 1)

Fantasy Book Review

Fantasy Book Review

As fantasy continues to push into the collective consciousness and is no longer limited to the nerdom of 20 years ago, more and more writers are flexing their literati musculature into the genre and it benefits all of us.  I wouldn’t call Kashore one of the top fantasy writers out there but she does have a lot to offer.  Graceling is well thought out, well written and smartly executed.  She builds her own world which is a must in my opinion and she populates it with interesting characters doing interesting things.  She also invents the mysticism that permeates that world and that acts as the catalyst to all major events.

The world is a fairly standard one with a handful of kingdoms, each with their own politics and beliefs which nicely sets the stage for all sorts of potential realm conflict. The people that live in this world are the staples of medieval serfdom save for the gracelings.  The gracelings are easy to spot due to their different colored eyes.  When a graceling is identified they become immediate property of the kingdom so that they can assist the dynastic lords in keeping a tight leash on the populace.  The gracelings each have a specific power that is as unique as the person themselves.  Some of these powers are completely useless but most gracelings are graced with a skill that gives them a distinct edge over the rest of the populace.

Our main character, Katsa, is one of the deadliest gracelings in the realm.  Her skill is, quite simply, death.  She spends the early part of the book as an assassin on a tether for one of the more tyrannical lords of the Seven Kingdoms.  She is not horrified by her role but neither does she revel in it.  What does horrify her is the pettiness that drives her master and she spends a good amount of the book struggling with these weak motivations.

Our other lead, Po, is a prince from one of the island kingdoms and he too is a graceling.  His grace, to the outside eye, is one of swordsmanship.  He travels to Katsa’s kingdom on a political mission with all sorts of ulterior motives and soon finds himself orbiting the same circles as Katsa.  He is as charming as Katsa is stand-offish and the two start a relationship that is as inevitable as gravity.  They start by pitting each other’s graces against one other but it soon becomes obvious that they both share the desire to be doing something relevant, something far from the pettiness of Katsa’s every day life.

Po gives Katsa the excuse she barely needs to break free from her master and set off on her own crusade.  This starts the physical journey of the fantastic which also begins the metaphysical one of self discovery.  Not only are our two characters learning about themselves but they are also learning about the graces that define them.  They discover that the graces are not the well defined boxes that others tried to put them in but instead are far more intricate reflections of their own character.

That’s really one of the main lessons that the book has to offer.  Nobody has the right to put baby in a corner.  We all have to play the cards we’re dealt but how we play those cards is entirely up to us.  As we examine those cards,. we find that they can make just about any hand we want.

The villain is a graceling as well and his motives are entirely evil.  He is the only character that could have used a little more development.  The evil he exudes is a little too anonymous and hard to identify with.  That is truly my only concern with the book.  The characters are believable and likable and the plot takes you from place to place with a breathlessness that makes you wonder how the characters will ever get out of the next pickle they are put into.  I will definitely be continuing this series.

An Ember in the Ashes

Fantasy Book Review

Fantasy Book Review

Sabaa Tahir wrote an excellent novel.  Rumor has it that it is going to be almost immediately turned into a movie at the hands of Paramount.  This shouldn’t be a surprise, Young Adult fantasy seems to be the only sub-genre in fantasy that can hold the attention of summer movie goers for a full two hours.  While that might sound like a complaint, HBO has taught us that TV serials are a much better place for the in-depth exploration of lands like Westeros, but I digress.

The world Tahir builds takes place in and around Blackcliff Academy.  The place feels like a much darker military school version of Hogwarts, where every authority figure makes Snape look like a cuddly teddy bear of an uncle.  The conflict is between two classes, castes almost, in the book: the Martials and the Scholars.  The Martials are the ruling class and they treat the peasant Scholars with a disdain worthy of King Leonidas.  This is Sparta but a darker, meaner Sparta.

The story is told from the alternating viewpoints of Elias, a Martial Mask in training, and Laia, a scholar wanting to do nothing more than save her brother and survive to tell the tale.  Elias seems to be the only sane Martial in the academy.  He clings to his humanity as the rest of his brethren seem resigned to having that humanity beaten or traumatically ripped from them in a series of painful trials.  That is Blackcliff, an academy with the singular goal of turning children into ruthless, domineering assholes.  Elias does his best to push back against this environment without getting himself killed in the process.  Symbolism is rife in the form of the actual Mask these young killers are asked to don.  The mask itself is an ethereal quicksilver that melds to one’s face.  Elias is the only one in his graduating class that still takes the Mask off, physical ripping the silvery tendrils of the parasitic device from his face, if only in the confines of his own room.  Symbolizing the struggle of pushing back against an autocratic regime in this way makes for some really powerful visuals.  This struggle is at the heart of the Elias character and colors all of his actions.

Laia, on the other hand, is a coward.  Or she thinks she’s a coward anytime she runs from certain death situations.  She beats herself up over this to an extreme that seems a little trite.  Again and again, she claims ‘I don’t have the courage to do something like that,” and then goes ahead and does it.  This is YA fiction, so it can be forgiven.  We do get it, everyone faces challenges and you have to woman up to get it done.  Laia’s challenge is that the Masks came and took her brother for possessing militaristic drawings that are a serious no-no for the downtrodden class.  She then spends the novel trying to break her brother, Darin, out of prison.  This brings her in contact with the Scholar resistance which starts her whirlwind into a life of espionage and adventure.

Inevitably, the two characters cross paths.  This is where the love triangle, or love star of David, begins.  There are multiple triangles being juggled as these characters wrestle with young love in an era of repression and sadism.  The love stays very PG and innocent throughout but Tahir does a good job of making every character in each triangle worthy of love and our empathy.  The characters are well thought out and very identifiable.  They may not be as complex as you will find in a Martin or Rothfuss novel, but this is YA fiction where black and white necessarily holds sway.

There are not a ton of lessons to learn within these pages but it is a very fun, adrenaline filled read that is well worth your time.

Boundary Crossed (Boundary Magic Book 1)

Fantasy Book Review

Fantasy Book Review

Boundary Crossed is an entry into the contemporary or urban fantasy genre from Melissa Olson.  Contemporary fantasy, unlike high fantasy, happens in today’s world.  I first got into contemporary fantasy with Jim Butcher’s Dresden files.  When that first of that series came out it felt really new and fresh.  Butcher created a wizard that lived in Chicago and advertised his profession, as a wizard, in the Yellow Pages.  He treated all cases like some film noir detective with the customary chip on his shoulder.  I loved it.  This then expanded into Kim Harrison’s Hollows world which, if I remember correctly, is based within some parallel version of Cleveland.  Felt a little derivative, but not bad.  Sadly, this turned into its own genre.  Within ten years there were druids, weather witches, elves and every other role playing archetype in damn near every city in the United States.  The big problem I have with the genre is that it has become as formulaic as a recipe for instant vanilla pudding.  Pick a city, add magic, werewolves and vampires.  Stir.  There is no world building, very little in the way of creativity and it just got lazy and boring.

Boundary Crossed introduces us to a witch living in Boulder, Colorado.  To be fair, Olson is a good writer, she develops her characters well and puts you directly into the story.  It’s the derivative content that I have a problem with.  You can imagine people sitting around, drinking, or since we are in Colorado, passing the peace pipe around, and someone says, “Duuuude, wouldn’t it be cool if you woke up one morning and found out you were a witch….”.  Everyone looks at the speaker and says, “Whoa man, that would be cool.  You just blew my mind.”  The problem is, every other damn TV show and every third fantasy novel coming out these days does the exact same thing.  Enough.  Unless you have some new creative spin to add to the genre, just stop.  The world needs less me toos and more creative content.

Olson’s slightly new addition is that our Boulder witch, Lex, is a boundary witch.  Boundary witches draw their power from death, so more necromancy than witch.  Lex is a bit of an outcast from her family in that she chose to join the army instead of go to Stanford.  While in the army, she and her unit got torn up pretty badly and in a scenario where she should have died, she beat death back and came out of it with nothing more than a couple of scars.  This is the setup for her nascent boundary witch powers.

Our heroine makes her way back home to Colorado where she is forced to deal with a significant loss in her family.  This loss puts her in a funk that has her life spiraling into a depressing, dead-end job working at the local Qwick-E mart.  Vampires, enter stage left.  The vampires end up kidnapping her little niece that is the last link to her lost family member.  This kidnapping starts Lex on her adventure into magic and mayhem.

Again, Olson is a solid writer and she builds a couple of characters that you do care about throughout the book but there is nothing new to see here.  I’m done with the series and the genre.  Contemporary fantasy has become the romance genre of the 2000s.

Promise of Blood (Powder Mage series Book 1)

Fantasy Book Review

Fantasy Book Review

This is my first attempt at reading any McClellan and I liked it enough that I’ll give his second attempt a whirl.  He does some solid world building and definitely tries something new with magic.  Experimentation in this genre is a must with all of the candidates out there these days.  He doesn’t go too far with his experimentation though, nothing that is completely out there like a Rothfuss or a Sanderson.  This does make the world a little more identifiable though because those that build a brand new world and don’t have the literary chutzpah to pull it off almost always end up in disaster.  Again, it was good, but not groundbreaking.

The story begins with a coup.  One of our main characters has overthrown the royalty and has grand plans to build a democracy via the baby step of aristocracy.  The coup and the world we end up in seems a hell of a lot like the French revolution.  From the start, I felt like I was thrown into Les Mis, sans the musical numbers.  This did mean that we are in an age of gunpowder which is a risky proposition.  Once science and industry get to a certain level in a world, adding magic to that world is kind of like adding drama to pornography, it feels awkward, unwanted and out of place.  McClellan actually does a pretty good job of acknowledging that and goes with it anyway.

The key to making the science to magic transition kind of work is that gunpowder is actually the medium used by a new type of mage, the powder mage.  The powder mage eats or snorts some gunpowder which heightens their senses and reflexes and gives them finely controlled mental power over their ballistics.  These powder mages are in regular struggles with the Privileged, the more traditional elemental style magic wielders.  This battle is interesting primarily because it feels like a microcosm of the struggle of science and industry taking on the superstitions of a bygone era.  The other element he brings to the powder mage is that too much powder is addictive.  This is not new in magical genres, the draw of power is always addicting, but what is new is that this is the closest parallel I have seen to drugs.  You can imagine characters literally snorting this powder off of the bare asses of industrial revolution style hookers.

The other angle that he takes that really made the plot move along was by introducing a detective into the mix.  I imagined this character as a spitting image of Hercule Poirot.  Many times in fantasy novels, there is a mystery lurking that needs solving.  McClellan effectively turned this into a plot tool by creating a character that solves this mystery while riding shotgun with the reader.

Finally, I did like the grittiness of the world.  The author doesn’t pull any punches, major characters die, and he takes on real subjects like democracy and addiction.  The writing is good but I think as McClellan hones his craft, he has the opportunity to be much better.

The Skull Throne (The Demon Cycle Series Book 4)

Fantasy Book Review

Fantasy Book Review

Every once in a while you run into a world that is so interesting that the world itself keeps you engrossed to the point that you will read anything placed in it.  This is true of Brett’s Demon Cycle series.  It requires a solid storyteller to get you so engaged but though he does a solid job of turning a phrase, that’s not what keeps you coming back.  It’s the amazing idea behind the world that is almost addicting in its ability to draw you in.  To paraphrase quickly here, all of our characters live in a world where demons rule the night.  Once the sun goes down, these demons start to materialize pretty much everywhere on the surface.  The only protection from these demons are magical wards that they cannot cross.  There is no way to harm these demons and if you are caught un-warded with them at night you’re pretty much screwed.  Our main characters spend their lives fighting against this nighttime slavery to the indoors in an effort to understand what they can do to change this fate.  Needless to say, they start to find ways to fight back and these techniques start to change these characters in fascinating ways.

This is the fourth book in the series and before this came out at the end of March I re-read the three that came before it and the short stories: Brayan’s Gold, Messenger’s Legacy, and The Great Bazaar and Other Short Stories.  I saw none of that as wasted time, that’s how compelling the idea of the world is.

Going to focus this review on the fourth book.  Like any good series, the third book ended with a cliffhanger, which was quite literal in this case.  Two of the main characters, the Warded Man and the Shar’Dama Ka face off in an epic fight to determine who will deliver the world from evil.  It doesn’t go well for one of them.  The story picks up shortly after that battle.

My biggest concern with the book is that it starts to introduce quite a few new characters.  This is always a red flag to me when the author starts to do this four books into the series.  Gives serious flashbacks to Jordan when he got muddled down with hundreds of characters that were so varied that you start to lose track of who they are or worse, why you should care about them.  Brett doesn’t go that far but it is still a little disconcerting.  There is a great cast of characters already, the new additions don’t seem to add much to the enjoyment of reading the books and they tend to just muddle the plot lines.  You can always tell when this is happening when you start confusing one character with another.  I started doing this with the fourth book and I read it on vacation pretty much straight through.

On the flip side, he takes a great turn for the better by starting to kill off some of the characters, including one of the main characters, R.R. Martin style.  This is a critical step in any great series because it shows that everything is on the table.  There are no Disney endings in this one.  Too many fantasy writers fall so in love with their main characters that you know that there is no chance that they will be killed off.  This makes the danger that they face less real and identifiable and ultimately kills a lot of good stories.  There needs to be that fear that somebody can actually die to bring real tension to a story.

My other gripe with this book was that the main story didn’t move forward much.  Our characters become more established and comfortable with their new powers but there was never that moment where they took the next big stride forward in the war.  They talked about it a lot, but it never actually came about.  This was Jordan-esque as well and just as disappointing as it was in his books.  When you read a 600+ page novel, you expect some level of a money-shot at the end.

Still very enjoyable and I will still be looking very forward to the next novel in the series but this is not his best work.


Fantasy Book Review

Fantasy Book Review

I’ve never read any Mieville before but damn this dude can write!  The book starts off pretty basic, almost like a pulpy Dan Brown novel with our lead character working in the Darwin museum in London.  He gets into some of the intricacies of the life of the curator but just enough to keep you interested.  You start enjoying the main character a bit and what he is into then one of his charges, a giant dead squid, gets stolen.  Then everything goes off the fucking rails.

Once on the crazy train, you get thrown into an alternate London that reminded me a bit of Gaiman’s book, Neverwhere.  Nothing is as it seems but it is delightfully insane.  Half the time I was reading the book, I had no idea what was going on.  I’m sure there were quite a few allegories going on that went right over my head but it didn’t matter.  The plot was a complete mess but that didn’t matter either because it was so fun to read.

Picasso once said, “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”  Mieville is an artist when it comes to the English language.  I consider myself to be pretty well read with a not half bad vocabulary, but as I was reading the book on my kindle I found myself looking up words every page.  The funny thing was that half of these words didn’t have a definition.  That’s where the breaking of rules comes from.  Mieville has such a handle on the language that he simply makes words up when an appropriate one can’t be found to describe the batshit crazy that is happening in his story.  Words like hereseopoly, which I took to mean as the organized gathering of heretical groups.  These things just flow naturally off the page to the point that you stop looking stuff up and just roll with it.  Here’s one other example of the brilliance of his writing, “They had sent their alarums in parachemicals, waves of pathogen anxiety.  They stimulated immune response in the factory grounds.  Birthing of brick angles; emerging from hollows in boscage; unwinding from the ruined car; London’s leucocytes came on in attack.”  There are passages like this on every page.

Two of the best characters in the book were Goss and Subby, the demonic duo that chases young Billy Harrow throughout the streets of London.  These guys were very similar villains to Gaiman’s Mr Croup and Mr Vandemar in that they were effortlessly evil and seem to revel in their insidiousness.  It’s that joy of evil that seems to make the best villains almost comedic, kind of the Dr. Evils of alternate London but not quite so on-the-nose.

It was very obvious to me in reading the book that Mieville was having a blast writing it.  That joy comes across in waves.  Grab your board and let yourself be taken by them into the deeps.  Kraken is worth the ride.

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