this is part of as days pass by, by Stuart Langridge

Books I acquired (and have reviewed) in 2017

November 2017

The Assassins of Tamurin goodreads

S. D. Tower

Surprisingly intricate little story about a trainee assassin who falls in love with the king she's sent to marry and spy on. Unusually good at romance, unlike most fantasy, and I like that basically all the interesting characters are women. Quite a bit of geopolitics, too. It's never going to be a classic, but worth reading I think.

MatchUp goodreads

22 authors

Bought for the Virgil Flowers story, of course, which was... not bad, but not Sandford's best. I'll read the others at some point, I assume.

October 2017

The Furthest Station goodreads

Ben Aaronovitch (Rivers of London #5)

More Peter Grant is always welcome. A nice little ghost story novella.

The Templar Chronicles goodreads

Joseph Nassise (The Templar Chronicles #1)

All the Templar Chronicles stories rather blur into one in my head, but they're a perfectly fine unambitious fairly-generic set of urban fantasies; sort of the UF equivalent of airport novel thrillers called The Omega Sanction or something. I appreciate that this is not praise that the author would much appreciate, but being a book that I don't bounce off from annoyance puts you in the top 30% of the class straight away.

Deep Freeze goodreads

John Sandford (Virgil Flowers #10)

How is Trippton such a hotbed of crime? On the other hand I've just looked it up and it isn't a real place -- I never know with the Sandford books how much of it is actually real Minnesota, but it's compelling enough that I naturally assume that it is because Sandford's good. The usual Virgil blend of folksy charm hiding sharpness, although I don't like Johnson Johnson anywhere near as much as I think I'm supposed to, since he shows up a lot. The Barbie subplot was excellent. And I spotted the Ruger pest-control thing from a previous book right off, and it was nice that that was a plot point and not just "JS knows this thing and has randomly dropped it into two separate stories now".

Hannah Green and Her Unfeasibly Mundane Existence goodreads

Michael Marshall Smith

I asked the author if this was more a Michael Marshall or a Michael Marshall Smith before getting it, and he said it's "much more an MMS book, although not SF". This is correct. That blend of slightly bizarre backstory, careful machines, and the power of thought is something that hardly anyone else can pull off, and Smith does it with his usual aplomb. Every other line is funny, too, just in the way people react or the narrative straight-facedly takes the piss. If you liked Only Forward or Spares you'll like this. Also, don't go into any cracks in the land in Siberia.

September 2017

What Doctor Gottlieb Saw goodreads

Ian Tregillis

An explanation of how Gretel does what she does. She might honestly be the worst villain ever; most powerful, maybe. She's not evil, per se, but she's startlingly, incredibly malignant. I can see why they dropped her on that island and didn't think twice about it. This will make no sense to you if you haven't read the Milkweed triptych, but if you have it's a brilliant addition, and the Tor people make it available for free (!) on their website.

August 2017

The Complete Gillian Flynn: Omnibus goodreads

Gillian Flynn

Everyone told me I have to read Gone Girl, and I was sceptical but picked up an omnibus so I could give it a shot. I was wrong. It's excellent. I appreciate I'm about five years behind the rest of the world here.

I didn't quite see the thing coming, but I had a sense that something was off, something was strange about the whole setup. So I'm sorta-kinda claiming a moral victory for prescience here.

The finale is... well, one couldn't wish for much better, really. A plague on all your houses.

July 2017

A Darker Shade of Magic goodreads

V.E. Schwab (Shades of Magic #1)

The plot in this trilogy sorta escapes me, coming back to write about it six months or so after reading. But the imagery... ah, that stays. The three Londons is very compelling indeed, and the distinctions between them is something I grasped so intuitively that I halfway wonder if it's not real, because it just seems so obvious. Storytelling skill by Schwab there, I feel. And it's nice to see urban fantasy with the real world in it (well, sorta) but not set in a 2000s-era American city.

June 2017

Gubbins and Soe

Peter Wilkinson & Joan Bright Astley

Got for research on a project not yet finished.

March 2017

Midnight Blue-Light Special goodreads

Seanan McGuire (InCryptid #2)

More of the same with Verity Price. There's quite a lot more Sarah in this one, including a whole section from her point of view, although we don't learn anything much about telepathy or how the world is from a cuckoo's point of view.

Definition of "cryptid" from the front matter: "any creature whose existence has been suggested but not proved scientifically". This seems weird, especially given the Covenant's hatred; in particular, it's hard to imagine that if the Loch Ness Monster were found to actually exist that the Covenant would just turn up and kill it. Again the book sorta glosses over non-intelligent cryptids and what they mean for the rules.

Fun diversion for an evening, though. I was not surprised by the decision that a character makes (avoiding spoilers), because these books are a bit too light and fluffy for that decision to have gone the other way.

Discount Armageddon goodreads

Seanan McGuire (InCryptid #1)

Interesting book, with a weird title -- not a bad title per se, but it doesn't really belong on this book. I can't decide whether I like it. I certainly don't like the cover art, but I assume that that was pressed upon the author by someone at the publisher who was terribly excited about getting to put a woman on the cover. Anyway, Verity Price's family used to be part of an ancient secret organisation (aren't they all) of monster hunters -- monsters, you see, by which here we mean "non-humans" and which the 'verse names "cryptids", are all over the place and the Covenant of St. George hunt them down and kill them. But the Price family, all of whom still seem to be around in various states of life or death or undeath or something, broke away and decided that straight-up murder of species wasn't the right thing and instead they'd do cryptozoology; study the cryptids, be friends with them, and occasionally kill one who'd decided that the all-you-can-eat human buffet was just too much. So far, so back story.

Some of the cryptids are human in appearance and sentient and intelligent, and Verity spends some time arguing (convincingly) with a Covenant member that such beings are not to be shot on sight because we should respect life, all of which is true. There are non-intelligent cryptids too, though -- an ahool, a bat-like thingy, is mentioned -- which the Covenant also kill and Verity sorta-kinda wants to protect as well. It's not wholly clear to me what makes such a thing different from, say, a tiger; surely "doesn't have an Encyclopedia Britannica entry" doesn't qualify you as a cryptid to be killed. I mean, what makes them cryptids rather than animals? I don't get it. Anyway, all that aside, Verity manages to juggle cryptozoology and ballroom dancing quite well, although she's pretty sneery about things like not going in the New York subway out of, as far as I can tell, sheer snobbery. She's got a pretty snarky tone of voice, which is fairly normal for modern urban fantasy. The Masquerade is absurdly strong in this 'verse, though; how on earth there aren't a zillion government labs experimenting on cryptids to find out how they can have snakes for hair or generate mass from nothing escapes me completely. There's a sorta handwavy attempt to point at the various species being naturally evolved from animals, but this is really just something where you have to suspend disbelief and enjoy Price kicking some monster arse from time to time. I'll give the next one a shot.

January 2017

The Ruling Mask goodreads

Neil McGarry & Daniel Ravipinto (Grey City #3)

Third in the series, and it's clear that these are going to be Duchess getting tangled up in a bunch of multi-layered schemes, threaded through with hints as to the Big Underlying Plot. Sorta Dresden-ish that way, which is a compliment. Duchess is no milquetoast, either; half the schemes just arrive on her doorstep like Philip Marlowe's, sure, but the other half are all her doing. She's pretty well-heeled now, too, after a couple of decent scores, and importantly they aren't smash-and-grabs where one lives on the proceeds; she's running two businesses. (OK, one's a crooked dice game, but she is a criminal.) Making enemies, too, but business enemies; the mixture of cut-throat politics on both social and corporate scenes is something of a refreshing change for this sort of book, where the thief protagonist who does well normally manages it by stealing a really big diamond or something rather than by running a dressmakers' which is being noticed by the fashionable. Everyone's presentation is a bit unrealistic, though; people who get embroiled in the schemes (or embroil Duchess in theirs) are either commendably open about their motives (the three sisters, here) or intransigently enigmatic and impenetrable (the first Keeper, the other keeper chap, Minette), and actual real people are generally somewhere in between. So you don't tend to know what's going on, but equally there's no Columbo, Eugenides, Vetinari big reveal at the end. Also, there aren't really endings; the book stops because it's the length of a book, not because it's a particular story breakpoint; these stories could be one huge book, or fifteen smaller books, and there wouldn't really be a problem. Not that I mind, I hasten to add, but I'm now up to date as of this one (thank you Daniel Ravipinto for putting it on Smashwords after I whined on Twitter about having to buy the Kindle one), and it only came out three months ago, and the previous one was in 2013 which suggests that I'll be waiting some considerable time for book four. The Big Underlying Plot gets a bit of a boost in this, though; quite a lot is discovered (or at least speculated about). I shall read the rest, when they arrive.

The Fall of Ventaris goodreads

Neil McGarry & Daniel Ravipinto (Grey City #2)

The scheming continues, and Duchess rises up a notch or three in the level of the schemes she's involved in. She still doesn't really know what she's doing, though. One nice thing here is that the overtly sexist nature of the city's inheritance laws -- marriage means the woman belongs to the man and he makes all the decisions, even if the woman is heir to a noble title and the man is some random bloke -- becomes a plot point, because Duchess could actually get her inheritance but she doesn't want to do so and then be forced into a marriage where the bloke gets it all. That's well-handled; normally the whole princess-raised-by-gypsies thing has as a plot goal that the princess reclaims her inheritance, and that's explicitly disavowed here; Duchess prefers being Duchess to being a disenfranchised Marina, and who can blame her?

She's still a cat's-paw for all the schemes, though, and she thinks she's cleverer than she is. She is, however, aware of this, as are about fifteen other characters, and she has a commendable lack of worry about it; the thing she wanted done got done, and, fine, maybe a bunch of other stuff happened too and she enabled that, but whatevaaaaar. In a bunch of other books this would result in endless angsty whining and here it doesn't. Duchess is actually confident, rather than being brash and naming it confidence.

More of the Big Underlying Plot, too, although it's sparingly parceled out in little bits; we still don't know what the deal is with He Who Devours or why (or even whether) he's taken a special interest in Duchess. This stuff -- the voice from the pit, the skeletons -- are touches of actual magic, which is a bit weird because this fantasy city doesn't have any magic or magical things at all; it's like mediaeval London, not like mediaeval Camorr. So meeting some animated skeletons shouldn't just be scary, it should be utterly mind-blowing, and Duchess's mind is not blown as much as it perhaps should be.

I'd like to read a crossover book with Duchess and Locke Lamora and Veranix in it, I think.

The Duchess of the Shallows goodreads

Neil McGarry & Daniel Ravipinto (Grey City #1)

Young woman with a mysterious past becomes a thief and gets involved in various schemes in a fantasy city. So it's a bit of a cliched setup, but the book overcomes this by having lots of politics. There's a heist too, but it doesn't have the two key elements of a heist story, which are meticulous detail on the plan and then some sort of clever reversal at the end, so it's not a heist book. The politics is what it's about; even at a low level there are lots of schemes within schemes and everyone's got at least two motives for everything (which the story itself recognises and even mentions a couple of times). Higher up, there's quite a bit of subtle battling between the power bases in the city (the Grey, a not-very-secret society of thieves, the Red, a not-very-secret protection racket society of thugs and murderers, the churches, the nobility, and others). Also, there are hints of a Big Underlying Plot, where the mark Duchess has seems to be tied to...something. Worth reading; worth reading the next one, too.

The Long Way Down goodreads

Craig Schaefer (Daniel Faust #1)

Fairly stock urban fantasy about a small-time crook type with thoughts of honour and who's also a wizard. Leather jackets and pentagrams. The seamy magic underworld and the seamy criminal underworld. As usual with these things, Faust seems like he might be an OK bloke to have a beer with. Easy to read; not particularly deep; that's not really a problem. Like, say, the Nightside books. It turns out that there are a bunch more Faust books and a couple of other series as well, so I think I'll pick them up.

Swiss Family Robinson goodreads

Johann David Wyss

A classic, and for a reason. The constant repetition of "and then we said our prayers before going to bed" gets a bit tiresome, but the dad is a pastor, after all. Also, the island is mad because it's got basically everything on it. Kangaroos? Seriously? Not as scientific as The Mysterious Island, and the second half is nowhere near as good as the first half, but still worth the effort.

Poems Every Child Should Know goodreads

Mary E. Burt

I fancied reading some more poetry, because I'm a bit lacking in some of the classics, and there this was in feedbooks. They do a good job, Feedbooks, in taking Project Gutenberg texts and making them nicely formatted epubs. Anyway, this has a load of terrible old tosh, and a bunch of irritating comments from Burt about some schoolkid who constantly recited one poem or another, marbled throughout with some real marvels which actually have stood the test of time. The Assyrian did indeed come down like a wolf on the fold. 

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