I’ve just finished reading Look to Windward by Iain M. Banks. This is of course part of my project to reread various Banks novels. This is the last of his science fiction Culture novels that I had planned to read, but it is a brilliant one.
As I’ve said before, all of the books in the Culture series are standalone. This one takes place 800 years after the Idrian-Culture war which was a plot point of the first Culture novel, Consider Phlebus. During the war two stars were destroyed by the Culture, and now the light from those “ancient mistakes” has reached the Culture orbital of Masaq’ (one of the Culture’s many man- (or machine-) made homeworlds.
More recently the Culture has also made an error, interfering in the politics of the Chelgrian world, leading to a disastrous civil war. Two Chel feature as characters in the book. One is the exiled composer Ziller, who has made his home on Masaq’ and is composing a symphony to celebrate the appearance of the supernovae. The other Chel is Quilan, a grieving soldier who has been sent to Masaq’ ostensibly to ask Ziller to return home, but really his memory has been wiped and he is carrying out a secret mission of vengeance against the Culture.
As I said, I think it’s a brilliant book, certainly one of my favourite Culture novels. It has all of Banks’ usual excellent plotting, interesting characters and a fabulous unreliable narrator, as we figure out what is really going on along with Quilan as his memories return to him.
I also really like that it’s another book which shows the Culture from the outside, through Ziller and Quilan with their very different views, and Kabe, another alien, but acting as ambassador for the two of them on behalf of the Culture. The Minds are also well characterised here, with the Orbital Hub Mind being a former Ship Mind from the war; the Minds are a brilliant take on AIs, something Banks has done fabulously well throughout the Culture series.
So overall, I really liked the book. It’s an excellent Culture novel, and an excellent hard science fiction novel or space opera novel or whatever you prefer to call it. I really enjoyed reading it, and I think it very much complements the other Culture novels that I have read this year. It’s a great series overall, and I would highly recommend that all SF fans read some Iain M. Banks.
I was in the mood for some YA contemporary so I picked up this one on my Kindle, Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley. I’d seen it positively reviewed in a few places, so I thought it sounded interesting.
The book is set in a small Southern town, and the main character is a teenage boy Cullen, who is desperate to escape his boring hometown. Over the summer before his last year of high school, the town becomes obsessed with the potential sighting of a rare woodpecker, previously thought to be extinct. However Cullen has more important things on his mind as his beloved younger brother Gabriel has disappeared.
I have to say that based on the hype, I was pretty disappointed with the book. It wasn’t terrible, I enjoyed it enough to read it all, and I wanted to keep reading to find out what had happened to Gabriel. But other than that I did not really connect with the character of Cullen (in fact I really didn’t like him at all) and the plot and philosophy of the book were also uninspiring.
I didn’t hate the book, it’s just that I thought it would be a lot better than it was. I think I would have actually liked it more if it was longer and delved deeper into the topics it was exploring, instead it just seemed to take on some heavy topics like grief and religion but only give them a shallow treatment without much resolution. Overall it was not a terrible book, I enjoyed reading it for the most part, but it was definitely a bit disappointing.
This is just a quick review of Vicious by VE Schwab, which I read for my book group. I’ve said before that I don’t particularly like stories about superpowers and that sort of thing, and unfortunately that held true here. I will say that the book wasn’t all bad, and it was a nice twist on the superpowers themes. However it just wasn’t my thing, I couldn’t get into the story or connect with the characters. If you like this sort of genre then I’d say it is worth checking out, but I personally did not enjoy it.
I finished reading Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson. This is the story of Ruby Lennox, narrated from her conception onwards and telling the story of her complex family life. In between the chapters of Ruby’s narration are other chapters which give further details of the lives of Ruby’s various relatives in the past. Themes include the effect of World War I and World War II on the different generations of her family, and the trends in her family of women being unhappily married, children dying young, and relatives disappearing without notice. I liked the book, Atkinson writes character-driven stories brilliantly, and manages to make small family dramas compelling, even when it’s not my usual plot choice. But I will say that her books are so depressing, all her characters are miserable, and there is only so much I can take of reading about abusive parents and infidelity and depressed characters who make stupid life decisions. I’m not saying it’s bad, as it was a very well written book, and I enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed Atkinson’s other books that I’ve read. I will read more of her novels in the future, but I will wait awhile because I will need to be in the right mood for something grim.
This is my recent book haul. As per this post, I decided to pick up a few SF and contemporary novels. I will be reading these next month. I also have a fantasy trilogy on the way in the post, which I will probably be reading before I get to any of these. But I am notoriously bad at planning my reading in advance, so nothing is set in stone. All of these look good and I am excited to start them.
Two rather different books that I am currently reading. I am working through Look to Windward by Iain M. Banks as part of my project to reread his books. But it is a signed copy so I don’t want to get it bashed up carrying it in my bag to and from work every day. So I am just reading that at home, and during the day I am reading Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson. This copy is already fairly scruffy as it belongs to my Mum and has been read by both my parents and my sister already. Mum lent it to me as I enjoyed Life After Life and Case Histories, both read my Mum’s recommendation too. I’m not very good at reading multiple things at once, but I will see how this goes.
I’ve been reading a lot of fantasy lately but now I am really in the mood for some science fiction. So I am spending the afternoon browsing Amazon and finding lots of great SF type novels that I want to read. I have an Amazon gift certificate so I may end up getting a bunch of new books, which is fair enough as my TBR pile is fairly small at the moment, mostly things I am rereading actually. I do have a big fantasy trilogy on order from Waterstones which is due to arrive this week and which I want to read as soon as it gets here. But I think next month I may take a short break from fantasy and read some SF and some contemporary fiction instead.
This weekend I read The Girl with all the Gifts by MR Carey. This was picked by my book group for this fortnight, and although it is not my usual cup of tea, I was interested to give it a go as I had heard good things about it. It’s essentially a zombie novel, which is not something I usually enjoy, but this one has a twist to it. I won’t go into the plot too much, as I think this is one of those books which is better to read without preconceptions or spoilers. But I will say that I really enjoyed the novel, more than I expected to, and I thought it was a great unique take on an old genre. It’s a novel that I’d recommend to a variety of readers, and I am glad I read it despite my doubts.
This weekend I read The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson. Last year I read his novel The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared, which I really enjoyed as an entertaining and funny story. So I was keen to read his newest book, but slightly wary that it would be too similar to his first book, which was wonderfully unique.
The story revolves around Nombeko, a black South African girl from the Soweto township, born during apartheid. Through a series of accidents she ends up working as a cleaner for an engineer working on creating an atomic bomb. Later she and the atomic bomb end up in Sweden, where she meets two identical twins who are both called Holger, one of whom wishes to overthrow the King of Sweden.
Much like the first book, the story features larger-than-life characters, some appearances of real historical figures, jumps through time to reveal the characters’ back stories, and various unlikely events and accidents and coincidences that move the plot forward. That’s not a bad thing, it all very well written, it just seems very similar to the earlier book.
However this book does have its own plot and characters, even if it is very similar in style, and I did enjoy it. I didn’t like it quite as much as The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared, which is one I would certainly recommend, but I did enjoy the book and it was a good, entertaining weekend read.
So Brandon Sanderson is one of my favourite fantasy authors. I’ve written before about how much I loved the Mistborn trilogy, Elantris and Warbreaker. The next book of his that I had to read was Steelheart. I was a bit wary about this one as it’s not like his usual fantasy, but I was given a free copy so I decided to give it a try.
The book is set in a near-future version of our own world, where an event called the Calamity led to some people developing super powers. These people are called Epics, and rather than acting like superheroes as would be expected, they all turn out to be evil villains who fight each other to take over the country. The story is set is Newcago, a future version of Chicago which was turned to steel by the Epic called Steelheart, who now rules the city.
The main character of the book is David, who was a young boy when Steelheart came to power. He saw his father killed by Steelheart, but he also saw Steelheart injured by his father, despite supposedly being invulnerable. Ten years on, David wants to kill Steelheart in revenge for what he has done to his father and the people of the city. To accomplish this he tries to join a resistance group called the Reckoners, who are the only people fighting back against Steelheart.
For the most part I liked the book. There were some drawbacks, mainly that I am not a big fan of this sort of genre, the super powers and all of that, it just wasn’t my thing. I also thought the book was more YA than I expected, it definitely seemed toned down and less well developed than Brandon Sanderson’s other books. Finally, I am never a big fan of first person narration, and I found the main character’s narration to be a bit annoying at times.
But I don’t want to seem too negative, as I said, I did like the book, it had a good plot, I enjoyed reading it, and I will no doubt pick up the sequels when they are published. It just was nowhere near as good as the other Brandon Sanderson books I’ve read, and I will definitely be going back to his regular fantasy books next.
So after seeing Neil Gaiman at the Usher Hall last week, I decided to reread American Gods, which is probably my favourite of Neil Gaiman’s novels, and indeed one of my favourite books. I’ve read it a few times before, and the last time that I reread it I ended up writing this post about how I was having trouble reviewing it. Basically I felt that couldn’t adequately sum up what the book was about and what I liked about it. I guess that’s still true, it’s one of the few books that I am just really attached to, and I can’t really explain why that is. But anyway I love the book, I was glad I reread it, and I would recommend it, even if I can’t say why!
Last night I went to see Neil Gaiman at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh. This was part of his tour of his performance of The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains. It’s a short story that he reads, accompanied by images from artist Eddie Campbell, and music from a string quartet called Four Play. In addition to that he also read several shorter stories, and Four Play performed some songs, including a wonderful rendition of the Doctor Who theme. He even sang a couple of songs! Overall it was a really enjoyable evening, a unique performance, and I was very impressed by the whole thing.
I’ve recently finished The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. This is definitely not my usual sort of book, but I wanted something quick and light and fun to read on Friday evening and this seemed like a good prospect so I got it on my Kindle and read most of it on Friday night and finished it off on Saturday morning. It reads like a rom com film in book form. The story follows Don, an uptight professor who tries to find an ideal wife and ends up meeting Rosie, who is utterly unsuitable for him on paper but manages to shake up his life. It’s a pretty standard rom com type plot, but I did enjoy it, and it was very funny in places, with great characters. Basically it’s not my usual sort of book, but I was in the right mood for it, so I enjoyed it. It wasn’t anything special, I wouldn’t rave about it, but I would recommend it to anyone looking for this particular style. I’ll be back to reading heavy fantasy novels for the rest of the month, but it was a nice weekend diversion.
I’ve reviewed quite a few of Joe Abercrombie’s books before, so I think it is clear that I am a fan of his writing. Last weekend I went to see him on tour to promote his newest book, Half a King. He did a reading and answered questions and signed books, and it was a very enjoyable event. I have now finished reading the book, which is slightly different from his usual fantasy novels in that this one is a YA book, but it was every bit as good as his usual writing.
The main character of the book is Yarvi, a teenage prince who was born with a damaged hand and is therefore not well regarded by his family as he is not able to train as a warrior. However he is very clever and has trained as a minister instead. His plans go awry however when his father and elder brother are killed, leaving him as an uncertain and ill-prepared king. Things get worse when his own uncle betrays him and tries to kill him in order to claim his throne. Yarvi escapes and swears an oath to take revenge on his uncle and reclaim his rightful position, even if he’s not sure he actually wants to be a king.
I really liked the book a lot. It has a great story, very gripping, and I really enjoyed reading the book. All of Abercrombie’s previous books are set in the same world, but this one has a new setting, which was exciting to read and it was an interesting and well developed fantasy world. The writing is definitely toned down from his adult fantasy, much less gory and violent, but still with plenty of action and sneaky plot twists. The characters too are still excellent, and I especially loved Yarvi.
The book is the first part of a trilogy, although it wraps up the plot nicely by the end and doesn’t end on a cliffhanger, which is something I always appreciate. If you are a fan of Joe Abercrombie then I would definitely recommend it, even if it is a little different from his usual style. For fantasy fans in general, it’s a great read, and again one I would recommend. It’s a great first instalment in Yarvi’s story, and I am definitely looking forward to the rest of the series and seeing what comes next for Yarvi and his friends.
I’ve just finished Inversions by Iain M. Banks, which was the next instalment in my rereading project. This is a strange book, it is science fiction, but reads like fantasy, it is a Culture novel, maybe, but it is one that I really like regardless of its peculiarities.
The book takes place on an alien planet, with a technology level around about the Middle Ages, so it feels like a standard fantasy setting. Sometime prior to the start of the book the planet suffered from a meteor strike which led to chaos and the fall of the old empire. The book has two narrative strands, each taking place in a different part of the planet, in two different remnants of the empire.
One strand follows DeWar, bodyguard to the Protector, the ruler who was responsible for overthrowing the empire of old. He must protect the emperor and uncover the plot against him.
The other strand follows Doctor Vosill, a rare female doctor in the court of the King of a neighbouring country. Her story is told by her young assistant, and she is remarkable in that she comes from a far off land where medicine and science are far more advanced.
As the story goes on it becomes clear, albeit in a subtle way, that both characters are actually aliens from the Culture, who are both in their separate ways intervening in the fate of the planet.
As I said, I really like the book. The setting is great, I really like the blend of the fantasy world with SF elements, it’s really well done. I also like the two different narratives, which both have good plots and complement each other. I also like the way Banks uses his typical unreliable narrators, leaving the reader to unravel the truth.
Overall I think it’s a hugely enjoyable book to read. It’s not one of Banks’ best regarded novels, probably because it is quite different from his usual SF books, but nonetheless it is one that I really like and I definitely rate it highly.