Thursday, October 27, 2016

Book Review Catch-up!

One of the reasons I keep this blog is that I have a record of what I thought about something in the immediate period after experiencing it. I find it useful and interesting to flick back because I can think of a lot of Books, Films, or other media that I've grown to dislike through memory or social influence, and others where they've lived with me for a long time, making me appreciate them more. It's also just a useful channel for my urge to "talk about stuff" lets me get it out of my head and move on a little bit. I guess that's the diarists main driver, even if this is (mostly) limited to cultural consumption. Anyway, on the reading front I've been heavily distracted by Stephen King's The Dark Tower series (now on Book 5!) but here's a quick run down of what I've been reading as refreshers in between.

Before the Fall 
I picked this up largely because I have been a huge fan of the TV adaptation of Fargo, and this is by the showrunner, Noah Hawley. Before the Fall opens by introducing us to a bunch of characters boarding a private jet for a short flight up the US East Coast, before unceremoniously crashing it into the sea and killing all but two of them, a young boy and a struggling artist, the latter of which becomes a minor celebrity by saving the former, swimming him to shore through dark, cold waters. The rest of the book alternates between how he recovers from this process, and how the investigation into the crash unfolds, and a series of character-focused flashbacks around each of the other passengers. 

In a lot of ways this unfolds like a classic "whodunnit", teasing out information on the passengers and crew, who nearly all seem to have some reason to be "involved" in the crash, as a target or perpetrator. Unlike a whodunnit however, it does seem to discard options sequentially, without the circling back that makes a proper mystery work, so it ends up more a character study, in the end. That said it is a compelling and compulsive character study, and I tore through it at quite a rate. It also feels like it would film well, the structure having a slightly episodic feel to it.

Back in my more opinionated, anti-Fantasy days I was fond of dismissing much of the genre as "my Great Dungeons and Dragon Campaign" writing, essentially looking down my nose at a lot of the high-fantasy tropes that the genre itself seems to have spent much of the 21st century stabbing and leaving to die slowly in the gutter. Whilst I think these will never be "my thing", at the same time I've come to appreciate that these tropes often prosper because they serve a purpose in storytelling for both readers and writers, and also because it becomes possible to have a lot of fun with them. Which brings me neatly to Adrian Tchaikovskys Spiderlight.

Spiderlight has an unembarrased trope-heavy set-up. A party of adventurers lead by a Paragon of the Light are on a grand quest to overthrow the Overlord of Darkness, following a Prophecy. The books opens with them fighting spiders in a forest, for goodness sake. Once there, however, they wind up cutting a deal with the Queen that lands them with a Transformed Spider (well, mostly man-shaped Spider) as a guide to aid them in their quest, a creature of Darkness, sort of turned to the purpose of the Light. He does, in all fairness, sound like someone's cool idea for a D&D character, 

So from here Spiderlight goes on a mix of adventure and full-on trope deconstruction through a broadly drawn fantasyworld. It's a lot of fun and with a lot of Tchaikovskys usual strengths; strong characters and good pacing, and a lot of ideas thrown around freely and in interesting ways. Also Spiders. On the other hand (and the younger, anti-Fantasy me winces as I write this) I can't help feel it's too short, and that several really interesting ideas get passed over  a little too easily. It feels like a palette cleanser from an author between a (much deserved) big awards win for Children of Time and a new, more complex series he's only a book into so far.

The Shattered Streets
The follow up to London Falling, the second book in Paul Cornell's Shadow Police series gives the team a full case without having to put them together in the first place. This time, it seems a re-born spirit of Jack the Ripper is killing men in positions of power, with a storyline that in many ways attempts to wear the skin on contempory events. This brings in anti-capitalist protesters, phone hacking, police strikes and the Coalition Government (2010-2015), as well as a somewhat ill-judged role for Neil Gaiman, which is a little too cosy and meta-textual for my liking. 

Much like with London Falling I really want to like this series more than I do but something doesn't quite work for me. I mean, it's working enough that I bought this and I'll get the third, but I'm haunted by the fact that this should engage me more than it does. I think, in some ways, it's the characters - they seem to vaguely blur together, how they talk, how they act outside of a few distingishing characteristics. There is some dark material in these books, some extremely bad things happen to these people, but I really struggled to care that much. And I don't really know why, which if anything makes it more frustrating! 

Anyway, thats the book round-up, back to The Wolves of Calla for me.