Friday, January 14, 2011

Friday Review Post, 1/14/2011

I read a lot of books this past week. Next week, I start teaching again, so my average should go down.

Charles de Lint - Waifs and Strays

The last bit of de Lint week from last week.  As I mentioned, this book references and interview I did with Mr. de Lint, although my name is misspelled.

This is a collection of YA short stories.  De Lint likes to write short stories - there are several collections - and this is a collection of older works featuring young adults.  He explains in his introduction that he doesn't write stories specifically for young adults, but feels that his work probably appeals to a broad range.

There is one new work in this collection, but the rest had already been published elsewhere.  That means that this represents an interesting cross section of de Lint's growth as an author. The stories become increasingly character driven the further into the collection you get and the further from "traditional" fantasy de Lint gets (although there is a story in a "traditional" fantasy setting, and one in a rare sci fi setting as well - there's even a story which has nothing fantastical about it at all; great characters, but no magic.). Because I spent several of my formative years in Ottawa, I especially like the Ottawa stories, which take place in and around parts of the city and nearby country that I know and recognize.  Ottawa, I think, is an under exploited narrative setting, I'd love to see more books set there.

Anyway, last week I suggested some places to start reading de Lint's work, and this is an excellent place to start.  This is a broad selection of works, touching on a range of topics and a range of characters.  There's not a lot of continuity to worry about - you aren't going to meet lots of characters that have lengthy back stories, for instance - and you should be able to track back to a set of short stories or novels that you liked best - the Ottawa stories, or the Newford stories, or something else, perhaps.  De Lint plays with fairy tale tropes - no, that's not quite right, actually. More like, there's a strong feeling of fairy tale about these stories. If you like fairy tales, you'll probably like this collection, with the proviso that they are a little darker than Disney, much closer to the original Brother's Grimm.

Graham Moore - The Sherlockian

So, I needed to finish this one over the weekend, because it was due back, and had a hold on it, so I could not renew.  The premise is interesting, this is actually two short novels woven around each other.  In the modern setting, Harold White (a young fan of Sherlock Holmes) attempts to track down the killer of a fellow Sherlockian.  In the historical setting, Arthur Conan Doyle, shortly after killing off Sherlock Holmes, attempts to track down the person who mailed him a letter bomb, and solve a series of grisly murders at the same time.

I found the book entertaining enough. The two mysteries were sufficiently complex to hold my attention, and  the historical touches were well done. At the same time, over the past three or so years, I've read a novel about Ian Fleming working as a spy, about Oscar Wilde solving a crime and I'm pretty sure there was something about Bram Stoker doing something with vampires - it's getting hard to be a dead white guy. People keep digging you up and sending you off on adventures. (Stoker plays a secondary role in this book, btw, but no vampires that I saw.) I guess what I'm saying is that the Doyle half of the story was nice, but I'm not sure it was necessary. I'm not sure it added anything spectacular to the work. It didn't take anything away, though, and I did enjoy the read.

Two things more.  First, Moore has a scene where Doyle, an ardent opponent of granting the right to vote to women, is more convinced by arguments of conservative suffragettes (if government is going to meddle in the affairs of women, like education and child rearing, then women should be allowed to vote) than radicals (women should be allowed to vote because they have a natural right to do so).  This was an interesting observation, although not necessarily good strategy - Doyle never became a supporter of women's suffrage. Better to go radical and keep your rhetorical options open.

Second, this book was published by Twelve Publishing, which pledges to publish and market only one book a month, thus ensuring that they publish only the best works available and market it as effectively as possible. The purpose of this, says the company, is to produce books which further the national conversation.  I'm not entirely sure how this book furthers the national conversation - other works that the company has published touch on religion, and politics, on race/ethnicity, on the environment, on war, and a whole myriad of other meaty topics, some presented more reverently than others. I'm just not sure how this work fits with the rest of their catalogue - is there a burning desire to talk about Sherlock Holmes right now?

Anyway, it was a fun book, and intelligent, worth a read.

Rick Riordan - The Titan's Curse

After the heavier stuff I read last week and earlier this week, I wanted something to cleanse my palate. This book was perfect for that, a little fluffy while still well written; not too deep or too complex, but fun, and short. This is the third of the Olympians books, which follow the adventures of Perseus (Percy) Jackson and his fellow offspring of the classical Greek gods. Olympus is in New York; Hades is in Los Angeles, the Titans are imprisoned off the coast of San Francisco, Las Vegas is the Lotus Land - Riordan has clearly had a good time writing these, and that makes them good fun to read too. If you've got a young adolescent reader in the family, I'd toss these at them (if they haven't found them already by themselves!)

Scott Lynch - The Lies of Locke Lamora

This book was the high point of my week.  Rushputin and Arashi recommended it, and they were right on the money.  This is a caper novel (the plot involves a group of con artists practicing their art - a genre for which I have much love) set in a well realized fantasy setting. What's not to enjoy?

Oh, but it's so much better than that. Lynch has a delightfully dark and sarcastic tone. His characters are marvelously witty (and they know it!), and there were several places where I literally laughed out loud. The book isn't humorous, however - if there is comedy, it's very much gallows comedy; Lynch's characters are in dire, desperate straights for most of the novel.  Lynch clearly draws from the "put the characters in peril, and keep them there" school of writing - which I enjoy as well.

So. Dark humor, witty characters, lots of peril, delightful con artists too smart for their own good - what more could you want?  How about excellent world-building?  Lynch has written a deep and well thought out fantasy setting, full of well realized nuance and interesting cul de sacs. He reveals this world through a very well done series of flash backs, each revealing a minor plot point just before it becomes important in the next chapter - but wrapping that plot point in enough extra material that you aren't sure which bit to be watching for - delightful! By doing this, he avoids needless exposition - "surely you know that this is such and so!", and invites the readers to explore the world as his characters are doing likewise. This is just superb writing craft. Makes me jealous.

That's it. Enjoyable fantasy, plus enjoyable caper novel, all rolled together with wit and good craft - a must read, I think. In addition to that, despite the fact that there is a sequel (which, you will note, I have a copy of to read in the near future), this book is complete in and of itself, no cliff hangers, no dangling loose ends. That, my readers, is confidence - Lynch doesn't feel the need to trick his readers into picking up the next book.  He trusts that readers will be sufficiently engaged with the world and the characters that they will want to investigate further, but he's not going to force the issue. You could, he suggests, stop reading right here, and pretend that Locke Lamora's adventures are over, but if you wanted to see where Lamora goes next, well...


  1. I'm glad, though not particularly surprised, that you enjoyed Locke Lamora. I was really unprepared for it to be as good as it was.

    The delay in knocking out the third book's frustrating: I want more!

  2. It really was remarkably good.

    Speaking of long waits - Rothfus' Wise Man's Fears is finally due out - perhaps George Martin will get the hint?

  3. Clearly, the national dialogue needs to be about Sherlock Holmes, or at least the movie version thereof. Or something like that. I...really have no idea how that book fits in with Twelve's stated mission, other than that it seems that they wanted to publish some "fun fiction" for a change?

    Won't stop me reading it, though. I do like me some Holmes.

  4. Holmes doesn't really play a big role in the book - he's in the background, but the book is about Doyle, really. Harold White applies Holmes' methods to a certain extent, and they work to a certain extent. Doyle does likewise, with somewhat better results.

    Have you read any of Laurie King's Holmes books?

    Thanks for checking out the blog, by the way. Appropos of not much, I'd be happy to review Candlemark and Gleam books, were they to make their way to me.