Monday, March 26, 2012

Monday Library Post, 3/26/2012

On a Monday, no less!

One book this week:

Saladin Ahmed - Throne of the Crescent Moon

Fantasy adventure with a strong Arabian Nights magical flavor, a reference to Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser on the back cover matter... I'm sold.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

A great big wrap-up of the week post, 3/25/2012

So, I did go to the library on Monday, but I didn't bring home any books for myself. I did grab and peruse Kevin Smith's Tough Sh*t (the * is actually in the title), but his autobiographical material wasn't interesting enough to counterbalance the profanity. And the autobiographical material was pretty interesting. I'm just saying.

Three books this week:

Cassandra Clark - Parliament of Spies

Medieval England is the setting for this mystery/spy novel. Hildegard is a nun who serves her Mother Superior as an investigator/spy. I gather that this book is several volumes into the series, but that didn't seem to matter too much, except for one point, which I'll come back to.

Hildegard travels to a parliament called to vote on granting extra funds to Richard II, to face an invasion threat from France. I don't know enough about British medieval history to say how accurate the novel is in that regard, but it's not really all that important. Hildegard is charged by Alexander Neville, an archbishop and brother of her Mother Superior, with solving a murder, and figuring out which of the members of parliament are likely to vote in favor of Richard II, and which are not.

Clark twines three plot lines together - the murder, the possibility of spies in parliament, and a personal plot line involving someone who readers of the series might be surprised to see alive (but, for me, was something of a distraction, since I've never read any of the earlier novels). Naturally, all of the plot lines ultimately converge. Throughout the book, I felt like I was several steps ahead of Hildegard on the crux of the plot lines - indeed, she doesn't figure out the key connection until the epilogue - and that bothered me to no end. Hildegard is supposed to be a genius, on some level - I shouldn't be able to figure out the twist before her.

I did enjoy the various characters, however, and might have liked the book even more if I had read the earlier works - then, I would have the critical connections with the characters, so that I would care about their travails.

Daniel O'Malley - The Rook

More spy stuff. O'Malley weaves a complex tale of spies and the supernatural in England. Myfanwy Thomas wakes up in a park in London, surrounded by dead bodies, all of whom are wearing latex gloves. She has no memory of who she is or how she got where she is. In her coat pocket, she finds an epipen and a letter from herself. "Dear You, the body you are currently wearing used to be mine," it begins. From there, Myfanwy discovers that she was/is a member of a powerful secret society devoted to protecting Britain from supernatural threats. Indeed, she is a Rook - a member of the ruling court (Two Rooks, two Chevaliers, Two Bishops, a Lord and a Lady - there's a whole chess theme going on there), in charge of domestic affairs. Her former self has left a whole paper trail of letters explaining everything her former self thinks her current self might need to know. Her former self is occasionally correct about that, and often completely wrong...

So, the premise is brilliant. Charlie Stross plays with similar stuff (the spy agency defending against super natural threats), but his protagonists are ordinary humans while O'Malley's are all super powered to one extent or another.  O'Malley combines an interesting mix of first and third person point of view, with the series of letters backing up the on going experiences of Myfanwy. Also, the characters of Myfanwy before and after memory loss are radically different - the unfolding of the narrative as Myfanwy learns who she was and is - well, it's very well written, frankly. 

The tone of the novel is alternately wry and horrific. The plot is fascinatingly twisty. The characters are delightful, and very well rendered. I look forward to more writing from O'Malley. Rumor has it that he's working on a novel set in the Ottoman Empire - I will read the hell out of that, I suspect.

John Marco - Starfinder

This is the Lenten book for last week. (My mom reminds/informs me that I'm actually at least one book short, that we're five weeks into Lent. If this is last week's book, and I pick a new one for the week that starts today, I'm still a book short. But I think I started a week late, right? Anyway, this is last week's book.) I should say that I'm running into a problem. I don't have as many "huh, I haven't read this" books on my shelf as I thought. Further, the books I unpacked and said "hey, I want to read that again!"; well, I'm unlikely to want to get rid of those, right? Further, a lot of the books we own are part of a series of books, so even if I say "this isn't the best book in the series," I'll want to keep it as part of the series. Finally, there are books that I might not want to keep, but which my wife does.

Ok. This book is the first Skylords novel. Moth and Fiona live in Calio, a city built on the edge of an empire, in the foothills of a mountain range beyond which no one has ever gone (or, at least, not and come back). Rendor, Fiona's grandfather is the Governor of the city, and obsessed with flying, of crossing the mountains, and challenging the Skylords, who most people consider to be mythical beings. Leroux, Moth's guardian claims to have been across the mountains and had adventures. When Leroux dies, Moth receives a troubling inheritance. He and Fiona head off across the mountains to find the source of Leroux's stories, and find themselves in a huge adventure.

The novel is YA. The characters start out as fairly large tropes - the orphan boy, the poor little rich girl, the noble dying guardian, the obsessed villain - but Marco builds from those basic forms quickly and very well. The plot is not overly complex, but is well written and satisfying. I actually have fifty or so pages left to go - it's possible that the book will end appallingly badly - with a strong "to be continued..." or something of that nature - but unless it does, I imagine I'll want to hold onto it. I think my eldest might enjoy it, actually...