Aug 222014

100 words: Introduction

The twelfth, and final, Hodderscape Review project title is Smiler’s Fair, by Rebecca Levene. It’s a big, world-built secondary world fantasy with maps that all three of my regular readers will have some idea that it’s may not be my personal cup of tea. I was still intrigued to read it – Levene is a tremendous writer with a big range of great stories, so it should be at the very least loads of fun. Plus, I was assured from some of those in the know that it’s very, very good. Will it live up to its reputation? We shall see.

100 words: The set-up

The prologue starts out with a boy smuggled out of his mother’s womb due to a prophecy, taken away by a whole range of disturbing, engaging measures, and… well, spoilers, I suppose.

The titular Smiler’s Fair is the anything-goes carnival: traveling around the world, selling men, women, flesh, drugs, and gambling. There’s a fragmented kingdom with people and races, and here’s the thing: everyone has to move. There are (possibly legendary) people underground who will find you and come eat you if you stay in one place too long – and there appears to be little metal (mining being extraordinarily dangreous).

100 words: The world & its environs

This is where Smiler’s Fair really shines. Levene has created a breathing world with cultures who affect each other, so neighbouring tribes have knowledge of each other. There’s no lazy shorthand – “Bastard” might, for instance, be a grave insult to one race but not at all to another. The way different people move to avoid the underground men differs, according to class, race, and geography. The cultures aren’t thinly veiled analogues of one or more of our cultures fused together clumsily. The story starts off as a good/evil clash, but that battle itself is starting to be questioned and unpacked.

100 words: So… is it good?

In a word… yes. In two: rather good.

It can be a challenging read – the benefit of shorthand is you can think “Ah, all the assassin/rogues are Japanese-ish” or whatever, so you have to think, and pay attention, and there is a massive range of races, plus a whole load who are out of their environment and stuck together at Smiler’s Fair. This creates a richer tapestry but conflicts, a bit, with the fast pacing of the book: It can be difficult to keep track of these. It’d be no harm to read it twice in rapid succession. Fun, too.

And now…

This will be my final review for a while here on the old blog. I took over The Kitschies recently, and am a judge, and have now hundreds of books to read. Hundreds. Lots. Loads. SO MANY. And I can’t really talk about them.

I may start writing reviews of comics or lego or 80s bands you’ve never heard of.

Aug 202014

Pollock’s third trilogy winds up with a storm raging across fevered streets. It’s very difficult to talk about without spoilers, but let it be said that, although this is a cohesive trilogy, every book stands on, and as, its own beast, fundamentally different from the others, but fitting together in a whole.

Mater Viae is back, and she wants her city back, even if her taking it back will destroy it. Beth is being slowly killed by London, given the choice between starvation and poison, what should she choose? Pollock isn’t kind to his characters, but it’s a lovely ride.

Get it here (UK)

Aug 062014

In space, no one can hear you lose your mind.

The first of Smythe’s Anomaly Quartet, this brief book completes its story in the first quarter, then invites you to follow it back around to find out what really happened, possibly. It’s a difficult structure to do well, and Smythe handles it.

This is the story of a group of intrepid adventurers who will go further into space than any human ever has and return. A carefully selected group of people begin their journey and – avoiding spoilers – things don’t tend to go as they’d expect.

Claustrophobic. Compelling. Intelligent. Get it.

Get it here (UK) or here (worldwide)

Aug 042014

In a simpler world, before the Internet and mobile phones, in a small village on a tiny island there’s a girl who has problems.

Everyone’s got problems, of course, but not like Renée, and not like Flo. Neither of them have any proper friends, and it looks like they’re not likely to get them. Bullies abound – even in the days before the Internets and Facebooks and sexting.

All in all, Paper Aeroplanes is a honest, clear portrait of the life of young people, without any of the varnish adults put on – and it’s a commendable book, plus compelling and well-written.

Get it here (UK) or here (worldwide)

Jul 312014

What does it mean to be a good man, and is that something you can predict? This is the question that Smythe asks through this… I don’t know what you call it. Anti-allegory?

To read this is to get caught up in a story that fits comfortably inside a litfic longlist: there’s a man, with a loving wife and children, not without problems. He’s a normal man, a Senator, a good man.

Something starts to change. The tone becomes darker. This is subversive genre fiction working its way into your heard and mind and a damn fine pile of words.

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Jul 242014

Dark. Grim. Sadness. This is a book for young people won the Carnegie prize, with much controversy. Apparently, children can’t read dark books. Except The Scarlet Letter, Lord of the Flies, or Brave New World.

This book is good. It’s astoundingly bleak, but it’s a fascinating portrait of the lives of six people who, one by one, are abducted and put into an underground bunker. The story is told by the point of view of an articulate, intelligent young man and you watch, day by day, as people’s humanity slowly fracture under the all-seeing gaze of a nameless, faceless enemy.

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Jul 222014

I wondered often as I read this book if I was clever or educated enough to get it, and I wondered if that even mattered. Reading this book is like tossing yourself into a storm-laden sea, to be battered back and forth by words, astounded by gorgeous, lush fragments of phrase and crystalline images of relationships created, broken asunder, and wild waters navigated. It’s an impressionist painting of a novel that you can read closely and admire each individual brushstroke, but you can enjoy it wildly, late at night with whisky or coffee or tea or all three. It’s brilliant.

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Jul 202014

Another Hurley, another narrative in which we’re tossed into the deep end and expected to swim. Hurley’s vivid imagination and mad ambition means that she’s once again created a complex world with few, if any, touchpoints. Three empires exist in a fragile peace, while an unknowable cataclysm approaches after two thousand years of silence. Hurley blends quantum physics, personal relationships, philosophy, and the end of the world to start off another completely new story. It’s ambitious and it delivers, despite an occasional as the reader wades through and enormous cast of characters and country names. Expect this trilogy to build.

Get it here (UK) or here (worldwide)

Jun 302014

Ike (EE-kay) is a taxi driver with a cum laude degree in Economics from Amherst. And he’s Nigerian, with an unshakeable accent. He’s never been able to catch a break, until now.

He’s discovered a gallery called Foreign Gods, Inc, which sells gods to the über-rich. Ike decides to go back to his village in Nigeria. His luck has changed.

There’s so much right with this book: astounding humour. Deep insight into the feeling of returning home to find one is an outsider. Family dynamics. Commentary on religion. Heartbreaking sentiment. One of my two best of the year. L’otre? Lagoon

Get it here (UK) or here (worldwide)

Jun 272014

I shouldn’t be allowed to review the dust on the shoes of this book. It’s beyond a classic. It’s seminal. The Shining wouldn’t exist without it. Eleanor, our sometime protagonist, gets a letter inviting her to come to a place called Hill House, on the outskirts of Hillsdale. Reminiscent of The Awakening, Eleanor discovers her own agency, even while she discovers the horrors of Hill House.

Jackson is at the top of her game here: She breaks the rules, telling us how Hill House is horrible, then goes and shows us, using spare, everyday language, in just a few words.

Get it here (UK) or here (worldwide)