The Crippled God – Steven Erikson

TheCrippledGod

The Malazan Book of the Fallen series (10 books in total) has, to be honest, been on something of a hiatus on my reading horizons this last year. Book 1, Gardens of the Moon slapped me in the face with an uncompromisingly complicated plot, and a complete lack of exposition. Who were these people? Who were these other people? What were they doing? How were they linked? Why were they fighting?, and etc.

Having been spoon-fed the backstory on a number of recent reading endeavours, it was refreshing to find an author whose basic version of narration was ‘sink or swim’ and didn’t appear to give a damn which way the readers went. That said, I soon gave up trying to swim against the current, and simply let the stories carry me along, a result of which was not remembering many names, and instead picking the characters by the context of the narrative thread in which they roamed.

The scope of series is geological in its timescale, and roams at will through worlds and warrens (magical semi-universes, accessible only by using that particular branch of magic). Some characters have existed for millennia; others have been created freshly from the traumas of war. Gods can be killed, and mortals can ascend to deityhood. A sword is simultaneously a gigantic cart, to whom are chained the souls of its victims; they drag the device on, in an endless toil to escape the forces of chaos which eat away at their heels.

 

It is an amazing series, and owes more of its influence to fantasy roleplaying games than to Tolkien’s ilk. Unfortunately – or fortunately, for the craftsmanship of the novel – Erikson shows a positive fondness for making one fall in love with a character, and then, one book or five later, killing them. A sense of despair and pathos imbues the otherwise workaday scenes of battle with the angry futility of a veteran, orphaned by the vicissitudes of war.

As a result, I only just returned to complete the tenth book, The Crippled God. It was everything I hoped for; some of my most recent favourites even survived the novel, and I witnessed the return of the Master of the Deck of Dragons, whose company I had missed for the preceding few novels.

 

True to reality, the final battle of The Crippled God simply meant the end of war for some of the characters; they are left to find their own happy endings, but a vignette with one hoary old Bridgeburner at the end reminds the reader that there is always another war brewing, and another young fool yearning to die for glory. It was a difficult series to understand, because it really is one constant, dragging, battle from start to finish.

Possibly the best way to visualise it is this: imagine a fantasy boardgame. Populate it richly, with fantastic cultures and creatures. Give the armies names. Then, using many-sided dice, march them across the world you have created, and write down every battle fought, the death tolls from fighting and from forced marches through deserts or rents in the fabric of reality. Repeat this process six or so times. And then layer them atop one another, and create Malazan Book of the Fallen.

Simple, really.

 

 

K.L gives The Crippled God 4 out of 5 well-drawn world maps.

 

 

 

 

SPOILER ALERT! DANGEROUS WORDS AHEAD!

 

I’m sorry. I’m just so excited. Tehol survives! Brys survives! Udinaas survives! Onos T’oolan gets his family back! Yaaaaaaaay!!

But really. I’m still pissed. How could you kill Anomander Rake?! I’ll never forgive you for that, Erikson.

 

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1Q84: books one and two – Haruki Murakami

1Q84

Aomame is stuck in Tokyo traffic on the Metropolitan Expressway, on her way to a meeting she cannot miss. When she leaves the taxi to climb down a partially-blocked emergency exit, Janacek’s Sinfonietta is playing (it is to be a recurrent theme), and the taxi driver tells her, “remember: things are not what they seem…but don’t let appearances fool you. There’s always only one reality.”

Leaving the expressway, Aomame sees a policeman in new uniform, with a new gun, and is informed that the changes occurred after a violent gun battle in the mountains, two years previously. And then she notices that there are two moons in the sky. Aomame is no longer living in 1984, but in the alternate year of 19Q4, where both history and the rules have changed – possibly enough to threaten her life.

 

Tengo is a part-time tutor in maths at a Tokyo cram school. He writes short stories, meets his married lover once a week, and has no friends. His editor, Komatsu, convinces him to take part in an audacious deception: rewrite a potentially brilliant short story by 17 year old Fuka-Eri, and enter it in a prestigious literary competition, where it is guaranteed to become first famous, and then a bestseller.

 

From here, events slowly spiral out of control. It becomes apparent that Fuka-Eri did not write the novel herself – she is dyslexic – and she did not submit it to the competition. She escaped from the Takashima commune seven years previously, and has not heard from her parents since.

As curiosity mounts about the best-selling novel’s reticent young author, Aomame accepts a task. She must deliver retribution to a man who has been abusing small children in the name of enlightenment. The Leader of a militaristic commune, deep in the mountains, similar to the subject of a short story recently published about mystical beings known as the Little People…

 

The tale of 1Q84 unwinds languorously, referencing its namesake, Orwell’s 1984, in the interpretation of thought crimes, and the use of controlling, omniscient authorities in a society for whom the notion of a Big Brother has become blasé and disinteresting. Musical and cultural references link the two separate characters, drawing together a story which might otherwise become dislocated.

 

Characters are interesting, and the reader is drip-fed facts as they become relevant; there is no overwhelming deluge of exposition here. You will crave it, for the entire story, but Murakami dispenses it carefully, keeping you thirsty until the very end.

 

Having read it, I am very keen to move onto Murakami’s unexpected sequel, 1Q84: book three. My only objection to 1Q84 is that I think it moves past the institutionalised abuse of the children within the cult a little too quickly, but that in itself works well as the lens of narrative shifts focus.

 

K.L gives 1Q84 4 out of 5 oddly recurrent themes.

 

 

 

SPOILER ALERT! DANGEROUS WORDS AHEAD!

 

I don’t know. You’ll finish it, and you won’t know, either. It’s why I have to read the third book… Murakami’s mind control is working well.

Etiquette & Espionage – Gail Carriger

Etiquette and Espionage

A delightful lark. Fourteen-year-old Sophronia Angelina Temminnick has driven her mother to the end of her manicured wits.

After an unfortunate incident involveing a sabotaged dumbwaiter, a plate of trifle, Mrs. Barnaclegoose’s head, and of course, Sophronia as Exibit A, The Condemned, she is packed off to Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality.

It is not the fate worse than death that Sophronia expects. Firstly, the Academy is a vast dirigible which floats its way across the moors of Dartmouth, rather than being sensibly anchored to the ground, and secondly, its students learn not merely the arts of flirtation, dance and household management, but also espionage and assassination. Their shadowy agents have been watching Sophronia for some time, and her predilection for investigation and chaos have resulted in her becoming covertly recruited to join the academy.

The normal pace of lessons aboard the flying academy is somewhat unhinged when Sophronia arrives, accompanied by resident mean-girl, the beautiful Monique de Pelouse. Partnering up with Dimity, who brother Pillover is in training to become an evil genius, Sophronia must discover what Monique is hiding from the Academy, before her actions ensure its destruction by dastardly Picklemen, who will stop at nothing to obtain The Prototype.

Set in a Steampunk 1800’s England, Etiquette & Espionage is fun, well-paced, with interesting and lively characters. The references to ladylike behaviour and dress seem to be refreshingly tongue-in-cheek, and Sophronia’s chracter is intelligent, curious, and shows no qualms about breaking stuffy rules to achieve her goals.

I look forward to reading the sequel when it comes out.

K.L gives Etiquette & Espionage 3.5 out of 5 werewolves in top-hats.

Scary Mary – S.A. Hunter

ScaryMary

A pedestrian novel: Outcaste high school girl meets highly desirable new kid. They fall in love. Her mysterious secret threatens to destroy them, until she faces catharsis by first confessing her dark secret (mandatory rejection at this point), then proving that things really do go bump in the night, and finally by saving everyone’s lives, vindicating herself and rekindling the romance.

If that is a mouthful, then let me summarise even more briefly by comparing it to Stephen King’s novel Carrie, but replacing mind-bending powers with mere clairaudience, and bullying ostracism with…well, more bullying and ostracism. Unlike Carrie, Mary rallies a sense of self-preservation and is the of-course-pretty Goth girl that everyone at school loves to hate.

Once more, pedestrian. I need to stop reading literary fast-food; it causes nothing but indigestion. No more slumming it in the $0.00-.99 range of ebooks, K.L.

For once, I would like to read a story about an outcaste school girl (or boy) who is:

a. Genuinely ugly

b. Has really bad acne from all the white face paint she cakes on, and,

c. Is not the target of unrealistic levels of bullying.

I’m not saying that such things don’t happen – but let’s try and find a protagonist who doesn’t force us to like them by virtue of being at the bottom of the schoolyard pecking order. It’s a boring, over-utilised trope that is indicative of a lazy imagination. An ultimately uninspiring read.

(To segue back to Carrie; that book is a brilliant depiction of a character who you start out repulsed by. King doesn’t want you to like her, and you don’t. Not until she starts learning to respect and assert herself, and in the end, you wish for her to get a little slice of happiness. The chance of which is masterfully ripped apart by the forces of her own mind, fractured by one practical joke too many.)

K.L gives Scary Mary 1 out of 5 well-used black makeup pencils.

A Job from Hell

A job from hell

A Job From Hell – Jayde Scott

 

This book is so awful (well, it is free) that I deleted it from my reader halfway through, then went back, re-downloaded and skim-read it just so that I could be scathing about it later, and warn you, dear reader.

 

That might sound cruel, but I have a number of objective criticisms of the story.

 

A self-described fat girl “with chubby arms and stumpy legs,” Amber takes on a job as housekeeper in a remote mansion in Scotland, to earn money for college the following year. She has been dumped by her boyfriend, Cameron, for putting on a few pounds, and is still mooning over him, determined that he simply needs a break, that their relationship will rekindle, and he will finally introduce her to his parents.

Having established her unflattering physical characteristics early on, the author then proceeds to tell the readers at every opportunity about her attractiveness, an irksome and repetitive inconsistency. “The blue skinny jeans looked really good on me, making my legs seem so much longer,”…. “After slipping into a black, long-sleeved top that emphasized my narrow waist and a pair of blue skinny jeans…”

 

The protagonist, Aidan, Amber’s erstwhile employer, is a sizzlingly hot half-millenia-old vampire, who refuses to drink human blood, or harm humans, whilst fighting his battles against the forces of darkness. Anne Rice’s Lestat was the first “vegetarian” vampire, and possibly should have stayed the only one; if not, then the Cullens should have been the last such group featured. It is unoriginal these days, to a stunning degree, made more so by Aidan’s special ability; he can control peoples’ thoughts, but has difficulty influencing or hearing Amber’s own; the most he can do is send her to sleep. Someone tell Stephanie Meyer that Edward has been wandering across novels…

That aside, he is the stereotypical romantic protagonist: filthily rich, good-looking, domineering, perpetually eighteen and emotionally scarred; Aidan has not been romantically involved since his last love interest betrayed him. This gives Amber a number of incentives to “win” him, and the act of breaking down his emotional shields immediately qualifies her to be the recipient of his affluence. Aidan is aware when they first meet that he and Amber are destined to be soul-mates, a fact which somehow vindicates his forcing her to fall asleep after a night out with him by using his vampire mental-judo, and then kissing her while she is unconscious, unable to provide or withhold consent.

That is known by adults as “date rape,” but she is ok with it (and so, apparently, is he); Amber immediately starts puzzling over her feelings for Aidan versus her ex, Cameron. She spends pages of dreary monologue, both internal and external (with her new BFF Cass), consistently failing the Bechdel Test, a pattern which is duplicated in most girl on girl conversations throughout the book.

 

Amber is consistently demonstrated to be both spineless and stupid. She lets herself be bullied by her brother into robbing a shack in the woods (stealing some magical gemstones which brings her to the attention of the supernatural community), and allows herself to be manhandled and sexually harassed by Kieran, Aidan’s brother without a single vocalised objection.

Her friends and associates in the book consist largely of a troupe of Aidan’s vampire and demonic buddies, who are quite happy to imprison her inside the house with no means of external contact, for her own safety. This illegal imprisonment at the hands of Kieran is described, “Why couldn’t Cameron pay me this much attention? If only he knew, surely he’d come to his senses. He’d know what a huge mistake he made by dumping me and he’d spend the rest of his life making it up to me because we belonged together…”

This is after Kieran physically bars her from leaving the house, stops her from using a phone, threatens to tie her up or handcuff her to the bed, flirts consistently (and unwelcomely), and then starts suggesting a sexual romp, stroking her cheek and telling her that his brother, Aidan, the love interest, doesn’t need to know. And Kieran is a Good Guy.

Her objections to curtailment of personal liberties are weak, as though she is a puppet whose existence is defined by those who control her; the possibility of leaving the Stockholmian manse and fleeing back to reality in London is considered objectionable.

Adrian’s (an occasional first-person narrator; how else would we get our exposition?) inner dialogue confirms this. Amber is his possession – “she was mine”, “my mate” etc; and as a result, imprisoning her and sexually touching her against her will is ok, because she’s bound to get over it one day.

 

If I met Amber in reality, the main descriptive term used would be “dangerously obsessive bunny boiler.” After her second kiss (because being kissed while semiconscious by an employer is what most people consider a positive), Amber reflects, “I had let him kiss me again. Seduced by the rich kid, only to be pushed away when he had enough of me. Apparently taking care of business in the middle of the night was more important than finding out whether the attraction between us was real.”

 

My objections could go on for pages. There were no redeeming qualities to this book.

 

K.L gives A Job from Hell 0 out of 5 juvenile wish-fulfilment fantasies.

 

 

 

 

SPOILER ALERT! DANGEROUS WORDS AHEAD!

 

Of course she gets turned into a vampire, in a blame-absolving, “It was that or you’d die!” turn of events. And some conveniently-timed magical spell allows them to walk in daylight and not require blood to survive.

Now all they need to do is sparkle.

 

The Witch Sea – Sarah Diemer

The Witch Sea

A lesbian short story, about a young woman tasked by her mother and grandmother with keeping an ancient and malevolant sea god chained on land, to prevent him from destroying humanity.

The sea god keeps sending emissaries to plead for his freedom, sea creatures who have been transformed into humans. Once an animal breaches the barrier between him and the ocean, it is transformed into a human being to keep him company in exile. Each night, they make their way to the edge of the bay, and stare out longingly at the ocean that Meriel and her maternal line have denied them.
Eventually the protagonist, Meriel, falls in love with one of the emissaries, a shapeshifted seal named Nor, and questions her role in imprisoning the god and his minions, who suffer continually because of her actions.

Ultimately, it failed to attract and maintain enthusiasm I felt for the premise. I felt like the backstory could have been fleshed out more fully; that it did not, lost The Witch Sea an opportunity to develop interest and depth. There were large logical holes – if the witches were so powerful as to deny a god his freedom, why were they living in poverty and solitude in a lighthouse on a tiny island? Surely they could think of better things to do? As the only human around, constantly casting magic to keep the god chained, where did Meriel obtain food and necessities?

K.L gives The Witch Sea 1 out of 5 fish trapped in bowls.

 

SPOILER ALERT! DANGEROUS WORDS AHEAD!

Meriel eventually sets the sea god free, watching her love transform and leave her forever. The lack of structure to the tale makes me wonder: what does she do next? There is no future hinted at here, and no future direction provided without the context of a town full of imprisoned people.