Books Wot I Have Read: 2018

Everybody else is doing it, so I figured I ought to jump in too. Why not? A touch of positivity is always welcome at this time of year.

Image result for sheffield university arts tower
My TBR, yesterday

Alas, my TBR pile resembles the Arts Tower of Sheffield University right now, and it’s absolutely impossible to catch up with everything that was released this year while I’ve still got so many other worlds to visit. So this round-up of the best books I’ve read over the last twelve months also includes a number that weren’t actually published this year, and I refuse to apologise for that.

In no particular order:

Under The Pendulum Sun, by Jeannette Ng (Angry Robot, 2017)

34643773Holy heck. This is Angry Robot at its best, putting the WTF into fantasy once more, combining the detailed, refined and steady narrative of a gothic Victorian romance with the sudden sharp turns and queasy horrors of modern fiction. Jeannette Ng has created a disturbing world that resonates all the more true for the passions and obsessions its characters confront. Catherine’s arc – from Yorkshire to Gethsemane, from fragile English traveller to changeling, and beyond – is told with a sort of spellbinding quality – you want to shout and scream, and wrench her and Laon away before it is too late, and yet even when that line has been crossed you can’t help but read on and cheer their courage.

Quite probably the best treatment of the Fae since Some Kind of Fairy Tale (Graham Joyce), and that’s saying something.

The Fifth Season, by N.K. Jemisin (Orbit, 2016)

Holy heck (again), this was good. A broken earth, with fractured characters, and a history that is more geology and archaeology than anything else, plus giant floating obelisks, institutionalized slavery, and a narrative device that sinks the reader deep into the heart and soul of one of the most damaged characters of all. Make no bones, this is not a comfort read. The characters herein are not heroes, they are all survivors. You might call this grimdark if that label didn’t have so many negative connotations.

22468727The City of Silk and Steel, by Mike Carey, Linda Carey, & Louise Carey (Gollancz, 2012)

A wonderful, multi-layered tale of storytellers, their stories, and a full harem of concubines who escape death during a revolution by a cult of fanatics and return to the city of Bessa to depose the cultists in turn. Told in the voices of the characters themselves, with recipes, tall tales, legends and fourth-wall-breaking meta-narratives, The City of Silk and Steel is full of action, dry wit, diplomacy, and subtle magics. I can’t believe it isn’t better known than it is.

Do yourselves a favour and search this one out, trust me, you will not regret it.

38213770The Tower of Living and Dying, by Anna Smith Spark (Harper Voyager, 2018)

If you’ve made it this far into the glorious and murderous chaos of Anna Smith Spark’s world, then you know just how fantastically she uses language, repetition, broad strokes, and needle-sharp observations to tell a story. You won’t be disappointed this time either.

In my review of the first book in the trilogy I likened Marith to one of rock’n’roll’s early pioneers, despoiling his way across a continent. Now, with Thalia at his side, he’s an analogue of Elvis in his pomp, if Elvis had ever led an army of devoted berserkers to war.

Next? Can’t wait.

Wrath, by John Gwynne (Pan, 2016)

Fair to say we’ve crowned the next generation’s David Gemmell? I reckon so: there will be a lot of future fantasists using The Faithful And The Fallen as a foundation of their own explorations into the genre.

These are all personal choices, of course. My alternate self over at SFSF is bound to be a touch more relevant…

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Kind Words – and Critical

Because the first review of High King’s Vengeance came in over the Fantasycon weekend, it kind of slipped under the blogging radar somewhat, so I’m going to take the opportunity to point you to it now.

Paul at The Eloquent Page was kind enough to read Heir to the North last year, and also to say nice things about it. I wondered what he would have to say about the sequel – would it live up to his expectations?

Viewed on its own, The High King’s Vengeance is a well-executed epic fantasy that is bound to please many a genre fan. As the second part of a much larger story, it is something far better. Seeds that were sown way back at the beginning of the first book suddenly become relevant, and there are a host of splendidly brain-melting revelations.

I get the distinct impression that though Cassia’s story has drawn to a close, there are other tales of Caenthell, Hellea and Galliarca still to be told. I do hope so, I’d be more than happy to read them.

I think that’s a “yes”. 🙂

You can read the full review over here, and I respectfully submit that The Eloquent Page is very worthy of your time if you’re looking for opinions on something new to read.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the fence, this review came in for Heir to the North:

I do wish, however, that this novel didn’t join the apparently infinite ranks of “Gender-as-Obstacle,” in which the female lead is oppressed/undervalued/underestimated chiefly or entirely because she’s female. That Cassia is very much a Smurfette, with never a single meaningful interaction with another woman, only makes this worse, as it gives me a depressing impression of the world she inhabits.

OK, with hindsight, guilty as charged. It wasn’t something I even thought about when I wrote HTTN, and I suspect that’s rather the point. Other people have made the same point in passing, though not as bluntly as this reviewer. (And that bluntness isn’t a bad thing either. Nor am I quoting the review here so that others can pile on the reviewer. Don’t ever do that. Seriously.)

I’d like to think that I’m a slightly wiser person now than I was when I wrote Heir to the North. I’m certainly more aware of what I have written and how I wrote it. You may not find too much of a progression in High King’s Vengeance (it was written before HTTN was even signed by Kristell Ink), but you will in future projects.

And so I respectfully submit that Kelley Ceccato is very worthy of your time if you’re looking for opinions on something new to read.

Heir To The North on Fantasy Faction

If I lived in an end terrace, rather in the middle of one, I reckon I’d be up a ladder right now, painting the text of this review onto the side wall. 🙂

it feels like a book you might have read years ago when you were just discovering fantasy, before you grew jaded by wonder and started demanding that everything should be gritty.

the final set piece is genuine inhale-it-through-your-eyeballs stuff.

This is everything I would hope for from a book that deals with a storyteller as a central character…

Go here to find the full review by AFE Smith: http://fantasy-faction.com/2016/the-heir-to-the-north-by-steven-poore

Meanwhile, over in Starburst…

Reviews are important – and here’s a good one from the friendly folks at Starburst magazine for the Fox Spirit Books anthology Things In the Dark.

Which, as y’all should know, contains my short story Junior Twilight Stock Replacer. Not that I’m bragging, or anything. Except that I am, of course. Aw come on, it’s Friday. If you can’t brag on a Friday, when can you brag?

starburst
Click through to Starburst to see the full review

 

Heir To The North: Words Just In…

It’s been out in the public gaze for two weeks now, so what do people think of it so far? Here’s something of a round-up…

If you haven’t got the paperback (or the spiffy bookmark Ken Dawson put together for Fantasycon), you might have missed Teresa Edgerton’s cover quote. (And you should absolutely buy Goblin Moon and Hobgoblin Night, both available again from Tickety Boo Press).

Heir To The North is an engaging coming of age tale…the landscape of the story gradually opens out to take on the complexities and the historical sweep of an epic, yet Poore never loses sight of the personal stakes for his young protagonist.

JB Rockwell, author of Breakshield and Seiokana, also features on the front cover, with a slightly shorter quote:

Epic fantasy at its finest.

Juliana Spink Mills, blogger and reviewer, calls it:

A stunning offering…told delicately in a wash of watercolors rather than in Joe Abercrombie’s heart-thumping mad-swirl-of-acrylics style…with one of the most surprising endings I’ve seen in a long time.

There’s a couple of ace one-liners from Twitter too –

rave1 rave2

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well, you can’t say fairer than that, can you? There’s only Amazon left to conquer now… 🙂

Spam Poet reviews Spam Poetry

Somewhere in the archive there’s a short series of posts called Spam Poetry. They do exactly what it says on the tin – spam comments amusingly reformatted to make blank verse. Some of it could probably win prizes… anyway, a spam comment has popped up on one of the Spam Poetry posts. That’s so meta I almost approved it. Almost.

Turns out somebody doesn’t like Spam Poetry:

What a material of un-ambiguity and preserveness of precious knowledge regarding unpredicted feelings.

Well, I think they don’t like it. It’s difficult to be sure. Anyhoo, onwards and upwards…

Big Finish Folly Part 1

Well, you have to start somewhere. And time isn’t linear. That’s my excuse, anyhoo. All of which explains why Big Finish Folly begins with the Peter Davison story Land of the Dead and moves swiftly on through Winter For the Adept.

(A quick note on chronology, while we’re at it: I’m using this Wiki page as a guide to the running order of the main monthly series of Big Finish Audio plays. “Lost Tales” have been inserted as appropriate, as have other plays that don’t seem to have a proper home. Fourth Doctor plays will have to be left on the back burner for now. All mistakes are my own; corrections are welcome. Oh, and I’ll do my best to avoid spoilers.)

Land of the Dead

Album coverOne of the staples of Doctor Who is the “isolated set” story. Horror of Fang Rock comes to mind immediately. And just like that old chestnut, Land of the Dead sticks half a dozen characters in a snowbound Alaskan house and proceeds to let prehistoric monsters strip their flesh. The Doctor and Nyssa arrive on the scene just in time for the bony beasts to claw forth…

Not a bad debut for the 5th Doctor, chronologically speaking. The story moves at such a pace that you never quite notice the monsters are powered by handwavium, and the dialogue between the Doctor and Monica is snappy and humourous (although Monica’s incessant pessimism grates after a while). There’s also an interesting history between two of the other characters that helps pull this up from just being a chase story.
***½

Winter for the AdeptAlbum cover

More snow, this time in Switzerland, where Nyssa spends the first episode Doctor-less while dealing with Peter Jurasik’s policeman and India Fisher’s oh-gosh posh schoolgirl. After that, we get a rum, if unconvincing tale of Spillagers, poltergeists, seances and exploding helicopters. The problem here is that Peter Jurasik’s performance is a little too subdued – whither the Londo-esque histrionics? The rest of the cast almost have to over-compensate, making the whole story appear jokey. The Doctor, meanwhile, seems lost in his own thoughts, hardly paying attention until things really do go wrong. The fact that he is absent for most of the first episode says it all for me.
**

Bonus review: Bernice Summerfield – Oh No It Isn’t!

Oh No It Isn't!Bernice was a character created by Paul Cornell for the Virgin range of Doctor Who books back in the 90s. Big Finish gave her an audio range (with the character played by Lisa Bowerman) in 1998, the year before they actually gained the licence to do official Who stories. Oh No It Isn’t!, like many of the first audio stories, was adapted from the paperback that had preceded it. In this introductory adventure, Bernice’s archaeological field trip to Perfection is imperilled by a missile, the Grel, and a sudden sharp left turn into panto…

Fact: I was grinning through this one. The humour is decidedly more adult than Doctor Who is officially allowed to be, and some of the jokes are downright hilarious. Like most pantos, this one overstays its welcome a bit, though it is more than saved by the presences of Mark Gatiss and Nicholas Courtney. It’s certainly much better than the iffy cover illustration might lead you to believe. And the Grel are just too good to be one-offs, I suspect…
****

Next time: the Daleks make their first appearance…