Book reviews

Rowland, Jennifer A B jennifer.rowland at imperial.ac.uk
Fri May 9 09:16:31 EDT 2003


In hopes of distracting Ven from terrorising people on the bus ;) I got a
few books recently by authors I hadn't read before, (and a couple of new
ones by old favourites) and wanted to recommend/discuss them with the
assembled multitudes. Has anyone been disappointed by any of these? Loved
them? Found something else we must hear about?

Death of a Necromancer, Martha Wells
Several people here have recommended Wells, which finally got me to put it
in an order, and her others are now firmly on the to-read list. 
This seems a really... dense... book to me- a lot of stuff in there. It
didn't feel over-crammed, though. The setting is a 19th century European
city (with magic), so the feel matches well- it seems a bit like a
19th-century novel, lots of incident and complications. I suspect it will
stand up very well to rereading, there will always be more to find. 
The background works really well. Is there a genre "historical urban
fantasy"? (I suppose it's like fantasy steampunk.) If not, then there ought
to be, because I've read several very good examples recently. It's a clever
way of getting the sense of distance and discovery of a foreign/past
setting, with some of the reality and grubbiness of city life. I think this
one is nicely done.
I liked the characters (I'd love to have read the whole thing from
Madeline's POV, or Ronsard's, or Isham's- fascinating story there) and the
magic. The bits of backstory made me want to know more, the baddie is very
nasty but thoroughly believable in context and nicely difficult to find, the
ending wound it up satisfyingly without being too neat. 

Family Bites, Lisa Williams
This one will be difficult to find if I manage to convince anyone to try it-
it's a first book, and the publishers aren't promoting it very much.
Amazon.co.uk has it, and shops will order it in.
I found out about it because it was written by an alt.fan.pratchett regular,
and several people on the group tried it and really liked it (One of them
set up a website for it, www.bleurgh.net/fhall). 
Right, enough about why I'm talking about an author nobody has heard of,
something about the actual *book*. It's comic fantasy. A family of
werewolves has lived in harmony with the local village for a long time, and
they are pleased when a new family moves in at the big house. It's a bit odd
they won't come round for tea until after sunset, but they seem nice enough.
Then people start being attacked...
I found this funny and nicely written, which made a change from some "comic
fantasy" I've tried. The author's style is light and colloquial, very
readable. I read this just after the Wells book, and it seemed almost fluffy
in comparison (despite a few murders). On looking back on it, I think that
isn't quite fair, and most of the bits that have stuck in my memory are the
more serious passages. The characters are worth spending time with. There
are a lot of nice touches and bits of description. Not the best book I've
read this year (well, how could it be, Merlin came out!), but this is fun, a
very good first book, and I'll certainly read Williams's next one. Well
worth a go if you like Pratchett, Holt, or vampire books. 
Warning of sorts: This has a lot of sex; the young protagonists have, um,
healthy appetites. Luckily (at least I think so) it happens off-screen.

The Tomorrow Log, Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
Mutter grumble, didn't mention anywhere it wasn't stand-alone, now I have to
wait for a sequel.
My reviewing muscles are tired... This is a good Lee & Miller book. A very
successful thief is contacted by someone claiming that the Ship needs him.
But the Captain threw him out when he was a boy and he sees no reason to
help the crew now. Adventures ensue.  The settings are well done. There were
a couple of nice- not twists, but plot developments that surprised me. If
you like intelligent space opera, try it. (The pair-everyone-off tendency
that I found a bit strong in the last couple of Korval books has been much
pruned here.)

I was going to do a few more but this has taken quite a long time; the
others I got were
The Far-Enough Window, John Grant
John Grant is aka Paul Barnett, who co-edited the Encyclopaedia of Fantasy.
He also writes for Infinity Plus, where the first couple of chapters of The
Far-Enough Window are hosted.
http://www.iplus.zetnet.co.uk/stories/farenough.htm I bought it because I
liked the taster. The book becomes darker later on, the quality of the
writing stays the same. It reminded me slightly of Neil Gaiman's Stardust.

The Gathering Flame, Debra Doyle and James Macdonald
A prequel to their main Mageworlds series, showing the parents of the
protagonists in the later books. Action-packed, enjoyable, some interesting
conflicts among the characters. I haven't read the rest of the series but
I'll look for them. 

Eight Skilled Gentlemen, Barry Hughart
A magical China that never was. Master Li and Number Ten Ox investigate a
murder and find that magical bird-cages and demons are involved. Not as
funny as Bridge of Birds, but very good. 

Jennifer
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