Friday, 29 April 2011

Blog Hop | Follow Friday and Blog Hop

Book Blogger Hop


Welcome to Drying Ink, blog hoppers! I review an eclectic mix of fantasy and science fiction, with my favourite authors including Robin Hobb, Steven Erikson, and Patrick Rothfuss. I also include a number of articles and toplists: just below this post, for example, you can find my (very subjective) ranking of what I think are the best five fantasy (non review) blogs. Comment and say hello!

This week, the questions were:

If you were stocking your bomb shelter, what books would you HAVE to include if you only had space for ten?

Hm, difficult question! Assuming I'm not allowed to bring an e-reader (or kidnap my favourite authors) my list would be:
1. Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay
(Because such a beautiful, subversive historical fantasy deserves a place in the nuclear apocalypse. Plus, it's a standalone: no ten book series here!)
2. The Player of Games by Ian M. Banks
(For such a fantastic metaphorical game, and the antics of Mawhrin-Skel)
3. Memories of Ice by Steven Erikson
(Anyone who reads my blog knows I'm a big Malazan fan: and all I can say with regard to this book is THIS)
4. The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss
(This earned a place on my list of Essential Fantasy Reads, and my Best of Character-Driven Fantasy. For all of its - entirely forgivable - first novel mistakes, Rothfuss is a born writer, and his perfectly-crafted, lyrical prose makes Kvothe's tale a masterpiece - not even mentioning the scientific magic system, elegantly-portrayed supporting character, and the fun banter)
5. Royal Assassin by Robin Hobb
(This is the Farseer novel in which everything changes: Fitz may be the Catalyst, but Royal Assassin is the book in which he really gets his - admittedly, blundering - stride up. Court intrigue, the magic of the Skill, battles against the Red Ship Raiders... This novel has it all)
6. Mistborn: The Final Empire, by Brandon Sanderson
(Traditional fantasy with a subversion: the prophecied hero lost, and Kelsier and his crew are attempting to start a revolution in the middle of the thousands-of-years-old pieces. And their revolution isn't as clean as they'd like. This is an 'Evil Overlord' (TM) who really works)
7. The City and the City by China Mieville
(I don't know how to describe this novel, other than in superlatives. Mieville takes a mystery into an Eastern Europe with a twist, using it not as supernatural - because it isn't - eyecandy but as a vehicle for delicate themes that run throughout the novel)
8. Going Postal by Terry Pratchett
(Moist von Lipwig is my favourite of Pratchett's protagonist: an ostensibly reformed conman on a forced mission to rejuvenate the postal service. And you mustn't forget Reacher Gilt...)
9. Temeraire by Naomi Novik
(A fantastic alternative history/historical fantasy: the Napoleonic Wars -with dragons. Although the later books aren't quite up to the standard of the originals, there's no question that Temeraire is a series you have to read)
10. Anathem by Neal Stephenson
(This is Stephenson at his best: ideas of Platonic ideals, philosophy, science and mathematics mix in a parallel universe where intellectuals have been cloistered as monks - the Avout)

Which 2011 summer release are you most looking forward to?
Well, there's a few I'm looking forward to this summer, but after the dramatic - and surprisingly, not final - cliffhanger of Changes, it has got to be Ghost Story. Dresden Files all the way.

What do you think?

Comment and say hello below!


Thursday, 28 April 2011

Article | The Fantasy Monoculture

There's a set of problems that many fantasies share - though thankfully that trend is being broken - and its roots can be aptly described by a single term: monoculture. So, what do I mean by this? (Or have I just been testing how long it takes for the number of fantasists in my Petri dish to double?)

Diagnosis:

When I say 'fantasy monoculture', I'm referring to two main problems: firstly, that the world is monocultural in inspiration and existence, and secondly, that each nation, culture, or group is. I'll explain each of these further.

Symptoms of a Monocultural World:

You've been reading (hopefully, otherwise you should probably start now): and you've realised something. The last seven fantasies you've read were all set in a version of quasi-Medieval or Renaissance Europe. They were populated by nations differentiated only by name (and perhaps governance - and even that didn't change much. Monarchy, theocracy... Whatever happened to being picked by enchanted primates?). Their mythologies, legends, values and rituals were all based on those of Europe - with a token dash of familiar Egyptian. Their magic was based around tried-and-tested techniques - or European historical ideas: alchemy and hermeticism, maybe? (Without a twist: though a couple of Rothfuss' - and others' - magic systems might fail in this respect, his success at the other criteria, I think disqualifies him from a 'monocultural' label by far!). And you've realised the problem.

Many fantasies simply rely on the genre's established base and tropes, which in turn are rooted further back: mainly in Tolkien's own inspiration, such as Anglo-Saxon myths. But there's a problem: this one asexually-reproducing source has led to quite a multitude of stories sharing the same inspiration, and it's time to look outside - and outside our familiar landscape as well. (For extra points, please don't characterise one culture as an enemy: try something transformative instead, such as Mark Charan Newton's encroaching ice age!). Think about Guy Gavriel Kay's Under Heaven. Brandon Sanderson's alien, storm-swept landscapes of Roshar. David Anthony Durham's confederacy of nations under Acacia. There are plenty of fantastic examples of this in modern fantasy, and I wholly recommend you sample a few.

Symptoms of a Monocultural Group:

You've realised something else as well. In the fantasy you're reading, ostensibly populated only by variety, there are only as many different characters as there are nations: David Eddings was probably the worst offender here. One or two characteristics were selected for each nation, then every resident shared those traits. Every Sendarian was solid and practical. (And probably described in those same terms). David Eddings did one thing right in this, though: residents of your fantasy world are going to have preconceptions. They're going to have national stereotypes - as Eddings did. But then what you have to do is break this stereotype. Show me that there are different factions, different cultures, different traditions within your group. (And before you do any of that? Show me that there are different people). I'm criticising mainly after the fact here: this trend has largely been deserted, and for good reason. Nevertheless, it's something that I think should be avoided.


So there you have it. What monocultural fantasy is, what it isn't - and why you should read such excellent exceptions -, and why I want to see fantasy inspired by different cultures. Indonesian fantasy, anyone?


(And regarding my second question. Yes, and 15 minutes)



Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Review | Rivers of London - Ben Aaronovitch

This is a review I've been meaning to get to for a while, and it's still rather difficult to describe: even with my reread in the meantime. Rivers of London can definitely be pinned down as 'urban fantasy', but where within this broad label I should place it is a dilemma. Rivers is, for starters, very light and comical in tone, with some excellent moments of humour. It focuses on crime - but has far more of the police procedural than the detective. It's got some gory moments; some ghosts; a dash of alternate history (with Newton systemising magic); and a healthy handful of negotiation. In this case, between two feuding gods of the river Thames. Rivers of London essentially affects a genre mashup of its own, and it's a fresh, fun combination.

Rivers follows the life of one PC Peter Grant, a policeman coming to the end of his probationary period: and his superior is insisting he could make 'a valuable contribution' by being placed in the only department solely devoted to paperwork (motto: we do paperwork so real coppers don't have to). But while on overtime, Grant insists on taking a witness statement from a ghost - and before he knows it, he's the apprentice of Detective Inspector Nightingale: the last wizard in England. And he's got plenty of work to do. The God and Goddess of the Thames are feuding over territory. And something supernatural is causing anonymous passers-by to murder each other according to a very familiar script...

I'm in two minds about Rivers of London, mainly because of the dramatic shift in tone midway through. The first section of the book is wonderful: Peter Grant's narration pulls the flippant, lightly comic tone off perfectly, with some fantastic moments (particularly when he believes they're preparing him for a transfer to Trident, the insanely dangerous project tackling gun crime in the black community, and wards this off by breaking out with 'I don't like rap music' in the middle of a career talk). The investigation, likewise, is pulled off well: Aaronovitch mingles conventional police procedural elements with those of his magic (sensing vestigia - magic traces of emotions/sensations - in the mortuary, for instance). And the feuding gods of the river make an interesting side plot, which accustom the reader to a much greater magical influence than that of many urban fantasies in similar sub-sub-genres. I mean, Nigerian Goddesses of the Thames? Go for it! On the other hand, the second part of the book rejects a lot of these elements: the focus is much more on the crime investigation, and while this is quite enjoyable, Grant's narration becomes much less quirky and interesting, sticking much more to simply relaying the facts. There's also more graphic description of quite horrific events - while normally I'm fine with these (GRRM's ASOIAF is hardly kind to its characters), sometimes this just felt superfluous: simply thrown in for an extra thrill or two, and this reduced the book's excellent style. The resolution is also a little anticlimactic compared to the riotous climax. Might just be me, but I felt that the method used to establish the primary resolution was introduced a little late in the book.

Despite this, Rivers of London certainly qualifies itself as a fun read - it's not complex, the magic system isn't quite as original as some, but nevertheless, the tone more than makes up for it. It's not quite Dresden Files standard, but if you like your fantasy with a touch of crime and the detective, Rivers is more than worth picking up.

6.5/10

Rivers of London at Amazon: Rivers of London

Have you read this book, or know any similar novels? Feel free to comment and tell me!

Monday, 25 April 2011

The Best Of | Character-Driven Fantasy

If the fantasies which grasp you are the ones which might have great plots and intriguing worldbuilding, but stand out in only one thing, their characters, the books where you'll read hours into the night (and occasionally beyond, if you're like me) just to find out if they survive, well, these books are for you. These are my best-of-the-best in terms of character driven fantasy, though please comment below with anything I've missed! So, here goes:

The Realm of the Elderlings - Robin Hobb
Not so much a book, or even a series of them, as four: The Farseer Trilogy, the Liveship Traders, The Tawny Man, and the Rain Wild Chronicles. How could I possibly choose? Robin Hobb's characterization is masterful - many novelists have the rather worn 'living and breathing characters' applied to their fiction, but few deserve it so much as Hobb. She takes flawed, realistic characters like FitzChivalry Farseer, takes us few their lives, shows their change, development, mistakes, failures - and despite this, her tales are still profoundly heroic despite - and perhaps because of this. The Liveship Traders trilogy also takes into account - and as its protagonists - that most neglected of fantasy castes: the merchants. In the Liveship Traders, characters really develop: those you start out hating (such as Malta, for me) can be those you're cheering for by the end, and really, without giving more away, what can I say but 'read them'?
Also the best take on dragons I've ever read.
(Don't even mention Paolini :P )
 


The first book can be found on Amazon here: Assassin's Apprentice


The Kingkiller Chronicle - Patrick RothfussYes, you probably all know this one. Still, how could I not mention Rothfuss? While The Name of the Wind
and its successors are beautifully written, expertly crafted stories, at their heart, they're driven by a single, enigmatic character: Kvothe. From the first page, Kvothe's tragedy and mystery is revealed to the reader: 'the patient, cut-flower sound of a man who is waiting to die'. Kvothe, in the story of his life, is a genius - literally - and tells his tale in the tradition of a true storyteller: with inaccuracies and quirks included, as well as his customary wit. We, as readers, are immediately struck by the contrast between the past and present Kvothe: he's well written, enigmatic with none of the 'wise old mentor' baggage that fantasy has come to expect, and tragic. And we read on despite that inevitability, because Rothfuss is just that good.

If you're interested in an actual (if brief) review of The Name of the Wind, you can find it on my list of essential fantasy reads: HERE.

Amazon: The Name of the Wind (Kingkiller Chronicles, Day 1)

Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn - Tad Williams


Tad Williams is an author who can really make the old-fashioned coming-of-age, Bildungsroman story work - almost as well as Rothfuss, though with fewer quirks. Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn also earned a place on my Essential Fantasy list, which you can find the link to above. Though it's been many years since I read the novels, Simon is an adolescent protagonist who might suffer from some almost fantastically common flaws, but Tad Williams makes him suffer the reasonable consequences: Simon might blunder, but he quickly learns the price, unlike many author's darlings in other fantasies. This is traditional fantasy at its best, and the historically-based setting only makes Williams' work more entertaining - though be warned, fans of magic: there's little human-controlled, rule-based magic to be found here.
 
Amazon link: The Dragonbone Chair (Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, Book 1)

Read these books? Thought of something else I should have featured (or remembered to read :P)? Comment and tell me below.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

(Very Belated) Blog Hop, TGIF, and Follow Friday


Book Blogger Hop


(Apologies for the late post - exams are coming up, so my posts will be a little less frequent for the next two months)
Welcome to Drying Ink, blog hoppers! I review an eclectic mix of fantasy and science fiction, with my favourite authors including Robin Hobb, Steven Erikson, and Patrick Rothfuss. I also include a number of articles and toplists: just below this post, for example, you can find my (very subjective) ranking of what I think are the best five fantasy (non review) blogs. Comment and say hello!


Explicit Material:
How do you feel about explicit language
and/or sexual content in YA books?
I generally disagree with it, with a caveat: if we classify YA as more of a style/tone of book rather than a specific age range, characterised by more moral absolutes and explanation. In this case, I think anything overly explicit should be out, as they're choosing to read a book without this kind of complication, as there is nothing to prevent the reader moving on to adult books if they so choose. I know I moved out of YA myself very early! How about you?

If you find a book you love, do you hunt down other books by the same author?
Absolutely - in fact, often before I find out I love a book, I pre-emptively reserve the series from the library, if it's an older series, although I increasingly find myself looking for standalone and smaller series novels. Although I love an epic as much as the next reader, sometimes a little something smaller in scale is much more fun - and you don't spend years waiting for the next book! Something like Kate Griffin's excellent Urban Magic series, for example.

What is on your current playlist right now?
That's actually quite difficult, as I don't really make playlists. However, if it's what I'm listening to at the moment? Fleet Foxes and some classical music, mostly Grieg.

What about your answers - or any questions? Comment below and tell me!

Friday, 22 April 2011

An Attempt at a Map of Quon Tali (from a while back)




(Click the map for a larger version)

This was my try at a prettified ( :P ) version of the continent of Quon Tali from the Malazan books. What do you think?

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Short Absence

As you may have noticed, I've been away for a few days! I'm currently abroad with restricted time and little internet access, so I haven't been able to post my usual reviews. Hopefully, these should resume on Wednesday afternoon, or in case of delays, Thursday.

Thank you for your patience!

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Updates!


I've now become a staff member over at Fantasy Faction - a great fantasy resource site with one of the best and friendliest forums I've visited. Thanks, Overlord! If you're interested, you can find my overview of the Malazan world HERE.


Furthermore, I'm now a contributor over at Grasping for the Wind, where I'm running a monthly series on fantasy magic systems: if you want to have your say in which one I cover next, why not check out my first post HERE?

Monday, 11 April 2011

Blog Hop

Book Blogger Hop

Welcome to Drying Ink, blog hoppers! I review an eclectic mix of fantasy and science fiction, with my favourite authors including Robin Hobb, Steven Erikson, and Patrick Rothfuss. I also include a number of articles and toplists: just below this post, for example, you can find my (very subjective) ranking of what I think are the best five fantasy (non review) blogs. Comment and say hello!

This week, the question is:
Outside of books, what is your guilty pleasure?

Well, I'm afraid I'm going to have to give a very boring answer: strictly speaking, I don't really have one. Things I enjoy outside of reading include pyrography (burning designs onto wood or leather), kayaking, badminton, writing, and science, and I wouldn't say any are really -that- guilty!

What's your answer? Comment and say hello below!

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Lists | My Top 5 Fantasy Blogs

Today, I thought I'd share with you a few of the great blogs within the genre that I read - and that you should, too. I'll be excluding blogs that are mainly reviews, as they'll be the subject of a separate post (my inner ranking fanatic only goes so far :P ). With that said, on with the list - and may I not be completely eviscerated when somebody finds something better!

1. Limyaael's Fantasy Rants/Arin i Asolde
Hyperbole is impossible. Limyaael has a rant for essentially every aspect of the genre, from animals to weather, containing advice on what's been done before, what's overused, and what could and should be done to make your fantasy or world a fresher and more interesting place. This blog is the kind of thing I'd have loved to write if I were talented enough: for now, it suffices to read it.
You can find it here: http://limyaael.insanejournal.com/

2. Writing Excuses
Okay, not really so much a blog as a podcast, but still very worthy of mention. If you haven't heard of this, it's a fantastic set of (nominally) 15 minute podcasts, covering many aspects of writing and publishing, a great deal of this in the fantasy genre. It's amusing - though I advise you sort out any allergy to running jokes out first - useful, and above all, offers fantastically concise advice: you can listen to one quickly and be writing with the prompt before you know it. Again, a great resource for anyone aspiring to write in the genre, or simply interested in how it happens. It's run by Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, and Howard Tayler, and you can find it at:
http://www.writingexcuses.com/

3. Patrick Rothfuss' Blog
The author of both the wonderful The Name of the Wind (which made my essential fantasy list, back when I was very new to blogging) and The Wise Man's Fear (which I'll be reviewing shortly), his blog contains a great deal of useful information on his books, interviews and schedules, as well as humour - just look at the photo competitions! - and other things. Simply put, it's something you really should take a look at.

4. Brandon Sanderson's Blog
One of my favourite authors (not least for his worldbuilding), Brandon Sanderson's blog and website not only contain updates and extra info on his books - including annotations for each chapter of Mistborn and Warbreaker - but also articles regarding fantasy itself, including a series on magic systems. It makes some great points, and you can find the article here and blog here.

5. Tor.com
The range of articles here is astounding, and the website features new online stories from a number of fantasy writers as well. The contributors include those from a number of my own favourite review blogs (excluded from the list, remember), such as John Ottinger III from Grasping for the Wind. You can find it here.

Any that I've omitted, or that I should know about? Got your own? Comment below and tell me!


Friday, 8 April 2011

Guest Post | Magic Systems - Christopher Hoare

Today's guest post is from Christopher Hoare - author of Rast - as part of his ongoing blog tour: he's posting on one of my favourite topics in fantasy - magic systems! Welcome to the blog.


My fantasy, Rast, is what is called an ‘immersive’ fantasy – it exists entirely in its own world, distinct from the reader’s, but entirely natural to its inhabitants. In such a fantasy world, magic seems almost de rigeur, and indeed, Rast is a magic kingdom held secure only by its sorcerer king’s control of magic forces. The story takes place during an interregnum, while the ruler is about to die and his successor, Prince Egon, his son, has to meet new enemies even as he struggles to take over the sorcerer’s role.


The one thing that seems common to all novels where magic appears is that it is depicted as something ancient. Its genesis in fiction parallels its antiquity in our real world beliefs. The witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and Prospero the wizard in The Tempest were regarded as real to audiences in Elizabethan times. Not for nothing did the name Magi suggest magic, because the presence of religious magic and profane magic were then held to be equally real in the world.


Magic seems to have been always connected to ancient languages – in fact the belief that certain words and phrases could have power over the arcane is a thought as old as language. How else would early humans have regarded this magical gift of making noises that conveyed meaning to others? Humans are the only creatures we know of that have this ability to recognize the abstract and the concrete aspects of communication. It so happens that I was at a workshop recently put on by a scientist working in the field of animal communication and what it tells us about the human.


One example he showed us was an experiment in playing back sounds to families of baboons. Mothers could be seen to react to recordings of their offsprings’ voices and even run off to check on them, but when it came to replying vocally it seemed that they could not carry the thought of the meaning of cries in their own minds to recognise that sounds could have an equal meaning for the offspring. They could not comprehend that the very uniqueness of their own understanding was ‘magically’ accessible to others.


Is it any wonder that the earliest human languages were regarded as magical, and that the magical was connected to language? Hence the supposed efficacy of the spoken magic spell in olden times, when we know perfectly well that words have no power in themselves except in as much as they are understood by others. All the Abracadabras in the world will move nothing.

The step from that to the idea that magical artifacts were necessarily ancient, as were the ways and knowledge of the ancients, is a linear progression. The sword Excalibur in Mort d’Arthur and the One Ring in Tolkien’s trilogy are identified as being of great antiquity. The stories that grow out of them are automatically the ‘present’ working out of trials and perils left unresolved in the distant past.


While my fantasy novel Rast more or less evolved as I explored the story (the fun way to write) I unconsciously included most of these tropes. There is an Old Speech known to some, in which ideas and communication can be expressed in a magical setting. This idea of ancient is sometimes referred to in language, as in the ancient speech of the part human Krachins as they prepare to hurl their sacrifice into the Deepning Pools, or as some ancient knowledge such as the path on which Jady leads the princess’s entourage toward the Spring of Soicre.

Jady is the Prince of Rast’s sweetheart, a hereditary captain and the one character who seems most deeply immersed in the ancient rituals due to her role as Guardian of the Silent Forest. She has a gossamer net as an aid to one of her duties and I have her refer to it as “Woven by a wraith of midnight sorcery, an heirloom handed down from distant ancestors.” She gives directions to Cerefrus, her riding mount, in the ancient language. When, at the end of the story, the Prince establishes the entrance to a new watchtower, he gives the words to open it in the same Old Speech.


While we have (mostly) left the idea of the power of magic behind in our modern world, we still have the works of fantasy to remind us of our close association with it in the past. What young man wouldn’t want to venture out against enemies with a magic sword at his side? What young woman wouldn’t want a spell to bind the love of her intended mate to her? Sadly, we don’t possess either, but we can enjoy their magical effects at any time, by reading a work of fantasy.


Christopher Hoare lives with his wife, Shirley, and two shelter dogs, Coco and Emmie, in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies. As a lad he lived, breathed, and dreamed aeroplanes, won a place at RAE Farnborough learning to engineer them, but found the reality didn’t fit the dream. Did a stint in the army and then away to Libya to join the oil circus. Flying objects only appear as tools when they now appear in his writing.

His stories never take place next door to the lives most people live; the less charitable find similarity in characters who tend to be stubborn, independent, and contrarian. Perhaps there’s a connection between the worlds he portrays in fiction, and his working life in oil exploration in the Libyan Desert, the Canadian Arctic, and the mountains and forests of Western Canada.

He has written stories set in Anglo-Saxon Britain, in modern industrial projects, in the alternate world of Gaia, and the fantasy world of Rast. Sometimes known to satirize jobs and organizations he knows. Likes to write central characters who are smart, beautiful, and dangerous women who lead their male counterparts to fulfill dangerous duties they'd rather avoid. Gisel Matah in the Iskander series is perhaps the most Bond-like of these, but Jady in Rast can match her in many aspects.

Visit his website at http://www.christopherhoare.ca/ to learn much more, and download the free novella “Gisel Matah and the Slave Ship”. You can find his blog at http://trailowner.blogspot.com/





Thank you for such an engaging post, Chris. Interested readers can purchase Rast HERE, or on Amazon.com. Good luck for the rest of your blog tour!

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

UK Cover Art for the Alloy of Law

Brandon Sanderson announced the new cover on his blog, and you can read Aidan Moher's post about it on A Dribble of Ink here. I'm really anticipating this book's release - quasi-steampunk plus Allomancy, anyone? - and this cover is just the icing on the cake. It's just as stylish, almost minimal, as the UK covers for the first trilogy, but still gets across the feel of a change in style from its predecessors.

What do you think of the new cover? Are you anticipating any other releases?

Monday, 4 April 2011

Review | The Quantum Thief - Hannu Rajaniemi

I haven't reviewed any SF for a while, but The Quantum Thief is a novel you're compelled to talk about. It's a rarity in SF: an essentially character-driven hard SF novel. Set in a future solar system, The Quantum Thief is driven by a few protagonists, but first among these is the titular thief: Jean le Flambeur, imprisoned in the Dilemma Prison, a vast game run by the Archons, in which Jean and his fellow prisoners must compete with copies of themselves in a game-theoretic riddle. But when Mieli and her spidership retrieve Jean, it's for their own purposes, and the legendary thief is forced to recover the memories of his former self. In doing so, he will have to travel to Mars' Oubliette - a society in which privacy appears absolute, but not all is as it seems...

Rajaniemi's skill in portraying this very fresh visualisation of the future is supreme, and I think that this is through the characters themselves: we see the impacts of Rajaniemi's future Martian society on characters we care about, and it makes this sociological change truly visible - something that more hard SF writers should emulate! This is manifest in the Oubliette, where privacy has become a fixation: memories are stored externally, in encrypted exomemories, and access to any aspect of an individual is heavily controlled through 'gevulot', essentially an extreme privacy filter. If that person so desires, he or she is just a blur in your vision! Gevulot contracts can be entered into as well, which require the deletion of the memories during a conversation. And when something threatens this system that the protagonists care so much about, we viscerally understand the impact far more than when simply told.

Our protagonists are flawed as well, driven by human emotions, but nevertheless we are able to empathise with them - even when they happen to be thieves and fanatics! Dialogue is generally good, although to fit the story's tone, it can't be quite as fast and banterish as, for example, Kate Griffin's excellent Urban Magic series. Overall? The Quantum Thief is a hard SF novel that doesn't require a degree in quantum physics to comprehend, although you will need some scientific understanding to get the references - this is hard SF, after all. Hannu Rajaniemi's sociological vision of the Martian society is superb, and this is certainly a successfully character-driven novel.

Recommended for anybody who wants a blend between character-based and hard SF, or those with a scientific understanding looking to read into the genre.

8.5/10

Friday, 1 April 2011

Review | A Madness of Angels - Kate Griffin

A list of the most intriguing fantasies I've read would have to include Kate Griffin's A Madness of Angels by default. Why? I could name a number of reasons, but the first would have to be how the mysteries and the fast-paced narrative gripped me from the first chapter. Our protagonist, Matthew Swift, wakes up in a London not entirely his own: a London many years since he last lived. He's returned: but with differently coloured eyes - now, a bright electric blue. And he's speaking in plurals... I won't give away the mystery, but suffice to say that both the mysteries and their answers defy fantasy's conventions, and the system of urban magic is as fresh and original as it is fascinating. A Madness of Angels takes a common idea in fantasy - the life is magic - and finds its consequences and its own system. As people moved to the cities, so did the magic: and the life that people waste and casually spend goes into this new, urban magic, creating entities and urban gods like the blue electric angels that sing in the telephones, the Beggar King, and the Last Train. It's a fantastic system, but to elaborate would be to spoil the joy of discovery, and I wouldn't care to ruin this for anyone.

The main plot follows Matthew's attempts to bring down the organization that has been dominating London's magical circles, simply discover what has even -happened-, and why a shadow is following him. Is his former mentor in the magic of the urban sorcerers, Robert Bakker, to blame? Although the middle slumps a little - having pretty much finished with the discovery plot, and not yet begun with the finale - it's still a fast-paced read,m and aside from this tiny central section, it's not at all an 'excuse plot' (a flimsy justification to show off worldbuilding).

The characterisation isn't shabby, either. Matthew Swift himself is a return to a likable, sympathetic - and competent - protagonist, and amongst all of the gritty antiheroes nowadays, it's nice to see someone, who can be considered this way. Dialogue's also fun and witty, and Griffin never misses a chance for some wry humour.

On the whole, this is one of the best urban fantasies I've read in a while, and you'll get even more out of the references if you're British. It features a fun hero, rather intriguing mysteries, and a setting and matching magic system to die for. Overall? Aside from the plotting of about 50 pages in the middle (where a certain section gets a little repetitive), I can't recommend it enough.

9/10

Recommended for anyone, but especially fans of urban fantasies like the Dresden Files.

A Madness of Angels can be found on Amazon here:  A Madness of Angels: Or The Resurrection of Matthew Swift