Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Review | Three Days in April - Edward Ashton

Most books I can recommend for some aspect of their writing - even if the whole ensemble falls short. Sadly, Three Days in April is one I can't recommend at all.

But let's rewind a little. Three Days in April is a fast-paced technological thriller set in a future Baltimore where government surveillance is everywhere (and they have a network of orbital kinetic energy weapons for when they stop merely watching), and a significant proportion of the populace are genetically modified, most along fairly standard models (the Pretties, for instance, or the Neanderthals).

The trouble starts when a plague runs through Hagerstown - and the government quickly starts wiping the public newsfeed of the disaster. Anders, a mouse-DNA'd-teaching-assistant  is caught in the middle of the coverup, along with irritating hacker roommate Gary, and new-acquaintance-and-Neanderthal Terry, when Terry's sister is discovered to be trapped within the killzone. Then... things get weird.

It doesn't sound like a terrible premise, but the problem is in the execution. The plot, simply put, doesn't work. It's fast-paced, yes, but few of its developments are explained, nor do they have any meaningful foreshadowing, making the resolution seem like deus ex machina to an absurd degree. There are some interesting links, but unless I'm missing a great deal of the novel, it utterly fails to satisfy in this respect: it's a rollercoaster of meaningless twists. I was left wondering where the last twenty percent of the novel was. Our heroes were saved? How?

Even poor plots can survive scrutiny if they have sufficiently interesting characters to follow them, but Three Days in April fails to entertain in this respect either. None of the central three protagonists ever become more than caricatures: Anders seems to have little non plot-driven personality, and Gary seems to be intoxicated through most of it, barely developing beyond giggles. Terry comes closest to being interesting, with her relationship with her sister and her disliked partner, but still gets no development. Worse, the conversations between all involved read like laddish 'banter' - with the sexism that entails. This isn't limited to the dialogue, but also permeates the narrative - the 'Pretties' get a particularly heavy load, but the book as a whole reads as fairly male gaze-y


Friday, 11 September 2015

Review | Fool's Quest - Robin Hobb

And I'm back! Holidays have been had, bad weather weathered (ie. great holiday, but somewhat in spite of the weather - we had a nearby pool and some dogs that seemed to come with the house, which improved even rainy days immensely). Anyway, in the downtime, I've read a huge number of books as holiday reading, so expect a whole run of reviews!

Fool's Quest is book two in the Fitz and the Fool trilogy, and I clearly had to pick it up: the Fool has always been one of my favourite characters (not even mentioning my weakness for the general archetype), and Hobb is at her best when writing about him. But before I get into plot details, be warned - as a direct sequel to Fool's Assassin, there will be serious spoilers for that book.

Fool's Quest begins where Fool's Assassin leaves off - or, in fact, slightly before it. Bee, Fitz's daughter, has been kidnapped by the Servants, who believe her to be the Unexpected Son, a new White Prophet. Fitz... has no idea about this, and is in Buckkeep tending to the Fool, who has been severely injured. A good quarter of the book is felt playing catch-up in this fashion, and while the Buckkeep court has always been the most interesting location, the reader's knowledge being so far ahead of the characters' does lend the book a slower pace than usual, and can be frustrating at times when characters fail to jump to conclusions apparently obvious to the reader.

But starting there does remedy one of the previous novel's main deficits: a lack of the Fool, who appeared only in the finale, despite being alluded to throughout the book. His dynamic with Fitz has naturally changed, but it's nicely developed from those previous encounters. Admittedly Hobb has a certain recurring plot with her characters' recovery from torture, and much of the Fool's book is given over to that: regaining some of what he used to be, despite his old injuries and new blindness. It's uncomfortable but powerful reading, and the Fool is still one of my favourite characters - and one of the few mainstream canonically non-binary characters - in fantasy. Fitz also gets to interact with this element of him in more sensible fashion (aka: less face-in-hands, "Fitz, why are you doing this?" questioning), and there are some great moments that showcase the pair.