Wednesday 26 October 2022

Terciel and Elinor by Garth Nix


Terciel has grown up in the Old Kingdom, a land where magic exists, and the dead do not always stay dead. At an early age he was adopted by the Abhorsen, and his future mapped out for him as her successor, trained in her skills of necromancy to protect the living and keep the Dead where they belong. 

Meanwhile on the other side of the Wall, in Ancelstierre where magic doesn't belong, lives Elinor. Her life has been isolated, but quiet. All that is about to change when her mother's illness takes a turn for the worse, and brings magic, danger, and Terciel to her door. Although the life she's known so far is threatened, Elinor finds a previously-unknown sense of belonging among her new 'Charter' acquaintances from north of the Wall. 

I've loved Garth Nix's Old Kingdom stories since I borrowed my daughter's copy of Sabriel, and to return there is always a delight, even if, at times, a nail-biting one. 
This latest book is a prequel to Sabriel, and so some readers (me among them) will be aware of how the story must end. It doesn't detract from it at all though, but is as full of Charter Magic, re-awakened Dead, perils on almost every side, and a smattering of romance as anyone could want. 

Tuesday 25 October 2022

The Truth by Terry Pratchett

Review by The Mole

 William de Worde produces a newsletter about events in Ankh-Morpork He then has handwritten copies made by a local artist and sent to subscribed customers. On this occasion there is a delay which frustrates him and when dwarfs offer to print copies on a brand new and unheard of  "Printing Press" William reluctantly agrees. Incidentally they print more copies than required and insist on taking the excess out and selling. And so the first newspaper for the Discworld is born.

But it's not all journalism... the paper rocks too many boats, it is found it can be used to influence people, as well as show pictures of funny potatoes.

What seems like a possibly gently-paced story quickly becomes life and death, cutthroat business, with possibly a little love interest thrown in too - all the elements of a good Discworld novel.

Plenty of fun and laughs which we expect in a Terry Pratchett book and well worth a read.

I really enjoyed this book although, to be fair, I haven't found a Pratchett that I didn't enjoy.

It can be read in isolation but it might be nice to understand more about Vimes and Vetinari before reading this - they each have their own most excellent stories in the series.

Friday 21 October 2022

One Dark Window by Rachel Gillig

When children are infected by a magic-inducing fever, they are taken away and killed, but when Elspeth fell ill, she was hidden and saved by her aunt. Now she's left with a spirit she calls the Nightmare trapped inside her mind, afraid of it, and afraid that anyone will notice she's not like everyone else.
For years, Elspeth's believed she was the only one to survive the fever, but then she discovers that those with magic-tainted blood can be used by the king to further his plans - and that a small group is making a stand against this.  

I've always read fantasy novels but I'm finding myself increasingly drawn to them at the moment - perhaps as escapism from the real world? perhaps because the bad guys always lose, and the hero and heroine live happily ever after? Whatever the reason, I loved One Dark Window.

It's a compelling tale of dark magic and evil kings and those who oppose them, of romance among the danger - chock full of the things I like - a complex but believable magic system backed by brilliant world-building, a heroine who's prepared to stand up for herself and others, and take on the status quo, and  a story in which the 'bad guys' aren't apparent at first. All of these are bound together with an atmospheric first person narrative which pulls the reader in, and keeps them hooked. Elspeth isn't specifically unreliable as a narrator, but obviously she doesn't know everything, and the story is told in such a way that the reader can see other characters' motivation when Elspeth seems unaware of it. 
It's not perfect - at times the romance seemed a little forced, certain plot-threads seemed to be abandoned (though I hope they'll be revisited in book 2), and the end came unexpectedly and abruptly leaving me wanting more. Now!  I can't wait to read book2. 

Friday 14 October 2022

Best of Friends by Kamila Shamsie

 Maryam and Zahra have been friends since childhood, so long that they can barely remember a time before they knew each other, despite their different backgrounds.  Maryam was born into privilege; the granddaughter of a wealthy Karachi businessman, destined to take over the family firm one day. Her family is one with connections - to rich government insiders, to the 'fixer' who sorts out any little problems encountered in the business and factory; if something needs sorting, they know a way. Zahra's family, while comfortably wealthy, is not in the same league; her mother is a teacher, her father a TV cricket commentator, both opponents of Pakistan's dictator, General Zia.
 At fourteen, in 1988 as Pakistan throws off its dictatorship, and elects Benazir Bhutto, they're inseparable. With a woman in charge of the country, anything suddenly seems possible.Then one night something happens that derails their futures. 

The story picks up in London, in 2019, when both are now successful women. Maryam is a venture capitalist with an interest in hi tech and social media, happy to exploit government connections to further her business deals; Zahra, the head of a civil liberties organisation, fighting the government's immigration policies. Somehow the two are still firm friends, until an acquaintance from the old days in Karachi turns up, and their instinctive reactions prove how different their morals are.

While primarily a novel about the sort of friendship that lasts a lifetime, one that withstands disagreements and challenges, it's also about money and power, the advantages they offer in life, and how both can be used for good or bad.
In comparison to, say, Shamsie's previous novel, Home Fire, the story seems a slow burn; the emphasis being on character development rather than events, but it's enjoyable and well worth reading. In fact, it wasn't till the absolute last section, set during the first lockdown of 2020, that I felt all the pieces slotting into place. 

Tuesday 4 October 2022

Soul Music by Terry Pratchett

Review by The Mole

Imp Y Celyn is a strolling musician who finds himself in Ankh-Morpork but when he tries to earn a crust the Musicians Guild steps in and stops him performing. He meets C.M.O.T. Dibbler who decides that Imp Y Celyn, along with a dwarf and a troll, should form a rock band called "The Band With Rocks In" and tour the Discworld. After a performance Imp Y Celyn (who adopts the name Buddy) decides that something is missing from their sound and invites the librarian from the Unseen University to join them on keyboards. Meanwhile it appears that Buddy's name has come to Death's list but Death has taken a holiday and left Susan holding the list. Things never seem to go well for Susan, and what is one more messed up time line?

Presenting a very cynical view of music management Pratchett places Dibbler in a perfect role. And in Buddy he casts the extreme, the artist who sees money as dirty and just wants to eat, sleep, perform, repeat.

Many of the names and songs reference real historic artists and tracks and done in a subtle way that you have to be careful not to miss. Imp Y Celyn for example is Welsh and translates as something close to "bud of the holly".

At first this plot felt so un-Discworld that I seriously thought Pratchett was running out of ideas but he amazed me by crafting into it our favourite characters and staying true to Discworld so well that I loved yet another of the series.