Monday, 15 September 2014

Review: The Six-Gun Tarot

The Six-Gun Tarot
The Six-Gun Tarot by R.S. Belcher

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a difficult one to rate. Three stars usually means I didn't enjoy it much, but for a long time I was enjoying it. However, when I got about two-thirds of the way through, the horror elements became more dominant. Since I don't like anything more than mild horror, and I was starting to be ready for it to be over anyway, I stopped reading at that point.

Early on, I felt that, despite some notable editing issues, it had the potential to be great (or rather, that the author did). I still think that potential is there, with the right developmental editor and a better copy editor. It's not just the same old tired tropes, though it gets a little tropey when it brings in bits of Mythos (there's even a sly mention of the King in Yellow). At the same time, there's some freshness to it, and a sense of depth - though I felt, on reflection, that the author might have been trying too hard to achieve depth and ended up merely with complexity.

I mentioned the copy editing. A good number of the problems are sloppy typing: missing quotation marks or other punctuation, missing words, fumbled words (like "clam" for "calm"), the kind of thing you would once have blamed a typesetter for back when there were such people, but must now be blamed on the author. There are also a good few examples of using the wrong word, though: "filament" for "firmament", "proscribed" for "prescribed" (though I've seen Samuel Delaney make that mistake, so Belcher is in good company there), "taunt" for "taut", "shorn" for "shored", "utterance" for something written down, "willing to sate the most jaded pleasures" (instead of "appetites").

The prose sometimes purples to the point of incomprehensibility: "a flute made out of a human femur rattlesnake whirred an ice-knife tune up and down his spine", which is also a thoroughly mixed metaphor. People know things they couldn't know. There's head-hopping. There's a direct commuter line to the Department of Backstory, and it's used on every possible occasion.

Notwithstanding all this, the potential is there. The cosmic significance, and at the same time the authentic Western feel, and the two not seeming at odds - that indicates talent. I feel the same sort of thing has been done better, though, notably by [a:S.A. Hunt|6952140|S.A. Hunt|].

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Monday, 8 September 2014

Review: The Thief

The Thief
The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I thought for a long time that this book was slow to get going. Five chapters in, we were still on the way to the scene of the theft, still having back and forth between the various characters, establishing their relationships. I finally decided that, in a way, that was the story, that the journey was the destination. But then we actually got to the theft, and it became the story I'd been expecting all along, and now the journey looked overlong again.

I also had some issues with the worldbuilding. It starts out Greek, apparently ancient Greek, but then we get metal breastplates, and then we get guns, and then (after at first sticking closely to flora and fauna found natively in and around the Mediterranean) we get a random eucalyptus. And none of this is necessary. The plot would have worked identically if it had stayed ancient Greek the whole way through.

Regardless of those issues, the ending served up a twist that was different from the twist I'd been expecting, always a pleasant surprise. The writing and editing were excellent, and the story ultimately satisfying.

I'm not sure I'll rush out and buy the next one, given that this was near the upper end of my preferred ebook price band, but I'll keep it in mind for the future.

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Friday, 5 September 2014

Review: The Master of the World

The Master of the World
The Master of the World by Jules Verne

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A disappointing lack of protagonism lets this one down.

The main character and narrator is a police inspector who's trying to find and foil the supervillain after whom the book is named. He tries several things and fails conspicuously. Nothing wrong with a try-fail cycle, but he then acts as what I call a "camera character," a mobile point-of-view that observes events without really affecting them. He's finally saved by one of several deus ex machina moments, brought on by the villain's pride in what is very close to a Disney villain fall.

The eponymous supervillain doesn't monologue; in fact, he hardly says anything, leaving his motives and his thought process largely unexplained.

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Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Review: A Cold Wind

A Cold Wind
A Cold Wind by C.J. Brightley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I enjoyed the first book in this series, and, as I predicted, this one is better. I found it emotionally moving more than once, which doesn't happen often. It has two threads to it: a romance plot, and what can't quite be called an adventure plot because it's deliberately not high-action or fast-paced (and, to me, is none the worse for that).

The two would-be lovers, kept apart by their lack of self-confidence and their inability to communicate, were wonderfully depicted, and the matter-of-fact courage of the hero continues to make him admirable.

I did feel that the early part of the book could have been tighter, and found Riona's unpleasant suitor a little too obviously inserted to make a point; I thought that subplot could have been polished further overall. In the main, though, this is a fine piece of writing, and I'm looking forward to the next one.

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Friday, 29 August 2014

Review: The Adventures of Sally

The Adventures of Sally
The Adventures of Sally by P.G. Wodehouse

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An early Wodehouse, with several differences from the successful formula he later established.

Firstly, the main character is an American woman, rather than a British man. There is a British man who's an important character, and he's much the kind of not-too-bright but fundamentally decent Brit Wodehouse made a career of writing about, but the eponymous Sally is definitely the focus of the story.

Secondly, there's more seriousness and less comedy than in the books he's best remembered for. People are affected by financial difficulties and have to take soul-destroying jobs to recover. There are mentions of the Spanish flu, though nobody dies of it on stage. I don't regard this necessarily as a fault; it's done well, and the later Wodehouse books are notorious for the degree to which nothing in them really matters except to the characters involved.

What he hadn't quite perfected here, and what he did perfect later on, was making essentially incompetent characters enjoyable to read about. One way he achieved that effect was by making the incompetents very proactive. They would always be trying things to get out of their difficulties, even though they never worked. Ginger, the male lead, doesn't do this. Not only is he not very bright, he's passive and has to be chivvied (one would almost say nagged) into doing anything by Sally. Sally herself is not highly competent or unusually proactive either. She's clearly brighter than any of the men, yet she chooses to hand over her money to her brother to invest, knowing he's lost all of his own, rather than cutting out the middleman and investing directly.

The romantic direction of the book was always obvious, but I was never fully convinced by it, partly because I agreed with Ginger that he was "not much of a chap". On the whole, though, I enjoyed the book and saw in it frequent glimpses of the charm that Wodehouse later turned into his consistent style.

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Review: Aurealis #72

Aurealis #72
Aurealis #72 by Michael Pryor (Editor)

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Full disclosure: I've submitted to Aurealis in the past, unsuccessfully. I don't think that has unduly influenced my review, but it was the reason that I took up their half-year free subscription offer to see what they were buying.

This is the first issue of the magazine I've read, and so far I'm unimpressed. The copy editing is very poor, with missing apostrophes, missing words, and homonym errors abounding. The two stories themselves weren't to my taste, sordid, pessimistic tales, but others may disagree with me there.

This issue opens with an editorial talking about what the magazine wants to publish. It's the usual stuff: well written, original, startling. I didn't find either of the stories, or the non-fiction article or the reviews, particularly well-written, original or startling, myself.

The first story has two four-hundred-year-old immortals who remember Shakespeare. They're jaded and alienated, and have either become atheists since Shakespeare's time or were, unusually for the time, atheists all along (this is never explored). They appear to have gained no wisdom in 400 years, speak very much in contemporary slang, and when there's a flashback to Shakespeare's day the period language isn't convincing or competent (Shakespeare makes a basic grammatical error).

The second story involves uplifted animal/human hybrids, and is basically a noir detective story.

The main article is an extremely basic, and not very up-to-date, piece on the importance of reviews for indie authors.

I have another four issues left in my subscription, so hopefully this is an anomaly, but I'm no longer expecting great things.

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Thursday, 28 August 2014

Review: Dragonhunters

Dragonhunters by Sabrina Chase

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's a year and a half since I read the first in the series (The Last Mage Guardian), and since then I've read at least 150 other books, so I would have appreciated a few more brief reminders of who all the characters were and what happened in the first book. Apart from that, this was a well-written and enjoyable story, and excellently edited.

Sabrina Chase's steampunk-adjacent alternate world has different names for familiar countries (close enough that you can tell which real-world countries they're meant to be, but different enough that you're reminded that it's not our world), an appealing cast of brave characters, and a well-choreographed climactic fight. I wish more steampunk was like this; it's well-executed and lives up to the promise of its premise, something I rarely say about other books in the genre. I could stand for it to be a little more over-the-top, even, with more play made of the magical devices.

Definitely an author I'm keeping on my watch list.

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