Tuesday 28 February 2017

Review: The Jekyll Revelation

The Jekyll Revelation The Jekyll Revelation by Robert Masello
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Reminiscent of Tim Powers' "secret histories," but without Powers' regrettable tendency to shove all his research into the book whether it's relevant to the story or not. The author weaves together the life of Robert Louis Stevenson; his story of Jekyll and Hyde; the play based on the book; the Jack the Ripper murders, which occurred around the same time; and a modern story, set in California, in which a ranger discovers Stevenson's old diary.

The 19th-century story and the contemporary story, although they have the diary to connect them, don't have too many obvious parallels otherwise, and it feels that the author is just interleaving two extremely tenuously connected narratives in (mostly) alternating chapters. I suppose if you dug hard enough, you would find common themes and ideas.

Neither story, for me, wrapped up particularly satisfactorily. The big reveal was obvious to me long before it became obvious to Stevenson (for, I suppose, believable reasons), and the diary was more of a Maguffin in the modern story than it was something that drove any particular insights for the modern character who read it.

I did enjoy most of the journey, though. The author has an uncommon mastery of the tools of prose, including punctuation, which is refreshing, and a good attention to detail. The chapters set in America, for example, use the usual American convention of double quotation marks, and those told by Stevenson the British convention of single quotation marks, and also British spelling. He does have a couple of slip-ups, referring to a "semester" rather than a "term" at Oxford, and using "dungarees" in the American rather than the British sense in the British narrative (dungarees are two different items of clothing in the two dialects). There are a few other minor glitches, but they are very minor.

Overall, a well-told and interesting story.

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Tuesday 21 February 2017

Review: Hounded

Hounded Hounded by Kevin Hearne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Although I did enjoy this urban fantasy, I don't think I'll be reading more in the series, and that's mainly because of the main character.

First, he's overpowered. He's a 2100-year-old druid (who looks, and often acts, 21), and in this first book of the series he's already killing gods and sleeping with goddesses (and I use the plural for both of those advisedly). He's spent centuries making an amulet which functions like Batman's utility belt, and he starts the book with a near-invincible magic sword (and ends it with two). This doesn't leave the author much room to build up, or so it seems to me.

Secondly, there's the whole "acts 21" thing. He's a cocky fellow who thinks very little of either killing someone or sleeping with them, which reminds me rather too much of James Bond - a character I've never liked.

His dog is a lot more likeable. I believe there's a volume from the dog's POV, which I might read at some point.

Apart from the annoying quirk of joining independent clauses together with colons, and an occasional missing quotation mark, it's very clean from a copy editing perspective. But I prefer my protagonists more idealistic and more outgunned than this.

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Friday 17 February 2017

Review: Shadows of Self

Shadows of Self Shadows of Self by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I enjoy the Mistborn books greatly. The first trilogy is a wonderful mashup of epic fantasy and supers, while the second trilogy, of which this is part, is a mashup of supers and slightly steampunk Western. The protagonist's time in the Roughs, the frontier area, is told in flashback, though, and the current action takes place in a city, so it has a kind of urban fantasy vibe as well. The events of the first trilogy are legend and religion in the second, which is a great touch.

I listen to the Writing Excuses podcast and have watched some of Sanderson's videos, so I'm aware of his craft as I listen to these books. Mostly, though, I just immerse in them and enjoy them, while occasionally spotting a technique that he's talked about on the podcast or the videos.

For example, he sometimes talks about letting the reader feel clever because they guess the twist that's coming - and then doing something else that they haven't guessed. He definitely did that here; I saw the solution to the problem coming from miles away, in general if not in detail, but then he sprang a huge and completely unexpected revelation which suddenly cast the whole story, right back to the beginning, in a new light. This is top-class writing.

I listened to the audiobook, and the narrator does a wonderful job, particularly since one of the supporting characters is explicitly interested in accents and uses them in his crazy schemes. Combining comedy, tragedy and action, with a bit of police-procedural mystery and more than a little superheroism, and scattering reflections on identity, justice, the structure of society, and the search for happiness and freedom throughout, this is a book of many dimensions that I also found thoroughly entertaining and enjoyable.

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Review: Kalanon's Rising

Kalanon's Rising Kalanon's Rising by Darian Smith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked this up because I saw a positive review of it on the website for SpecFicNZ, an organisation that both the author and I belong to. (We're acquainted in real life.)

I wasn't disappointed; it's a compelling, twisty mystery in a high-fantasy setting, with well-developed characters. I completely failed to guess the identity of the antagonist, which was great.

I've shelved it as "deserves-better-editing," which is the tag I use for well-told stories that are a bit scruffy around the edges as regards copy editing. It suffers from Jackson Pollock commas, the occasional missing quotation mark, and a few homonym slips and typos, but nothing too egregious, and it managed to hold my attention and enjoyment despite these minor flaws. I had no issues with the story craft at all.

Overall, a promising start to what could be a good series.

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