The Hidden Oracle

Hoodlums punch my face
I would smite them if I could
Mortality blows

Looks like I’m on a bit of a fantasy kick these past (two) months; good thing it can be such an impressively versatile genre.

Rick Riordan is quite a familiar name in the genre, within the subgenre of YA. There’s been two movies, there’s plenty of books that brought Greek mythology to teens. Literally and figuratively.

This time it’s about – yep, right there in the title – Apollo. The god is turned human, but that doesn’t mean things go along breezily. Quests, monsters, demigods! And meeting your offspring.

Yes, the tongue is firmly in the cheek, but Riordan still manages to pass some mythology facts along. It’s all in seemingly effortless fun, and the twist might even surprise you. And if you’re looking at a way in for both reading and/or learning about Greek mythology, this and Riordan’s other work is a super accessible first step.

The Trials of Apollo: The Hidden Oracle, Rick Riordan, Hyperion 2016

Clariel

Old Marral the fisherman lived in one of the oddest parts of Belisaere, the ancient capital of the Old Kingdom.

I’m pretty sure that Garth Nix is my favourite male fantasy author. Even when I’m a bit ‘hmm’ about some of his stories (for a younger audience), I’ll always appreciate his style and world building. This time it wasn’t any different.

Clariel is part of the The Old Kingdom series, but doesn’t fit into it chronologically. Not having read any of the series for a long while, this was kind of convenient for me. Just remember the necromancy, anything else can be new knowledge.

It being a (kind of) prequel also means that there’s not complete freedom to move and develop. Because of this the reader gets the slice-of-life option, things ending up before the (more) exciting and terrifying.

But I am a Garth Nix fan. I’ll read all of it.

Clariel, Garth Nix, Harper Collins 2014

The Devourers

My part in this story began the winter before winters started getting warmer, on a full-moon night so bright you could see your own shadow on an unlit rooftop.

This isn’t an easy one to review. It came with the disappointment that you expected something completely different, and therefore need some time to adjust to what you’re getting, instead of entering the story completely from page one.

And The Devourers needs your attention. It’s a collection of histories and experiences, but unedited, not cleaned up and filtered for the reader. If you want these stories, dig through the dirt through them.

The Devourers are werewolves, shapeshifters, skin walkers, whatever which people or culture call them. They move through history and one of them invites a human to join him – through his stories. There’s no romance or heroic mythology, these are the stories our ancestors might have told each other at the fire, as a warning for the darkness.

Looking back after a week, I’d say I do think I’d recommend this. If you’re open for a different version of fantasy and mythology, with a lot of meat, blood and grit.

The Devourers, Indra Das, Penguin Random House 2015

Ginger: Het mysterie van roodharigen

Ik ben de enige roodharige in de familie, iets wat veel roodharigen bekend zal voorkomen.

Het boek was inderdaad regelmatig een feest van herkenning. Jammer dat Colliss Harvey zo vaak doorsloeg naar “eigenlijk is het gewoon echt discriminatie!” om dat gezellige gevoel heel de tijd vast te houden. Niet dat ik tegen een reality check ben, meer omdat het een beetje voelde als mee willen doen aan een competitie ver boven je niveau.

Hoe dan ook. Ginger: Het mysterie van roodharigen levert genoeg nieuwe feitjes en verbanden tussen bekende feiten om het beste soort non-fictie te worden; datgene je makkelijk weg leest en graag wilt (uit)delen.

De auteur is zichtbaar enthousiast, en voegt zichzelf daardoor misschien te veel aan het verhaal toe, maar deze filter zorgt er ook voor dat het show case van haar informatie wordt. Ja hoor, wij vinden zo’n roodharigendag ook spannend. Uitermate zwak einde over een boek vol mythologie en geschiedenis, dat wel.

Ginger: Het mysterie van roodharigen, Jacky Colliss Harvey, Terra 2015

House of Names

I have been acquainted with the smell of death.

Like a Creative Writing exercise someone gave up on after a few hundred pages. Or fanfiction, but where’s the line between those two anyway?

Anyway. House of Names is about the characters in Agamennon’s story. His wife Clytemnestra, his daughters Electra and Iphigenia and son Orestes. The sacrifice of one of them leads to mayhem and disaster, and everyone but Iphigenia get to give their point of view on the aftermath of it.

And they do so, and it feels like the build up to regular fiction build on mythological and/or historical figures. But then it’s done. Turns out it’s a slice of life, a collection of character sheets, instead of the creation of a story.

Maybe I should have known seeing that it only had little over 100 pages (in my e-reader). You can pass this one in your search for historical fiction with familiar names.

House of Names, Colm Tóibín, Penguin Random House 2017

Hot Milk

Today I dropped my laptop on the concrete floor of a bar built on the beach.

I honestly don’t know what to make of this, and I finished it two days ago. What’s the genre? How do I feel about it? Would I recommend it, and to whom? Well, at least it’s original (urgh, worst argument)!

Hot Milk is the story of Sofia and Rose. Sofia is the daughter taking care of her mother, who has strange symptoms no-one can diagnose in a successful way. Rose is the mother, the ball and chain of her adult daughter, suffering all kind of mental and physical aches. They end up in Spain for a specialist that might be their last chance.

Sounds pretty straight forward, but the story quickly goes of the rails in an almost fevered matter. The relationship between Rose and Sofia is far from healthy, but Sofia’s relationship with the world outside of Rose is unstable and confusing as well. Then there’s the specialist, whom seems to go for something between mad scientist and rich hermit. It feels a bit like an ugly, depraved version of magic realism, with the heat and discomfort sensible.

So …you could read it, if you don’t mind feeling annoyed and uncomfortable from time to time. It gets under the skin, I just can’t say if you’d like it there.

Hot Milk, Deborah Levy, Penguin Books 2016

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There

Once upon a time a girl named September had a secret.

It was the first title I recognised in the endless collection that is Overdrive. It’s also the sequel to The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In A Ship Of Her Own Making, because who needs short titles anyway (it’s not like Valente can’t do it, see Radiance).

Again, she offers a world brimming with colours, weirdness and smart little thoughts you wonder how you didn’t come up with them yourself. It’s fairy tales as they once were, yet with a Pratchettesque humor: don’t take the story teller, nor the experiences at face value.

Things went bad (again), and September is up to fixing it (again). She’s around after all. This time it’s in Fairyland (Below), making things a bit darker, including September. Small pieces of (ugly) reality meander through the adventures/quests/September’s wanderings.

Because even if you can survive the Forgotful Sea, you’re still someone’s child.

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There, Catherynne M. Valente, Macmillan 2012