The Coincidence Engine

‘They’ve found the pilot.’

I’ve owned this book for ages, and I’m pretty sure that I read it before or at least partially. Per story line my opinion fluctuated on it, and as a harsh, firm book owner, this book will be donated soon.

I’m sure both the cover as the summary will draw several eyes, though. There’s things going on, it’s science fiction without having too much science, there’s shenanigans and hijinks, and – both a pro and a con – a lot of different story lines for everyone to find something of their liking.

Because there is a young man traveling through the USA to surprise his girlfriend, but there’s also a recluse math genius, and that plane. There’s a very secret government agency, more secret-y people and a machine that might impact/ruin/improve everything.

Besides the several story lines that can make you feel so-so about this story, there’s also something strangely stilted about it. What if fewer lines would have been added, and more world-building to the rest? Why does the ending feel like the author just didn’t feel like writing any more, and should we view all this as a commentary on life, coincidences and authorities, or is that looking for something that isn’t there?

All that makes The Coincidence Engine more a collection of gimmicks than a mind-blowing, eye-opening story. Or even just full-time entertaining.

The Coincidence Engine, Sam Leith, Bloomsbury 2011

Sorcery of Thorns

Night fell as death rode into the Great Library of Summershall.

I’m sure Margaret Rogerson hadn’t planned on setting such a dramatic scene with just the first sentence. It’d have been Death or DEATH otherwise, of course. Anyway, let’s not go off on a tangent.

I wanted some easy, accessible fantasy and Sorcery of Thorns didn’t disappoint. It even looks to be a stand-alone! And even though it’s YA pretty by the book (unlikely hero who’s Different, a dark and mysterious love interest, a funny sidekick), it doesn’t become a bother. The story doesn’t take itself too seriously, the tempo is high and there’s plenty of twists and turns to keep you entertained.

Elisabeth Scrivener (I know) was left as a baby at one of the Great Libraries and grew up in one. Books are magical creatures, but those that manage those powers are kind of feared and frowned upon. So of course, she ends up with a sorcerer after an accident, and magic becomes a large part of her life.

The clear love of books gets Sorcery of Thorns an extra star: if it wouldn’t have been so dangerous, I would have loved to have a look around in its libraries.

Sorcery of Thorns, Margaret Rogerson, Margaret K. McElderry Books 2019

The Maid

Red flowers were blooming in the front yard, but Nanase had no idea what they were: the names of the flowers did not interest her.

Well, the summary of this novel is going to be short and clear. Young Japanese woman is telepathic and listens in on the households in which she does maid-work. Any questions?

Nanase doesn’t really manage to hold on to a job for long, which could be quite understandable when you can hear everyone’s thoughts. It turns the novel into a collection of short stories: ever so often a new household. It also makes it quite repetitive: everyone only seems to think about status, money and sex.

So, yes, maybe that’s all what people think about when they think no-one else can hear them, but couldn’t there have been some kind of addition to prevent feeling like you’ve read this already the previous chapter? Sadly not. There’s no descriptions of surroundings and Nanase herself doesn’t seem to spend too much thought on herself and her future. It sadly turns The Maid into a creative writing exercise that went on for too long.

The Maid, Yasutaka Tsutsui, Alma Books 2010

These Witches Don’t Burn

They say there’s a fine line between love and hate.

Queer teenage witches! And it shows, in this YA, littering the story with some bad decisions and Very Emotional Moments. Because: teenagers.

Main character Hannah is a real witch, living in Salem, and trying to keep her and her family’s magic a secret from those that are ordinary humans. It gets harder when attacks start to happen, her ex-girlfriend attempts to get her back while at the same time moving on with someone else, a cute new girl arrives and her coven puts down the law on magic use. Basically ordinary teenage life, indeed.

It might be testament to Isabel Sterling’s writing that sometimes it’s all very teenager, making everyone and their decisions a bit too annoying and young for this reader. This is balanced out by Hannah’s sweet thoughts and emotions about her sexuality and crush(es), and honestly – hasn’t anyone had their Teenage Moments.

As is my usual complaint; more world building would have been welcome, but for those that are always on the look out for more queer YA: These Witches Don’t Burn is a proper one.

These Witches Don’t Burn, Isabel Sterling, Penguin Random House 2019

The Goblin Emperor

Maia woke with his cousin’s cold fingers digging into his shoulder.

I hate to copy someone’s review but yes: if you’re about court stories, intrigue and politics in a fantasy setting, this one will do you real good. No need to call it Game of Thrones but with goblins: there’s not enough mass slaughter and incest for that. It (looks to be) is a stand alone as well, which doesn’t happen to often in fantasy either. And how often do goblins get their chance in the sun?

Well, in this book not all the time either. These are elvish countries after all, and freshly made emperor Maia is …not like the usual people in charge. He’s far from prepared for his new role, and there’s little people eager to help him out.

That’s where politics and intrigue come in. Sometimes there’s so many names and roles that it’s best just to cling to the story line, but it never turns into a list of characters. The glances at the world throughout make you long for more; another main story line about ordinary life in this steam punk-ish world would have been welcome.

All in all, it’s a solid, traditional built and written fantasy with some freshness coming from the steam punk elements (could have been more, but that’s world-building-loving me) and goblins in the spotlight.

The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison, Tor 2014

Aladdin

128 min.

Tsja, Disney lijkt nu helemaal enige originaliteit te hebben opgegeven en is nu gewoon haar eigen animatiefilms op een andere manier aan het aanbieden: ‘live action’. In het geval van Aladdin (vrij veel mensen) is dat nog redelijk makkelijk te accepteren: ik ben benieuwd naar de ‘echte dieren’ van Lion King straks.

Aladdin posterAnyway, wie kent het verhaal niet? Met de remake was er meer discussie over de casting (moest dat compleet Midden-Oosters zijn), de aankleding (een combinatie van Midden-Oosten en Aziatisch, kon dat wel gemixt?), de liedjes (moest dat wel?), Will Smith als Genie (waarom probeerde hij het sowieso?) en simpelweg de luiheid van Disney (in de vorige alinea genoemd). En trouwens, de stoere Guy Ritchie voor het keurslijf van Disney?

Dat is ook wel te merken: zelfs voor een Disney-film is Aladdin wel héél licht en luchtig. De slechterik is geen moment indrukwekkend en/of eng, er is geen ruimte voor zielige momenten, en zelfs de meegalmliedjes worden afgekapt of zijn zo bewerkt dat de kracht er uit is. En de romantiek? Nou ja, omdat we het verhaal kennen dan maar. De drie hoofdrolspelers kloppen wel in deze zachtzoete omgeving, en het is duidelijk dat Will Smith er plezier in heeft. En dat is – met de muziek erbij – toch wel aanstekelijk.

Aladdin, Disney 2019

 

Jinn

5 x 30 min.

Licht vermaak nodig in een omgeving waar het hoe dan ook altijd warmer is dan hier, zelfs tijdens een hittegolf? Open voor een mythologie die eens niet Noors is? Met net tweeëneenhalf uur in totaal is Jinn waarschijnlijk de zomersnack voor u!

Jinn posterNou ja, er zijn ook argumenten tegen. De tieners hebben zeer tienerige problemen en het acteerwerk daarin is niet van je van het. De folklore komt er een beetje bekaaid van af, en het tempo ligt zo hoog dat er geen ruimte of zin is om zowel folklore als de karakters die er onder lijden, enige diepgang te geven. Ik noem het een snack voor een reden.

Jordaanse tieners (jawel, de voertaal van deze serie is Arabisch) gaan op schoolreisje naar Petra, maar daar gaan dingen Mis. Goede en kwade jinn beginnen zich met hen te bemoeien, en natuurlijk moet dat recht getrokken worden. Of het de leeftijd of de origine is, maar dit wordt redelijk horror-vrij gedaan, waardoor de show nog makkelijker (door) te kijken is.

Wel eindigt ze met een cliffhanger – was het budget op of wilt men zo graag een tweede seizoen? Hopelijk wordt daarin de folklore verder uitgediept: anders is er weinig om de aandacht vast te houden voor nog tweeëneenhalf uur.

Jinn, Netflix 2019

Once & Future

Ari was hiding out in the Middle Ages.

This is a retelling of the King Arthur myth, but a lot more queer for everyone involved. It’s also a Young Adult novel, and Arthur in this case is a teenage girl (and this isn’t the only thing that’s flipped). Just in case you thought you couldn’t be surprised by that myth any more.

Capetta and McCarthy keep up the tempo, until they suddenly don’t. The evil overlords, dubious witch and wizard, the romances and family-relationships are so abruptly put on hold that I almost felt like I shouldn’t bother with the rest of the short novel. But before all that you get an entertainment park-like novel with a lot of roller-coasters and themed exhibitions.

This combined with the gender-flip, the amount of queer characters without it being turned into a fuss and/or characterisation, makes Once & Future appealing to both the fantasy/sci-fi crowd as those that will vacuum up everything related to the King Arthur myth.

Once & Future, Amy Rose Capetta & Cori McCarthy, Little, Brown, and Company 2019

The Talented Ribkins

He only came back because Melvin said he would kill him if he didn’t pay off his debt by the end of the week.

Now how to talk about this one. There’s a fantastical element in this story (several, if you consider all the individuals involved), but I definitely wouldn’t call it a story from the fantasy genre. Maybe more magic realistic? Anyway, these talents can come in quite handy, but brought ruin to almost every owner – every member of the Ribkins family.

The Ribkins are a black family, with one generation starting out as activists (during the Civil Rights Movement) but seeming to have ended up in crime. Each of their stories rub against historical facts, which makes the people with extraordinary powers trope so much more realistic, and keeps the focus on those people, instead of what they do with their powers.

This is combined with a playground (Florida) that somehow manages to make all of it more surreal and real at the same time. Of course the main character needs to dig up money he hid around the state, of course their last name has a wonderful background. Ladee Hubbard bakes all of it together, and it tastes strange, but good.

The Talented Ribkins, Ladee Hubbard, Melville House 2017

Fire and Blood

The maesters of the Citadel who keep the histories of Westeros have used Aegon’s conquest as their touchstone for the past three hundred years.

Are you in need of more Westeros now the TV-show is so close to ending and the book series it might be based on might never finish? Do you love dragons and politics in your fantasy? Boy, do I’ve got a recommendation for you. For those that are looking for fantasy and just grabbed the newest book your library had on offer? Hm-mweh.

George R.R. Martin has always been a bit Tolkien-light when it comes to his descriptions over show-don’t-tell. Fire & Blood is Martin gathering all those descriptions he probably ever used to spend time on one Westeros family: Targaryen (yes, I know we can discuss if they’re a Westeros family). Remember from the Bible those family trees lists that went on forever? That’s Fire & Blood, just with more descriptions added of how people look and from time to time how people (brutally) died in one of the many fights and wars.

Is that a bad thing? That depends on what you want from this book. This isn’t an epic telling; it’s closer to an encyclopedia with some prose added (and repetitive at that; there really couldn’t have been more side steps to other countries and families instead of hearing how another sibling-pair marries each other?). Do you just want more of Martin’s Westeros (I did)? This will work for you, as long as you don’t read it too much in one go – mentioned repetitions will really start to show.  And those dragons? Well, they’re … pretty?

Fire & Blood, George R.R. Martin, Penguin Random House 2018