Runelight

Five past midnight in World’s End, three years after the End of the World, and, as usual, there was nothing to be seen or heard in the catacombs of the Universal City – except, of course, for the rats and (if you believed in them) the ghosts of the dead.

The second book (a blurb on the back shares with much delight ‘Several books!’ so I don’t know how many are yet to come) about Norse gods, runes, the end of the world and a young girl wham-bam in the middle of it. Runelight happens a couple of years after the adventures of the previous book, but there’s a helpful summary from Joanne Harris in the start in case you’ve forgotten what happened.

This time main character Maddy discovers that she has a twin. The only problem is that the bad guy has her and is brain-washing her to start the end of the world (again). Maddy was quite successful to prevent the previous one, but what do you do when you have to fight your just discovered sibling?

The twin is the only new element in this story, which pretty much copies the previous book with (unwanted) discoveries, gods down on their luck and one of the main players (presumed) dead. It is for Joanne Harris’ easy, entertaining writing that it doesn’t feel like you’re reading the first book for the second time. Yes, Maddy and her twin Maggie are sometimes annoying teenagers who make dumb mistakes. They are also two seventeen year olds with the weight of the worlds on their back, which might cut them some slack.

And  I like it so much what Harris does with the gods. Running gags, arrogance and self-doubts; they are the cherry on the cake. Don’t expect to be blown away, simply enjoy.

Runelight, Joanne Harris, Doubleday 2011

Dead and Gone

“Caucasian vampires should never wear white,” the television announcer intoned.

Here we are again, back with Sookie Stackhouse. With series like these (every novel has basically the same story line with extras and locations that are swapped around) it is somehow less easier to review it. Haven’t you read and reviewed all of them when you read one? Will there be a time that Sookie Stackhouse follows through on her idea of laying off dating and dangerous men in her life? Either way, on to the story.

Sookie Stackhouse  finds her sister-in-law (a were-panther) crucified in the parking lot of her job. Faeries are after her. Good looking men circle around her to protect her or kill her. She comes into some money and gets severely hurt. I have skipped the last three books before this one and could still pick up on every plot line. It is simply how it goes.

And yet – like the chicklits I told myself I was going to stop reading – it’s all very enjoyable. Yes, Charlaine Harris has the annoying habit to describe everyone’s clothing and hair and using the word ‘nub’ in a sex scene might have been the most libido-killing thing I ever read, but she knows how to tell an entertaining story. It moves fast, reads easily and oh well, there is almost an illusion things won’t end up right. It’s a snack.

A snack you don’t want to have every day or even every week, so I’ll say goodbye to Sookie Stackhouse for a few other novels. It’s not like I’ll be missing something anyway.

Dead and Gone, Charlaine Harris, Ace Books 2009

 

Snake Ropes

The tall men in boats are coming.

I feel like a lot of this story went straight over my head. And I feel bad and a bit disappointed about that, because it has (/it looks like it has) enough elements to make reading Snake Ropes an amazing, slightly disturbing experience.

Snake Ropes tells the stories of Mary and Morgan. Mary lives on a small, sheltered-from-the-real-world, island. Her father trades with ‘the tall men’ and every family needs to hide their sons because it is thought the tall men take those with them. Morgan lives on the same island, but is even more sheltered because of the huge gate her unstable mother built around the house. Mary’s life starts to change when her brother is taken, while Morgan tries to find her way out of the gate, out of the jail that is her house. There are also talking keys, ropes that act like snakes, an alive house of punishment and a giant woman involved.

It takes Snake Ropes ’till around page 290 to start giving some less vaguer hints about what could have gone wrong. In a book with 342 pages, that is -for me- kinda late. I tried to cobble together what the relationship could be between Mary and Morgan, why the boys are leaving, how do the tall men fit in, but nothing. I’m very bad in just taking a story in, I want to get some kind of control over it. In this case I just felt too much like a bystander and that also made it harder to care about the characters, to not feel like I was struggling through the pages.

Maybe I’ll re-read it some day and understand. Maybe there is nothing to understand and it is simply a very tangled net and I should skip around the knots instead of trying to free them. But for now I am left behind with a taste of bewilderment and disappointment in my mouth.

Snake Ropes, Jess Richards, Sceptre 2012

Runemarks

Seven o’clock on a Monday morning, five hundred years after the End of the World, and goblins had been at the cellar again.

Joan Harris is the writer of -much loved by me- Chocolat. I didn’t know she wrote ‘YA’ and only realized later that I recognized the style, because I read her adult stuff.
Because just as with her novels (for grownups), Runemarks is an easy, entertaining read and I can’t really imagine why it would only be for young adults.

Main character Maddy carries a runemark in a world where everything that reeks of magic, other worlds or not-humans is frowned upon or -in some places- killed upon. This makes her an outsider, alone until she meets another outsider who starts teaching her about her abilities. Those start to become necessary when the inquisitors of this world start a witch-hunt and daily life in a small village turns into running with (demi-)gods and goblins. There is also a new End of the World involved.

First of all, I love myths being used to spice a story up. Secondly, Maddy is a cool, smart badass without turning into an unbelievable teenager. She uses her brain, yet still makes mistakes from time to time. Thirdly, you race through this story because it’s written so ..light, but it still sticks with you after finishing it.

So ignore the ‘YA’ tag (if you’re afraid of those), and enjoy Maddy kicking the asses of Odin and his family  (and some scary religious fundamentalists).

Runemarks, Joan Harris, Doubleday 2007

The Waterproof Bible

The limousine taking Rebecca Reynolds and Lewis Taylor to the funeral had stalled in the middle of an intersection.

Rebecca can’t stop broadcasting her feelings to people around her. Lewis meets a woman who claims to be God. A mermaid/human hybrid named Aby (short for Aberystwyth) left the ocean for the first time to search for her mother. Oh, and a pair of rainmakers that can really make it rain. With almost lethal result.
Amused by this? Get the book. Cocking your eyebrow in a ‘Oh, really now?’ fashion? Escapes are on your left.

The Waterproof Bible has a lot going on that places it firmly in the ‘quirky, absurd’ category of books. Yet Kaufman balances that part perfectly with a plot line about growing up, (and) moving on in/with life, without making either too much. Aby’s race is interesting, the characters are portrayed in such a way that neither of them are turned into caricatures and the entire story feels like a faerie tale from another world.

The only thing that stuck just the tiniest bit in my caw was the lack of answers. Towards the ending some plot lines end pretty much like ‘Well it is what it is’. But, because the entire story lacks any highs and lows that will rock your world  it isn’t even so much of a bother, if you can survive a book that will leave you with a shrug and an ‘okay’.

The Waterproof Bible, Andrew Kaufman, Telegram 2010

A Dance with Dragons

The night was rank with the smell of man.

This is another book out of a series, and this time it’s (luckily) not the final one. The author took its time, but -on most parts- it was worth the wait. And, because it had been a while, it wasn’t all that bad that the first one/third of the book was a repetition of the previous one, only from other characters’ point of view. It refreshes the mind a bit.

A less refreshing thing is the lack of development of some characters. It seems like Martin wasn’t all that inspired or just didn’t know what to do with some of them, making their chapters exist out of little more than ‘She ate. She slept. She mourned. She didn’t know what to do.’ It’s not only a waste of paper (because come on, if you write a 1100 page novel, make every page count), it’s a waste of the coolness of the character.

The author turns some of the characters from likeable to unlike-able and vice versa but the Big Bad is clear and looming (and hereby giving some much needed excitement to the book). Sometimes A Dance with Dragons feels too much like filler, how second books in trilogies can feel sometimes, even though this is number five in the series ofA Song of Ice and Fire.

But besides that it was -for me- good to be back again in the wonderful, disgusting and colourful world that Martin creates. I just hope he doesn’t take too long before I can return there again.

 

A Dance with Dragons, George R.R. Martin, Harper Voyager 2011

The Night Eternal

On the second day of darkness they rounded them up.

The Strain Trilogy of Guillermo del Toro & Chuck Hogan doesn’t give the reader an easy, fluffy experience. The story of a vampiric virus let loose on civilization isn’t a pretty one. The three books go through the stages of denial, fighting back and trying to survive a new world order. The Night Eternal shows that not every human being can or will be a hero.

The vampires and their Master rule the world, and yet, as it goes, there is a small group of rebels. They are looking for ways to end the vampire-reign, although the odds are very much against them.
This is one of my favorite things about this trilogy: Del Toro and Hogan paint an incredibly gritty, desperate and depressing picture. As a reader you’re pretty sure that there will be a happy ending (that’s how fiction works, right?), but both of the authors deliver you plenty of hints and pokes that you might be wrong. There is no One Hero, no MacGuffin that suddenly shows up in the second-to-last chapter. Characters are corrupted and self-centered, badly adjusting to being placed at the bottom of the food chain. It is ugly.

If you love that, want to be scared and get uncomfortable because of what humans turn into when society disappears, go for it. If you want an original version of the creature we can vampire these days, go for it (start with book #1 though) .  And enjoy, with delicious thrills and the feeling of ‘Oh no’, running down your spine.

The Night Eternal, Guillermo del Toro & Chuck Hogan, HarperCollins 2011

 

Red Seas under Red Skies

Locke Lamora stood on the pier in Tal Verrar with the hot wind of a burning ship at his back and the cold bite of a loaded crossbow’s bolt at his neck.

Back to Locke Lamora and his (unintentional) (mis-)adventures. This time ’round he’s in a new country and spends a lot of time on the ocean. Because Lamora becomes a pirate. Sort of. And it wasn’t his idea either.

Red Seas under Red Skies being a sequel means there is less joy and surprise over characters, plots and world building. Yet again Lamora (and his friends) aim high, but have to stumble through a lot of hoops before they get it (sort of). This time he lands in the middle of a tug-of-war between the rulers of the underworld and ‘upper’-world. And some pirate captains.

But even without the surprises, there is another bout of gorgeous (and lethal) world- and character building. One of the things I liked best is that the women have numerous functions in high places without them being femmes fatale or butch masculine creatures. Equal opportunities don’t happen all that often in fantasy. Again, the tempo is high, a lot happens and -in comparison with the first book- there are more story lines.

And just like with the prequel, I breezed through it, thoroughly enjoying myself. If the other books don’t fail (and maybe step away from the ‘Big heist in a creative way’ plot), this could turn into one of my favorite fantasy series.

 Red Seas under Red Skies, Scott Lynch, Gollancz 2007

 

The Lies of Locke Lamora

At the height of the long wet summer of the Seventy-Seventh Year of Sendovani, the Thiefmaker of Camorr paid a sudden and unannounced visit to the Eyeless Priest at the Temple of Perelandro, desperately trying to sell him the Lamora Boy.

This is everything a (fantasy) story should be. There is gorgeous world building, well-rounded, fascinating characters, exciting plot lines (pretty much all of them), humour, excitement and so on. It’s a book you want to finish in one go and not to ever let it end.

The Lies of Locke Lamora tells the stories of Locke Lamora and his adventures as growing up from a little orphan to a Gentleman Bastard, stealing from the rich in elaborate ways and ..doing nothing with the majority of the bounty afterwards. He and his ‘brothers’ are small parts of the mob-like constitution that rules the underworld of the city, pretending towards them and everyone else that they’re just small fish.
Of course things go wrong. A dark figure attacks the constitution and Locke Lamora seems -somehow- to be involved. The tempo picks up and the whirl-wind starts.

I would recommend this to a lot of people. Look past the fantasy tag if that’s not your thing and dive head-first into this delightful experience. Only one warning: it’s part of a series (up to seven books) and the author isn’t finished yet. So there might be a time that we will have to do without Locke Lamora and his adventures.

The Lies of Locke Lamora, Scott Lynch, Gollancz 2006

Snuff

The goblin experience of the world is the cult or perhaps religion of Unggue.

Finally, finally, the library had a Discworld novel for me that I hadn’t had read yet. Without even bothering to read the flap text (surely I would like the plot), I took it with me. And was disappointed (am I too often disappointed in the books I lend?).

Snuff is about Commander Vimes and therefore the Ankh -Morpork Guard. The Commander and his family go on a holiday in the country side, leaving the exciting (and loud) city behind. Luckily his police man senses start tingling pretty soon.
Except after ‘pretty soon’, it takes about 150 pages to get the action started. And while the Discworld series usually makes me laugh out loud on every other page, it didn’t happen this time. Only ‘sometimes’ instead of ‘often’ I smiled a small smile. I was flabbergasted. Is Pratchett trying to tune it down? Write in a more ‘adult’ way? I was bored for several pages and -when things finally got moving- wasn’t that interested any more. Where were the play on words, absurdness, originality? I’m not interested in how torn Commander Vimes was over acting like a Duke or acting like a copper and the second story line is thrust in at the most confusing times.

A die-hard Pratchett fan told me that she wasn’t sure about wanting to read Snuff, having heard very mixed reviews about it. I wish I had followed her example.

Snuff, Terry Pratchett, Doubleday 2011