Saturday, 31 July 2010

WINNER - Horus Heresy Giveaway!



Thank you so much for all the many hundreds of entries I received into this giveaway. I appreciate your support - especially those who said that they would stick around after finding my blog through various means. I hope that you find much to enjoy!

As promised, I used Randomiser.org to find my winner - here is the screenshot:



Number 127 on my spreadsheet list of entrants was.... *pauses for drum roll*

CHRIS HESLIN!

He wins the bundle of 13 Horus Heresy books and associated goodies.

Congratulations to him and commiserations to everyone else.

Thanks once again for entering this giveaway.

Friday, 30 July 2010

Travelling With Books!

This weekend I am on the road! I am visiting Denmark for a friend's wedding, and looking forward to it very much. So far I have been treated to some spectacular Danish hospitality, including a rather splendid afternoon cake.

But it is not so much the country of Denmark that I want to talk about (as fine as it is - seriously, you ought to consider making the trip at some point, if you hadn't considered it as a holiday destination!) Rather it is the nature of travelling with books.

See, I am here for four days (wedding day included). I spent approximately ten minutes packing my suitcase and sorting out my outfit (a rather snazzy floral dress and wedges). I then spent AT LEAST 45 minutes browsing my shelves, picking up and discarding choices of books to bring with me on the trip.

Not only did I spend this long on deciding which books, but I have ended up bringing SEVEN books. For four days. One of which I'll be doing the social butterfly thing and won't manage any book reading. But I felt I needed seven to cover every single eventuality - all my various moods, a few different genres represented, any commitments I have.

Right now, I can certainly see the attraction of an eReader, where I don't suffer the agonies of having to choose which books to bring and which books to leave.

I was also deeply amused by the fact that when I reached the airport I didn't spend my hour or so wait reading the seven books I have taken with me - instead, I wandered as though hypnotised towards the nearest bookstore. It was offering 4 books for the price of 3 and I had a couple in my hand before I thought about it. You'll be pleased to know I didn't buy any of them (I just fondled them a little) but I could easily have ended up carting eleven books with me *grin*.

What are you holiday book habits? Do you agonise over your choices? Are you smug about your eReading capabilities? Do you ALWAYS take far too many books for the period you're away?

And, for those who are interested, here are my seven:

- Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson (for my Malazan Re-read)
- The Equivoque Principle and The Eleventh Plague by Darren Craske (a long overdue read of this good-natured author's work)
- The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas and The Long Song by Andrea Levy (two of the Man Booker Prize shortlist)
- Johannes Cabal the Detective by Jonathan L Howard (my current read)
- Veteran by Gavin Smith (another book I owe it to the author to read).

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

By Midnight - Mia James

April is deeply upset when her father takes a job at a small paper in London, and moves his wife and daughter from Edinburgh to do so. At first she is just miserable because she misses her friends and has to start a new school, Ravenwood, where many of the students are either stunningly beautiful or frighteningly clever. But then the deaths start, and April realises that she might be in danger as well. Suddenly there is no one she can trust — not even the beautiful and mysterious Gabriel, who April is drawn towards. Set against the backdrop of Highgate in London, By Midnight tells a tale of love, loss and quiet horror.

There are a lot of vampire stories around now, mostly thanks to the massive success of Twilight, and I have read a number of them. Some are definitely better than others. I regret to say that this is one of the worst that I have read, for various reasons which I will deal with at length shortly.

Firstly, I wanted to mention the few parts of By Midnight that I did enjoy. One of these was the ‘Clueless’ style of the school, involving cliques and bitchiness and makeovers. Tasmina Perry (one half of the writing team) draws on her particular expertise from the bonkbuster-style novels she usually writes to make this aspect exciting and fresh.

I also enjoyed the relationship between April and her father, William, which is heartfelt, warm and realistic. However, these facets of the novel are not enough to make it a compelling read.

One of the reasons for this is the pacing, which seemed snail-like for the most part. If I was feeling charitable, I would term it a slow burn mystery, as the different parts of the story reveal their secrets — but, really, I just found it incredibly boring. It takes forever for the meat of the tale to begin, and then it is just very dull. I ended up skipping passages to get to ‘the good bit,’ but it never materialised. The climax of By Midnight begins incredibly close to the end of the book and whips past with little tension.

Mia James (a nom de plume for a husband/wife writing team of John and Tasmina Perry) uses lengthy exposition in a clumsy manner to convey much of the back story: the use of dry textbooks to explain away the Highgate mystery; the long conversations between Gabriel and April, where he talks without any passion about vampires; a final discussion involving Miss Holden towards the end of the novel where an entirely new concept is dropped into the story in a dull paragraph of discourse. I appreciate that it can be difficult to convey history to the reader without long sections of explanation, but other authors have managed to do this successfully.

In addition to this, Mia James employed another clumsy method of passing across information to the reader: that of two people being familiar with something discussing it for the benefit of the person reading By Midnight. In this case, April and her grandfather Thomas discuss a picture hanging in his house — a picture she has seen many, many times before, showing a portrait of one of her ancestors. Thomas reveals it is Alexander Hamilton, something April would have known. I find this unloading of information very frustrating and amateur.

The dialogue does not read smoothly, often jarring the reader out of his or her immersion in By Midnight. Sometimes there doesn’t seem to be any obvious reason for a character to say what they do. For instance:

I think you might be right,” she said. “No one laughs when you say Stonehenge has a certain feel to it, or even that a wedding ring does.

Umm, what now? What is the connection between Stonehenge and wedding rings? Who says that a wedding ring has a certain feel to it?

I also felt extremely uncomfortable at Mia James’ fairly obvious ‘lifting’ of ideas from other, more popular, vampire stories. As an example, we have a section of dialogue in By Midnight that felt like blatant stealing from Twilight:

You’re a honey trap for vampires. Everything about you is designed to draw them in: the way you look, the sound of your voice, even your smell.

Edward says something extremely similar to Bella. In addition to this, the concept of Furies — girls born to hunt vampires, three a generation, destined to have super strength to combat vampires — sounds remarkably like another vampire slayer we all know and love. I don’t know whether Mia James was popping these in as an homage to the source material, but it made the novel feel like a rushed mish-mash of other vampire stories.

The last point I want to make concerns the nature of the relationship between Gabriel and April. I found myself unable to accept it, because there seems to be no basis for their mutual attraction. I mean, I know teenagers do sometimes involve themselves with people purely based on looks (as do grown men and women) but I want to see more from my literary relationships! I want to see the characters connect with each other and talk, learn about each other and find things in common. Instead we have April mooning over Gabriel and saying things to herself like:

"No, if she was honest, she was hoping that Gabriel Swift would decide he wanted to marry her, sweep her off to the Bahamas for a beautiful beach ceremony, and then, after a bout of amazing lovemaking, reveal that he was stupendously rich and personal friends with Justin Timberlake."

At this point she has had a brief conversation with him, hasn’t even kissed him, and yet is thinking about marriage!

In conclusion, I found this novel dull and unimaginative, with very few redeeming features. At my most cynical, I would say it is a blatant cash-in on the success of the Twilight novels, and that it fails on every level. There is plenty of very good YA fiction out there, some of which includes vampires. Please try something else rather than spend any time on By Midnight.

This review has already been posted to FanLit

If you would like a positive review of this book as a comparison, check out My Favourite Books

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Man Booker Prize Long List Announced

Today the long list for the Man Booker Prize has been announced, after much deliberation by the judges, who picked 13 books from a total of 138. The shortlist will be announced on 7th September 2010, followed by the declaration of the winner on Tuesday 12th October.

Here are the long list nominees:

Parrot and Oliver in America by Peter Carey

Olivier is a French aristocrat, the traumatized child of survivors of the Revolution. Parrot the son of an itinerant printer who always wanted to be an artist but has ended up a servant. Born on different sides of history, their lives will be brought together by their travels in America. When Olivier sets sail for the New World, ostensibly to study its prisons but in reality to save his neck from one more revolution - Parrot is sent with him, as spy, protector, foe and foil. As the narrative shifts between the perspectives of Parrot and Olivier, and their picaresque travels together and apart - in love and politics, prisons and the world of art - Peter Carey explores the adventure of American democracy, in theory and in practice, with dazzling wit and inventiveness.


Room by Emma Donoghue

It's Jack's birthday, and he's excited about turning five. Jack lives with his Ma in Room, which has a locked door and a skylight, and measures 11 feet by 11 feet. He loves watching TV, and the cartoon characters he calls friends, but he knows that nothing he sees on screen is truly real - only him, Ma and the things in Room. Until the day Ma admits that there's a world outside ...Told in Jack's voice, "Room" is the story of a mother and son whose love lets them survive the impossible. Unsentimental and sometimes funny, devastating yet uplifting, "Room" is a novel like no other.


The Betrayal by Helen Dunmore

Leningrad in 1952 is a city recovering from war, where Andrei, a young hospital doctor and Anna, a nursery school teacher, are forging a life together. Summers at the dacha, preparations for the hospital ball, work and the care of sixteen year old Kolya fill their minds. They try hard to avoid coming to the attention of the authorities, but even so their private happiness is precarious. Stalin is still in power, and the Ministry for State Security has new targets in its sights. When Andrei has to treat the seriously ill child of a senior secret police officer, Volkov, he finds himself and his family caught in an impossible game of life and death - for in a land ruled by whispers and watchfulness, betrayal can come from those closest to you.


In A Strange Room by Damon Galgut

A young man takes three journeys, through Greece, India and Africa. He travels lightly, simply. To those who travel with him and those whom he meets on the way - including a handsome, enigmatic stranger, a group of careless backpackers and a woman on the edge - he is the Follower, the Lover and the Guardian. Yet, despite the man's best intentions, each journey ends in disaster. Together, these three journeys will change his whole life. A novel of longing and thwarted desire, rage and compassion, "In a Strange Room" is the hauntingly beautiful evocation of one man's search for love, and a place to call home.


The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson

'He should have seen it coming. His life had been one mishap after another. So he should have been prepared for this one'. Julian Treslove, a professionally unspectacular and disappointed BBC worker, and Sam Finkler, a popular Jewish philosopher, writer and television personality, are old school friends. Despite a prickly relationship and very different lives, they've never quite lost touch with each other - or with their former teacher, Libor Sevick, a Czechoslovakian always more concerned with the wider world than with exam results. Now, both Libor and Finkler are recently widowed, and with Treslove, his chequered and unsuccessful record with women rendering him an honorary third widower, they dine at Libor's grand, central London apartment. It's a sweetly painful evening of reminiscence in which all three remove themselves to a time before they had loved and lost; a time before they had fathered children, before the devastation of separations, before they had prized anything greatly enough to fear the loss of it. Better, perhaps, to go through life without knowing happiness at all because that way you had less to mourn? Treslove finds he has tears enough for the unbearable sadness of both his friends' losses. And it's that very evening, at exactly 11:30pm, as Treslove hesitates a moment outside the window of the oldest violin dealer in the country as he walks home, that he is attacked. After this, his whole sense of who and what he is will slowly and ineluctably change. "The Finkler Question" is a scorching story of exclusion and belonging, justice and love, ageing, wisdom and humanity. Funny, furious, unflinching, this extraordinary novel shows one of our finest writers at his brilliant best.


The Long Song by Andrea Levy

You do not know me yet. My son Thomas, who is publishing this book, tells me, it is customary at this place in a novel to give the reader a little taste of the story that is held within these pages. As your storyteller, I am to convey that this tale is set in Jamaica during the last turbulent years of slavery and the early years of freedom that followed. July is a slave girl who lives upon a sugar plantation named Amity and it is her life that is the subject of this tale. She was there when the Baptist War raged in 1831, and she was also present when slavery was declared no more. My son says I must convey how the story tells also of July's mama Kitty, of the negroes that worked the plantation land, of Caroline Mortimer the white woman who owned the plantation and many more persons besides - far too many for me to list here. But what befalls them all is carefully chronicled upon these pages for you to peruse. Perhaps, my son suggests, I might write that it is a thrilling journey through that time in the company of people who lived it. All this he wishes me to pen so the reader can decide if this is a book they might care to consider. Cha, I tell my son, what fuss-fuss. Come, let them just read it for themselves.


C by Tom McCarthy

I cannot find any information about this book at all online! Except for the fact that it is being released on 5th August 2010 by Jonathan Cape Ltd.








The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell

Set at a turning point in history on a tiny island attached to mainland Japan, David Mitchell's tale of power, passion and integrity transports us to a world that is at once exotic and familiar: an extraordinary place and an era when news from abroad took months to arrive, yet when people behaved as they always do - loving, lusting and yearning, cheating, fighting and killing. Bringing to vivid life a tectonic shift between East and West, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is dramatic, funny, heartbreaking, enlightening and thought-provoking. Reading it is an unforgettable experience.

February by Lisa Moore

In 1982, the oil rig Ocean Ranger sank off the coast of Newfoundland during a Valentine's night storm. In the early hours of the next morning, all 84 men aboard died. Helen O'Mara is one of those left behind when her husband, Cal, drowns. Her story starts years after the Ranger disaster, but she is compelled to travel back to the 'February' that persists in her mind, and to that moment in 1982 when, expecting a fourth child, she received the call informing her that Cal was lost at sea. A quarter of a century on, late one winter's night, Helen is woken by another phone call. It is her wayward son John, in another time zone, on his way home. He has made a girl pregnant and he wants Helen to decide what he should do. As John grapples with what it might mean to be a father, Helen realises that she must shake off her decades of mourning in order to help. With grace and precision, and a shocking ability to render the precise details of her characters' physical and emotional worlds, Lisa Moore reveals the whole story to us. And just as, finally, we watch the oil rig go down, we see Helen emerging from her grief to greet a new life.

Skippy Dies by Paul Murray

Ruprecht Van Doren is an overweight genius whose hobbies include very difficult maths and the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence. Daniel 'Skippy' Juster is his roommate. In the grand old Dublin institution that is Seabrook College for Boys, nobody pays either of them much attention. But when Skippy falls for Lori, the frisbee-playing Siren from the girls' school next door, suddenly all kinds of people take an interest - including Carl, part-time drug-dealer and official school psychopath ...A tragic comedy of epic sweep and dimension, "Skippy Dies" scours the corners of the human heart and wrings every drop of pathos, humour and hopelessness out of life, love, Robert Graves, mermaids, M-theory, and everything in between.

Trespass by Rose Tremain

In a silent valley stands an isolated stone farmhouse, the Mas Lunel. Its owner is Aramon Lunel, an alcoholic so haunted by his violent past that he's become incapable of all meaningful action, letting his hunting dogs starve and his land go to ruin. Meanwhile, his sister, Audrun, alone in her modern bungalow within sight of the Mas Lunel, dreams of exacting retribution for the unspoken betrayals that have blighted her life. Into this closed Cevenol world comes Anthony Verey, a wealthy but disillusioned antiques dealer from London. Now in his sixties, Anthony hopes to remake his life in France, and he begins looking at properties in the region. From the moment he arrives at the Mas Lunel, a frightening and unstoppable series of consequences is set in motion. Two worlds and two cultures collide. Ancient boundaries are crossed, taboos are broken, a violent crime is committed. And all the time the Cevennes hills remain, as cruel and seductive as ever, unforgettably captured in this powerful and unsettling novel, which reveals yet another dimension to Rose Tremain's extraordinary imagination.

The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas

At a suburban barbecue, a man slaps a child who is not his own...The reverberations call into question the relationships between all those who witness it. At a suburban barbecue one afternoon, a man slaps an unruly 3-year-old boy. The boy is not his son. It is a single act of violence, but this one slap reverberates through the lives of everyone who witnesses it happen. In his controversial, award-winning novel, Christos Tsiolkas presents an apparently harmless domestic incident as seen from eight very different perspectives. The result is an unflinching interrogation of our lives today; of the modern family and domestic life in the twenty-first century, a deeply thought-provoking novel about boundaries and their limits...

The Stars in the Bright Sky by Alan Warner

The Sopranos are back: out of school and out in the world, gathered in Gatwick to plan a super-cheap last-minute holiday to celebrate their reunion. Kay, Kylah, Manda, Rachel and Finn are joined by Finn's equally gorgeous friend Ava - a half-French philosophy student - and are ready to go on the rampage. Just into their twenties and as wild as ever, they've added acrylic nails, pedicures, mobile phones and credit cards to their arsenal, but are still the same thirsty girls: their holiday bags packed with skimpy clothes and condoms, their hormones rampant. Will it be Benidorm or Magaluf, Paris or Las Vegas? One thing is certain: a great deal of fast-food will be eaten and gallons of Guinness will be drunk by the alpha-female Manda, and she will be matched by the others' enthusiastic intake of Bacardi Breezers, vodkas and Red Bull. With Alan Warner's pitch-perfect ear for dialogue, pinpoint characterisation and glorious set-pieces, this is a novel propelled by conversation through scenes of excess and debauchery, hilarity and sadness. Like the six young women at its centre, "The Stars in the Bright Sky" is vivid and brimming with life - in all its squalor, rage, tears and laughter - and presents an unforgettable story of female friendship.


Well, what do you think? How many have you read? How many are you intending to read?

I am having to stop myself contemplating reading the long list and getting involved the way that I did with the Arthur C Clarke earlier this year - I have too many books to read already. But there are a few books on this list that I am interested in - The Slap and The Long Song amongst them - and a few that I didn't know until I looked them up, but am now keen to read - C and The Stars in the Bright Sky. So let's see if reviews of at least some of these 13 appear on my blog in the next month and a bit!

Special Editions - do you collect?

Okay, children, today's topic is Special Editions.

I was chatting on Twitter (as you know, this is my wont - I follow some amazing people and they all give good chat!) and the subject of buying special editions came up.

Mark Chitty from Walker of Worlds is trying to collect all of Peter F Hamilton's work in first edition hardbacks.

Carolyn from Book Chick City was stricken when she realised that she had read some of her first editions - she would prefer to keep them pristine.

My own perspective is that a book is a book is a book. I don't go out of my way to collect special editions, and I don't mind reading the copies that I have. However, I did have a sense of glee when I opened my package of The Evolutionary Void by Peter F Hamilton and realised that I had a signed and numbered version of the ARC. This, however, won't be enough to stop me reading it - which will inevitably mean some spine cracking and some folding down of pages (*waits to hear screams of anguish from purists*).

I also know that some people collect books, which may or may not be special editions. For instance, Patrick over at Stomping on Yeti has a rather lovely collection of the Gollancz Masterworks, which look snazzy all on display in his bookcases.

So: my question to you...

Do you collect particular series? Are you in anguish when you find that a series is, mid-way, being released in different jackets? Do you go out of your way to find special editions or first editions? Any and all comments very welcome :-)

Monday, 26 July 2010

"This Blog Has Heart"



Last Wednesday I received the most marvellous surprise. Mihai of Dark Wolf's Fantasy Reviews gave me an award: the "This Blog Has Heart" award. It aims to spotlight those five blogs that you think epitomise everything you want from a blog, that you go back to again and again, and want to recommend to all your friends.

Mihai said this about me:

Amanda started her blog in 2009, but from this year she is a constant and beautiful presence in the blogosphere. She’s got the looks, but she’s also got the brains and that is shown in her reviews and articles. She is also an avid reader and the number of books she reads puts me to shame.


It made me blush loads and go all girly! For what it is worth, Mihai's blog is also one of my go-to blogs, especially when it comes to fantasy art. His interviews with some of the wonderful artists producing fantastic cover work are indepth and well worth reading. Also, Mihai is great fun to follow on Twitter: @MihaiDarkWolf - he talks well about football and his beloved Barcelona, as well as about books!

Anyway, I wanted to spread the love further - this award is a lovely one, although it does make you feel bad for not being able to list all the many, many blogs that are worth following! Here are my five:

1. Stomping on Yeti - Patrick runs a great blog over at Stomping on Yeti! His reviews are articulate and concise, he is unfailingly honest whether he is talking about books or about the reasons why he is not managing to read all his books, he hoards books in a crazy fashion, and he was one of the first few blogs to step up and support me - a complete unknown - when I sent him an email. Top guy to follow on Twitter as well: @YetiStomper

2. Graeme's Fantasy Book Reviews - Graeme is another person who highlighted my fledgeling blog when I first started properly back in January, and I've always been appreciative of the readers he sent my way. Graeme shows a constant enthusiasm and love for all books, and I adore his mystifying ratings system (I know it drives some readers mad!) He also posts adorable baby pictures on his blog *grin*. Graeme is one of those folk you just know is exactly the same in person as he is on his blog, and I look forward very much to my first opportunity to meet him properly.

3. Walker of Worlds - Mark is one of the bloggers I've met in person. In fact, we spent a pleasurable day together at Alt.Fiction in June, and I just got on really well with him. I love his blog, because Mark is generally reading something that I've never heard of and describing it with such enthusiasm that I want to read it immediately! We also share a love for Peter F Hamilton (in particular, the Commonwealth Universe for me). He can be found as @markchitty on Twitter.

4. Iris on Books - Iris has been blogging about the same amount of time as me, and I love her posts. Her blog is so vibrant and friendly, and she will chat in a lively manner to anyone via comments on her blog and on Twitter as well (@irisonbooks)

5. Steve's Fantasy Book Reviews - My last blog is run by Steve, who writes intelligent, thoughtful reviews and has a very similar taste in fantasy to myself. He's been doing a nice turn in interviews and articles as well. The posts might not come as frequently as on other blogs but they are always worth a read.

Gosh, was that five already? I read so many wonderful blogs that it is spectacularly hard to narrow them down to just five.

I just want to mention one more blog - this one is brand new and shiny, and might well become a favourite in the future. Welcome to the blogosphere A Fantastical Librarian!

Suggest to me your top five blogs! I'm always prepared to add to my Google Reader. I don't always comment, but I lurk and I enjoy everything I read :-)

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Books I Adopted This Week

It's another bumper edition of Books I Adopted This Week - I like to think of myself as some sort of book saviour, rescuing all those poor books from the ignominy of the bookshelves in some identikit bookstore where they are unloved and unwanted. Something like that anyway! Most of my haul is as a result of the generosity of Black Library, who made sure that my own series of Horus Heresy is complete. I will merely list these and point you in the direction of the Black Library page where you can find more details and buy these lovely books (not only are they decent sci-fi stories, but they look sleek and lovely on a bookshelf!)

I received:

Horus Rising
False Gods
Galaxy in Flames
Fulgrim
Fallen Angels
Tales of Heresy
Descent of Angels
Mechanicum
Battle for the Abyss

(any gaps in the series are as a result of me already owning the book! And here is the link to the Black Library Horus Heresy page.)

Other than those, I received the following three books and my level of excitement is high for all of them:

The Crown of the Blood by Gav Thorpe

He had brought his master’s Empire to the furthest reaches of the world. All had fallen before him. Now he longs for home. But home isn’t what it was. Could it be that everything he’s fought for all those years has been a lie? A sweeping fantasy of immense battles, demonic magic and dark politics.

I know of Gav Thorpe from my wargaming (read: geeky) side. He has been involved with Warhammer for as long as I can remember, and had his hand in a lot of the codices and army books that I've read. He's also dabbled in some Black Library writing (Path of the Warrior being the most recent). But this is his first foray into his own creation, without the restrictions and guidelines of a shared universe, which makes it a very interesting read to me. I am excited to see what direction Gav has taken - whether he goes a more traditional route or whether he subverts fantasy tropes. (I also find it intriguing that Angry Robot have picked up the non-Black Library work of both Gav Thorpe and Dan Abnett - wondering whether any of the other Black Library authors will be snapped up *grin*)

Published by Angry Robot Books on 28th September 2010

Reckless by Cornelia Funke

(For the life of me, I couldn't find a decent resolution image of this beautiful cover online).

For the first time in his life, Jacob Reckless is afraid. For years he's stolen across to another world. A dark enchanted place he's loved for its treasure, secrets and dangers. Until now. Will, his younger brother, has followed him with terrible consequences: the boy will turn to beast; the girl he loves will break her heart and chaos will rule forever, unless Jacob can spin a fairytale to save them..

Cornelia Funke is best known for her Inkheart/Inkspell/Inkdeath trilogy (which I have yet to read), and returns with this curious fairytale of a book. Like I say, the cover is simply lovely and I'm sure will have people reaching to see what it is about. I think this has shades of Narnia - and also most every fairytale ever written. It could be dreamlike and gorgeous or it could be cliched and terrible - I'm hoping fervently for the former.

Published by Chicken House on 6th September 2010

The Book of the New Sun Volume 1: Shadow and Claw by Gene Wolfe

Recently voted the greatest fantasy of all time, after The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, Gene Wolfe's The Book of the New Sun is an extraordinary epic, set a million years in the future, on an Earth transformed in mysterious and wondrous ways, in a time when our present culture is no longer even a memory. Severian, the central character, is a torturer, exiled from his guild after falling in love with one of his victims, and journeying to the distant city of Thrax, armed with his ancient executioner's sword, Terminus Est. This edition contains the first two volumes of this four volume novel, The Shadow of the Torturer and The Claw of the Conciliator.

This book has been received as a result of two projects: one is obviously the SF/F Masterworks Read I am involved with. The second is thanks to this email received from the notorious Sam Sykes:

Dear Bloggers,

I had an inkling for a fun activity to do and wondered if any of you wanted in on it. After perusing your blogs for awhile, I think I've got a pretty keen grasp on your tastes. My proposal to you is this: if you should accept my challenge, I will do my best to find a book I think you will very much despise based on what I know of you. I mean, I will go balls-out offensive if I can. Your task will be to finish and review it and see what happens.

The purpose? To see how set in our tastes we are and to perhaps for me to cause you some mental anguish.


After Sam gave it some thought, he came back to me with this email:

Dear Amanda,

Yours was the hardest to pick out, but I think I've done it. Gene Wolfe's Shadow and Claw is one of the most beloved science fiction stories in the genre. It's also decidedly harsh and, some say, rife with a distinct anti-female streak. Your challenge is to read this genre classic and see if it's worthy of the title!

All the best,
Sam


So, I rise to the challenge! Let's see if I hate and despise this book as much as Mr Sykes believes I will!

Okay, that's your lot for another week. Do let me know what you received through the mail this week, and which of the above are of interest to you!

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Tis Done! Malazan Book of the Fallen Complete!

Well, how pertinent given that I have just started my Tor re-read of the Malazan Book of the Fallen! Steven Erikson has just announced via his Facebook page that he has completed The Crippled God, the last book in the magnus opus created by him and Esslemont.

"GASP! That would be me, coming up for air. How long was I down there? About twenty years, from conception to completion. The Malazan Book of the Fallen is done. Sure, editing and all that crap to follow. But ... done. I don't know who I am. Who am I again? What planet is this? Three months of butterflies ... maybe this double whiskey will fix that. Hmm. No. Delayed reaction going on here."


I think a few nerves are to be justified! This is one of the premier fantasy series of recent times and there are hundreds of thousands of fans across the globe who will be expecting big things from this final book.

For me, personally, it marks just how far I still have to go on the Malazan re-read *grins* But what a journey!

MASSIVE Horus Heresy giveaway - Black Library!

Okay, I am SO excited about this giveaway - in fact, I wish that I could win it myself! I am giving away a FULL SET of the Horus Heresy novels (as published to date) from the Black Library. That is 13 novels. 13. Count 'em!

1. Horus Rising - Dan Abnett
2. False Gods - Graham McNeill
3. Galaxy in Flames - Ben Counter
4. The Flight of the Eisenstein - James Swallow
5. Fulgrim - Graham McNeill
6. Descent of Angels - Mitchel Scanlon
7. Legion - Dan Abnett
8. Battle for the Abyss - Ben Counter
9. Mechanicum - Graham McNeill
10. Tales of Heresy
11. Fallen Angels - Mike Lee
12. A Thousand Sons - Graham McNeill
13. Nemesis - James Swallow

The giveaway will also include The Dark King and the Lightning Tower and Raven's Flight - two audio dramas.

Click through on any of the titles above to find a corresponding review - virtually all of these books are held up as being excellent science fiction novels in their own right, but absolutely canon when it comes to the WH40k background.

So... what do you have to do to win this prize? It is simplicity itself!

Send me an email to magemanda AT gmail DOT com (taking out the AT and DOT, of course), with HORUS GIVEAWAY as the subject line. Include your name and full snail mail address. And that's it - what could be easier? In addition to this, the competition is INTERNATIONAL! That's right - wherever you are in the world, you are eligible to enter. So get emailing and good luck!

I will run this competition until midnight on Friday 30th July (a week from now, give or take) and then announce the lucky winner.

For the benefit of anyone who is worried: be assured your personal details will not be passed onto any third parties. I might be an accountant, but I do have some integrity. Your address is being asked for so that I don't have to chase at the end of the giveaway and can get YOUR books that YOU have won out to YOU as soon as possible! I do hope this clears up any concerns.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Bella and Edward: Romantic or Dysfunctional?

With the release of Eclipse, the same discussions have cropped up about the nature of Bella's relationships with both Edward and Jacob. On the face of it, these relationships are romantic, intense, all-consuming. Teenagers everywhere have sighed over the thought of having a man who loves you so much that he watches over you as you sleep. Meyer certainly captured the dizzy passion of first love.

For some anyway. Other people screamed about the fact that Bella was being stalked, threatened, controlled by her vampire lover. Edward kidnaps her to prevent her from seeing her friend; he decides how her future should pan out; he comes into her room when she is defenceless and asleep. And Jacob! This relationship is held up by some as being the normal one of the two - Jacob is warm and brings out the best in Bella. But, to others, he forces himself on her and refuses to take no for an answer.

What surprises me, though, is how shocked people seem to be by this. All through literature and TV/film we have seen examples of so-called romantic relationships that, when you analyse them more carefully, are actually quite frightening!

How about going all the way back to Shakespeare? Romeo and Juliet, those star-crossed lovers. The love they have for each other is such that they simply can't live without the other - altogether now.... "Awww!" And yet, through stupidity, these two bright youngsters tragically commit suicide for love. Not so romantic really. More romantic would have been to see them enjoy a long and happy marriage, with lots of children. Maybe I'm just a bit too old and cynical to see suicide as a valid declaration of love?

What about Buffy? She is held up to be a *good* example to girls everywhere - strong, independent, passionate about everything she does. She is responsible, committed and kick ass. Yep, a great role model! Until you start examining her romantic history as well. Sure, I wept with everyone else at the ups and downs of her relationship with Angel and thought it was breathlessly romantic - yet we also have someone who follows her, comes into her bedroom uninvited, and tries to control her. Spike is worse - Buffy allows the guy who practically rapes her to get close to her; definitely not a good example to women everywhere!

Lastly, let's have a quick look at the fairytales: something like Beauty and the Beast. Again, on the face of it, a deeply romantic story. Beauty comes to love the Beast, despite his hideous visage, because she realises that his beauty is more than skin deep. Yet he imprisons her, keeps her locked away, and attempts to coerce her into marriage - not so romantic.

I guess that my point is that the vitriol towards Bella and Edward (and, to a lesser extent, Bella and Jacob) is misplaced, since romantic relationships throughout literature and film have often been more than a little dysfunctional.

What do you think? Do you find Bella and Edward breathlessly romantic? Do you have any other dysfunctional relationships you want to highlight?

(With credit to the discussion on Tor.com as a result of an Eclipse review)

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Pan's Labyrinth - a film review

Pan's Labyrinth is a fairytale set in post Civil War Spain. We follow the story of Ophelia, a young girl who, with her pregnant mother, is moved into the dark house of Captain Vidal. The film is told elegantly in a dual storyline. The first is set in real life - Carmen, Ophelia's mother, being bullied by Vidal and falling ill through pregnancy; Mercedes, servant to Vidal, befriending Ophelia and trying to do the right thing for the resistance fighters that Vidal is trying to crush; and Ophelia herself, wanting to meet her baby brother, but terrified by her new house and reluctant to call Vidal 'father'. The other storyline in the film follows Ophelia through a garden labyrinth into a dreamlike fairytale world, where she meets Pan, who believes that she is the soul of a long lost princess. Ophelia is invited to perform three tasks to prove she is royalty - each one more surreal and terrifying than the last. Both storylines collide at the end in a melancholic and ambiguous climax that leaves the watcher thoughtful, rather than thrilled.

I didn't watch Pan's Labyrinth at the cinema - in fact, it has curiously passed me by right up until last Saturday. I don't know where my reluctance stemmed from - maybe the foreign language aspect, maybe the massive hype accompanying its release, maybe the gore I heard about. Anyway, when we chose to watch a film on Saturday, the person recommending Pan's Labyrinth urged me to try at least the first half hour - if I was still reluctant, we could turn it off and I wouldn't really have lost any time.

Needless to say, the film was not turned off. In fact, by the time ten minutes had passed, I was enthralled by Ophelia's story. Pan's Labyrinth by turn appalled me, thrilled me, sickened me, delighted me - to me, it presents everything that a fairytale requires: a hero, a villain, magic, and a message.

One of my friends argued that the film was simply two separate stories mashed together by Guillermo del Toro, but I loved the way Ophelia travelled from dream to reality and back again. I admired the reflections between fairytale and life. I thrilled to the fact that Ophelia was fighting against two sinister individuals in the two facets of her life. I especially appreciated the fact that I am still wondering, days later, about whether Ophelia really did travel into a fairytale or whether she created the dreamlike world as a way of escaping the life she hated with Vidal.

I'm not ashamed to say that Pan's Labyrinth scared me silly at times, especially the monsters, both real and imagined - y favourite part of the film was also the part that scared me the most, this being during Ophelia's second task when she has to retrieve a knife without disturbing a slumbering nightmare. Gosh, that freaked me out!

The performances were universally extremely strong, and the fact they I had to follow their dialogue with subtitles took nothing away from their performances. I find that this is definitely the mark of how good a foreign language film is for me: if the subtitle aspect is non-obtrusive and I am not disturbed from the course of a film by reading along, then it is excellent!

Lastly, I just want to mention how stunningly beautiful this film is - especially all of the fairytale elements. How I regret not bothering to see this at the cinema! I definitely think this is the sort of film that HD and Blueray were invented for.

If you, like me, haven't watched Pan's Labyrinth - for whatever reason - I would urge you to change your mind and give it at least a try. It is horrific, scary, beautiful and melancholic. The story of Ophelia will stay with you long after the closing credits. Highly recommended.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned...

Yes, it's CONFESSION TIME...

Readers of my blog will know that I decided on a Book Buying Embargo
- starting 6th June I wouldn't buy any new books, at all, for six months. I was even quite smug about my progress. But now, ah now, readers, I have fallen off the wagon. And not just in a small way. I recently binged on TEN new books.

I have no excuses, no reasons. I walked around my local Waterstones and, in a dreamlike state, picked up book after book from the shelves. I headed for the desk with an absolute armful. "Those'll keep you busy for a few months!" said the cashier cheerfully as she checked them through. I laughed hollowly, thinking of all the review copies at home, the books still unread from the last time I binged. Honestly, what got into me? It's as though six weeks worth of abstinence all came out at once.

Here is the list of books I purchased:

Under the Dome by Stephen King
Stealing Light by Gary Gibson
Nova War by Gary Gibson
Twisted Metal by Tony Ballantyne
I Heart Paris by Lindsey Kelk
Ten Things I Love About You by Julia Quinn
Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater
Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce
The Ultramarines Omnibus by Graham McNeill
Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger


I am ashamed.

So, dear readers - were those books worth breaking the embargo for? More crucially, what should the punishment be for buying those ten books? I dread your imaginative responses!

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Books I Adopted This Week

It's funny to me: sometimes in a week I don't receive anything for days and then get a couple of packages on a Saturday; other weeks I receive a steady drip of a couple of parcels each day - this was one of those weeks. I love those weeks. It's like having a little present to open every day! I had a fairly mixed bag of books this week, I have to say - more below...

Ancestor by Scott Sigler

On a remote island in the Great Lakes, an unusual group of scientists are using extinct DNA to create the perfect organ donor. It could save millions of lives and win Dr Claus Rhumkorrf the Nobel Prize he craves. The donor animal is genetically the ancestor of all species on the planet - but Nature wiped it out two hundred million years ago. Rhumkorrf and his team are about to find out why.

Excited about this one on a few counts! For one, it came from my good friend Adam Christopher and highly recommended at that. For another, it sounds very Jurassic Park-esque, and I loved that book. Colour me thrilled - this one is moving up the TBR pile rapidly.

Published by Hodder & Stoughton on 19th August 2010

The Silent Land by Graham Joyce

A young couple are caught in an avalanche during a ski-ing holiday in the French Alps. They struggle back to the village and find it deserted. As the days go by they wait for rescue, then try to leave. But each time they find themselves back in the village. And, increasingly, they are plagued by visions and dreams and the realization that perhaps no-one could have survived the avalanche.

This book sounds haunting and beautiful. It is a slim read as well, which, right now, tends to mean I will reach out to it sooner rather than later. Just a shout out as well for the cover, which is just lovely. Pale and unusual, I can see it jumping off the shelves.

Published by Gollancz on 18th November 2010

Guardian of the Gate by Michelle Zink

Sixteen-year-old Lia Milthorpe must journey to the uncharted isle of Altus to continue her search for the missing pages of the Book of Chaos - the pages that could tell her how to end the prophecy that has turned generations of sisters against each other. But the journey will test more than just her courage, it will also test her loyalty to her beloved boyfriend, James. Meanwhile, twin sister Alice will stop at nothing to reclaim Lia's role as the Gate. And that's not the only thing she wants from her sister: there's also Lia's true love. The outcome of their battle could have consequences of Biblical proportions and, in the end, only one sister will be left standing.

This is the second book in a series, the first being Prophecy of the Sisters. I've had a look at the blurb for the first book and this definitely sounds like a series I would like to read in its entirety. The idea of two sisters being mortal enemies is pretty bleak but gives loads of opportunities for tension and drama.

Published by Atom on 5th August 2010

So Cold The River by Michael Koryta

Ninety-five-year-old millionaire Campbell Bradford is dying. His family have hired ex-filmmaker Eric Shaw to make a documentary about him, but Campbell's childhood is shrouded in mystery. The only clues to his past are the name of his hometown and an antique glass water bottle that he's kept his entire life. Arriving in West Baden with the bottle and a camera, Shaw begins to have vivid and disturbing visions. And the more he finds out about the town and the man, the more he suspects that something besides the West Baden Springs Hotel has just been restored ...Something dark and terrifying. And cold.

I received this one out of the blue and I'm really glad I did. It sounds entirely chilling, and I do like the odd thriller/horror to round out my reading. I also enjoy slow burn mysteries and it sounds very much as though this will fulfil all of this for me!

Published by Hodder & Stoughton on 2nd September 2010

Keys to the Repository by Melissa de la Cruz

Lavish parties. Passionate meetings in the night. Bone-chilling murders. Exams. The day-to-day life of Schuyler Van Alen and her Blue Bloods friends (and enemies) is never boring. But there's oh-so-much more to know about the beautiful and powerful Blue Bloods. Below the streets of Manhattan, within the walls of the Repository, lies a wealth of revealing short stories, journal entries, and never-before-seen letters about the vampire elite dating back through time. Won't you come inside?

I am not entirely sure why I received this book for review, based on the fact that my review of Blue Bloods was not that positive. I didn't enjoy it all that much, to be honest, and I'm not sure whether I want to delve into the same world again. In addition to that, this is a book of short stories - never my favourite style of writing. I'm really not sure how soon I'll be getting to this book.

Published by Atom on 29th June 2010

Misspent Youth by Peter F Hamilton

It is forty years in the future and, following decades of research and trillions of euros spent on genetics, Europe is finally in a position to rejuvenate a human being. The first subjest chosen for treatment is Jeff Baker, the father of the datasphere (whihc replaced the Internet) and philanthropist extraordinaire. After 18 months in a German medical facility, the 78-year-old patient returns home looking like a healthy 20-year-old." Misspent Youth" follows the effect his reappearance has on his friends and family - his young ex-model wife Sue, his teenage son Tim, and his long term pals, themselves all pensioners, who are starting to resent what Jeff has become.

I received this book for an exciting new project I am going to be involved in later this year with Mark Chitty. I have the UK version of this book (which is set early on in Hamilton's Commonwealth universe) and, interestingly, there is also a US version which is pretty different - I wasn't aware of this until Mark told me. Anyway, look out for information about the project later this year!

Published by Pan MacMillan on 4th July 2003

The Oath by Michael Jecks

1326. In an England riven with conflict, knight and peasant alike find their lives turned upside down by the warring factions of Edward II, with his hated favourite, Hugh le Despenser, and Edward's estranged queen Isabella and her lover, Sir Roger Mortimer. Yet even in such times the brutal slaughter of an entire family, right down to a babe in arms, still has the power to shock. Three further murders follow, and bailiff Simon Puttock is drawn into a web of intrigue, vengeance, power and greed as Roger Mortimer charges him to investigate the killings.

I love historical fiction, and Michael has been asking me to review both this book and the last in his ongoing series (Knights Templar Mysteries). I am really keen to - it is just a matter of fitting it into my reading schedule! Promise I'll get to it soon, Michael!

Here is the full list of novels in the series:

1. The Last Templar
2. The Merchant's Partner
3. Moorland Hanging
4. The Crediton Killings
5. The Abbot's Gibbet
6. The Leper's Return
7. Squire Throwleigh's Heir
8. Belladonna at Belstone
9. The Traitor of St. Giles
10. The Boy Bishop's Glovemaker
11. The Tournament of Blood
12. The Sticklepath Strangler
13. The Devil's Acolyte
14. The Mad Monk of Gidleigh
15. The Templar's Penance
16. The Outlaws of Ennor
17. The Tolls of Death
18. The Chapel of Bones
19. The Butcher of St. Peter's
20. A Friar's Bloodfeud
21. The Death Ship of Dartmouth
22. The Malice of Unnatural Death
23. Dispensation of Death
24. The Templar, The Queen and Her Lover
25. The Prophecy of Death
26. The King of Thieves
27. No Law in the Land
28. The Bishop Must Die
29. The Oath

To all those who think they're prolific, just sit back and consider that list....

Published by Simon & Schuster on 8th July 2010

A Wild Light by Majorie M. Liu

Maxine finds herself covered in blood and crouched beside Jack's dead body, with no memory of what happened. Grief-stricken, Maxine isn't sure what to believe - or who to blame. Then an Avatar bounty hunter comes through the veil into our world, investigating a death of his own. Completely ruthless and subservient to those who bred him, his mission is to find Jack - dead or alive. Racing to stop the hunter, Maxine must also deal with the blood on her hands. But the answers she uncovers will be devastating, and the earth's salvation won't wait.

This series looks ace - I was also sent the first book from Orbit (but, curiously, not the second) and I said at the time that I really want to try them. I like the novelty factor of an urban fantasy series that ends in a timely manner and doesn't drag out for hundreds of books!

Titles:

1. The Iron Hunt
2. Darkness Calls
3. A Wild Light

Published by Orbit on 5th August 2010

The Terminal State by Jeff Somers

Avery Cates is in better shape than ever with the top-class augments the army's fitted him with. Pity he's no more than a puppet then, because they've also got a remote that can fry his brain at any second. And now a corrupt colonel is selling his controls to the highest bidder. Avery has visions of escape and bloody revenge - until he realises just who's bought him. Because the highest bidder is Canny Orel himself, Avery's oldest enemy. And as the System slides into chaos, Canny wants Cates to do one last job. Avery just needs one chance to get back at the old gunner - but this time, it's Canny who's holding all the cards.

This is where it gets frustrating - my fourth book from the Little, Brown group (Atom and Orbit) and my fourth that is partway through a series. I deeply love getting books from publishers, but I don't like the dilemma of what to do when I want to read a series but don't have all the books in the series to hand *sigh*. That is exactly the case here - I have books three and four in the series, and I think it sounds so intriguing.

Series Titles:

1. The Electric Church
2. The Digital Plague
3. The Eternal Prison
4. The Terminal State

Just another mention: I really like the themed titles and the stark colours and shapes on the covers are amazing!

Published by Orbit on 5th August 2010

Wings of Wrath by Celia Friedman

In a world where the price of magic is life itself, a group of seemingly immortal sorcerers appear to have cheated the system. And now Kamala has breached their secrets, she seeks to join their ranks as the first female Magister. But they would rather see her dead, forcing her to flee to the frozen north. There Kamala will find an evil far greater than a sorcerer's enmity, and will hear a dire prediction of a future war. In a past age, an ancient bloodline was cultivated to stand in the path of darkness. Now its warriors must unearth the truth at the heart of the legends, and stand firm against an enemy that brought mankind to the very edge of destruction. And Kamala must join their battle.

Following the Orbit theme of this week, here is book two in a trilogy! *grins* I have heard very good things about Celia Friedman in the past - her writing is said to be very good, without resorting to clunking fantasy cliches. I would like to try it out for myself.

Trilogy Titles:

1. Feast of Souls
2. Wings of Wrath
3. Legacy of Kings (coming 2011)

Published by Orbit on 5th August 2010

Traitors' Gate by Kate Elliott

Reeve Joss is struggling to defend a country ravaged by the assaults of twin armies. His men now patrol a land of burning villages and homeless refugees as Joss tries to separate traitor from friend. The Reeve's thoughts are also plagued by the intriguing Zubaidit, pleasure-giver, spy and temple-trained assassin. But Zubaidit is focused on a dangerous mission, her target being warped Guardian Lord Radas. His death would leave the invading militia in chaos, but the old tales tell truly of the Guardians' immortality - and of the powers they now wield to twist the hearts of men. Joss's nights are also troubled, disturbed by dreams of Marit. His lost love has returned from death to become a feared Guardian herself, but Marit rejected the corrupt temptations they offered. She now seeks others of her kind, praying some are yet uncontaminated by the blight on the land - and have the will to fight it.

Woefully I haven't yet read any Kate Elliott books - and she appears to be quietly and effectively producing quality fantasy fiction that strikes me as being under the radar somewhat. Certainly I don't know anyone who enthuses about her as being their favourite author, or urging me to read her books - do I have a false image about this? Where are all the Kate Elliott fans?

Anyway, this is the concluding part of the trilogy - I brought the first part myself, so in this case I'm just missing part two!

Trilogy Titles:

1. Spirit Gate
2. Shadow Gate
3. Traitors' Gate

Published by Orbit on 5th August 2010

As is usual, I open the floor to you - any that look particularly interesting? Does anyone own the books I'm missing and wants to donate? *cheeky*

Friday, 16 July 2010

Wicked Games by Sasha Wagstaff

Feuding families, star-crossed lovers...let the fireworks begin! Debonair and dynamic, millionaire Judd Harrington is back at Brockett Hall. With his socialite wife and family in tow, he's returned from LA a glittering success. But as he stares across the valley at Lochlin Maguire's beautiful country house, all he can think of is revenge. Meanwhile Judd's arch-rival has troubles of his own. Lochlin's record label is losing major talent to an unknown competitor, his wife Tavvy is distracted and he can't seem to see eye to eye with his son Shay. And, unbeknownst to Lochlin, his talented singer daughter Iris has fallen for irresistible racing driver Ace Harrington out in LA. Ace is under orders from Judd to break Iris's heart. What he hadn't bargained for was losing his own in the process. Can he go against his father's wishes? Or will Judd's wicked games ruin love's young dream?

I am a massive fan of a decent, sprawling summer bonkbuster such as those written by Jilly Cooper and Fiona Walker. I adore immersing myself in feuding families, glamorous locations, steamy sex scenes, pantomime villains... To me, it is a perfect way to break from all those serious novels I read. So, yeah, I love a good bonkbuster. Unfortunately Wicked Games wasn't. Not by a long way.

Don't get me wrong: the setting is perfect (the music industry, backed up by a little racing); there is enough double-crossing, spite and revenge to satisfy me; the men are gorgeous and the women irresistible. All the ingredients are in place for this to be a great piece of escapist ficton.

Yet I didn't like it. I didn't hate it either - I certainly read to the end, and wouldn't be completely put off trying another of Wagstaff's novels - but I just found it so lacking in excitement and intrigue. I'm not looking for massive twists in my bonkbusters - I generally know from the word go who will end up with who and (mostly) how it will play out as they get there - but Wicked Games plodded in a pedestrian manner from event to event without investing me in the characters.

In fact, this was one of the problems: despite the book being 450-odd pages, it is on the slim side for a bonkbuster novel (which usually stretch to 700 or 800 pages, if you think about the aforementioned Cooper and Walker), and Wagstaff packs in way too many characters to do justice to them all. The whole subplot dealing with Savannah - Judd's illegitimate daughter - is one that could have been the focus of the entire novel, yet it was rushed through in this book. Can you honestly say, having read the book, that you really cared about Caitie, Elliott and Jas? These three could have been stripped out of Wicked Games with no loss, allowing room to develop the subplots which were of interest. Add to that Jerry and Allegra and we'd be reaching a novel that didn't dart around so much like a gadfly, and could be enjoyed more thoroughly.

I will say that Wagstaff writes in a compulsive manner that I enjoyed, but I can see not being to the taste of everyone. It was rare that we stayed with any character POV for longer than a couple of pages, and this flitting backwards and forwards (with the requisite cliffhangers) kept me turning the pages feverishly, despite the fact that I didn't care too much for some of the characters. I knew that if I hit upon a character POV that didn't do anything for me, it would be a matter of moments before I moved onto one I would enjoy.

All in all, Wicked Games was not the best example of this genre that I've ever read. It was diverting enough during a bath, but I won't want to revisit these characters - unlike the iconic characters that bestride the work of Jilly Cooper. If you are looking for a tale of rogues and revenge, in the glittering world of media, then do yourself a favour and pick up Rivals by Jilly Cooper. I wouldn't really recommend this novel when there are better bonkbusters out there.

The Seven Link Challenge

I sometimes read Problogger. I have no intention of going pro with my blog in terms of making money from it, but I do want to present it in as professional a manner as possible, and some of the Problogger posts help to drive this.

Their most recent post invites people to take The Seven Link Challenge - and I thought it might be quite good fun.

The idea is to publish a post that is a list of 7 links to posts that you and others have written that respond to the following 7 categories. Your links should be to:

* Your first post
* A post you enjoyed writing the most
* A post which had a great discussion
* A post on someone else’s blog that you wish you’d written
* Your most helpful post
* A post with a title that you are proud of
* A post that you wish more people had read


So, without further ado, I present my seven links:

1) My first post

Actually done way back on Friday 7th August, despite the fact that I consider my blog to be only six months old, since I started working on it more vigorously in January of this year. Actually, I'm not too disappointed or embarrassed about my little introductory post - it describes why I wanted to start the blog and lays out my reading/book buying habits. Those TV series reviews slipped by the wayside though! I remain very grateful to Nymeth for being the one and only person to welcome me to the blogosphere.

2) Post I Enjoyed Writing the Most

This would definitely be the Sam Sykes interview I did. I thoroughly enjoyed my email exchanges with him, and he led me through the process of my first interview as painlessly as possible. It still remains my best interview to date, in my opinion, and is very very funny!

3) Post Which Had a Great Discussion

Definitely "What Qualifies a Book Blogger?" I reached out to so many readers with this one and the comments were illuminating. Plus the discussion remained very civil, when people had conflicting views.

4) A Post On Someone Else's Blog I Wish I'd Written

"Would I Lie To You? Memory, Vagueness and the Unreliable Narrator in the work of Gene Wolfe." I love this post - it is a wonderful essay that inspires me everytime I (frequently) re-read it. Paul's command of the English language is superlative - I am both jealous and in awe. I would like to do more work of this nature on my blog, but I have neither the skill nor the knowledge to do it justice, and it remains something to strive for.

5) My Most Helpful Post

I have to confess, most of my blog posts are not written with the intent of offering help (unless you count all my book reviews, which may or may not influence the reader to buy the book). I guess the nearest I came was my Arthur C Clarke final thoughts post.

6) A Post With a Title I Am Most Proud Of

Easily "Book Bigamy?" It is a quirky way to address the idea of whether people read one or more books at the same time.

7) A Post I Wish More People Had Read

I have a couple, actually, and both from January 2010, which is when my blogging activities increased exponentially, but before I had garnered many readers.

The first is my not so serious UK vs. US Book Covers quiz - something I pulled together as a bit of fun.

The second is an article I wrote about reader and author interaction called Sometimes the Magic Works.

Those are my seven links in the Seven Link Challenge - how about doing your own and linking back to me? It would be interesting to see the results!

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Formidable Female Protagonists #1 - Polgara the Sorceress

Over at Cybermage, Ove Jansson has been running a fantastic series highlighting the formidable female protagonists in science fiction – he mentioned the fact that he would love to see the equivalent for fantasy, but that he didn’t know enough about the characters in fantasy fiction to do the idea justice. I certainly don’t think I am the best-placed to do as long a series as he has achieved, but there are certainly some female characters in fantasy fiction that I would like to wax lyrical about. So I asked him very nicely if I could *steal* his idea, and start my own series, as long as I credited him. Consider this credit, Ove – I’ve loved your posts about the female protagonists in science fiction, and it has made me add numerous books to my wishlist.

Anyhow, this is my first effort at the same – and I am going to tackle Polgara the Sorceress.

Polgara the Sorceress is a character we first encounter in David Eddings’ five book series The Belgariad. She returns in the second book sequence The Mallorean, features in the standalone novel Belgarath the Sorcerer and then we finally hear her full story in the novel Polgara the Sorceress – full list of books below:

The Belgariad

1. Pawn of Prophecy
2. Queen of Sorcery
3. Magician’s Gambit
4. Castle of Wizardry
5. Enchanters’ End Game

The Mallorean

1. Guardians of the West
2. King of the Murgos
3. Demon Lord of Karanda
4. Sorceress of Darshiva
5. Seeress of Kell

Belgarath the Sorcerer

Polgara the Sorceress



Here are my top five reasons why Polgara is a formidable female protagonist:

1. Polgara is an enormously powerful sorceress

Her magical skills are renowned and legendary – from healing to casting out demons to bringing down the full power of a storm when she is angry.

“"I abjure thee, creature of darkness," Polgara said in a great voice. "Return to the hell that spawned thee and never more corrupt this world with thy foul presence. Begone and take with thee the one who summoned thee." She raised her hand, and the force of her will, combined with the will of the God Aldur, blazed forth from her palm. There was a vast thunderclap as the demon suddenly exploded into a huge ball of fire with the waters of the harbour geysering up around it.”


“A frosty smile touched Polgara's lips. "You're not nearly as clever as I thought," She said. "Did you actually believe that I twisted your name from you for my own amusement? Were you ignorant of the power over you that you gave me when you spoke your own name? The power of the name is the most elementary of all. I can keep you out of Ce'Nedra's mind now. There's much more, though. For example, I now know that you're at Ashaba, haunting the bat-infested ruins of the House of Torak like a poor, ragged ghost."

A startled gasp echoed through the room.

"I could tell you more, Zandramas, but this is all beginning to bore me." She straightened, her hands still locked at the sides of Ce'Nedra's head. The white lock at her brow flared into incandescence, and the faint whisper became a deafening roar. "Now, begone!" She commanded.'”


2. Polgara is extremely strong and wise

She is long-lived thanks to her use of sorcery and is forced to watch as people she has loved grow old and die.

“As those we’ve come to know and love grow older, it’s absolutely necessary for us to distance ourselves from them. The alternative is quite probably madness. Endless grief will eventually destroy the human mind. We’re not heartless, but we do have duties, and those duties oblige us to protect our ability to function.”


“"We touch other people very briefly and then we are alone again."”


3. Polgara has immense authority

Whether she is the Duchess of Erat or a cook in a kitchen, Polgara has masses of natural authority that ensures people jump at her commands.

Garion leaped over him, but found himself seized from behind by a half-dozen more men.
"Leave her alone!" He shouted at the guard who was cruelly twisting one of the little Queen's arms behind her back.
"That will be enough!" Polgara's voice cracked from the doorway in the tent. The soldiers stopped, looking uncertainly at one another and somewhat fearfully at the commanding presence in the doorway.'”


4. Polgara is beautiful

Although she grew up as a tomboy, she discovers as a teen that she would far rather dress well and look pretty. I like the fact that she is stunning, but has a womanly figure – her child-bearing hips and large bosom are mentioned a few times, and it is good to know that she isn’t stick thin!

“ ‘Strip.” Arell commanded me.
‘What?” I exclaimed. I didn’t really think I could be shocked, but I was wrong.
‘Take off your clothes, Polgara,’ She said quite firmly. ‘I need to see what I’m working with.’ She studied my near-naked body with pursed lips and a speculative eye. ‘Not too bad.’ She observed.
That was hardly complimentary.
‘You’re lucky, Polgara,’ She told me. ‘Most girls your age are quite flat-chested. I think we might want to take advantage of that to draw away from the fact that you’re just a little hippy.’
‘I’m what?’ I exclaimed.
‘You were built to bear children, Polgara. It’s useful, but it makes your clothes hang all wrong.’
‘Is she telling me the truth?’ I asked Beldaran, speaking in “twin” so Arell couldn’t understand me.
‘You are sort of round down there Pol,’ Beldaran replied. Then she grinned a naughty little grin at me. ‘If we cut it low enough in the back, we could show off the dimples on your bottom.’”


5. Polgara is snarky

One of her favourite past-times is bantering with her irascible father, and she has an extremely sharp tongue when she chooses. Her sarcasm is amusing, albeit rather self-consciously clever at times.

Polgara looked at Ce'Nedra. "Have you ever noticed that when some people find a notion they think is funny, they tend to keep playing with it long past the point where it bores everyone else to tears?"
Ce'Nedra looked at Silk with a sly little twinkle in her eye. "I've noticed that, Aunt Pol. Do you suppose it might be a result of a limited imagination?"
"I'm sure that's something to do with it, dear," Aunt Pol looked at Silk with a serene smile. "Now, did you want to play some more, Kheldar?"
"Ah... No, Polgara. I don't really think so."”


So there you have it – just five reasons why Polgara is worth considering as a formidable female protagonist. Did you enjoy reading about her in the Eddings’ books? If not, who was your favourite character? Do you have suggestions for other formidable female protagonists you would like to see in future installments?