Archive for January, 2016

image

I’m genuinely unsure of what to make of this book.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not a bad book; listening to it as an audiobook was a pretty pleasant way to spend my journeys to work.

But it didn’t seem to be what it was packaged as and marketed as: a crime mystery. It felt more like a soap opera in which the main character is a policeman – Detective Chief Inspector Simon Serrailler. And terribly middle class.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

I’m middle class.

But Serrailler lives in a pristine flat overlooking the Cathedral, and takes extended breaks to Venice; Cat and Chris Deerbon – his GP sister and brother-in-law – live in their rustic farmhouse; Serrailler’s parents’ garden is landscaped. Tea seems always accompanied by biscuits or cake. They all have larders!

My granny had a larder. But I don’t know anyone else who has ever had one. I’d quite like a larder but do these things even exist anymore?

These people are not the so-called squeezed middle: they are comfortable and content and just a little… smug. A little Midsomer. And that did alienate me a little.

As did the portrayal of Andy Gunton. He’s released from prison in the opening chapters, into the care and home of his sister, Michelle. That home was such a two-dimensional, stereotypical and grotesque – blaring televisions, food dripping in fat, fry-ups and fags. An army of harridan mothers harassing a suspected paedophile. It was all just a little Jeremy Kyle.

To be fair, Gunton was actually a decent character who had made a mistake when he was kid and is trying to go straight on his release. I did feel for him. But it never got to the point where the novel felt like an analysis or exploration or critique of the lack of support given by the probation service. He did fall back into crime but it just sort of… happened. And it didn’t connect to the main plot in any more than a tangential way. It happened at the same time in the same place. Literally, a co-incidence.

But then, was there really a main plot? Was it the abduction of David Angus? Was it the destruction of the Angus family as a result of the abduction? Was it the death of Martha Serrailler, Simon and Cat’s disabled sister? Any of those could be the main plot; all get fairly equal time spent on them. Along with Gunton.

And then a variety of secondary characters drifted in: Karin who appears to have beaten the cancer which riddled her in the first book through the power of organic berries and willpower alone; Diana, Simon’s friend-with-benefits who, after a year’s absence, starts harassing him in an utterly unrealistic way for a fifty-something year-old business woman; or even Cat, whose pregnancy and new son turn her into a domestic goddess.

And then there’s Simon Serrailler himself. In the first book, Various Haunts of Men, Freya Graffham was our primary point of view character and we only really saw Serrailler through her eyes. In this novel, for obvious reasons, Hill brought Serrailler to the forefront … and the mysterious and enigmatic DCI speaks to us directly. And is, at times, quite unpleasant. Particularly towards women: the only genuine relationship he seems capable of are with his sisters.

As I say, it was a decent book. A pleasant comfortable read. Pleasant in the same way that The Archers is pleasant and comfortable. I’m guessing that this novel is introducing a series of threads which will be picked up in future novels – I’m half-a-dozen books behind where Hill’s got to in writing the series. Just take it for what it is; don’t expect social realism.

Advertisements

image

There are some great books that I’ve read over the years.

Neither this, nor it’s predecessor, The Rosie Project, belong in that category.

There are, however, other mental categories into which I file books and this did fall into one labelled silly-books-I’ve-read-extracts-of-to-my-wife and this does fall into that category. It is predictable; it follows an inconceivably tortuous plot. But it’s fun, sweet – bitter-sweet -and, despite misgivings about the portrayal of Don Tillman as someone on an autistic spectrum with mental health issues, you find yourself rooting for him.

The first book concluded with Don Tillman finding love with the eponymous Rosie; the second book takes place a year after their marriage and – nature having taken its natural course – Rosie announces that she is pregnant. The novel tracks the ne t nine months as Don prepares to be a father.

Maybe, having been through that process myself aided my own empathy with Don. Mind you, I don’t recall being arrested, referred to social workers or anger management groups, lesbian mothers or suspected of terrorism. Nor do I think that my reaction to her pregnancy jeopardised the marriage. I don’t think it did.

Admittedly I don’t quite have Don Tillman’s problems. Simsion tries to avoid any special if it diagnosis of the character but he certainly displays a social anxiety and social difficulties comparable to the autistic spectrum; he also generates a wide and eclectic group of friends.

Reading the novel is a little like stepping into the world of American sitcoms: The Big Bang Theory, How I Met Your Mother, Friends… Entertaining, silly and escapist. Various views of men, women, genetics, monogamy and sex were raised by different characters – some of which were pretty shallow to be frank – but the characters had a warmth to them which ameliorated any distaste

I did have one problem: Rosie. Despite her eponymous nature and the fact that her relationship with Don is the plot of the book, she seemed curiously absent and distant. Locked in another room with her thesis. Attending college. Away from the focus of the narrative. We barely heard her. I think more people reported her words than she had lines of dialogue. And the only real description we had of her was “perfect” and “red hair”.  Oh well… it’s a new year, so let’s be generous and assume that Simsion did so deliberately so as to reflect Rosie’s experience of Don for the reader.

The conclusion to the novel seemed a little rushed and contrived but the arc of the story was never really a mystery. It was one of those novels where you could switch your brain off, enjoy the silliness and not really mind that in the real world people just don’t act like that!

image

I’m not going to dwell long on this review: it concludes the story begun in Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children and continues in Hollow City from which this book continues directly. It is also my last book of 2015, and Miss Peregrine was my first book of 2015 so it gives my year a nice symmetry.

It also doesn’t take long to read.

Having entered London in Hollow City, Emma and Jacob narrowly avoided being abducted by the nefarious Caul, Miss Peregrine’s evil brother. The other children from the first two books are abducted.

Rather than flee, Jacob and Emma with the help of Addison – a peculiar talking dog – track the wights to another time loop, a labyrinthine Devil’s Acre, where they are assisted by a somewhat taciturn boatman named Sharon. Tall, gaunt, with a hood. Sharon. Really, Riggs? You couldn’t have made him more like Charon? Dangerously close to Percy Jackson territory.

Anyway, within Devil’s Acre, various atrocities are discovered: drug use, slavery and crime.  We also find more allies in the form of Sharon and Bentham.

The depictions of Devil’s Acre were pos
sibly more vivid than those of London in the previous book. And this one had a stronger plot: find the wights’ base,  rescue everyone. Somehow.

Again, this is a strongly paced novel preferring action to emotion and that’s where the writing is strongest especially in the assault on the wights’ fortress. I also did enjoy the full awakening of Jacob’s peculiar gift: not just to be able to see the hollows, nor to be able to communicate with them but actually merge with their consciousness and maintain full control over an army of them.

The ending of the book – which so many people have praised – I found difficult. I don’t normally do this but…

HEREAFTER BE SPOILERS. ..

Jacob wins. Everyone is rescued. A mythical time loop containing the additional second souls which give peculiar people their gifts is discovered. Bentham who was also Miss Peregrine’s brother betrayed Jacob *boo! and then betrayed Caul *yay! The mythical time loop is destroyed with Bentham and Caul in it.

Okay.

So the world of peculiardom has died? The thousands of souls contained in the library and which create peculiars had been destroyed. So I’m expected to celebrate what is essentially a genocide? A mass extinction of innocent souls?

And Jacob is from the present with a family to which he would like to return; but has fallen in love with Emma – his own grandfather’s ex – who is from 1940 and would age to her true age within a few days of being out of a time loop. She can’t be in the present; Jacob can’t bring himself to abandon his family in the present. That’s a nice conflict as a writer. A little clumsily handled perhaps. But a nice conflict. The hero who saves a world he cannot share.

So how does Riggs resolve it? The destruction of the time loop containing the library of souls stops the aging-forward problem. And no one knew. So on the day, the very moment, that Jacob is about to be institutionalised because of his ‘delusions’ about the peculiars, they turn up and rescue him. And can live happily ever after.

I just found that far too trite. Too convenient. Too deus ex machina.

And then there’s the Hollow – the first one that Jacob bonded with – which we learn retain an aspect of consciousness – left in Bentham’s house having its blood and tears drained indefinitely to power the Panloopticon device?

Maybe I’m reading too much into what is, essentially,  a kids’ adventure book. But the ending bothered me.0

image

Okay.

I confess.

I only read this and the next book (Library Of Souls) to complete a trilogy for my 2015 Reading Challenge. And because I was running out of time. I did complete them by 31st December… just a little slow blogging about them. Due in part to a busy Christmas and also to an abraded cornea which pretty much destroyed my ability to read and type or see generally since New Year.

So, this book picks up the story from Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children as Jacob – from modern day America – and his friends including Emma, Jacob’s girlfriend and his own grandfather’s ex-girlfriend – yes, you read that correctly – flee their invaded time-looped island back to 1940s war-torn Britain. There, they face the dual terrors of the war itself and of the hollows and wights who had destroyed their original loop-refuge.

Miss Peregrine herself – the children’s matriarchal ymbyrne – had been kidnapped, rescued but stuck in bird form. And there is a loose directionlessness to the plot as a result. They happen upon a lost loop inhabited by peculiar and talking animals, trip over a band of gypsies with their own peculiar child gradually becoming invisible, and generally head towards London with no real idea of what to expect or what to do once they get there. Carrying a child’s book whose tales and nursery rhymes spring out as plot devices from time to time seemed a little forced. A portable deus ex machina.

I had lower expectations of this than I did with the first and the book met them better. L It’s a good read. A decent tale. Riggs does have a tendency to tell rather than show and the horrors of bombing raids in London seemed a little two-dimensional as does the description of the hollows, the monstrous mindless, multi-tongued creatures. He also seems not to be so comfortable with the emotional relationship between Jacob and Emma as he is with the scenario he’s created and the range of characters and action scenes.

If I were to summarise a list of pros and cons, it might look like this:

Pros: imaginative concept, creepy photographs,  good pace.

Cons: slightly pedestrian writing, too much telling, lack of description; two-dimensional characters with unconvincing emotions, directionless.

There was, however, a significant and unexpected twist in the final chapters which I hadn’t seen coming.

Fair play, Mr Riggs, fair play.

image

Opening with a murderous rampage at a party held by a corrupt politician, once again, Sanderson plumbs the possibilities of his Mistborn universe in Scadriel extending the reach of the characters Waxillium Ladrian,  Wayne and Marasi, whom he had introduced in The Alloy Of Law. The feel of this novel is distinctly Industrial Revolutionary with the rising prominence of factories and unemployment. Marches on the streets of Elendel and proletarian disgruntlement. You almost expected a thinly disguised William Blake or Karl Marx to wander around a corner.

We are also reacquainted with some of the original characters and concepts again: the kandra get to take centrestage this time and we see a cameo from both TenSoon and the ascended Sazed, now known as Lord Harmony. It was an interesting exploration of a god’s role maintaining balance between Preservation and Ruin: his power and limitations.

The plot itself is simultaneously straightforward and byzantine and breaks away frim the suspiciously evil uncle. Elendel’s Lord Governor is the target of an assassination plot which utilises a range of both feruchemical and allomantic abilities. Speed, strength, healing and the coinshot skills of Wax himself. Added to that, we have the shape-shifting abilities of the kandra  and the novel has the potential to be a terrifyingly claustrophobic and intense one. No one is safe; anyone could be the killer in disguise. It would be tricky to follow for anyone not familiar with the Mistborn magic systems. Along the way, we encounter food shortages, industrial unrest and violence between different religious groups.

It doesn’t quite reach the potential which the premise has: Wax leaps into the mist just a little too often; there are a few too many shifts on point of view; just one or two too many info dumps about politics and history. The twist itself was – or perhaps twists were – relatively recognisable from half way through. It was good, but a little too heavy on action for my liking.

The original Alloy of Law was apparently written as an imaginative exercise by Sanderson after his stint on The Wheel Of Time and I think that that showed in the fun and playfulness of that first book which he hadn’t intended to publish. This time round, he seemed to be taking things more seriously and trying to invest more depth into his hero… we see Wax and Wayne haunted by their past actions is great, but some of the fun seemed diminished somehow. It’s still a good read… but the gusto of the Alloy of Law seems to be reduced. Wax continues in the archetypal role of crusading unconventional detective moving outside the limits of the law, in the model of Batman and Holmes – and Harry Dresden.

The next book, Bands Of Mourning, is out soon – apparently this month – and I’ll probably pick it up and I’m sure I’ll enjoy it. Apparently,  the Lord Ruler’s bracers are discovered….