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Monthly Spotlight: Wilkie Martin’s Unhuman

Another short one this month, and another new thing rather than an old favourite – we’ll be seeing more lengthy rambles about established obsessions next year, I imagine.

There are four books in the Unhuman series: Inspector Hobbes and the Blood, Inspector Hobbes and the Curse, Inspector Hobbes and the Gold Diggers, and Inspector Hobbes and the Bones. Despite the titles, the inspector is not the protagonist; while he is arguably the main character, the narrative is provided by Andy Caplet, a reporter for the local newspaper who is assigned to shadow a notorious policeman and spends the whole series in a state of complete confusion finding out that absolutely nothing about the world is what he thought it was. The reader will sympathise.

The best way I can think to describe these books is… imagine if P G Wodehouse decided to write urban fantasy. The series has that eccentric and very British whimsy to it, and frequently borders on the farcical. I didn’t realise at first; I was reading an omnibus edition and the blurb provided with it implied that these are more typical paranormal mysteries. Once I figured out what sort of world this actually was and stopped yelling ‘but that wouldn’t happen that way!’ at every page I enjoyed them a hell of a lot. They are very silly, fun reads, perfect for miserable winter afternoons in a comfy chair.

A brief caveat – in my opinion the fourth book wasn’t as good. The series feels like a trilogy with a later book tacked on when it proved to be successful, which never works out. But it was still enjoyable enough.

I don’t have much else to say – if you want a fun way to pass the time for a few hours, you’ll probably enjoy these.

Now for next month: obviously I’m going to be a little busy around the end of December, so there won’t be a spotlight. We’ll pick back up in the new year. And I know I’ve been vaguely promising for a long time but I will also attempt to get back to Chamber of Secrets, before the franchise finally dies a slow and lingering bloody death.

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Posted by on November 28, 2018 in loten

 

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Monthly Spotlight: Charlie N Holmberg’s Paper Magician

A short one this month, I’ve not been well – The Paper Magician, The Glass Magician and The Master Magician. (There’s a sequel story, The Plastic Magician, in the same world but with different characters; I haven’t got around to it yet but I will someday.) Holmberg has written other things that sound good and that are on my ever-lengthening list, but these were the first of hers I picked up and I was utterly charmed by them.

Our protagonist is Ceony, a young woman recently graduated from magic school and apprenticed to a senior magician. The magic system in these books is original and interesting – every magician bonds to a single element (you can guess three of the possibilities from the titles above but they may well literally be endless) and can only use that single element. Within that apparently narrow restriction Holmberg finds lots of really creative ways for her characters to do some very cool things, which is always a favourite for me where magic is concerned. You wouldn’t think paper was all that useful, but…

I suppose these count as young adult. The setting is carefully unspecified but feels Victorian-ish (I believe the fourth book is set a few years later). I’m not going to say much more because you really should go into these unspoiled if possible. The characters are funny and sweet and the story is clever and they’re just happy, well thought out books. In trying to describe them to Mitchell I said they felt like a fluffier Tamora Pierce, if that helps anyone, though there’s a solid and action-filled plot under the cute.

(…it’s also going to be pretty obvious for anyone who knows me even slightly to pick out why I like them long before the end of the first book. But that’s neither here nor there.)

 
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Posted by on October 29, 2018 in loten

 

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No spotlight this month

No spotlight this month. Sorry guys, it’s been a rough couple of weeks and I just don’t have the energy to give these books the writeup they deserve this time. By all means carry on discussing Rowling’s latest fuckup and I’ll see you next month.

 
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Posted by on September 29, 2018 in loten

 

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Monthly Spotlight:Joe Abercrombie’s The First Law

Going to be a short one this month, I’m a bit pressed for time at the moment. My apologies to Abercrombie since I may sell him a bit short as a result, but a lot of my other options for spotlights need more explanation.

The First Law comprises the original trilogy (The Blade Itself, Before They Are Hanged and Last Argument of Kings), three standalones (Best Served Cold, The Heroes and Red Country) and assorted short stories and novellas now available as Sharp Ends: Stories from the World of the First Law. I appreciate this, by the way. Not enough authors let you read their short stories and extras without having to buy anthologies full of other crap you mostly aren’t interested in. There’s also a sequel trilogy in the works.

I’m going to focus on the original trilogy, since the standalones will be a lot more appealing once you know the world and since the trilogy allows a lot more character development that in my opinion make them more interesting to read. Many of the novellas deal with backstory and so on as well, and you should probably read the originals first.

The setting isn’t really anything to write home about, mostly following well-trodden sword and sorcery lines along a simple enough plot – you have your home kingdom being torn apart internally by politics, your generic northern barbarian enemies-turned-reluctant-allies, and your invading outside foes forcing everyone else to stop bickering and unite, with some magic thrown in for good measure.

But it’s the characters who make this series so worth reading, from the most genre-aware and cynical barbarian I’ve read outside of pure parody – one actually hampered by physical reality in terms of injuries and so on, as well – to an actually believable and well handled badly disabled and traumatised character who is genuinely morally ambiguous. Refreshingly, the band of heroes who form our protagonists generally can’t stand one another and don’t try to hide it, and it’s a lot more fun to read about than just another group of best friends. There’s a decent amount of humour to lighten up a fairly grimdark setting, but not so much that it spoils the serious moments.

Standard representation disclaimers apply, sadly – don’t expect much. There are women among the main characters, but they’re rather more one-dimensional than the boys. Same for other ethnicities, sexualities etc – they exist, barely, but that’s about it. A couple of the standalones do better and I have hope for the sequels.

Abercrombie has written a second series, The Shattered Sea. I’ve read it once and found it sadly forgettable, though the premise was good. I’ll probably give it another chance sometime.

Shoutout to my brother for recommending these. One day I might even tell him that the character he named my nephew after doesn’t actually spell his name that way. (Don’t rely too much on audiobooks, folks. You look silly when things like this happen.)

 
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Posted by on August 30, 2018 in loten

 

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Monthly Spotlight: Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence

Shorter one this month, recommending a new thing I just finished reading that impressed me rather than an old favourite. I don’t quite know how to categorise the Craft novels; the setting is a little bit steampunk, a little bit sci-fi, a little bit fantasy and a little bit something else. The basic premise of the world is that it takes place a little way into the future, where water has become the defining resource of the planet and power belongs to the companies who produce and control it – by using local gods for fun and profit, as well as mage lawyers.

(Shoutout to the Something Awful Let’s Play forums for recommending these: they covered one of Gladstone’s interactive text games, Choice of the Deathless by Choice Of Games, which is also set in this universe and lets you explore how the magic system works with your own character.)

The books (so far) are as follows: Three Parts Dead, Two Serpents Rise, Full Fathom Five, Last First Snow, Four Roads Cross and The Ruin of Angels. Each one has its own separate plot, but also ties in to each of the others and builds up to an overall story in the way so many authors try for and so few actually manage. The separate protagonists lead separate lives and their paths cross as the series goes on, and it manages to feel natural and plausible rather than being forced for the sake of the plot.

We’re checking all the representation boxes this time – there are a lot of queer and bi characters of different genders, various ethnicities (amongst others, two of the books are set in almost-Mexico and almost-Hawaii), and several trans characters, and it all seems (from my outsider perspective, for whatever that’s worth) to be well done and natural and none of them feel like they’re there just to prove a point. It’s just an inclusive setting in a way you don’t often see.

I can’t say too much without giving away the plot, and these are books you need to experience for yourselves. There’s a lot of detail and a lot of thought and some very clever moments. And interesting magic, of course. The Craft is powered by starlight, and blood, and gods, and other stuff depending on who’s using it. There’s necromancy, religious/clerical magic, your good old-fashioned raining fireballs, some neat dimensional stuff – something for everyone, with a healthy pile of humour on top.

Turns out Max himself says it better than I can. From his website:

The God Wars ended, and we’re living with the world they left.

I write the Craft Sequence series of books and games, set in a postindustrial (and post-war) fantasyland, where black magic is big business, wizards wear pinstriped suits and conduct necromantic procedures on dead gods, and day-to-day commerce rests on people trading pieces of their souls for goods and services. The Craft Sequence books are legal thrillers about faith, or religious thrillers about law and finance. Plus there are hive-mind police forces, poet gargoyles, brainwashing golems, nightmare telegraphs, surprisingly pleasant demons, worldshattering magic, environmental devastation, and that deepest and darkest evil: student loans.

Have fun. I did.

 
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Posted by on July 28, 2018 in loten

 

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Monthly Spotlight: Raymond E Feist’s The Riftwar Cycle

We’re back in the realm of very long medieval-fantasy series this month. The Riftwar Cycle comprises 30 books of varying length, broken down into various trilogies, duologies and quartets, most – but not all – set on the world of Midkemia. Some of them stand alone, others really need to be read in some sort of order. Feist has only written two books outside this cycle, a standalone called Faerie Tale and the beginning of a new series called King of Ashes; I haven’t read either of those.

Credit to my brother for first introducing me to these books, many years ago.

The key to these books is that there’s something for everyone. There’s magic – the magic system isn’t as developed as some, but it’s there and there are different types and different users. There are battles, and politics, and dragons, and dwarves, and elves, and goblins, and gods, and demons. They move along briskly, too – no long loving descriptions of every bit of scenery here, it’s almost all action. We have a variety of protagonist characters with distinct personalities. If you’re not keen on one arc, you’ll like the preceeding or following ones.

Let’s begin. This is going to be another long post, with so many volumes to cover. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on June 28, 2018 in loten

 

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Monthly Spotlight: Tamora Pierce

something something Harry Potter soon mumble mumble

This month we’re looking at Tamora Pierce, a rather underrated young adult author who seems less well known now than she was when I started reading her stuff aged twelve or so. In many ways she is the first ‘young adult’ author, I suppose; her first book was published in 1983 and nobody was quite sure how to categorise it. Which caused a few issues, as we’ll see later. She’s known for decent female protagonists (before the world and his wife started throwing around the term ‘strong female character’) and for addressing everyday practical concerns such as menstruation and birth control.

Her books mostly consist of quartets following individual characters, and are set in one of two fantasy worlds, Tortall and Emelan. I’ve talked to a lot of her fans over the years, and without exception it seems that the ones you read first are the ones you like best. It has to be said that one of the reasons for this is probably because there are quite a few similarities in character and storyline between the two, but more on that later. Since I read Tortall first and Mitchell has only read Emelan so far [I did read the Alanna quartet also, just not the rest of them yet], you get both of us rambling at you this month. I’ll let him go first, under the cut. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on May 24, 2018 in loten, mitchell

 

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