Monthly Archives:: December 2016

End of year Brightmoon quiz

December 31, 2016 Brightmoon world 0

It’s that time of year again, when the newspapers are full of quizzes and best-of articles and giant crosswords to while away the empty hours until we can all go back to work again. Or something. Anyway, here’s my contribution to the mountain of such trivia – a quiz set in the Brightmoon world. How much do you remember of the books? Three questions for each book, plus a bonus question. Answers in the New Year.

kallanash1001) The Plains of Kallanash
Question 1: What was Dethin’s job when Mia first met him?
A) Blacksmith
B) Commander of First Section
C) Eastern Warlord
D) Skirmisher
Question 2: When Mia and Hurst climbed to the top of the tower in the lake at the Ring, what did they find there? (Bonus points if you can name everything they found along the way)
A) The Silent Guards
B) The Nine Gods
C) Mages
D) All of the above
Question 3: When Mia met the morodaim in the tunnel, they bowed very respectfully to her. Why?
A) She was the only female.
B) They’d met her before.
C) They recognised her mental ability to read emotions.
D) They are magical creatures; who knows why they do anything?

Read more »

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Fantasy review: ‘The Ruling Mask’ by Neil McGarry and Daniel Ravipinto

December 27, 2016 Review 0

One of the best aspects of epic fantasy, for me, is the way each book in a series opens out the scope of the story a little more, allowing glimpses of previously unseen locations. This book does that, too, and even though almost all the action takes place within the confines of the city of Rodaas, there is much to discover about the place. But what this series does so gloriously well is to draw back the veil concealing the mysteries of the people of Rodaas – its odd history, its religions, its swirling rivalries on the streets and the background of Duchess herself. And in this book, for the first time, we begin to get a good close-up look at the rulers of the city.

This is a plot-heavy book, with multiple threads weaving back and forth, involving the many different political and economic factions of the city. Many fantasy cities feel like those fake wild west towns, where the saloon is nothing but a sheet of plywood propped up as a backdrop to the pretend shootout. Rodaas, by contrast, feels entirely functional and real. The different quarters, the tradespeople going about their business, the beggars and priestesses, the Red and the Greys, the lightboys and ganymedes, and all the multitude of administrators high and low, and every last one of them is operating according to his or her own agenda. To be honest, I found it hard to keep up with, but that’s not a criticism, it’s high praise. There are vanishingly few books that have so much depth.

But it’s the characters that shine, for me. Not just Duchess herself, but Lysander and Castor, Jana and her brother, the oddball scholar Cecilia, and a whole range of minor characters. Castor became a more significant player in this book. In the previous book, he seemed to be something of a plot device at times, disappearing when convenient, then reappearing just when Duchess needed him. I never minded (I’m a sucker for a warrior-type), but in this book a lot of the odd aspects to him finally start to come into focus, and that gave me goosebumps. Hearing snippets about Duchess’s brother, Justin, also gave me goosebumps. We’ve already seen what happened to her sister, so I hope we eventually catch up with the brother again.

Once again the climax of the story is a seemingly impossible task for Duchess to accomplish, but this is becoming a little predictable now, especially since Duchess’s specialness is ever more apparent, and the likelihood of failure is small. There were one or two elements in the book that seemed unnecessary (the Coast Road, and Aaron’s actions), put in just to wring out some extra emotion, but I’ve thought that before in this series and found there was a deeper significance, so I’m trusting the authors on this.

Overall, this is a deeply thoughtful and well-written series, up there with the best of them, which rewards careful reading. So why only four stars? It’s a personal issue – when a series is as multi-stranded and deep as this one, yet there long gaps between books, I find it impossible to remember all the details of what happened previously. Without either a summary of the story so far or a list of characters, even with careful exposition (which is the case here) I miss a great deal of the more subtle nuances. The failure is mine, not the book’s, but it still diminishes my enjoyment somewhat. For anyone whose memory or ability to pick up subtle clues is better than mine, I commend this book to you. It’s also the sort of series that would reward multiple readings. Four stars.

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Mystery review: ‘Angela’s Christmas Adventure’ by Clara Benson

December 23, 2016 Review 0

A short and sweet Christmas story for fans of the Angela Marchmont series of murder mysteries set in the 1920s. There’s snow and presents and some missing jewellery, stolen in a seemingly impossible crime, which Angela and the irrepressible Barbara set out to solve in their own inventive but persistent way. There are walk-on parts for Angela’s maid and chauffeur, and of course, the delicious Edgar Valencourt. If the mystery isn’t terribly plausible, it doesn’t matter in the slightest, because it’s all jolly good fun. Four stars.

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Review: ‘Brooklyn’ by Colm Toibin

December 17, 2016 Review 0

An interesting story historically, perhaps, but in many ways it fell short for me. Eilis is a young woman in a small town in post-war Ireland, a place with few prospects. Her brothers have gone to England to find work, and her glamorous older sister, Rose, has a job and a social life and a worldly wisdom Eilis is entirely lacking. So when Rose arranges for Eilis to go to New York, with a job and accommodation organised by a helpful priest, Eilis meekly goes along with it. It’s never very clear to me exactly why Rose does this, especially given the later revelations of the story, but then there wouldn’t be much plot if she hadn’t, so I’ll go along with it.

The section dealing with Eilis’s journey to America and settling into life in Brooklyn is quite interesting, but it’s curiously flat. We never get any real inkling of a personality in Eilis. She drifts along, doing whatever is suggested to her. The priest asks her to help out at the Christmas charity, when she’s homesick the priest helps her start evening classes, then an Italian man takes an interest in her. Eilis goes along with all of it, without, apparently, a thought in her head beyond pleasing other people.

And then, when she’s summoned back home to Ireland, she does that too, leaving behind the nice Italian boyfriend and drifting into another relationship altogether. And this is where I lost patience with her entirely. For a good Catholic girl, she doesn’t seem to have too many moral scruples about two-timing. So the drama at the end seemed completely unnecessary to me, and could all have been avoided by a little openness. What was the point of all the secrecy, anyway? Why wouldn’t Eilis tell her mother about the nice Italian boyfriend, who might have been only a plumber but was still a Catholic boy. Too silly for words, and I just wanted to shake Eilis.

Nicely written and the historical details were interesting, but I had no time for a character who was so self-effacing she was almost transparent. Three stars.

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Authors Answer #18: Have you ever wanted to rewrite the ending of another author’s published book? How would you change it?

December 2, 2016 AuthorsAnswer 0

Wow, long time since I did one of these!

The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant

There are very few books that get me so mad that I want to throw them across the room, but this is one of them. The author wrote a perfect historical romance, well-written, well-researched, the era brilliantly conveyed and the characters fascinating. She then destroyed it utterly by bookending it with a prologue and last chapter which turned it into something else altogether. I suppose the intention was to elevate the book from the realms of mere romance to historical fiction or even literature, and I daresay for many, possibly most, readers that worked fine. My book group, for instance, for whom this was a monthly pick, liked it well enough and most saw nothing wrong with the ending.

But for me, it ruined the whole story. It took a main character who had, after many years vacillating and being pushed around by her family and history, finally taken charge of her life, and then put her straight back into the box of being passive. And her reasons for that were (to me, anyway) opaque. She had everything she’d ever wanted — her lover, her daughter, her art, the freedom to be whatever she wanted to be — and she threw it all away to stay in her convent. This could have been a compelling ending. She could have accepted a life devoted to God, for instance, or she could have simply decided she was happy there. But no, she was so far from happy that she later kills herself, a great sin in those days (not a spoiler — this is revealed in the prologue).

I’m not an intolerant reader, and I can suspend my disbelief in a thousand different ways before breakfast. I write epic fantasy, after all, so fantastical events are my bread and butter. But people are people, no matter how outlandish the setting. With orcs, elves, wizards, demons, werebeetles, you-name-its — well, fine, actual results may vary. But for human beings, there are certain rules to be followed and motivations have to be credible. You can’t have a character do something just because. No, really, you can’t. There has to be a reason and it has to be believable, and in this book the character’s decisions were neither.

You can read my full, very ranty, review here.

Footnote: Authors Answer is the brainchild of blogger Jay Dee Archer, of I Read Encyclopedias For Fun. You can read the answers to this question by his eclectic bunch of authors here. More recently, Erica Dakin, of the Theft And Sorcery blog, has been answering the questions independently. You can read her answer to this question here.

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