A Rare Book of Cunning Device (Peter Grant, #5.6) by Ben Aaronovitch

34998339

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date read: April 28 to May 6, 2017

Funny, too short, and available only on audio, for now anyway, and it’s still going for free at Audible.

Nightingale is out of town again, and Peter gets called to the British Library about what appears at first to be a poltergeist problem. But after some investigating, it turns out to be a book running amok after dark and keeping the librarians up at night.

The book isn’t actually a book, but an ancient device of magical origins. It has moving parts and seems somewhat sentient, or at least aware of its surrounding. I’d love to learn more about it and see it featured in later books.

Peter brings Toby and Postmartin along to the library and learns from the librarians that the good professor has a reputation for stealing rare tomes. This comes as no surprise to me because I’ve always suspected that about him. Gatekeepers like the people of the Folly have always seemed like the kind to “confiscate” rare books and other objects of magical origins for safe keeping.

This short story reads like another sequence from the cutting room floor, not unlike The Home Crowd Advantage. I get the feeling these two should have been part of the main novels, but for whatever reason, they had to be cut during the editing process. But they were too good to delete permanently, so we get these little snippets to entertain us while we wait for #7.

Advertisements

Review: The Angelus Guns by Max Gladstone

22670746

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date Read: October 15 to 19, 2015
Read Count: 1
Available on Tor.com

An angelus gun is a weapon of annihilation used by avenging angels to shut down rebel uprising on various planets the angels have conquered. Thea is a retired angel warrior who goes on a quest to find her brother. She finds him in the middle of a rebel faction on the eve of war.

The story begins by dropping you into the action with barely any set up or background. By the end, you feel a little winded but not really satisfied because there’s still so much of this world left unexplored and unexplained. Although there is closure, so much potential is still left hanging. Too many loose ends for my liking.

This story, as lovely and lively as it is, reads more like a teaser for a longer work than a short story. Many aspects of it feel incomplete. Max Gladstone has more than enough here for a full length novel, or maybe a trilogy, and I hope he returns to expand on these ideas some day. The angels’ universe seem full realized, but not much about it is explained apart from Thea’s quest and the characters she meets along the way. We only get to see a sliver of this interesting universe, but that is enough to want more.

The characters, their universe, technology, mythology, politics, and even their current plane of existence are fully formed–or they give that sense anyway–but not expanded on enough to let you see or give you a feel for the scope and breadth of the story. Nevertheless they make you want to find out more. Unfortunately you can’t because this is a short story and that’s all there is to it for the time being.

Gladstone has a nice way with words, and this story/teaser reads a lot like poetry. There’s an operatic quality to it that resembles the angels’ songs. Here are a few of my favorite quotes, very spoilery though.

The rebels made music. The rebels made love. The rebels roasted meat and sang songs and danced and practiced war. At the park’s outer edge, someone was killing oxen, imported probably from deep inside the timestream. They’d brought works of art here too, from the museums, bits of genius saved from obliterated worlds. One of the dragonflies’ dream arches glinted million-colored beside a Gnathi obelisk. Again and again, she saw a slogan, on walls, on the sides of buildings, on paths and statuary: Gardens Do Not Grow.

[···]

Stars thronged the sky, all moving, all singing, between a ring of eclipsed suns. The guns must have drifted through the shield wall in the night. Stars: an infinite horde of builders kitted out for war, wings flared white with absorbed radiance, power gathered in rainbow cascade. Eclipsed suns: the Angelus Guns pointed down at Michael’s Park, lips aflame, the darkness inside them deep. After so much silence the fleet’s music deafened, washes of consensus and rage, righteous hunger and restrained wrath and sorrow passed through tachyons and entangled particles, along meson and microwave, the song conducting itself.

[···]

She flew past him, out over the gap and down, away from the city, into the marbled sky. Before she slipped from timeless space, she heard, in the far distance, a familiar voice. Gabe. The soldiers of the host sang telemetry songs, and he added his voice to theirs in secret, directed out to her.

So, as she flew and wept, she looked up through his eyes from Michael’s Park, and saw the fire of the guns’ lips build to burning, and their black mouths open. She raised her hands, and once and forever she died.

[···]

That night, Thea snuck to their fire with the book that was not hers, and opened it, and read, as she had many times before, the thick letters her brother’s pen had carved into the paper. No memory, no vision, nothing for Zeke to find when he sang through her. Just letters. Just a story with the end missing.

But she knew the end. She drank tea from her cup, and drew her pen, and finished her brother’s work.

Someday, she would read it out loud where the lizards could hear.

Review: A Kiss with Teeth by Max Gladstone

23209523

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date Read: October 13 to 15, 2015
Read Count: 1
Available on Tor.com

A delightful little story that goes well with this time of year. Only downside is it’s too short. I hope Max Gladstone decides to expand on it because there are enough ideas here for a delightful full-length novel.

Ever wonder what Vlad the Impaler would be like as a family man going through a mid-life crisis? OF COURSE. That was how this story got me.

After hundreds of years as a vampire, Vlad falls for a human woman and decides to settle down and build a home with her. Together they have a son who is now 7 years old and has been having problems in school. Other than that, the family seems very happy, if only on the surface.

The story opens with Vlad bored out of his mind with domesticity. He misses his old life–blood, gore, and all, especially the blood–and reminisces constantly throughout the day. Pretending to be human used to be fun, because it was a game to him, but now after ten years, it’s a life (that often feels like a life sentence). The novelty has worn off some time ago, and Vlad begins to feel his old self trying to come back. He doesn’t let it though; he’s got too much to lose.  There is, however, one bright spot in his dull existence, and that’s his son’s teacher. He meets with her every week to discuss the boy’s schoolwork, and the more time he spends with her, the more he feels his old urges returning.

This story did not go where I thought it would go, which was a nice surprise. It makes me like it all the more for breaking out of the tired old urban-vampire trope. What I enjoyed most about this story, even more so than Vlad, is the prose. There’s a natural flow to it that’s pleasant to read, but at the same time, it’s got a bite to it, not unlike Vlad’s real teeth. There’s a sharpness and crispness to the structure that appeals to me.

Vlad no longer shows his wife his sharp teeth. He keeps them secret in his gums, waiting for the quickened skip of hunger, for the blood-rush he almost never feels these days.

The teeth he wears instead are blunt as shovels. He coffee-stains them carefully, soaks them every night in a mug with ‘World’s Best Dad’ written on the side. After eight years of staining, Vlad’s blunt teeth are the burnished yellow of the keys of an old unplayed piano. If not for the stain they would be whiter than porcelain. Much, much whiter than bone.

[…]

A game, he tells himself. Humans hunt these days, in the woods, in the back country, and they do not eat the meat they kill. Fisherman catch fish to throw them back. And this night run is no more dangerous to him than fishing to an angler. He leaves his oxfords on the schoolhouse rooftop and runs barefoot over buildings and along bridge wires, swift and soft. Even if someone beneath looked up, what is he? Wisp of cloud, shiver of a remembered nightmare, bird spreading wings for flight. A shadow among shadows.

[…]

He can’t go on like this. Woken, power suffuses him. He slips into old paths of being, into ways he trained himself to forget. One evening on his home commute he catches crows flocking above him on brownstone rooftops. Black beady eyes wait for his command.

This is no way to be a father. No way to be a man.

But Vlad was a monster before he was a man.

[…]

“Might as well kill me now.”

“I won’t.”

“I’m a monster.”

“You’re just more literal than most.”

Other than Vlad’s false teeth, nothing is conventional about the domesticity in this story.

 

Instead of accountant, Vlad should have been a dentist. I mean, come on, huge missed opportunity there.

Review: The Retrieval Artist: a Short Novel (Retrieval Artist #0.5) by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

8899463

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Date Read: April 5 to 6, 2015
Read Count: 1
Recommended by: list of past Hugo Award nominees
Recommended for: fans of hardboiled sci-fi

If Hammett and Chandler were to dabble in sci-fi, the result would look something like this novella.

Miles Flint is a retrieval artist and his job is to locate the Disappeared, people who have gone into hiding and whose former existence has been permanently erased from all databases. Flint tracks them down for an exorbitant fee because he’s very good at his job. But he isn’t without scruples. Sometimes certain people need to stay disappeared. There’s lots of reasons why someone would want to disappear permanently and most of those have to do with escaping assassination attempts. In those cases, Flint is fine with letting those people be. He wants nothing to do with helping assassins locate their targets.

This story is about an interesting case that Flint couldn’t turn away even though he knew he should have. A young woman from a corporate dynasty comes seeking his help to find her mother and sister. Her father is gravely ill and once he dies, the sister stands to inherit his share of the empire and she, the young woman, could not because she’s a clone. There are laws against clones inheriting the family fortune. Flint just couldn’t resist digging further into this case. What follows is an interesting look at birthrights and legitimate heirs in the new age of space exploration.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s Miles Flint is a throwback to the private eyes of those early hardboiled days. Brash and candid, the character has a bluntness and directness that weed out sob stories and cut right through bullshit–so maybe more of a Hammett-type character than Chandler. Flint assesses people in a cool apathetic manner that allows him to judge their intentions and gauge whether or not they’re out to kill the Disappeared people they claim to seek. Being able to tell the difference is something he takes pride in.

Being Disappeared is a gray area. It allows actual criminals the same chance of survival as innocent people who have been similarly marked for death. I find this concept very interesting. It’s one of the few things that’s motivating me to pick up the next book because the writing, although gets the job done, is just okay. It leans more towards telling than showing, and there are quite a few long explanations nestled in between the action. But the info-dumps are necessary to introduce the setting, story, and Miles Flint’s precarious job.

All in all, a good story and solid introduction to what I hope will be an interesting series. I also hope it will be a new favorite series which I can fall back on. Rusch is currently at book #13 and she’s still writing.

Review: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, read by Tom Mison

23197024

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ (for the narration)
Date Read: March 30 to 31, 2015
Read Count: lots
Recommended by:
Recommended for: fans of the show Sleepy Hollow

So good. Haunting and whimsical. Tom Mison has the perfect voice and intonation for this story (because he is Ichabod Crane). Although the story is told in third-person, Mison remains in character from start to finish as the Ichabod Crane he plays in the show. So if you like him in the show, then listening to him read the story is exactly like having Ichabod recount the story of his life in Sleepy Hollow. What’s unique about Mison’s narration is that he presents Icabod as a layered, nuanced character who is full of wonder and ahead of his time. As a character trapped in his time, Ichabod must abide by society’s prim and proper lifestyle, but what he really wants is the freedom to explore. So Sleepy Hollow suited him just fine. It’s a small secluded town full of mystique and “alleged” hauntings. Everything about the locale and history interested him and brought out a sense of wonder.

What I like most about Mison’s reading is how close it is to how I see Ichabod Crane. I’ve always imagined him as a bumbling professor from the backwoods with a morbid youthful glee that’s at odds with Washington Irving’s stiff, puritanical writing style. There’s just something about the character that’s curious and mischievous, but that side of him isn’t shown much due to the prudish writing. At the beginning of the story, Ichabod was a learned man of logic and science, though not entirely adverse to witchcraft or the supernatural; he was, after all, full of wonder and ahead of his time. When the natural and the supernatural coalesced in Sleepy Hollow, however, he couldn’t separate fact from fiction and thus began to lose that sense of wonder. It’s one thing to believe in the supernatural and entertain the idea of facing it head on while never encountering it directly; it’s another thing to see it for yourself and having it shatter your romantic illusions. The change is subtle and gradual, but deeply felt in Mison’s narration. And for that, five stars.

Review: Curran POV Collection (Kate Daniels series) by Gordon Andrews

20295040

Rating: ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
Date Read: July 25 to August 8, 2014
Read Count: 1
Recommended by:
Recommended for: fans of Curran (obviously)

The short stories included in this collection are chronological from Magic Bites (#1) to Magic Bleeds (#4). Each scene has a short subtitle describing the event taking place, so as to let you avoid spoilers.

The overall impression I got is too much telling and not enough showing, which is characteristic of Curran’s lion-king personality. ‘Tis the nature of the beast (ha ha). To me though, the writing or rather the world seen through Curran’s eyes isn’t as interesting or nuanced or unpredictable as Kate’s, but what is interesting is seeing “behind the scenes”power struggles unfolding at the Keep, which Kate isn’t privy to. I’d been hoping there would be more stories about life at the Keep, instead many of the stories are about how Curran sees Kate.

I picked up this collection to get a better understanding of the Beast Lord of Atlanta, and while I did get to see another side of him, I also got to see that he truly is full of himself, no surprise there. The first couple of stories really demonstrate the breadth of his ego. However, as far as possessive and insufferable urban fantasy love interests go, he isn’t the worst since he is the way he is because of duty, responsibility, and expectations, and that makes him more sympathetic, I think.

Review: How to Talk to Girls at Parties by Neil Gaiman

13378509

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Date read: February 20 to 21, 2014
Read count: 1

This short story is exactly what the title says it’s about: talking to girls at a party. What sets it apart from other how-to-pick-up-girls guides is it doesn’t show how to pick up girls because it’s actually a story, and the girls are not like other girls. And by that, I don’t mean they’re not like other girls (click for further explanation).

As far as Gaiman short stories go, I like this one about as much as the others. It’s funny, smart, and unusual, like its forerunners. What’s different here is its purposefully stumbling awkward humor.

The year is 1970-something and the place is somewhere in the UK. Vic and Enn are two teenage boys experiencing a teenage rite of passage; they’re invited to a party and they’re determined to interact with girls. However, Enn is inexperienced and has no idea what to expect. So naturally he comes off as awkward and self-conscious (and hilarious but in that secondhand embarrassment kind of way). Vic, on the other hand, is a bit more of a smooth operator.

The girls are portrayed as exchange students, and the boys don’t doubt that for a minute because, like it’s been established, they’re inexperienced, but we, as more experienced worldly readers, know better. We pick up on the nuances and various moments between Enn and Vic and the girls that don’t seem quite right because they’re more awkward than the usual teenage awkwardness.

Half of the fun of this story is in the boys trying to figure out how to talk to these girls all the while figuring out they’re not like other girls. Literally.