book review: wolfhound century

Peter Higgins’ Wolfhound Century is kind of a spy/detective novel mashed up with a fantastical element in a world whose moon has shattered and angels fell to earth. I liked it, but it didn’t grab my innards the way I’d hoped it would.

There are two parts to the book. The first is about an investigation in this fantasy-tinged Russian city filled with agents-provocateur, anarchists and artists. This stuff I loved. The powerful people are assholes and Lom the detective is a prototypical noir detective in this pseudo-Soviet state. It’s great.

Then it spins into something overtly mythical magical and blatant rather than tinged with magic. This big magical plot doesn’t resolve itself and I assume it’s planned as a trilogy at least. That bugs me. The change in Lom 3/4 of the way through the story also bugs me a bit. He starts off as a hard-boiled provincial detective out of his element but pursuing leads in the case he was given. By the end he’s definitely not that any more. There’s a lot of stuff that happens that undermines the “lone man against an impenetrable totalitarian fantasy state” vibe I wanted out of the book (and got from the beginning).

But it’s a decent beginning to a story that I’ll probably like when it’s all put together eventually. As it is, it’s too much of a first act for my liking.

book review: the demon trapper’s daughter

I read Jana Oliver’s The Demon Trapper’s Daughter for our teen book club’s Paranormal Creatures session because I hadn’t really read much in the Demons and Angels subset of YA Urban Fantasy (I am sighing at myself for using these marketing pigeonholes, just so you know).

The story follows Riley, a 17-year-old Atlanta girl who is an apprentice demon trapper, following in the family trade. Usually apprentices deal with tiny vandals and thieving demons (grade 1 demons), but there are far more powerful ones out there, the machinations of which she gets caught up in. She’s a resourceful active likable heroine, even as she has a lot to learn about her chosen profession.

The setting of the book was interesting. It’s 2018 Atlanta and demons and angels are very out in the open, making nuisances of themselves/being aloof and inscrutable respectively. It’s kind of weird metaphysically because the angels and demons are tied very very firmly to a pop-Roman Catholic kind of worldview that’s treated as almost scientifically accurate (a lot of the plot rests on the nature of Holy Water, which is mass-produced and certified and taxed specially), yet the pagans are also becoming a stronger voting-bloc in Georgia. There are also necromancers who can reanimate corpses as servants for a year after their deaths.

The economy has been spiralling downwards, which gives the economic incentive to the characters. There’s conflict over the taxes and paperwork you have to fill out as a demon trapper doing things the right way. Also, I appreciate that these are demon trappers not demon hunters. Demon hunters are the Vatican big-firepower badasses who get the (wildly inaccurate) TV shows made about them. The demon trappers aren’t dilettantes, or supernatural navy SEALs, but working stiffs trying to control the supernatural pest population, and dealing with paying rent.

Now that makes it sound very Ghostbusters, and to a large extent it is, but it’s also got its requisite love-triangle between Riley and the gruff young man who’s like a brother to her and the delicate apprentice who sets her heart aflutter. There are misreadings of character motives that are annoying in their desire to keep the triangle going. Also, because it’s the first book of a series, there’s no real resolution at the end of the book (though there is a lot of denouement from the final set-piece).

I liked it better than the bits of Cassandra Clare’s angel books I’ve read, and will be recommending it to fans of her work (and of Buffy).

book review: terminal world

Terminal World is another one of these Alastair Reynolds books that reminds me why I read him sporadically. There are neat science fictiony adventurous ideas in his books but the writing makes me clench my teeth. No one behaves in a neurotypical fashion: everyone’s dialogue is clichés or exposition-speak. It feels more like the transcription of a bunch of socially-awkward 14-year-olds role-playing. Which is a shame because the plot and setting would be pretty spiffy if it was described by someone with a bit of flair for language.

It’s thousands of years in the future, on what appears to be Mars, even though everyone calls it Earth (I think that’s supposed to be clever, to show that they’ve forgotten they were once colonists). In the giant spire city of Spearpoint there are different zones of technology, from the Celestial levels where the angels who can fly and are filled with nanotech live, down to Neon Heights and Horse Town. These zones aren’t just stylistic; the rules of physics are different in each zone, making the technology from a higher zone cease to function in lower ones. It’s a pretty clever idea that gets developed as the story goes on, and is a good excuse for energy weapons and dirigibles to coexist.

Quillon is on the run from the angels so he’s heading out of Spearpoint for a while. He has a guide and they rescue a woman and child who will “change the world forever” (of course). There’s nothing really surprising that happens in the book. And the prose is boring. But it would make a pretty good RPG setting to play in.

book review: sandman slim

I’ve heard about Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim books but never paid much attention to them. I think I expected something more like When Gravity Fails: a gritty cyberpunk type thing. So I was surprised that it was all magic and ass-kicking, not clever understated detective work.

Stark is a man who just came back to Los Angeles from 11 years in hell and he’s looking for his old magical friends who turned on him and sent him there. I loved how the book throws you right in, like you’ve missed something that would explain how Stark wasn’t dead when he went to hell. Instead of worrying about that Stark just steals money, uses a hell-coin to make decisions and basically cuts a swathe through the magickal underworld.

It was fun, but had less oomph to it than I’d hoped. Good popcorn reading.

book review: preacher (vols. 5-9)

I had always thought I’d read all of Garth Ennis’ Preacher, but it turns out I only had the first four volumes before I went off travelling and got interrupted. I don’t know why I never came back to finish it, except that I thought I had. Anyway. I’ve finished it now and Preacher remains a great comic.

The basic story is that Jesse Custer is a hard-drinking ass-kicking southern preacher who has been given the power of the Word of God and he’s off to track God down for abandoning its creation. He has an Irish vampire buddy named Cassidy and the girl he used to steal cars with, Tulip to help him. There’s an organization called the Grail that is trying to stop him to usher in Armageddon on their terms. It’s a pretty big story.

There’s a lot of backtracking in the story to go back and give us more background on characters, which, by the end turns this huge epic into a couple of guys duking it out on a street in San Antonio. It’s blackly funny and very situated in the 1990s, which is kind of fun to read now (because I am apparently becoming nostalgic in my old age).

book review: stories of your life and others

Ted Chiang is amazing. The short stories in Stories of Your Life and Others are practically all amazing in the ways they twist your brain into new ways of seeing. There are stories about the tower of Babel and about mass-producing golems and about angelic manifestations, along with alien languages that don’t work sequentially and mathematics being proven as meaningless. It’s such a fantastic collection I can barely even talk about it, because I’d seriously start recapping the stories to show how cool they are and it’s much better if you’d just read them. If you have any interest in science fiction, you must read this book.

book review: mainspring

I read Jay Lake’s blog for months before I finally got to reading one of his books. I finally read Mainspring this week. It was okay but kind of pointless. In a cover blurb John Scalzi calls it a wind-up toy and I think that’s what bugged me about it. It was very very plotty. This bit leads to this bit leads to this one, which makes sense when it’s about a clockwork world, but it felt like it didn’t have anything to say. It wasn’t about anything except this kid’s chosen one quest.

But. The world was very neat. There’re airships and the church of the Brass Christ. The archangel Gabriel shows up as a Clockwork. It’s kind of a really alternate Earth, but still with an Africa and Britain and the geography and sort of history of our world except that it was obviously created as clockwork. You can see the tracks in the sky that the Earth follows around the sun and there’s a giant equatorial wall where the gearteeth of the Earth’s rotation hit those tracks. So yeah, very “created,” which gives religion a bit more oomph.

Anyway, I’m glad I read it, but it was basically just something neat to occupy a couple of days. Like a wind-up toy.