April 22nd, 2010


April Books 14) Njal's Saga

In a week when people have been thinking about Iceland for other reasons, it was odd to be reading Njal's Saga, much of which takes place around the very slopes of Eyjafjallajökull. Though actually I found certain similarities also with my current trip to Africa; Njal's Saga is in part about modernisation of an agrarian society, and the challenges caused by economic change to traditional patterns of internal conflict resolution. It was recommended to me ages ago by the rarely seen thorngirl, whose detailed review I strongly recommend; I can't add a lot more to what she says, except to add my praise for the sparse writing style, the three-dimensional characterisation, the (mostly unsuccessful) attempts to resolve family feuds through law rather than blood, the sense of a small, isolated community which is none the less intimately connected with the rest of the Norse world (one of the set-pieces towards the end is the Battle of Clontarf). Tremendous stuff.

April Books 15) The Lives of Christopher Chant, by Diana Wynne Jones

I think this is my favourite of the Chrestomanci novels, a prequel with some retracing the steps of Charmed Life, but adding some extra wrinkles which I found more satisfying - the parental marriage disintegrating; the young goddess of cats; the boarding school; the interdimensional smuggling racket; and the answer to the question of what happened to Chrestomanci's other lives. Young Christopher's psychological alienation, temptation, and eventual redemption are a very effective story arc. Even though we see even less of the world of Chrestomanci here than we did in Charmed Life, it still feels like a rich and intriguing environment. Like all of the Chrestomanci books it reads perfectly well as a standalone, with no knowledge of the rest of the series necessary to enjoy it.

April Books 16) The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, by N.K. Jemisin

There's been a lot of buzz around this book, partly perhaps because of the author's online visibility, but mainly I suspect because it is a rather good book. It is an immersive fantasy, to use the Mendlesohn typology, about Yeine, a young woman who discovers that she is a potential heir to the rulership of the entire world, and who has to grapple with palace politics and living deities to survive. The political situation is actually rather well set up, and the denouement is rather a twist in the plot but is actually entirely fair to the reader rather than deus ex machina. This will no doubt appear on a number of next year's shortlists, and desrvedly so; it's not my preferred sub-genre, but I enjoyed it.

April Books 17) Sick Building, by Paul Magrs

This is a Tenth Doctor and Martha novel, set on a wilderness world where a crazed scientist and his family are holding out against a monstrous creature which is devouring the planet's entire surface, helped by a domestic computer (which is also derganged). I thought it was a pretty poor effort. I hate cute robots, and this book has too many of them; Magrs is self-conscious in his writing down to the presumed young reader's level, and the prose style is pretty awful; his characterisation of the Doctor is annoying and inconsistent; and the monster is called, I kid you not, the Voracious Craw. One to skip. (I think I got it for 50p on eBay.)