September 4th, 2012


Links I found interesting for 04-09-2012


September Books 2) Assassin's Apprentice, by Robin Hobb

I've known for some time that Robin Hobb is to be one of the Guests of Honour at Loncon 3, the 2014 Worldcon; and was rather guiltily conscious of the fact that I had never read any of her books. Even apart from the Worldcon connection, she has been recommended to me several times by you guys.

Well, if you did recommend her to me, you can feel very smug, because I thoroughly enjoyed Assassin's Apprentice, the tale of the bastard son of a prince whose natural and supernatural gifts turn out to be useful to his grandfather in the twisted paths of statecraft in a fantasy kingdom desperately seeking allies against attack from a barely human, possibly inhuman, foe. The description of intersecting court politics and personal loyalty was intricate, fascinating and even moving. (OK, she uses puppies shamelessly as a way of engaging the reader's emotions; but I am a sucker for small furry creatures with large trusting eyes.) I will go out and get the sequel, and probably the third volume; and then consider how much further to take it.

I am trying to identify why Assassin's Apprentice worked for me, when the very similar (and much shorter) Yearwood totally did not. It may partly be the puppies; it may be the well-handled theme of education from many sources. But in general I think Hobb has a better political sense, and also after killing off a significant character or two in the early chapters there is a much greater feeling of suspense.

One minor linguistic whinge: the words "flout" and "flaunt" are used the wrong way round!

September Books 3) The Very Last Gambado, by Jonathan Gash

I'm beginning to get the hang of the Lovejoy books now: a richly described and usually mildly exotic setting; an utterly convoluted and insane plot (as in conspiracy); a moderately convoluted and insane plot (as in storyline); lots of antiques lore injected into the text with varying degrees of randomness; and many many women competing to get into our hero's bed (though the sex is never very explicit). It's quite a different Lovejoy from the TV series - younger, randier and frankly more criminal. It helps me get to sleep at night reading a few pages before lights out. (At least I think so; will continue the experiment for the five Lovejoy books still on the shelves.)

The Very Last Gambado is about a criminal raid on the British Museum, disguised as a movie about a raid on the British Museum (which is this book's lovingly described exotic venue). It was written some way into Lovejoy's TV appearances, and one wonders if the dissolute and past-it male lead was - no, never mind, that's unfair. But there are a lot of interesting observations about the madness of a film set, particularly involving stunt men, and the thought experiment of trying to raid the British Museum is an intriguing one; anyone who knows that corner of London at all well will end up scratching their heads at the complexity of the problem.

Meanwhile we do also get a fair bit of Lovejoy on his home ground in East Anglia, fighting off amorous women with varying degrees of failure, and encountering a forger's workshop located on a second-hand bus, which is an arresting image. And I'm glad to report that our hero has acquired two new budgies after the awful fate of the ones in Gold from Gemini.

This book also has a moment which makes the classification of the series as non-genre rather than fantasy very difficult. Lovejoy is a "divvy"; he has an astonishing ability to tell real antiques from fakes. One can usually handwave this away as well-honed observational skills and intuition - I can look at a tray of objects and guess how many there are to within 15-20%; I used to be able to date a medieval manuscript to the correct half-century at a glance; Lovejoy's skill as an extension of that sort of thing seems OK. But here, Lovejoy actually detects a genuine antique within a sealed container, unable to see it, but it makes his heart beat faster just to be near it. It's not all that important to the plot (well, it might be, but I had some difficulty following) so I will still classify The Very Last Gambado as non-genre in my end-of-month and end-of-year tallies. But I have a lingering doubt.

The internal chronology of the Lovejoy books must be pretty convoluted. This one was published between Jade Woman and The Great California Game, but cannot be set between them as one flows directly from the other via a trans-Pacific plane flight (which would not normally include East Anglia or the British Museum). It cannot even be immediately before Jade Woman, as Lovejoy's sort-of primary partner here is Lydia, whereas at the start of Jade Woman it is Jane, and nor can it be immediately after The Great California Game which ends with Lovejoy still in America and still entangled with Jane. I suspect that The Very Last Gambado may be a jump back to an earlier point in the timeline. I will keep an open mind.