This book could have been a story arc in a comic book, and I mean that in a good way. In fact, I’m thinking that could be why I liked this book so much. You have British warlocks versus Nazi Germany’s engineered super soldiers in an alternate history of World War II.
At this point in the story, the U.S. is still out of the picture and the Soviet Union only gets involved later in the book. The British have discovered that Nazi scientists have been developed a technology to create a group of “supermen” — there’s a guy who can manipulate fire, a woman who can turn invisible, another dude who can walk through solid matter, etc. The British know they’re screwed unless they come up with something fast, so they end up recruiting a bunch of their warlocks to counter the enemy.
But the story is a lot darker than it sounds, or at least that’s how I felt. There are parts that were really emotionally disturbing and/or upsetting to me; the whole book just has this heavy, gloomy vibe surrounding it, which isn’t uncommon for books that explore the theme of whether the ends justify the means — because there’s a catch to the warlocks’ power. Apparently, it comes only from a group of omnipotent extra-planar beings called the Eidolons, demon-like creatures who demand a “blood price” for their services.
Not to mention that the book’s main antagonist, the Nazi’s super-soldier pre-cog named Gretel is one crazy scary bitch. She’s even crazier and scarier than the Nazi’s mad scientist. The people on her own side are afraid of her. Heck, her own brother thinks she’s nutters. And yet, her personality is handled just subtly enough so the reader doesn’t simply brush her off as just another cookie-cutter psycho supervillain. Personally, I found her fascinating in a creepy, discomforting sort of way, because you’re left wondering what could anyone with the perfect ability to see the future and manipulate events possibly have planned for the world? It hurts my head just to work out the paradoxes, and quite frankly I don’t really want to think about it at all.
Like I said, there were parts of this book that really disturbed and upset me, but not in the way that would make me want to put it down. Most of the time, it was the penetrating feeling of dread that hit me as I was reading, the anticipation of impending disaster or of waiting for the other shoe to drop. It’s a good, suspenseful fear, and I suppose it speaks well of the author that he was able to make me feel this way, because it doesn’t normally happen unless I get emotionally invested in the story or the characters.
I don’t want to make this book sound all doom and gloom, though. It’s beautifully written and Ian Tregillis has clearly done his homework on the historical period. Despite the occult paranormal and science fiction elements, you get a highly realistic sense of the war setting. The main characters are also very well done; we see the story play out through three main narratives — Marsh the British agent, Will the warlock, and Klaus the Nazi super soldier — and between them I got a pretty clear picture of what’s happening on all sides.
It’s probably true that the ideas in this novel aren’t completely original; you can probably recognize elements of them from other works, but the way Tregillis has mashed them together and the context he uses made this a really intriguing read. I’m really looking forward to picking up the rest of the series if it means I’ll be getting more of that good stuff.
Science fiction fans with an inclination towards alternate history should definitely check this out, especially if you have an interest in the WWII era.
|Laura Vandervoort as Elena Michaesl|
Bitten was my first real introduction to urban fantasy and supernatural books. I fell in love with Kelley Armstrong‘s Women of the Otherworld series. Part of my love comes from national pride: both Armstrong and her main character Elena Michaels are Canadian and it’s always nice to find the familiar in something you’re reading or watching.
The story goes: Elena is the only female to survive a werewolf bite, but she’s not too keen on pack life. A product of the more negative aspects of the foster care system, family doesn’t quite mean the same thing to her as it does to her pack. Since wolves tend to mate for life, her ex, Clay Danvers, is a little upset by this concept. Circumstances draw Elena back to the pack’s home at Stonehaven and murder and mystery ensue.
|Greyston Holt as Clay Danvers|
Since I learned last year about plans already underway for a TV series, I’ve been patiently excited. After Lost Girl, I’m quite happy to see more Canadian-made supernatural shows getting some attention. This month, SPACE released first looks from the set and fans are, unsurprisingly, already up in arms by what we’re seeing (video). We’ve been waiting for Clay’s blond curls and southern drawl, but we won’t be getting either. Elena’s casting is acceptable, but personally, I would have liked to see a more Asian Jeremy Danvers. That might just be because I have a thing for quietly powerful, broody darkangels with long black hair.
Still, I’m not upset by what I’ve seen so far. I’m far more interested in actors that understand and can bring to life the internal workings of a character than just having someone who looks (and sounds) the part. There have been enough excellent examples of actors (e.g. 50% of the Game of Thrones cast) doing this that I am willing to be cautiously optimistic. More so because Armstrong seemed to feel the same way when I asked her about it. When I visited Fan Expo last summer and learned about the show, I got to chat briefly with her. I was curious about her involvement. I always worry that great stories will be swept away from their creators, like Ursula K. Leguin’s issues with EarthSea, if the creator isn’t involved enough. Armstrong noted that she had seen the some of the pre-production concepts (and didn’t seem bothered by any of it), but she specifically did not want to be part of the casting because she felt her idea of how her characters should look would cause too much bias. I was glad to hear that she was able to let that go, so hopefully, fandom will find it in our hearts to forgive as well, once we see what the show actually has to offer us.
Ignoring Laura Vandervoort’s references to 50 Shades of Grey and Twilight, the on set video snippets and interviews seem to confirm to me that the creative team and the actors have grasped the essence of the story and characters (and are aware of what the fans will be upset about, with actor Greyston Holt already apologizing for Clay’s lack of a southern drawl), which is far more important to me as a fan of the books. I particularly love that the pack’s home, Stonehaven, has been recognized as a character unto itself and given the love and attention it deserves with details including first and foremost, Jeremy Danver’s paintings on the wall.
For now, Bitten is focusing, it seems, on Armstrong’s first book, but I definitely plan to stick around to see if the world of the werewolves will expand to include the other Women of the Otherworld and the respective supernatural races they belong to.
Wow, never have I snapped up and read all the currently available books in a series so quickly. With my enthusiasm waning for Harry Dresden in light of the new direction the Dresden Files series has taken in the last few books, someone else has recently dethroned him as my favorite leading man in urban fantasy fiction. Peter Grant is my master now!
I’m really enjoying this series. I probably didn’t like this book as much as the two preceding it, but then again, Rivers of London (review here) was excellent and the sequel Moon Over Soho (review here) was even better, so I knew that was going to be hard to top.
The story begins with a strange murder in the London Underground, and as usual, strange murders always lead to a call to The Folly, home of the Metropolitan Police’s two-man paranormal investigative unit. And thus Peter is dragged into a messy case involving a dead American exchange student who is also the son of a rich and powerful U.S. Senator. Added to that is The Folly’s ongoing manhunt for “The Faceless Man”, the rogue wizard who wreaked havoc and almost got Peter killed in the last book.
Actually, I’d thought this book would take up that thread directly, following through on the mystery behind who The Faceless Man is and ending that story arc, but apparently not. It seems the author has plans instead to expand that particular plot line over the course of future books, an indication that the scope of this series will be getting bigger and bigger. I’m not sure how I feel about that; on the one hand, I’m glad there are ambitious plans for these novels, but on the other, a part of me still prefers the one-contained-mystery-per-book-at-a-time kind of format.
Already, this book feels like there’s a lot more happening in it than the others. With the exception of a couple scenes, the story didn’t feel as suspenseful because the mystery was “diluted” amidst all that was going on. Maybe that’s also why its chapters were organized into what happened by days of the week this time, to help keep track of all the events over time. There seems to be a lot more exposition as well, and sadly — at least it feels this way to me — less history about London and less of Peter experimenting with magic using science, which were the two things I’d loved best about the first two books. Actually, there’s just not as much magic, period.
Despite that, there were some things I really liked about this book, not the least of all Lesley’s bigger role in this series. I wasn’t happy at all about what happened to her in the first book, and good to know she wasn’t just some shallow, throwaway plot device never to have a more important purpose again. There are also a few scenes which I felt were done extremely well, especially a particular one near the end in the eerie confines of the underground tunnels. Very imaginative and atmospheric.
Anyway, I’m glad that I’m all caught up now, but unfortunately that also means it’s going to be a long and difficult wait for the end of July, which is when the next book comes out.
Expected Date of Publication: June 30, 2013
25 Perfect Days is a collection of twenty-five short stories all linked together in some way, each written from a different character’s point of view. The book spans decades and generations, showing the decline of society into a totalitarian state where the government and a radical religion are one and the same, and overpopulation is leading to massive food shortages, congested cities and pollution. It’s a scary look at how extreme measures to counter these problems can cost the people their personal freedoms.
And as a special treat, since blog contributors Mogsy and Wendy both recently read this, we thought we’d try something different and do a co-review! Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for providing review copies.
What did you think of 25 Perfect Days’ concept of a dystopian world compared to other books with similar themes?
Wendy: I liked the way things gradually moved into this dystopian future, rather than the usual way the reader is plopped into the chaos and has to learn as we go along. Here, we got to learn with the characters as they were forced into ever worsening situations. Otherwise the concepts that were presented were their own
reasonably unique twists on many things we’ve seen so far, such as the all powerful church combining with state to create this oppression. Some elements, like the weight requirements, were new to me. That chapter was particularly shocking and it was frightening to see the lengths people were going to to remain under the ever decreasing weight cut off.
Mogsy: Yeah, I agree that as dystopian novels go, I thought Mark Tullius did a great job creating his disturbing vision of what could happen if a government is given too much power over its people. And I feel the same way as you regarding the gradual move into the dystopian future. Usually when I read these kinds of books, the dystopia is already in place, as in whatever took place to bring the society to this state has already happened and is in the past.
In 25 Perfect Days, however, we get to see an interpretation of the actual process, the slippery slope which leads to the downfall of a society. Like the book’s blurb says, something like this simply doesn’t
just happen overnight. It happens by degrees, and I thought the
author’s way of presenting the novel was a brilliant idea and also quite realistic.
What did you like about the book? What did you think the author did well?
Wendy: I liked the entire concept of moving through these twenty-five days, spelling out this horrible world and the people within it. I liked the way the chapters made you have to think and infer what the different situations meant in order to paint the overall picture of this society. I liked the way the chapters intertwined with the ramifications of actions in the previous chapters weaving through the story, along with the various players.
relationships between characters. It wasn’t obvious at first, but after
the first few stories, I think a bulb suddenly flashed on in my head and
I understood. After that, trying to figure out the connections between
the stories became an enjoyable part of the reading experience itself.
Of all the characters in 25 Perfect Days’, whose story did you like the most and why?
all the characters in the book, I think I liked Maria Salazar and her
family the best. She was one of the more memorable characters, and since one of the major themes in this book is about the love and sacrifice needed to survive and overcome the tyranny, I thought the Salazars’ stories were all perfect examples.
One of the earlier chapters about Maria’s fight to come up with the money to keep her newborn daughter was heartbreaking to read, especially for a mother. And then of course there was the story about Enrique and how he risked everything in order to procure food for his family, not to mention Vanessa Salazar, just an infant at the beginning of this book, who grows up to be a major part of the resistance along with her own child. Their family just seems to be quite central to the book.
Wendy: Honestly, none of the characters really stuck out
for me enough to like their stories or the characters themselves
because they weren’t around long enough. There were characters that I wanted to like and know more about, like the Salazars, but because of the format of the book, we never get enough time with any given character and when we see them next, years have passed.
What didn’t you like about the book? What aspect of the book needs improvement?
Wendy: Unfortunately, what I liked about the book is also, I think, its major flaw. The brief chapters developed the world, but it didn’t strongly develop the story, and worse, it didn’t give me enough time with the characters. Many of them had some really great moments, particularly the ones that sacrificed themselves to help others escape, but other than the obvious nature of their motivations, there just wasn’t enough depth to any of them. And since many would show up in the future chapters, it was a bit frustrating when other characters that I thought were important, based on the amount of time spent with them in their chapters, didn’t show up at all. By the end of the book, I was just confused with the names, feeling like I needed a spreadsheet on the wall to keep track of everyone. There is a character glossary in the back, but even that proved too confusing.
Mogsy: I had a similar problem. While I liked the format with all the linked stories and the twenty-five perspectives, this also made it very hard to connect to any one character. Personally, that’s very important to me as reader. It’s why I usually hesitate to pick up anthologies or collections of short stories.
Like I said, there were some central characters or families that play a larger role or are more central to the overall story, but that left the more minor characters in the background. It was hard to keep track of the relationships, especially when it was a struggle to remember certain people. If it weren’t for the list of characters and their connections at the end of the book, I wouldn’t have been able to remember most of them on my own. I just think that in a book like this, where almost everyone and their stories are linked in some way or another, not being able to recall the details for some of them or why they’re important diminishes the full effect somewhat. Interesting how our opinions have such similarities.
Wendy: I wasn’t a fan of the ending, where
we suddenly have new creatures to deal with. I didn’t feel like this was as gradually developed as the other horrific aspects of this future and therefore when these creatures appeared, I had to check if I’d missed some pages. The end felt a bit rushed. It felt
like it wanted to prepare for a sequel, but then changed its mind and
decided to decimate the remaining characters to ensure a unhappy,
reasonably hope-free ending.
Any final comments about the book?
Mogsy: Overall, 25 Perfect Days was a good read that kept me turning the pages and wondering how much worse this dystopian society could get. Though, now that Wendy’s mentioned it in her answer to the last question, I do think the writing could have used a bit more tightening up, especially when it comes to the action scenes. Some of them were quite difficult to follow, especially when it comes to who does what and who speaks certain dialogue. Just some more description and detail into the setting and action would help me play the scenes out in my head and see them a lot clearer. Other than that, I enjoyed this and didn’t mind the darker ending too much. It’s also nice to read a dystopian novel with elements in it that are more reminiscent of the classics.
Wendy: I’d give this book a B for the effort, but the execution could us some more work to make it cleaner. The chapters could have used more fleshing out to, in turn, allow the characters to be more fleshed out. But I do love the concept and loved that I was completely thrown off of my expectations with the very first chapter. I suppose I was expecting something a lot more pleasant, at least to start, from a book with the word “perfect” in the title!
What is a movie review doing in a book blog, you might ask? Well you see, I would reply conspiratorially, I cheated.
Persepolis – the graphic novel – was the topic of discussion in our recent Ladies Night Comic Club meeting, but procrastination various distractions and priorities got in the way of me reading it. Since the film is so close to the source material, I decided to check that out instead.
This is an autobiographical story about Marjane Satrapi’s coming of age during the Iranian Revolution. The majority of the animation is in black and white, which gives the film a more universal appeal. The simplicity of the imagery manages to convey so much complexity and emotion. Often times as I watched it, I forgot when it takes place (1980s) and that it takes place in Iran – which was the author’s intent. It was easy to realize how alike we are and to wonder about the potential for such events to occur within our own cultures at any time. I recently walked away from The Handmaid’s Tale thinking that, while frightening, we are not quite there yet with some of the political and religious movements in North America. But, watching Persepolis made me realize just how close other nations are to that kind of dystopian future. And maybe we’re not so far away here either.
Marjane’s story begins with her as a rebellious child who wants to be a prophet and idolizes Bruce Lee. She is outspoken and throughout the story I often thought her rebellious moments would lead to her own punishment, like her Uncle Anouche who is imprisoned and later killed for his left-wing ideals. Undoubtedly, her greatest influence and my favourite character is Marjane’s grandmother, who provides moral guidance for Marjane and admonishes her when she forgets to stay true to herself or takes for granted the sacrifices others have made. Her parents are depicted in a quiet, subdued manner, but it is clear that their love, encouragement, comfort and support are also an important part of Marjane’s life. I loved the way they were always willing to stand behind her without questioning her or her mistakes, while her grandmother represented an unapologetic view that has no time for the indulgence of self-pity.
I expected Marjane’s life story to result in some sort of epic anarchistic moment where she firmly takes up the cause to fight the powers that be. Instead, we see a gentle coming of age story where Marjane goes through many of the trials and tribulations, loves and losses of any normal person – only, this life is set with the backdrop of war, political strife, revolution, repression, sacrifice and more. And then I realized the obvious: this film is the result of her life. This film is the moment of epic anarchy where she firmly takes up the cause. Only, she’s done it in such a way that nothing is forced on you. Nothing is preachy. It’s interesting to note that Persepolis was banned in many places, including Iran, of course, only to have the bans lifted (though with some restrictions still imposed in some places).
I won’t claim Young Adult speculative fiction as my main interest, though lately, it does feel like I’ve been on a YA kick. I like picking it up occasionally, but it always seems like my favorite books in the genre are the ones that can be enjoyed by all ages, the ones that don’t scream “YA!” the instant I open the book and meet its teenage protagonists. You know what I mean.
|From the Corner Ink Journal blog|
Immortality is boring. This is one of the aspects of stories about immortality that I enjoy, but not many of the stories I’ve read deal with this. Or rather, they don’t focus on the desire of an immortal to move on. I was attracted to The Remortal specifically because this was the plot of the book. An immortal, Van Giles, is tired of his life on earth and wants to ascend to something greater in the unknown beyond. To do so, he needs a successor to kill him and take his place as an immortal. In a street teen named Telly Gonis, Van sees a good person in a bad situation and determines Telly to be the perfect choice.
There are other immortals in the book, each descending from a noble line, including the White Lotus Society, Julius Caesar and Spanish nobility. They are not entirely pleased with Van’s choice of successor. Nor are the pleased with Van’s choice to ascend in the first place. Or with Van in general, for that matter. There was potential for the story to focus too much on the concept of upper class versus lower class but, while the other immortals do have concerns, I really liked the way Isler let the others deal with Telly personally and come to their own conclusions beyond mere snobbery. I also liked the way Telly is torn over his loyalty to Van and all the choices that became wrapped up with the ascension process.
Van begins as a mostly likeable character with rational motivations, but once Telly agrees, Van’s “training” process reveals a cruelty that the other immortals already knew existed and fear will pass on into the afterlife. Van’s influence, along with the training and abilities Telly gains during the ascension process, change Telly from the innocent young man he was. Again, it would have been easy to turn this into a simple case of “Van is actually evil and Telly must free himself from that evil influence!” but I appreciate that Isler made things more complex than that.
Telly has to come to terms with his new self, his motivations, the choices given him by the other immortals, and Van. He also has to deal with the fate of his best friend, Mattie. Telly is presented as a reasonable character who does have a good heart and is able to show emotion without the story dwelling longer than necessary. There is one particular plot point with the Tree of Life that I’m not entirely certain was necessary to Telly’s progress, but otherwise, I enjoyed Telly’s journey and liked that I wasn’t entirely sure what Telly would choose to do in the end. I also didn’t expect the other immortals to make certain decisions in the end, though I suspected Telly’s friendship with Mattie and the circumstances of Mattie’s health would play a role.
This morning, I wanted to buy a new book when I saw it featured on Goodreads and was intrigued by the description. I clicked the link which took me to Amazon.com, but was greeted with a now familiar message:
I dutifully obeyed the implied instructions and went to Amazon.ca:
The premise involves the existence of supernatural beings, “Others,” who choose to ally themselves with the Light or the Dark. Both sides, through the Nightwatch and Daywatch respectively, keep a close eye on each other in order to maintain the uneasy truce between them. The story takes place in Russia, but indicates that the watches exist worldwide.
Anton, the main character, is a member of the Nightwatch who’s assignment, a young boy named Igor, is being hunted by vampires. Igor is an Other who has yet to come into his powers and therefore has not yet chosen a side. Anton crosses paths with a woman named Svetlana whom he realizes has been cursed. In this story, curses, even the little ones we utter in moments of frustration or jest, can be deadly if left unchecked. Whatever curse has been inflicted on Svetlana has the potential to destroy the entire city and it becomes the goal of the Nightwatch to find the source and stop it, while protecting Igor from the Daywatch.
This is one of the few cases where a movie far outshines the book. Lost in translation is always a problem when a book is literally translated into another language and culture, but that was not an issue for me here. I felt that the book spent a lot of time with convoluted plots that Anton would figure out without actually letting the reader in on the process. The characters weren’t particularly interesting or well developed. The purpose of the whole mystery seemed to change and lose focus along the way and, well, I eventually just got bored of the plot twists
The movie, on the other hand, was very interesting. It boiled the story down to its essence, gave it far more purpose in a pithy manner and strengthened several other elements, including the main character and his motivations. The movie was more focused than the book with the overriding issue of the curse and the conflict between Dark and Light, allowing far greater character and relationship building, even within the time constraints of a film setting. The end result was a truly engaging story with an unexpected ending.
The only issue I had with the film was that, initially, it was very visually chaotic. I assume the goal of this was to shock and frighten, as the opening scenes involved a gory battle between Anton and a pair of vampires. It helped that I’d read a few chapters of the book before watching, so that I could piece the chaos together a bit better. Fortunately, the visual chaos settled down after this.
I finished the rest of the book after watching the movie, but it was a struggle to do so because of how often the plot meandered off in various directions.