June & July Short Book Reviews

Not much of a show for two months’ reading. I started a number of anthologies and histories which are progressing slowly, and there were a few events which made it simpler to just stick with short stories and magazines which I don’t usually review.

Horn – Peter M Ball: I heard Peter read part of the original short story aloud two years ago. I am happy for him and Twelfth Planet Press that it has now seen the light as a novella, but I do not know if it is a good thing for the world. At the launch party we were told this was a dreadful novella, and I can’t think of a single person I could possibly recommend it to*. I’m struck, though, by how the tropes of a standard visceral police procedural, when combined with those of urban fantasy/fairytale can be just so wrong. It was, however, well written and otherwise exactly as advertised.

Lud-in-the-mist – Hope Mirrlees: Now, this was gentle and mysterious and unsettling. Quite reserved, very visual (the colours!) but restrained – a fairytale of forbidden fruit, of joy and reserve and government and death. It was really delightful, and I can see why Gaiman likes it. It also reminds me of Susannah Clarke’s Ladies of Grace Adieu in the tone and that slightly out-of-kilter British fairytale world, and the threat, and the way it is perfectly acceptable to have as protagonist a comfortable, middle-aged bureaucrat with wife and family.

Making Money – Terry Pratchett: This didn’t strike as clear a note as some of the other Discworld novels – the machinery of the story seemed muddy (when usually Pratchett can make a completely irrational explanation seem self-evident) and several of my favourite characters felt like impressions of themselves. But then, I’ve never not enjoyed a Pratchett, so although this wasn’t my favourite this isn’t a damning criticism

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies – Seth Grahame-Smith: I love Pride & Prejudice (although I argue it isn’t a romance – it’s a brilliant novel about a large group of people, many of whom I like a great deal, and all of whom would probably have got on pretty well with their lives even if Darcy and Elizabeth *hadn’t* married). I am not, however, a purist – I enjoy all the variations I have seen of P&P: Olivier’s spoiled-child Darcy is my favourite, Bride & Prejudice has a wonderful Collins, I think what Bridget Jones’ Diary did with the basic storyline and the hype surrounding the release of the BBC series (which is when the book is set) was brilliant, although the movie cheapened and bleakened it. And I burst out laughing when I heard Pride & Prejudice & Zombies had been written. P&P&Z did not meet expectations. I love the gimmick – take the novel, abridge it and shoehorn zombie fights, sushi and ninjas in – but it never went beyond being a gimmick. I wanted to be able to say he left no entendre undoubled, but the very few puns were obvious and repetitive. Jasper Fforde can do ridiculous things with classic novels (“Miss Dashwood! Does your mother know you smoke?!”) and yet make them into new, good stories with characters you still care about. I wanted to tell SG-S to take this back and do it again – once more with feeling – because it could have been a good crazy book, but it then end it’s only as memorable as its cover.

Paper Cities – Ekaterina Sedia: A strange and beautiful collection of speculative stories set in cities real, imagined and in between. Because they were short and I am writing this some time after reading it, my dominant impression is one of wet blue tile and moss, but there were cities of ash and sand. I love the title of the collection, and the idea of it – I like this subgenre and its very visual nature (probably why my favourite comics – a Blackman B&W short and two Sandman issues – fall into it). My only complaint has nothing to do with the anthology and everything to do with the genre “Urban Fantasy”. Sedia uses it to catch stories about or set in cities – whether in our world or others. Most people now use it to describe something with very heavy ties to paranormal romance – heavy on the werewolves, vampires and tight leather pants. I’m sure it used to be fantasy set in cities in our world (even if the cities themselves were sometimes fictional) – Charles de Lint’s Newford novels, Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, Ruth Parks’ Playing Beatie Bow (arguably), DWJ’s Fire and Hemlock.

All but a Few – Joan Aiken: It’s got a story about a Parrot Pirate Princess! This was – I think – a garage sale acquisition (more of those coming up) and was a lot of fun. Aiken’s short stories belong to that school of light hearted, knowledgeable and absolutely ridiculous British fairytales which are tremendous fun if you remember to kick that part of your brain out of gear which has been trained to expect a certain progression of events, world building or – indeed – logic. It has plagues of unicorns, mythological ocean beings with a fondness for ballet, the difficulties of being charitable to old fairies and the mysteries of whether civil service employees die, and where they go.

*Well, actually I can but I’m pretty sure they’ve (a) already read it and (b) were at least partially responsible for furthering its publication.

15 thoughts on “June & July Short Book Reviews

  1. Lud-in-the-Mist was one of my very first fantasy books (read it years ago when I was but a sprat) and nothing has ever quite come up to that standard. I read one copy to bits, but I’ve now got another, after it had been out of print for a long time.

  2. I claim dibs on Lud-in-the-Mist, if I can! I remember your recommendation of it from weeks ago, and it sounds exactly what I like.

  3. I just love your reviews – I’ll be adding Paper Cities to my reading list for sure. I had been wondering about Pride & Prejudice & Zombies… I thought it could either be amazing or just some badly done gimmick.. I’m still kind of curious to check it out just to see how it was handled, but I’ll know not to get my hopes up very high now :)

    • Do read Paper Cities – Cat Sparks won an Aurealis for her story in it at this year’s awards.

      As for P&P&Z – that’s probably wise. I am happy that such a book exists, but found its physical manifestation disappointing.

  4. I have a book of Joan Aiken’s stories that isn’t a lot like what you describe here – although one or two of the stories are delightful, the majority are downright terrifying. This doesn’t mean that they aren’t wonderful to read, but they scared the pants off me when I was a kid rather than being lighthearted. I guess they put all the scary ones together in one collection?

  5. Having some civil service employees among my kin, I must ask: what does that book say about “whether civil service employees die, and where they go”? I guess I’ll have to look for THAT book.

  6. Pingback: Best Books of 2009 « Errantry

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