Thursday, 25 September 2014

For a Fistfull of (Spoiler free) Reviews

The rush to finish Master of the Planes has slowed down my reading and completely stalled my reviewing, but now I have a chance to catch up with a look back at Scott Lynch's "The Lies of Locke Lamora," Joe Abercrombie's "The Blade Itself"  and the trio from Ragnorak Publications opening Dead West volume, "Those poor, poor bastards."

The Lies of Locke Lamora (by Scott Lynch)

The writing like the setting is opulent and atmospheric.  The world a skilful weave of historical influences.

Where food is concerned I am no gourmet, the top chiefs may talk of a inspired combinations of flavours, Heston Blumenthal may throw liquid nitrogen over everything and call it genius but me, I just want burger and chips - eaten separately.  However, when it comes to books I love to see how a writer might draw on different aspects of our culture and our past and throw them together with a dash of inspiration to create a whole new taste sorry I meant "reading" sensation.

That is what Scott Lynch has achieved and it is perhaps no accident that I am drawn to an analogy with food to describe my feelings about the book.  You see food features prominently in the book, the compact but perfectly formed gang of thieves at the book's heart must be both connoisseurs  and expert chefs in order to trick and gull their way through the hearts, minds, pockets and bank accounts of their target victims - the quite literally elevated and protected aristocracy.

Lynch paints a world with a rich palette, clothing, food, culture and history described in loving detail so that the book is a truly immersive experience.  It is a different style of writing where the one of the principle characters bestriding the story's stage is the city of Camorr itself rendered in more loving detail even than the anonymous eponymous hero Mr Lamora himself.  For Locke's trade mark is to be unremarkable, disguisable, able to paint upon his own blank canvas any character from a blundering northern merchant to an agent of an almost mythical secret service.

For Locke is a thief of a particular kind, he is a con-man.  His band are out to rob from the rich and... er... no, that's actually, just rob from the rich.  They don't even spend it save to invest in the expensive accoutrements of  wealth and power necessary to gull even more from victims too embarrassed to over admit  to their loss.

It is a game, but a deadly game, for Camorr is a town where life is cheap and often short and Locke and his friends dance a dangerous jig on a dizzying highwire, dicing with death as only the supremely cconfident young ever can.

In my mind's eye I saw Camorr as some unholy cross between

  • the geography of Venice, with its waterways and bridges, 
  • the entertainment and religions of ancient Rome with death being not so much an occupational hazard as an expected conclusion to the various bizarre sporting extravanganzas.
  • the ordered lawlessness of prohibition chicago
  • the desperate poverty of 18th Century London as set out in John Gay's the Beggar's Opera, with perhaps a nod towards Dickensian London.

Lynch adds much more to that - the mysterious elder race who built the place and left haunting monuments of architecture and a use of magic that is as magic should be - frighteningly incomprehensibly powerful.  The quirks such as wraithstone which oil the business of the city by producing "gentled" beasts of burden who are untroubled by any uproar -and there is plenty of that.

It is an atmospheric story that builds slowly, and then accelerates so that I consumed the last half of the book in just a couple of days.  The structure seasons a short period of desperate present times, with reflections on different parts of the past to help you understand how the characters have got here.

There is in Locke a hero who relies on his quick wits far more than his strong arms, for his skill in combat is so slight his mentor quickly dismisses him as unlikely to be much more than a bloodstain on the street in any serious fight.  Still he holds his own in a way which at times almost unslung my suspension of disbelief, for I doubt that the genuinely crap at fighting could spin out a fight much beyond the first fatal blow from an expert opponent.

Still it is a rich tale with an intricate plot which invites the reader to be a tourist in the most wonderfully developed city I have read of in a long time.  Just be wary of which dark alleys you stray down.

The Blade Itself (By Joe Abercrombie)

I returned to the fantasy genre through the Thorns Trilogy of Mark Lawrence, but once inducted into twitter and facebook the omnipresence of Lord Grimdark quickly made itself felt by reputation and the recommendations of friends.  The opportunity to get the whole first law trilogy as an omnibus download was too good an opportunity to miss and I settled down to read Mr Abercrombie's first book.  I will confess, it did not grow on me immediately. I did not get the wow factor that others had experienced and described.

At the moment I am reading Joe's latest book "Half a King" with a ARC of "Half a War" queued up to follow it and I will review those in good time.  It is interesting because I think I can already see a maturing of his style between the two works.  There were moments in the first book where I found the writing a little clunky.

One example in particular, a character used a gesture, the same gesture described the same way three times in as many pages and just as I was thinking "he's doing that a lot,"  the character expressed the thought "I'm doing this a lot" and I felt I was listening to the author retro-editing more than hearing the character.

It is a complex story and some of the characters were a little difficult to like.  However, I salute Sand Glotka as an inspired invention.  Impossible to pigeon hole, perhaps a consequence of his tortured past which left him bent out of any kind of normal shape, both mentally and physically. But he was enetrtaining, the curmudgeonly cripple with nothing left to live for, but living on anyway and making damn sure the rest of the world wished he didn't.

The dowsnside of reading an omnibus on a Kindle is that you can't tell how near you are to the end apart from guessing it would be around the 33% mark.  In fact it came up at 31% and surprised me in a kind of "oh, is that it?" kind of way.  And I guess that is just because it is a trilogy and like the end of "Fellowship of the Ring" they had only really just got started.

There is a visceral grittiness to the descriptions of combat scenes.  Actions covered so quickly you need to re-read it slowly to just work out the body count.  A genre defining book maybe, more by its timing than by its writing.  I am enjoying Half-a-King and suspect I will finish that trilogy before I finish the first law trilogy..

Those poor, poor bastards. (by Tim Marquitz, J.M.Martin and Kenny Soward)

This is an easily digested book, a bit like many of the unfortunate characters in it when the flesh eating zombies get at them.  It is not too long and rattles along at a furious pace as, with little preamble, a western town is overrun by the risen dead - well overwalked is probably a better description than overran which is why the heroine can escape at a pace little faster than a well oiled wheelbarrow could roll.

It has three authors and I am not sure that I could tell and I would not like to try and claim any particular narrative element for any one of the authors.

For me, the exquisite pleasure of the book was in the powerfully rendered narrative voice.    I can't say if it was accurate, but idioms of phrase and behaviour as well as the many many different ways of saying "gun" gave the book a sense of authenticity that was like the remake of "True Grit"

The story struggled a little because when you have established a group of ill matched and querulous survivors and a hoard of untiring zombies it can become a case of waiting to see who will die next and how.  The writers have tried to develop the zombie menace into something a little more specific and personal and made good use of the writer's fall back, if in doubt inject some conflict.  There was plenty of that as the heroine and her embattled pa found almost as many living enemies within their refuge as there were dead ones outside it. That certainly kept the pace up, though at times maybe I saw the influence of a change of authorial hand as villains from one scene were gifted an unlikely sympathetic treatment later on.

This is a jolly romp, but I am not at sure where it is going and I would hope the authors avoid the fate of a pair of roman consuls once given joint command of an army.  They took command on alternate days and spent ages marching the army in opposite directions one day after the other until an enemy found and overwhelmed them.  Perhaps the rigidity of a pair of train tracks will ensure a consistent and coherent direction as the story unfolds.    

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