COLUMN: Make Mine an Eclectic Mix on the Rocks, Hold the Flour…

Ali B and the Forty Spaceships — Part the Eighth [May 2015]

“Bread is quite well known in Fantasyland, but you will seldom get much of it and it will never be fresh. You might be given some to sop up your STEW in an INN of an evening, but in the morning, just as that day’s baking should be ready, the Rules state that you will make a hurried departure, having time to grab only a piece of stale loaf and a hunk of cheese”.

—The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, Diana Wynne Jones

BREAD AND BUTTER fiction is the term I often use to describe a lot of modern and contemporary titles, so it was rather gratifying to find the latest Charlaine Harris title fall into my lap recently. Day Shift (Gollancz, May 2015) is the second book in her Midnight, Texas sequence — Midnight being a small quiet town set in the same world/milieu as True Blood’s Bon Temps, the playground for Sookie Stackhouse, Eric Northman, and location of Merlotte’s Bar & Grill, etc.  Alas, after the initial excitement and anticipation, my hopes were soon to be dashed: crushed and squished like a very small grape in very big hands. Day Shift felt like a book that was just trying to be a TV series, and frankly, read a bit like those three or four middling episodes you’ll find halfway through any Desperate Housewives or Mad Men season (both otherwise great TV series in their own right).  As interesting as the characters and situations were (a psychic witnesses a client die in front of him during a séance and everything unravels from there), and much as I recognised some of the ‘fan service’ in expanding on a few characters from the original series, I couldn’t help thinking it just smacked of laziness, I’m afraid. Yet I’m sure fans of the author will probably still love this, as well as those looking for an easy read, but personally I prefer to be challenged a tad more.

Sticking with vampirism for now but still ploughing some well worn turf, I’d like to introduce you to one of the prettiest books I’ve seen in a while. Interview with the Vampire: Claudia’s Story  (Headline, 2012) is a graphic novel adaptation based on the original Anne Rice Vampire Chronicles, but from the point of view of little Claudia, the child vampire created by Lestat to help tame the all-too sensitive Louis and of course, destined to never grow up. This does stick by and large to the original, including some heart-rending scenes with Louis and Armand along the way, and it’s difficult to explain just how gorgeous it all is — ‘tis a true visual feast from debut artist Ashley Marie Witter, and all in sepia tones with the odd splash of red for those more gruesome, bloodier moments. An indelibly beautiful adaptation, and highly recommended.

Ghosts of War (Titan Books, March 2015) by George Mann is a long way from both the above, set in a steampunk-styled 1920s New York against a 40s-style pulp noir tapestry. It’s the second in a series (Ghosts of Manhattan being the first), but you don’t need to have read that to enjoy this fun, schlocky romp. In an alternative 1927, the US and Great Britain are at loggerheads, and flying mechanical winged creatures are swooping ordinary US citizens away for dastardly experimentation. Behind it all we have a mad scientist hell bent on starting a war, and our rocket-booted hero Gabriel Cross (aka The Ghost) uncovering one conspiracy after the next in his effort to thwart the damned cad!  All wonderful stuff, and it has flying dirigibles (zeppelin) in it too, what more could you ask?  A fabulously fun read.

V E Schwab’s newest fantasy, A Darker Shade of Magic (Titan Books, 2015), also has an alternative setting, but this time it’s London, but not the London you may be familiar with. There’s Red London from whence our main protagonist, Kell, hails and magic is revered and respected; Grey London, ruled by a mad king and a place magic shouldn’t exist; White London, where magic abounds but fights back for balance; and finally Black London, a place most people prefer not to believe ever existed. All of these London’s share the same physical space, separated by magic portals littered throughout the magical city, and if that doesn’t whet your appetite, Victoria’s writing is swift and easy, making it a fast speedy read. An excellent, imaginative piece of work, and O Man what an incredible coat of many colours Kell has… jealousy notwithstanding.

No room for more, so here are some other titles worth seeking out: Half a War (HarperVoyager, July 2015) by Joe Abercrombie — Book 3 of the Shattered Sea trilogy; Operation Arcana (Baen Books, March 2015), an anthology of military fantasy tales edited by the Hugo Award-winning John Joseph Adams; and Déjà Vu (Unsung Stories, 2014), a mind-mangling future thriller from Ian Hocking featuring the quintessential debut of Saskia Brandt, detective adventurer.

Toodles for now, but do keep that reading light shining bright, beloved peeps!

* This column originally appeared in the
July/August 2015 issue of BTS Book Reviews

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