Ali B and the Forty Spaceships — Part the Ninth [July 2015]
“Priests will be attached to a small local TEMPLE. Some are austere and unpleasant, but most are quite decent people. HIGH PRIESTS are another question altogether”
—The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, Diana Wynne Jones
THIS TIME LAST year, I was waxing lyrical about Freda Warrington’s fabulous trilogy of vampire novels, the excellent Blood Wine Sequence incl. A Taste of Blood Wine, A Dance In Blood Velvet, and The Dark Blood of Poppies — these were originally written back in 1992, long before the likes of Charlaine Harris and a brace of sexy movies made vampires a lot more cool and trendy than ever before (Interview With A Vampire by Anne Rice notwithstanding). These books were re-released in 2000, and then reissued again in 2013 with a fabulous art makeover to boot. Lucky for us, she was also commissioned to write a fourth book in the series, and I’m pleased to say it’s finally here: The Dark Arts of Blood (Titan Books, 2015) takes readers back to 1920s Switzerland where a local filmmaker with sinister motives inherits the mysterious sakakin, a set of thirty ancient knives imbued with great power through countless years of sacrificial rituals and the invocation of an immortal god. Unfortunately, the brilliant dancer, Violette (a reincarnated form of Lilith, demon mother of all vampires), has opened a dance academy nearby, the vampire twins Niklas and Stefan (his mute brother) have also innocently purchased a home in the vicinity, and the ancient vampire Fadiya wants her lovely set of knives back… You can already imagine the ensuing carnage, and in the midst of all this, vampire lovers Karl and Charlotte once again have their eternal love tested as they strive to prevent a war that could see the end of all vampire-kind. I can’t praise this series enough, the author’s writing is poetic, enduring, and consumes you hook, line, and sinker. A superb ending to a classic series, and highly recommended.
On a totally different front, Adam Roberts’ Bête (Gollancz, 2015) is a smart, clever, well-written tale that tackles the thorny issue of inserting AI chips into animals to give them powers of speech in an effort to enhance their rights and prevent mankind’s continued abuse and extermination of them. If that sounds like a barmy idea, when I tell you the whole story kicks off with a farmer shooting one of his cows after arguing with it over whether or not it’s going to be slaughtered today, you can rest assured that what follows is a black comedy full of immense wit and the darkest humour. Written mainly from the point of view of Graham, an angry, flawed protagonist (the aforementioned farmer who seems to hate everything and everyone — and whatever you do, don’t call him Graham!), this tale explores many facets of being human, self-determination, social order, and of course, the plight of animal-kind. By turns satirical and cynical, in the same vein as Orwell’s Animal Farm, this is a biting, intelligent novel which begs the reader to think again about what it is to be human and our place in the order of things. An impressive, sublime piece of work.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the passing of Discworld meister, Sir Terry Pratchett earlier this year, but The Long Utopia (Doubleday, 2015) could well be one of his last written works, alongside fellow author Stephen Baxter. Likely to be the culmination of the Long Earth series that started back in 2012 with the original The Long Earth (Doubleday, 2012), The Long Utopia carries an altogether more serious tone as the characters become embroiled in a quest to prevent the end of everything, and by that I don’t mean just the parallel worlds of Long Earth and Long Mars, but of everything in the universe. Earlier books spent more time exploring and playing with the concept, meandering between them all if you’d pardon the pun, but there’s a lot less of that here, and ditto the humour and fun that went with it, so I assume Pratchett’s health had a big impact on this one. It’s a shame, really, because otherwise this is a series that’s well worth exploring…
Fast running out of space, but there can be few people who haven’t heard of George R R Martin and Game of Thrones through the incredible success of the HBO TV series of the same name, but his repertoire is so much bigger than his adventures in Westeros alone. Windhaven (Gollancz, 2015) was originally published back in 1982, written in collaboration with Lisa Tuttle, and the original concept formed long before then, appearing in the May 1975 issue of Analog under the title The Storms of Windhaven — yup, both these authors have been writing for a long time… Windhaven is a water world of tiny islands that only stay connected through the exploits of the prestigious flyers, a talented and privileged silver-winged troupe who pass messages from one island to the next, but they remain a ‘closed shop’ until Maris, a fisherman’s daughter, makes a stand and fights against the system. A better flyer than most and constantly reminded of her place in the world, Maris argues her case and seeks change, but with change comes revolution and a whole host of other problems rooted in the base instincts of jealousy and loss. It’s a great tale that demonstrates not only the talent of both authors, but shows once again why we love any story in which the exploration of love and loss, of being human, will always win us over. A cracking read.
* This column originally appeared in the
September/October 2015 issue of BTS Book Reviews