Monday 19 March 2012

Dead Beat - Jim Butcher

I actually finished this back in January, but hadn't got round to writing a review - have a couple of other reviews that are waiting to be written like this one. I know I read this back in January because it's the book I read to get me out of my reading funk, and the note I wrote at the beginning of my A4 piece of paper says - sometimes you have to go back to go forward - it probably felt really deep at the time.

Dead Beat is the seventh (I think) in the Harry Dresden series by Jim Butcher. I stalled out on this series because I was reading the US published books and then a UK publisher picked them up and publishing order and everything went kablooey.

I hate when that happens.

Anyway, this one is all about necromancers. If my feeble memory (and badly written notes) of what I read in January is anything to go by. Mavra (the very nasty vampire) is blackmailing Harry into getting something called the Word of Kemmler for her. If he doesn't do it, she's going to drop his friend Karrin (the policewoman) in the shit. So Harry agrees. Unfortunately he's not the only one after the Word, and the six other necromancers, who are also after it, don't have such noble motives as saving their friends from a metaphoric pile of poo.

This was one series that I always intended to get back to reading. I'd been slightly worried that I wouldn't remember the story so far, but Jim Butcher manages to weave in the relevant bits of plot you need to know from previous books without it feeling exposition heavy.

There are so many things I love about this book, but what has to stand out most is the brilliant dialogue and how the characters spark off each other.

I love the fact that Harry and Thomas (his half-brother) are now living together. Their relationship isn't smooth sailing, little things irritate Harry (who has probably been living on his own for too long) but he has a deep concern for Thomas.
'You want to talk?'
'If I did , I'd be talking.'
I'm very interested to see how this develops over the coming books, especially as Thomas feels he is doomed. But the sibling relationship is not completely bleak, there are positive aspects to having your brother live with you.
'...How are you as a sounding board?'
'I can look interested and nod at appropriate moments,' he said.
I also think the scene where Butters mistakes them for lovers rather than siblings is quite amusing.

Special mention has to go to Mouse the dog and Butters the Medical Examiner. Mouse is just a phenomena, is he something more or is he just a dog. And Butters is a very human being who ends up in the middle of the conflict between Harry and the necromancers. He's not brave, he's something of a coward in fact, but ultimately he has to deal with the situation in which he finds himself.

One other thing I must mention - but not in too much detail as I don't want to spoil it - is how the relationship Harry has with his father is developed here. In a book which is very much concerned with necromancy and the raising of the dead, the scenes which take place between Harry and his father are very moving and beautifully written.

As regards continuing arcs, the figure of Lasciel the fallen angel is a prominent part of the book. I have to admit this is a part of the story that hasn't stuck too well in my memory. But I found her to be quite chilling and more than able to cut Harry down to size with a few well chosen words.
She regarded ne steadily and said, 'You aren't nearly as funny as you think you are.'
She doesn't appear often but when she does Jim Butcher manages to pull off (in her) a perfect combination of charm and menace.

This book is pretty much a non-stop action ride, with blistering dialogue and great characters. When you read a lot of urban fantasy it can lose its impact but this book reminds me why I love the genre so much. Recommended - but you need to read the preceding books in the series first.

Wednesday 22 February 2012

The Girl Who Played With Fire - Stieg Larsson

Apologies if this turns into a bit of a ramble. I feel slightly out of my depth having this as one of the first books I talk about after having a few weeks off. But I've got to start somewhere.

Before I wrote about this book I looked back at my (not review) of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - which was quite short and sweet. I think this post maybe slightly longer. It picks up a few months after The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the main story begins with Lisbeth on the island of Grenada. What she doesn't realise is that whilst she's away her enemies are organising themselves and pretty soon she's going to find herself wanted for a murder that she didn't commit.

Again with it being such a popular book it's just some of my ideas after finishing it. Like the first book in the Millennium Trilogy I found it pretty compulsive reading once I got past the prologue. (I think if I hadn't read the first book I wouldn't have bothered with this one. I thought the prologue was gratuitous. And again I found the misogyny to be not pleasant reading. I'm not sure whether I'd buy these books (I've been lent these copies by a friend). Having said that, I do think the both books 1 and 2 are probably very re-readable. If only to appreciate on a second read through how everything is so intricately connected together.

One of my favourite things about this book (at least the first part anyway) was how Lisbeth developed a fascination with mathematics. I thought this was a very interesting aspect of her character which allowed us to get more inside her head and see how she thought things through. This fell by the wayside a little when she got back to Sweden and the murder part of the storyline took over. And I still don't get what her realisation about Fermat's theorem was towards the end of the book - which is a little frustrating.

I think especially in the beginning of the book, when Salander is off the page I find my attention wandering slightly, but it's very interesting to see how the various unconnected strands start to work their way together. That's one of the things I've come to appreciate in watching Scandinavian television (thank you BBC).

Favourite quote:-
But she wished she had had the guts to go up to him and say hello. Or possibly break off his legs, she wasn't sure which.
I think she is without doubt one of the most striking female characters to emerge in a long time. How strong she is, how rigid, but also how vulnerable.

I don't think I'll be reading Book 3 for a while. I need a bit of a break and a change of genre but I definitely want to see how it all ends up.

Sunday 8 January 2012

Darkship Thieves by Sarah A. Hoyt

This is my first DNF of the year.

Plot summary as follows :- Athena Sinistra has to leave her father's space cruiser in a hurry when she wakes up in the middle of a mutiny. Taking refuge in a lifepod she is picked up by a Darkship - one of many that steal the power pods needed by Earth. The pilot of the ship - Kit - cannot return Athena to Earth, he has no choice but to take her to his home. However, Athena hasn't given up hope that she'll be able to get away and that's the one thing that Kit can't let her do.

I read a review of this on someone's blog, can't remember which one as it was quite a while ago now. And it sounded really good. Unfortunately when I came to read it I just couldn't get into it.

I think the main problem being that I didn't like the heroine and when a book is written in first person, that's a big problem. She's spoiled, arrogant and selfish and after 200 pages I just didn't want to read about her any more. Kit was a slightly more interesting character and I wish we'd been able to get into his head a little more.

It also felt like there was a slight disparity between the ages of the characters and what they'd accomplished. Athena was 19 (which might have explained some of her behaviour and immaturity) but she'd also packed an awful lot into her short life. I felt as if parts of the characters didn't quite match up. Hopefully there would have been some character growth and development after the point at which I stopped reading. I'm assuming that by having the characters start at an "unattractive" point, there is the suggestion that they will develop and grow by the end of the book.

But basically it didn't work for me. Maybe because one of my favourite books is Stardoc by S. L. Viehl which covers some similar themes and I couldn't help compare it unfavourably to that.

So, not one for me, but I'm sure there are plenty of people out there who'd enjoy it. A quick word on the cover - I think it's meant to be the scene from the beginning of the book when Athena is rescued from the powerpod fields by Kit. I will point out that in the story she was in a lifepod at the time and not half naked in the vacuum of space.

Tuesday 3 January 2012

Her Vampire Husband - Michele Hauf


Werewolf princess Blu has agreed to marry the vampire lord Creed (under duress) in a bid to end the hatred between the werewolf and vampire nations. Unfortunately neither of them are completely honest with their intentions going into the ceremony and rather than preventing a war, their relationship may trigger one.

I had a lot of problems with this book and really am torn between wanting to give it a D rather than a C-. But some of the dialogue just hit the spot, it's a pity that for most of the book the heroine had no consistency whatsoever.

I don't think this is an unfamiliar tale in a way - essentially it's a Romeo and Juliet - but the problem is that neither character is honest with the other. Neither of the factions have any intention of keeping the promises made at the wedding ceremony - which makes it hard to believe in the love they declare for each other halfway through the story.

I think the main problem I had was with the way that the heroine is written. She's either deliberately being written as an unreliable narrator for the first half of the book or she's just not being written with any consistency. I actually feel it's more the latter than the former. And because most of the story is written from her point of view, it makes it difficult to actually fall into the story.

She also behaves like a child for much of the first half of the book - she is so indignant when she finds out that the vampires didn't intend to stick to the treaty, but she's got no justification for that feeling really, because she knows full well that the werewolves have no intention of sticking to the treaty either. I find it hard to reconcile the character as written, with the experiences that we're told she's had later in the story. It's a pity because I feel there was a real opportunity here to write an incredibly strong female character, but that just didn't happen.

What's also a shame is that some of the dialogue is really sharp and cuts straight to the bone.
"I don't want to play the game anymore, Creed. I wish you could make it stop."
...and some of it is quite funny
"Intimacy bonds the couple."
"So does superglue."
If they'd sat down, talked to one another and been honest - after all they supposedly love each other - a lot of strife could have been avoided. But I guess that would have been a different story. I think if Blu had been written in a more powerful way I would have understood why she didn't talk. By powerful I mean showing the reader that wariness and caution underneath Blu's bravado, too often we're just told by the author how Blu is feeling.

I think Creed was written slightly better. You did get the feeling that he regretted his past deeds and was trying to make up for them. And his actions at the end make for the most powerful scenes in the book. Another reason why they felt slightly mismatched as a couple.

There are some things which I think should have been picked up, or at least queried in the editing process. For example, if your mind takes a 360 degree turn, it doesn't mean you've changed your mind, you've actually ended up at the same point you started from. And having a werewolf change be triggered by the last chime of midnight seems silly. What if the werewolf hasn't got a clock, what if the clock's wrong?

I think the second half of the book was stronger than the first. And though some of the characters and the premise were interesting, I don't think this is a series that I'd personally follow any further. I think it's worth checking out, but for readers that prefer a story to cut a little deeper it might be a bit light.