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Four Books - Qualified Perceptions
Four Books
Drood (by Dan Simmons)
I really liked The Terror, the author's previous book. There is an odd tie-in between the two, in that Wilkie Collins (the narrator, who has also appeared in some previous book reviews of mine, but I've not yet read his books) and Charles Dickens wrote The Frozen Deep about the Franklin expedition, which they do in the beginning of this book. Dickens was apparently adamant that proper British gentlemen would never resort to cannibalism. Two True Things: Wilkie Collins, addicted to opium as he was due to serious arthritis, had a permanent hallucination of a doppelganger, and Charles Dickens was in a terrible train accident in which his was the only first-class carriage not to plunge off a bridge. These two factoids kind of form the seeds of Drood, starting with an addition to the Staplehurst Crash - as Dickens goes around tending the wounded, there is a gaunt man in black, also going around to the wounded - after which they not wounded any longer, they are dead. The gaunt man is "Drood", and that's where it starts. It does sound like a cool creepy start to a story, but awful lot of it is the Life and Times of Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens and Their Mistresses and Their Writings and Collins is Jealous that Dickens is More Famous Than Him. There are a few very nice very terrifying scenes, but they're pearls in a very very large squashy boring oyster. Not to mention - did they really happen? I have no idea. Part of the point is that the narrator is seriously unreliable, and there's mesmerism and opium hallucinations and dreams - so "what is real?" is a theme - but at some point being too confusing about whether or not any of the (regrettably sparse) events of the plot that aren't part of real life actually took place, crosses into the territory of pointless. Also, Dickens and especially Collins, as portrayed, are painfully misogynistic - I don't assume that the author shares the characters' beliefs, but it didn't make for fun reading. Two stars.

The Patient's Eyes (by David Pirie)
Someone that I cannot recall recommended me this series (which is about mystery team-ups between Arthur Conan Doyle and Dr. Joseph Bell). This is the first one, but it has a lot of unfinished arc backstory out in all directions, so it reads kind of like a pilot episode. I did enjoy it, and liked the old-fashioned feel to the mysteries. Three and a half stars.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (by N. K. Jemisin)
The author's first book, this says it is the first in a trilogy, but it is eminently stand-alone. And, it's really good - I ended up reading it in a just a couple of sittings, compared with what seems like months spend on the interminable Drood. It reminded me a little bit of A Shadow In Summer, with the bound gods used as weapons, both inhuman and sympathetically intriguing. There's cutthroat politics, and a small murder mystery, and great NPCs, and digressions about ruthlessness and power, and a pretty heavy dollop of romance that still mostly avoided being goopy. I am quite fond of the barbarian culture that reminds me of Dunyazade's romantic take on Al Jabar:
The Darren language has a word for the attraction one feels to danger: esui. It is esui that makes warriors charge into hopeless battles and die laughing. Esui is also what draws women to lovers who are bad for them - men who would make poor fathers, women of the enemy. The Senmite word that comes closest is "lust," if one includes the variations "bloodlust" and "lust for life," though these do not adequately capture the layered nature of esui. It is glory, it is folly. It is everything not sensible, not rational, not safe at all - but without esui, there is no point in living.
It's hard to describe what the plot is about, since a lot of it is Figuring Out What's Really Going On, but it starts with "Half-barbarian exiled royal heir is summoned to court for the first time. Peril ensues."). Five stars. I see that the first three chapters are on the author's web site here.

The New Space Opera (edited by Gardner Dozois and Jonathan Strahan).
I don't normally appreciate short story collections - by the time I have gotten hooked on any given story, it's already finishing. (And, in fact, I ended up putting the book aside between stories for several months). But this (and the second volume) is supposed to be one of the best anthologies out recently, and I do like space opera, so I picked it up. And - I don't think there were any stories that were outright junk, though there were some that didn't manage to hook me. Some are creepy, some are clever, some are fun, some are slightly more inexplicable than that... anyway, it's definitely a worthwhile collection. Four stars.

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3 comments or Leave a comment
From: desireearmfeldt Date: July 6th, 2010 03:23 pm (UTC) (Link)
May I borrow The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and the space opera anthology, if they are borrowable? :)
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: July 6th, 2010 03:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
Sure, I will send them with Jan tonight. :)
From: desireearmfeldt Date: July 6th, 2010 03:31 pm (UTC) (Link)
3 comments or Leave a comment