Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Game of Thrones: Cheat's Guide to the Folk of Series One






To my eternal fannish delight, there will be a new series of Game of Thrones, the HBO adaptation of George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire this weekend. Since I’ve already promised a book review a week, I thought I’d post a preliminary catch up for anybody who feels like jumping into the series but hasn’t set foot in Westeros previously, and anybody who wants to be able to hold a conversation without suffering the pleasure of watching it.

If I have to warn you about spoilers, you shouldn’t be allowed on the internet unsupervised.

Book One/Series One

This book has the fewest viewpoint characters, and follows the Stark family fairly closely. There are a lot of older white men with beards, but don't worry if you get confused. They're not all that important. The books are told from the viewpoint of the key characters. In book one, it's these people:

Lord Eddard ‘Ned’ Stark- Played by Sean Bean
Lord Stark- Often seen looking sternly into the middle distance
 Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North. An ‘honourable man’/goody-two shoes. Best friends with the King, Robert Baratheon. They were both fostered by the late Jon Arryn, Hand of the King. Robert has travelled to Winterfell to offer him Lord Arryn’s old job. And also to weep over the tomb of Lyanna Stark, Ned’s dead sister. Ned also has a bastard son, Jon Snow, the one mark on his otherwise neat and well ironed reputation.

Things to remember: He thinks a lot about a promise he made his sister on her deathbed. His honour makes him stupid.

Lady Catelyn Stark (nee Tully)- Played by Michelle Fairley

Catelyn Stark- MLFWLF (Mother Little Finger would like to fuck)
Mother of Sansa, Arya, Bran, Rickon and Robb Stark, wife of Ned. She hates Jon Snow but is fiercely protective of all the Stark children.
Goes mad for a bit when her son Bran is pushed from a tower. Hates Jon Snow, Ned's Bastard, who was born when Ned was fighting in the rebellion that gained King Robert the throne. Later in the story, she arrests Tyrion Lannister for the attempt on Bran’s life and causes all kinds of trouble.

Things to remember: Lord Peter Baelish (Littlefinger) is in love with her.






Sansa Stark- Played by Sophie Turner

I love Sansa. Don't care what anyone says.
The eldest Stark girl. She’s a real little Lady, and delighted to be betrothed to Prince Joffrey. While many think Sansa vacuous and stupid (Joffrey is a cruel,  simpering fuckwit whose only redeeming feature is his mother’s money) she’s actually one of the more cunning Starks and you see her develop a genius armour against the poison of the Lannisters at court. Has a direwolf named Lady. It’s executed because Prince Joffrey is a bellend.


Things to remember: Sandor Clegane (The Hound) has a soft spot for her.






Arya Stark-Played by Maisie Williams

Eeeeee.
The youngest Stark girl. Basically all you need to know is that she’s a badass. With a sword. Also, the only character to have a POV chapter in each book so far. Has a direwolf named Nymeria. Has to chase it away into the woods because Prince Joffrey is a bellend.

Things to remember: The Writer of this Blog has a soft spot for her.






Bran Stark- Played by Isaac Hempstead-Wright


Kind of annoying. Get him, horse!
Pushed out of a window by Ser Jaime Lannister, The Kingslayer. Now crippled. Given charge of Winterfell when the eldest Stark, Robb, goes to war. Has a Direwolf called Summer.

Things to remember: Has weird dreams. There must always be a Stark in Winterfell.









Jon Snow- Played by Kit Harrington


As cheerful as he gets. 

Ned Stark’s bastard son. Goes to the wall. Hates the cold. Bit of a whiner. Makes friend with Samwell Tarly, cutest dude ever. Has a Direwolf called Ghost.

Things to remember: He talks about being a bastard a lot.












Tyrion Lannister- Played by Peter Dinklage


Tyrion Lannister- Baddest of Asses.

AKA Tyrion the Imp. Younger sibling of Queen Cersei and Ser Jaime. He reads, drinks and whores a lot. Once loved a woman named Tysha. His father and brother revealed she was a whore hired to trick him. He’s all bitter now.

Things to remember: Lannisters always pay their debts.

















Daenerys Targaryen- Played by Emilia Clarke


Fire and Blood, but mostly fire.

AKA Daenerys Stormborn - The last of the Targaryen bloodline, along with her insane brother Viserys. Daenerys is sold as a wife to Khal Drogo, a Dothraki horselord. Her brother expects an army in return. At the end of this book/series, she becomes the mother of three dragons. Viserys is killed by Drogo for being a little shit.

Things to remember: fire cannot kill a dragon.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

A Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor


There are three reasons I choose to buy a book. A Daughter of Smoke and Bone met all three criteria. It was in the Sci-fi/Fantasy section, the title was sufficiently dramatic and the cover art was pretty. Anybody familiar with my reviews should also be familiar with my love of judging books by their covers. They’re generally a good reflection of content.



In this case, I was right. The book is fantasy, it’s dramatic and it’s pretty. Do I love it as much as I could? No. Let’s read the blurb!

ERRAND REQUIRING IMMEDIATE ATTENTION. COME. 

The note was on vellum, pierced by the talons of the almost-crow that delivered it. Karou read the message. ‘He never says please’, she sighed, but she gathered up her things. When Brimstone called, she always came.

In general, Karou has managed to keep her two lives in balance. On the one hand, she’s a seventeen year old art student in Prague, on the other the errand-girl to a monstrous creature who is the closest thing she has to family. Raised half in our world, half in Elsewhere, she has never understood Brimstone’s dark work- buying teeth from hunters and murderers- nor how she came into his keeping. She is a secret even to herself, plagued by the sensation that she isn’t whole.

Now the doors to Elsewhere are closing, and Karou must choose between the safety of her human life, and the dangers of a war-ravaged world that may hold the answers she has always sought.

Now, here’s a young blue haired girl (crazy!) in Prague (romantic!) studying art (naturally!). There’s the handsome ex, the plucky best friend and the magical secret. Sounds good! However, romance is present! I'm highly allergic. It brings me out in Meh. Karou’s creepy ex has a “handsome-but-grabby” vibe, while  shiny-mystery-man Akiva is a killer. Clearly, this is fiction, but this is where young girls get the idea that 'bad boys' can be redeemed by ~*true love*~. In my experience, few sane women ever say: 'He’s genuinely dangerous! I’m quivering…especially in my loins!'

You've killed how many people??
No. The idea that true love has to verge on a suicide pact is a trope I dislike more than any other, and it’s reeeeally common. Smoke and Bone isn’t the worst offender by any means, but I find the idea icky. 

Smoke and Bone is one to avoid if you’re getting bored of dramatic and beautiful people. Karou and Akiva, are powerful, magical and most importantly, sexy. The people surrounding Karou are, of course, much less attractive than she is. Karou deliberately sabotages a love rival, not by making her escape to a convent or fall off a cliff, but by making her ugly. Despite protests to the contrary, Karou obviously cares that she's purdy. Can we have a badass who isn’t also smoking hot? Apparently no. One questionable trope is fine, but I LOVE MURDER-MAN and LOOKS ARE EVERYTHING together provided a niggle that I couldn’t push aside.

Despite my misgivings I wandered along with the story. My wandering was facilitated by the fact that there’s a central mystery and a plot that doesn’t feel like an afterthought post-romance. Smoke and Bone has the Teeth Mystery™, for example, which is weird and chilling. Karou has friends, talents and ambitions and flesh her out and make her feel real, albeit somewhat perfect and shiny. Not quite a Mary Sue. Regardless of my disdain for romance, the story is compelling and well written. There’s a genuine sense of peril at times but also a belly laugh or five when Karou is joking with her friends. The romantic element stems mostly from the backstory, and for a backstory it has very little sense of “Just...just because! Okay?!” Which is something, at least. 

At first I dismissed the Mary Sue hints I was getting from Karou this as part of the magic. She’s 17 and has some powers - of course she would have blue hair and an excellent life. But then it transpires she was always super beautiful and awesome, even in the Kingdom of Backstory, and then it’s a little harder to swallow. It bothers me, especially with fantasy characters. The world is magical and amazing, if the protagonist is also magical and amazing, but protests all the while that they aren’t, it sounds plastic.

I know I’ve harped on, but I really enjoyed this. I just can’t in good faith say it’s everything it could be. It’s got all the problems that a lot of stories with female protagonists have. The story was awesome, and it was a quick, satisfying read, but it left me feeling disappointed that I couldn’t rave about it.

To the cover reviews:

‘WOW. I wish I had written this book.’
Patrick Rothfuss
If you're familiar with my Name of the Wind review, it's clear that this actually explains a lot. The things that bother me about Karou are the things that bother me about Kvothe. I love them both...in a hate way.

‘A mesmerising novel on an epic scale.’
 Glamour
Mesmerising, sure! But, epic is like...I could kill someone with this book, its papery bulk intimidates me. A grand story told on a grand scale. This isn't an epic, just a great story. Calm down, Glamour, let's not get ahead of ourselves. Maybe the trilogy overall will be an epic- what will you say then?!

‘Remarkable and beautifully written… The opening volume of a truly original trilogy.’ 
Guardian
Pretty much, Guardian! *high five*

‘Trust us, it's brilliant.’
Heat
Yup.

So, overall, I give A Daughter of Smoke and Bone 3.5 Mell-heads. There was romance, but I enjoyed it. What more can you ask for, really?


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien


I’m a big fan of Lord of the Rings, so when JRR Tolkien released this novelisation of the films, I was really excited. There are some things you just can’t capture on film, you know? In a brave move he has decided to take one of the biggest movie trilogies of all time and translate it into the written word. Bold.



I’m kidding. But I have this pendulous guilt around my neck about having seen the films before I read the book. Lord of the Rings is the only example of that in my book-world. I’ve tried. I really have. I attempted The Hobbit years ago, but didn’t get too far before lists of dwarves started to piss me off. Various attempts at the trilogy haven't gone much better. It's like in Deathly Hallows where they’re camping, they’re lost and it just won’t end. Except, instead of being several chapters of tedium, this is a whole damned trilogy.

The thing that finally propelled me to give it another go was, essentially, a lack of internet. In my desperation and sheer stimulus craving madness, I watched Peter Jackson’s film, the whole Director’s Cut Super Sexy Special Addition in a day. That’s 12 hours of Lords and Rings. I love those films, and I have to believe the books that inspired them are worth a read, somewhere in there. They must be. So, after my traditional “Frodo’s gone to the West” weeping was over, I added Fellowship to my Kindle and started reading. 

I'm sad that can't enjoy this trilogy objectively as a new fan. I recognise the changes made between book and film, but there’s no sense of betrayal or scandal. First of all, because I'm a film fan already, and secondly, a lot of the changes make sense to me. I know for a fact it’d be different if I'd read the books first. I feel like a fraud. 

Worst of all, I feel like one of those idiots who decides just to wait for the film, because it’s easier. And even worse than worst of all, I really am one of those idiots. At least, I am when it comes to Lord of the Rings.

The bits that didn’t make the film (Tom Bombadil, for example) were worth having read just to know what I’d missed. The camaraderie of the fellowship was heartwarming, but otherwise, more often than not, the book was just bewildering. Big swathes of Frodo not knowing what to do, but not getting any further in his thought process so it's just wasted time. In the past when I've heard “Oh, yeah, Tolkien needed an editor” I underestimated the extent to which he seriously needed a fucking editor.

As a fantasy fanatic, I will keep on with the series. I feel obliged. I recognise the extent to which the genre is indebted to it and how much I am indebted to the genre. However, that’s also like recognising that a Bugatti Veyron is indebted to the inventor of the wheel. Functionally, they do the same thing, but the execution has become far more powerful and elegant. 

I give 3 Mell-Heads. 

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man by Mark Hodder

He…hello? Are you all still there? No. I thought not. Excellent. This means no witnesses to my jolly rusty leap back into this blogging business. I have read a number of books since my absence, one of which was promised to be an exciting thing which never happened and which would take too much energy to try again any time soon. I have formulated a new plan. I have decided to come back to you with a review of a book the follows one I was very fond of and got very attached to. Its sibling is a different creature and correspondingly it has a different blurb! HURRAH!

A clockwork man is abandoned in Trafalgar Square. A ghost displays a craving for diamonds. An aristocrat returns ten years after being lost at sea and instigates riots in London. The Rakes are indulging in seances. The Technologists are growing giant insects and transforming them into steam-driven vehicles. The British Empire’s capial is in chaos, and in the midst of it all, Sir Richard France Burton and his wayward assistant, Algernon Swinburn, are beginning to suspect that someone, somewhere, is up to no good!

The links to the previous book are present from the beginning which in my brain makes this more of a sequel than part of a series, which I really prefer. I find books that are just interchangeable blocks on a vague timeline less impressive somehow than ones that weave themselves together over a series. We hear of John Hanning Speke, malaria, Africa and the rest. Like the last book too there’s a surreal blend of stuff that actually existed and stuff I’m really glad didn’t. The Tichborne Affair was a vague note somewhere in my head, as were most of the book's secondary characters. Irritated as I am with Victorian London (apparently) being the place to be, I can’t help but be absorbed by some of its most interesting facets. World history is mentioned more frequently too, with an Ireland apparently over-run by Triffids and Europe being hit by the technologists as London has been. It has all the gorgeous familiarity of history and all the wonderful chaos of flux. It’s as satisfying in this book as it was in the last, but not at all repetitive or formulaic.

Burton is undoubtedly the main dude (or protagonist as I believe some people insist on calling them) but he never appears to have been forced into the plot simply because of that fact and is never determined for the spotlight. This is usually the case with protagonists, and can be either really irritating or really funny, even if it’s done deliberately or well. The balance is rarer. That is I’m rarely not annoyed by a protagonist at least a bit (because everything is always about them, isn’t it?) but Burton isn’t irritating. He’s cold, a little distant and maybe hard to relate to (I suspect why there are so many loveable secondary characters) but he’s not a tit. This fact makes for rewarding reading. 

The good things about the last book remained so in this one. There were the continued insane (and gross) inventions as Albertian Britain gets to grips with its shiny new Eugenics, The Rakes getting into their amoral japes (the scamps) and real life geniuses getting a bit fucked up. There is also finally the recognition in print that Babbage sounds quite a lot like cabbage, and for this alone the book is worth the cover price. The technology is fucking mental and stops just short of being actually horrific because it’s so cartoonish. Focusing too much on hollowed out animals brings a chap down, you know. Describing the eugenecists folly with cartoonish horror rather than just horrified horror made it clear that this is a morally dubious endeavour but not so clear that you wonder why Burton isn’t dropping everything to ensure that no animals were harmed in the making of this motion picture uh…Albertian caper.

The bad things actually got worse. I distinctly remember reviewing the last book and ranting about a nurse with a gun who was the exotic eye candy for our recently single protagonist. Somehow Michael Madsen got involved. Look I don’t know, okay? I talked of how wonderfully the most downfally downfalls of our hideous imperialism had been smoothed over and changed so that society was just a tiny bit less prejudiced than it had been. However, I said, the women were contributing but treated as decoration. And, I said, this would not do. Ah, said the author, I’m mimicking the ways of the time. Fair enough, said I, but still, you know. And so it was that I addressed the issue of the sexism in the last book. WOULD that I had the content to cry sexism this time around. Would that I could, dear reader, but I cannot. The reason being is that there are a handful of women mentioned in this book in any amount of detail. One of whom is Mrs. Angell, Burton’s housekeepery housekeeper. The second is Florence Nightingale who has been kidnapped and therefore appears as a plot point and only once as a character with dialogue and Miss Mayson, a swan breeder who again is mentioned most often by other characters rather than appearing herself as a character. Madam Blavatsky features prominently later on, though in what capacity I cannot say for fear of spoilers. She is a wonderful character, and I would analyse her further and pick apart interesting morsels of gender related issues but it would be a MASSIVE FUCKING SPOILER. Suffice to say, that despite her being a fine character she does not negate the fact that I spent quite a lot of my time thinking “Does Sir Richard Francis Sexpot Burton EVER speak to women?” There are some prostitutes, a housekeeper and a nurse. I hate to be the person who bangs on about “what about the women?” I realise it gets dull and wearing and that not everybody cares. However, I only ask where the women are when there are no women. We are fifty percent of the earth’s population and there are about 8 of us in this 400+ page book. What the ACTUAL fuck? Like, really. Actually really, what the fuck?

The cover reviews are the same as last time, and I pretty much agree. Also, it won an award. Obviously 4 mell-heads from me can only send it to ever higher reaches.


Sunday, February 13, 2011

Two Tales From Manky Valley by Frank Peña

This is the second book from the BecauseInter.net guy.


The BecauseInter.net guy! C'mon!
His first book Pyromaniac Pooka is just as adorable/wrong, but only has ONE story. Gawd. What the actual fuck is that (awesome and adorable) shit? In Two Tales from Manky Valley you get TWO. Holy shitballs. I know Frank, and so he sent me a free e-book for my reviewing pleasure. Usually this would have made me cry from my eyes (No trees died for this? What is wrong with you?) but because it’s illustration heavy it is actually really fun to read on a screen. Maybe I was so used to reading web-comics that it didn’t phase me, or maybe I’m cured of my Ludditeitis. Either way, I can vouch for the readability of the e-book. There is no real blurb (except the little ones I found on the website) so I will instead allow the author to describe himself to you.

Frank Peña is a raggedy old hobo who lives in North Carolina with twenty cats. 
If you see a guy in a bathrobe and fuzzy bear-feet slippers dancing to the overhead music in the produce section of a grocery store, that is probably him. 
Approach with candy.

Perhaps that's actually more informative than a blurb for telling you exactly what you can expect from Manky Valley. It is silly. I’ll talk about each story separately:

The Prettiest Pony and the Atomic Death Cannon
Follow The Prettiest Pony and her pals, Butterface and Brownbagger, on an epic adventure into a haunted castle, that results in a chaotic trail of rainbows, cake and charred skeletons all across Manky Valley. (From Becauseinter.net/mankeyvalley.html)

The main themes in this piece appear to be sexist talk of anthropomorphised horses, and death cannons. Largely the themes blend together to create something brightly coloured and vaguely repulsive, both visually and ideologically. Freud says the castle represents a vagina, so I guess bestiality as well, cause they go inside of one of them. LESBIAN bestiality. I mean, my word. The juxtaposition of The Prettiness of the Pony and the castle-shapedness of the vagina confuse our ideas of what is sexual and what is just a castle, or something. Maybe we all want to sleep with our parents, or each other. Maybe we all have genitalia that resembles listed buildings. It is very meaningful. 

Li'l Stabby Goes on a Hug Rampage
Learn valuable life lessons about what happens when Li'l Stabby--everyone's favorite hug-addicted, magically animated butcher knife--is set loose in a forest full of snuggly critters. Can anything stop his cuddly reign of terror? Probably not. (From Becauseinter.net/mankeyvalley.html)

Unlike the gritty realism of the sexy pony story, this tale is overflowing with glittering whimsy.

Having seen the first twenty minutes of Pinocchio, the Plant-Watering Fairy followed standard magical-meddling protocol by rifling through the Lonely Old Lady’s possessions for something to animate.

*sigh*
The kindly aim of a passing fey to ease the suffering of an old woman begins one kitchen implement’s quest to learn more about life and himself. We learn valuable lessons like “Don’t piss on knives, especially if you’re magic!” and “Don’t hug knives, what the fucking hell is the matter with you?” I found myself moved to tears and a little bit of fear by just how carefully Lil’ Stabby’s rampage has been imagined. Freud probably thinks the knife is a penis, I’m pretty sure he says that. This is basically about a magical death orgy, if you’re Freud. Although I guess so is everything, if you’re Freud. So…why WOULDN’T you want to read it? Sort yourself out.

Really though, as far as ridiculous fun and sinister fairy tales go, these are super examples of both. They are also an excellent cautionary tale for loved ones about the dangers of too much caffeine. You could also perhaps point them in the direction of my twitter feed. 

There are reviews on the site where you can (and surely must) buy it rather than on the e-book I recieved, here they are:

"It's basically a hate-poem to vaginas...[Frank] is like a modern Jack the Ripper, only with cartoon ponies."- Reverend CDAAAH
  
Apart from the fact that it's actually prose, nobody died and certainly certainly nobody was disembowelled on the streets of London, this is correct.

 "If a psychologist were ever to read this, he would lose his shit." - Frank's Mom

As I discussed, Freud would have a field day. Momcho is ever wise.

"O__________O...I don't wanna be a derp face" -Lady Gracington von Holtburg


Well, quite.


In summary, I agree with everything I said and whatever else I said I agreed with, and it will make you laugh. Buy it!

5 Mell-Heads, though one was recently taken away to be examined. 






Monday, December 27, 2010

The Kingdom Beyond the Waves by Stephen Hunt

This is insanely overdue. Understaffed Workplace and Sick Family Members and Visits to the Beautiful City of Cambridge and Christmas Shopping and Best Friend Catch-Up Drinking Binges and New WoW Expansions and Two-Year-Olds-With-A-Lot-Of-Will and Five-Inches-Of-Snow have transpired to make this a very very late review. I finished this book before my birthday, which was 22nd November. I'm sure you found a way to fill the gaping void with which you were left in my absence, and I'm proud of you. Moving away from this apology which had more in the way of explanation than apology, we will get to a review.

I generally do not go into bookshops with a "thing" in mind. Unless I'm looking for a specific title, I go into bookshops to browse and see what grabs me by the eyes and refuses to let go. In this instance, however, I wanted fantasy steam-punk, because I just did. I fear I may not have gotten as far away from Spring Heeled Jack as I'd like, or maybe Frankenstein sent me fleeing back to less "omgthismightactuallyhappen" territory, or maybe the obscene amount of points on my Waterstones card left me seeking productive retail. Whatever the reason, I had a shopping list in my head, which made life difficult for about an hour and a fifteen minutes while I looked for a cover that told me "This is What You're Looking For". I finally fell upon The Kingdom Beyond the Waves because it is turquoise, which is my favourite colour, and there is a tiny deep sea diver on the cover. This is very important. I will not have you judging my methods. I may also have been sick of looking and it may have met my every requirement, these are not as important as the tiny deep sea diver. Nothing is that important.

Look at how tiny!



  Here is the blurb:

A thrilling yarn of perilous quests, dastardly deeds and deadly intrigue...

Professor Amelia Harsh is obsessed with finding the lost civilization of Camlantis, a legendary perfect society. So when she returns from her latest archeological misadventure and finds that the university council has stripped her of her position in retaliation for her heretical research, she accepts an offer of patronage from the unconventional but incredibly wealthy Abraham Quest.

Quest believes he knows where the ruins of Camlantis lie, and he will pay Amelia handsomely to verify their existence. But as she travels deep into the dark heart of the jungle aboard an ancient u-boat crewed by an untrustworthy gang of freed convicts, the expedition is soon under threat not only from the hostile environment, but an unexpected and deadly enemy.  Meanwhile Amelia has no idea that her quest for the perfect society may bring her own world to the brink of destruction...

DUHN DUHN DUHN.

The story starts with Amelia mid-dig, with Mombiko her "ex-slave" assistant and some not-so-subtle-but-still-very-interesting talk about the "oil hordes" and how they destroyed the eponymous perfect city-state. The oil hordes were brutal, obsessed with the oil they needed for their machines which they needed for domination which they needed for money. It's not delicate, but I got the point and it's an important contrast to the apparently selfless ideals of Camlantis. Then they are attacked by treasure hunters (where there are traps, there's treasure), for reasons that don't seem important to the story as a whole, Mombiko dies, and Amelia is left stranded alone in the desert. She is rescued by a mysterious woman and then fired, it is sad.

Contrary to the impression given by the blurb, the story is told from several points of view, which is important and wonderful, as you see the entirety of the world Hunt has created, and learn many aspects of a very complex story. However, it wasn't until about a third of the way through that I learned Amelia had a kind of super-power. I don't want to be a characters BFF, but it seemed like something that should probably have been mentioned early on in the relationship. I can't decide if I missed it because I read quickly, or if it was meant to be: "Surprise! She isn't just determined and intelligent and a damned good fighter, she has super powers!" I did like it, and it's an asset to an awesome character, it just caught me off guard.

The other characters are also brilliant. The reclusive Cornelius Fortune and his avian ally Septimoth are adorable and loyal and a detective team to rival many others. They, like everybody else, have enough dark secrets and tragic pasts to satisfy even my "but, we keep switching people!" distress. Despite the switching between characters, I feel quite comfortable with each of the people into whose lives we are dropped. They feel established as characters rather than just necessary for the plot. Fortune's  housekeeper, Damson Beeton is surprising and wonderful and one of many references to British culture/history scattered throughout. I forget most of them, but they're there and they're subtle but they made me smile.

Mrs. Beeton, our housekeeper's namesake. Via. Wikipedia
 There are moral messages and dire warnings galore, which is I think why I found talk of the Oil Horde so interesting. Jackals (for that is Amelia's country) is clearly set on a far distant earth, and the message is not dissimilar to that of Spring Heeled Jack. This being primarily caution and "Just because you can it doesn't mean you should." and  "Ambition can go too far." and "You'd probably be better off if you'd just stayed at home." and "Don't mess with Amelia." Ok, perhaps some of those are my own constructions, but the consequences of advanced technology and vast wealth and insane dogma are writ large for all to see. Abraham Quest, who is a complex character and perhaps one of my favourites, is the clearest embodiment of this need for caution. He is brilliant and ambitious but with no notion of consequence or moderation. His ultimate aim and the name he shares with THE Abraham was a nifty little parallel, I thought. In terms of steam-punk-as-far-future-back-to-basics, the hints of wrecked super advanced technology, for example the bio-machinery left to go feral were terrifying and wonderful.

There's much I haven't touched on. Partly because the finer details, the ones that really make the book, are lost in the time since I read it. The things that I really loved and the things that bothered me have stuck around. The extreme emphasis on the FEMALE bodyguards and the FEMALE warriors was nice, it's satisfying to not have purely decorative female characters and I appreciate it. However it felt heavy handed to the point where it almost had the opposite effect. The religion of Jackals is also intriguing, the deliberate insertion of the phrase "oh god!" or similar with the Jackelian equivalent of "thank circle!" etc felt a little bit forced, but once the "religion" was explained, I felt compelled to forgive all. I loved the Steammen, the robot people, and a bajillion other things. The sparse details included in this blog are also an unfortunate side effect of my abhorrence of spoilers, so you'll just have to see for yourself.

The main thing I didn't like was the gasp!shock!surprise! fact that our plucky archaeologist is actually a special snowflake with a background that JUST SO HAPPENS to make about a third of the book possible. It was a teensy bit deus ex machina-ish, but I think the book gets away with it. Just. There is also a giant dinosaur called a Killasaurus Max (or similar), and that just rubbed me the wrong way. It is a genuinely frightening section of the book, so I'll let that go too I think. The publishers may sleep easy, because my opinions will affect the career of an established and very successful author. Obviously.

I hadn't heard of Stephen Hunt before now, although a brief google search will tell anybody that he's actually written tons and tons. I plan to read the other two set in this universe, and may or may not check out his 'flintlock fantasy' stuff, as Temeraire left me luke-warm. We shall see.

(Note from the Future! I got Rise of the Iron Moon from the boy-thing for Christmas!)

Let's see the cover reviews!

'Compulsive reading.' -The Guardian

Well, yes. I was compelled to continue! That's really the only reason anybody would even finish anything, but this was a fair bitmore compulsifying than other things.


'More than a dash of Jules Verne...an entertaining and imaginative journey unto the unknown.' -Death Ray

Jules Verne! Yes. This is a thing that this book is like. I was both entertained and using my imagination all the while!! It's definitely an authentic adventure story, epic and self-mocking in turns. I imagine if Amelia and Indie ever got together for a dig, it'd be spectacular.

I loved this book, and it was one of those wonderful genuine experiences of highly concentrated escapism. Much love. 4 Mell-Heads. One was bitten off by a Killasaurus Max, then I forgot about it.






Saturday, November 6, 2010

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

This is a book I bought just over a year ago. The timing seemed perfect. It was just before Halloween and I was taking a fascinating class called Film, Horror and the Body which among other things rekindled my love for what a lot of people like to call “wussy” horror, and what I call gothic horror. It touched on many thoughts, caused me to develop fascinating ones of my own and led to me getting a first in my degree because I did a presentation on the awesomeness of Sigourney Weaver in Alien Ressurection and wrote a 5000 word paper on vagina-dentata. Fast forward a year, I’m reading as much as ever I was and too poor to add much to my ‘to-read’ pile. I get to this book around the same time as Halloween approaches yet again and Mark Gatiss (yes, Lucifer Box’s daddy) is doing a stupendous series of documentaries for the BBC about horror movies. Enter Frankenstein. Enter Shelley. Enter sleepless nights and escorted walks through darkened alley ways. 

Nosferatu Via. Wikipedia. Yay public domain horror ^__^


The writing, my mindset and the micro-zeitgeist of late October in the UK made this the perfect read for so many reasons. The blurb:

“Life and death appeared to me the ideal bounds which I should first break through, and pour a torrent of light into our dark world.”
  
Frankenstein was Mary Shelley’s immensely powerful contribution to the ghost stories which she, Percy Shelley and Byron devised on wet summer in Switzerland. Its protagonist is a young student of natural philosophy, who learns the secret of imparting life to a creature constructed from relics of the dead, with horrific consequences.
Frankenstein confronts some of the most feared innovations of evolutionism: topics such as degeneracy, hereditary disease, and mankind’s status as a species of animal. The text used here is from the 1818 edition, which is a mocking expose of leaders and achievers who leave desolation in their wake, showing humanity its choice- to live co-operatively, or to die of selfishness. It is also a black comedy, and harder and wittier than the 1831 version with which we are more familiar. 

I haven’t actually read the 1831 version (I intend to) but this seems a good start in outlining the differences. Apparently the fact that Frankenstein’s lover is his cousin is deleted in the 1831 version so that they are not blood-relations. There are, I’m sure, many differences both blatant and subtle, and I will discover them on my own when I experience the more widely read version. For now though, I deal with this version. 

The narrative starts, as anybody who has seen one of the many film adaptations will know, with Robert Walton’s account of his snow-bound ship. This part is important because you get to see Frankenstein from an outsider’s perspective which makes him a more sympathetic character. His creation sees him as evil and he himself is tortured by the arrogance of his genius. From those perspectives, he is pathetic at best. The Captain’s admiration of how educated and articulate and pleasant he is, despite his obvious troubles, reminds the reader that he is ultimately a brilliant man who made a terrible mistake. Dr Jekyll tapped me on the shoulder several times as I read.

The definite, overwhelming, message of the book is that Frankenstein’s genius runs away with him and causes all of his problems. He arrives at University having studied ancient masters of natural philosophy, only to be mocked. He is given a list of new, modern texts and “that application, which at first had been a matter of duty and resolution, now became so ardent and eager, that the stars often disappeared in the light of morning whilst I was yet engaged in my laboratory.” (Why yes, I was compelled by the beauty of the language to bookmark pages. Tyvm for asking.) It’s rather luddite in its outlook, and Shelley herself was said to be sympathetic with the luddites and their plight. As the blurb says, it’s a biting critique of those who let their power and inventiveness run away with them. (Like here)

This point is made, and beautifully, by Shelley’s portrayal of the monster as a product of his circumstances. A huge section of the book is devoted to the monster’s point of view- his reaction to the beauty he sees in the world and in his own existence, as wretched as it is destined to become. His kindness and his sympathy for other human creatures is touching and childlike and very human. He does not begin his awful life as a monster. He is driven to it by the rejection of his creator and of every other human he encounters. He attaches himself to a family, hiding from them and doing vital chores for them in the night. He grows to love and trust them, and it is from them that he learns to speak and understand the world. When he eventually approaches them, they cast him out as readily as anybody else. His anger, his resentment and his thirst for companionship drive him to violence and monstrous acts. The parallel with the luddites is obvious. Their desperation is what drives them to acts of vandalism, not anything inherently violent in their make-up. Interestingly this was changed in some film adaptations where it was implied that Igor (who does not exist in the book), when sent to get a brain, accidentally picks up the one marked “insane” or “abnormal”, and what Frankenstein creates actually is a monster, and not just a very ugly human driven to evil acts by the world. It's an important difference.

A creation of Frankenstein's from 1910 Via. Wikipedia

 The horror element, and the one that, really seriously in real life, made me ask a person headed the same way to walk with me down a dark shortcut, was the way that Frankenstein’s mistakes haunt him in the physical manifestation of his creation. The lack of description of the parts used or his actual physical features mean your brain gets to fill in its own horrifying blanks, and when Frankenstein considers disobeying the monster’s request, he will appear at a window, or in the shadows. His conscience is a reanimated corpse, following him around the world. This, more than the actual creation of the monster, is what made me act like a giant wuss. It’s chilling.

Movie Poster for the 1957 Adapatation starring Christopher Lee. Qualifies under Fair Use- scaled down copy of poster for discussion/critique. May contain nuts. Not intended as medical advice. Although you probably should try not to faint as a general rule. 


This is another one of those books that had me highlighting gorgeous passages, and I loathe Shelley for having written this at 19 years of age. 

By degrees, I made the discovery of a still greater moment. I found that these people possessed a method of communicating their experience and feelings to one another by articulate sounds. I perceived that the words they spoke sometimes produced pleasure or pain, smiles or sadness, in the minds and countenances of the hearers. This was indeed a godlike science, and I ardently desired to become acquainted with it. -The Creature.

Guh. The creature is all of us, reacting to the world with disgust, fury and awe.

There are no cover reviews, for ‘tis a classic. This is quite long enough as it is. Frankenstein has become one of my favourite novels. It moved me, it terrified me and is at the same time a powerful political statement. It is the first science fiction novel, although it's not quite as fanciful or unlikely as it was then. It was written by a 19 year old. FML.

Five Mell Heads, sewn on extra tight.





Friday, October 8, 2010

The Black Butterfly by Mark Gatiss

This review marks rather a special time in the life of this blog. I promised from pretty much day one that I’d review this series. It’s one of my favourites and there was a WHOLE BOOK that I refrained from reading just so I could share my honest first reaction with you people. This is that honest first reaction, although honestly it’s a little delayed because I’m easily distracted.There have been side-bar promises for months and months, actually more than a year, that I would review this entire series, and here I am at the end of it. I’d promise something spectacular and climactic, but that would be a massive lie. It’s a review like most others, but it’s significant none the less. I’m just excited to have finally gotten something done (I do tend to dawdle) and have potentially a lot/some people know that I did get around to it eventually. Okay, Lucifer Box the Third. Here we go :D

Knave. Joker. Queen.
Lucifer Box is back! (Eeee!)
The hero of ‘The Vesuvius Club” and “The Devil in Amber” returns with an artistic license to kill and the deadliest mission of his career. A new Queen has been crowned, an old enemy has resurfaced and the world is about to be embraced by the lethal wings of the Black Butterfly. 

This blurb is exciting! It seems like it’s everything the last two books are. Risque, silly, sexy and exciting (in so many senses of the word), it is a very full blurb. The general tone of the book is a lot darker than the previous two, the name in itself sort of prepares you for that rather than having the blurb injected with AND ALSO THINGS SUCK SOMETIMES. It’s subtle, so I was dreading the inevitable sadness while being reassured by the blurb that there are good times ahead too. Lucifer Box should not be sad, it doesn’t seem right. The Black Butterfly/Le Papillion Noir is the famous French term for depression. It’s also, conveniently, the name being bandied about when some old (and by old I mean elderly) colleagues of Box’s start acting very strangely indeed. It seems, to my eyes, that a clever way of confronting the terrible heaviness of a that particular mental illness/a mystery is to give them the same name and have Box confront them both in equally daring and balls-out ways, as is his wont. 

The start of the book is as risque as the series gets. A dashing Lucifer and an erect nipple meet in unlikely, extravagant and dangerous circumstances. Sadly though, this is the dream of the aged (no longer with that merciful -ing to soften the blow) Lucifer. He’s dozing. DOZING, internet. This will never do, but there it goes, doing and being. Perhaps I should probably say that it will do, it did do, but it shouldn’t. That would be excessively wordy and therefore unnecessary. Good thing I didn’t, then. 
Box deals with age on his own terms, reacting with extreme distaste to being the venerable Lucifer Box.  We learn of his life since ‘The Devil in Amber’ in dribs and drabs, the most amusing of these initial tit-bits being that he has a son (left on the door-step of course, no word of the mother, naturally) and that he has named him as only the Box family seem able. I shant spoil it, it’s wonderful surprise. 

As always, there is a wonderful sub-plot with a surprising link to the main crime. I always fear that by mentioning surprises I’ll force your brain to be sub-consciously working on it all the while you’re reading (assuming of course my inane keyboard tappings ever convince anybody other than the wonderful Alex to read anything) and you’ll inadvertently join the dots before the proper time, spoiling the reveal before it’s due. The only thing that makes a twist clever is the fact that it remains secret until it isn’t anymore. Secrets aren’t really remarkable other than the fact that they’re hidden. My fear stems mostly from the fact that The Mother had Sixth Sense recommended to her with the words “There’s a brilliant twist at the end!” and she subsequently figured it out about thirty minutes in. It is not an enjoyable film when you already know the thing. In the interests of being as unspoilery as possible, I shall tell you things what I liked that are unrelated to the plot.


Whitley Bey


This is a somewhat important character, a large geordie blokie. It is because of his involvement that I discovered that Mark Gatiss is from my neck of the woods. WE ARE PRACTICALLY RELATED. Or something. It was exciting news for me, anyway. Bey is important and likeable and has an awesome gold coin instead of an eye. The fact that his name is a play on the [positive adjective] local beach is just another bauble on this branch of wonder, which actually leads me to realise that the names have become less fantastical as the series goes on. This is sad. Whitley, thankfully, is an exception. His da’ was a brickie and he’s from South Shields, that’s where I’m from. IT’S LIKE IT WAS WRITTEN ABOUT ME, YOU GUYS! Except that my dad isn’t and never has been a brickie and I have never called anybody ‘hinnie’ in my life. My nana does that. It did give me a sad little local thrill when he was geet proper geordie-like all over Box’s actually proper speech. Like the sort I got when Sarah Millican said she was claggy on TV last week. It’s the little things, okay? Joe McElderry does not count in my mind as having made anything about my home town anything near remarkable. Catherine Cookson maybe so, but one gets a little tired of having her name plastered all over everything. It’s a constant guilty reminder that I have yet to experience anything more of her work than six week long dramas with appalling accent-work on all sides. Only about two sentences of this were actually about why Whitley Bey is an awesome character. NEVER MIND.

Kingdom Kum
Okay, maybe I lied about the names.

 

Delilah
She is still here! I’m not sure I’ve given her the proper amount of love in previous reviews, but she is wonderful. Reliable, solid and present as ever. She is the rock upon which Lucifer sharpens his brilliance. As close to a wife as he was ever likely to get, I love her. Delilah party in my head!

This review lacks the amount of Lucifer’s own wit that I would ordinarily include, but I’m writing this on an impromptu trip. The fact that I came quite as prepared as I did (underwear, make-up, plastic explosives etc etc) is a miracle, but I forgot to bring the book I’m actually reviewing. Perhaps I’ll add some later and you’ll never see this. It’s unlikely, I’m anxious to get this posted. Although it occurs to me now that I need the book for cover-review purposes, perhaps Amazon can help me out on that score.

This is already really long. Quick, Amazon, the cover reviews!!!

Be seduced by Lucifer, you wouldn’t be the first  Daily Express

Translation: These books are about SEX sometimes -titter- -titter at titter-
 

Darkly erudite and fiendishly unputdownable- Lucifer box is the most likeable scoundrel since Flashman Jasper Fforde

I’m sure that quote was on another cover before, it’s still right, although the clumsy neologism makes me a bit sad. I can’t really comment because my own special abuse of the English language is put into a bad light if I mention it at all, but I already did. Put that red pen away, this is my house.

Belongs to the lineage with stretches from Sherlock Holmes to the indestructible James Bond. Giddily inventive and packed with delirious incident. TLS

Well, Mark Gatiss’ recent and awesome work on the Sherlock series for the BBC shows that Holmes was definitely an influence. I’ve not actually read any James Bond (I will get to it one day) but I imagine that’s a good point as well. I agree on the grounds that my speculation is accurate. 

Ok, brief cover review arguments but this was already nearing Teal Dear proportions.
Overall this makes me as happy as the others. The ending particularly, which I can’t really talk about, is a really wonderful one. It’s the bitterest and sweetest and funniest. It encapsulates Lucifer so wonderfully in a way that you’ll miss him but know he isn’t really gone. I got teary, I won’t lie. 
Four mell-heads, because WHY DID IT HAVE TO BE OVER?! ;O;










Friday, September 17, 2010

Burton and Swinburn in The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack by Mark Hodder

This is another one of those books, like The Vesuvius Club and The End of Mr Y before it, that I chose because the cover art is beautiful. I refuse to allow you to judge me on my superficial methods, because they are both very good books. Ugly books are good too, but I’m just saying one doesn’t preclude the other. Anyway, it’s very steam-punky looking and may be the most steam-punky thing I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. It’s also green and has gold-shiny bits. It had a lot going for it before I even picked it up, is what I’m saying. And then I read the blurb:


It is 1861 and Albertian Britain is in the grip of conflicting forces.

Engineers transform the landscape with bigger, faster, noisier and dirtier technological wonders; Eugenicists develop specialist animals to provide unpaid labour; Libertines oppose restrictive and unjust laws and flood the country with propaganda demanding a society based on beauty and creativity; while The Rakes push the boundaries of human behaviour to the limits with magic, sexuality, drugs and anarchy. 

Returning from his failed expedition to find the source of the Nile, explorer, linguist, scholar and swordsman Sir Richard Francis Burton finds himself sucked into the perilous depths of his moral and ethical vacum when the Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston, employs him as “King’s Spy.” His first mission: to investigate the sexual assualts committed by a weird apparition known as Spring Heeled Jack; to find out why chimney sweeps are being kidnapped by half-man, half-dog creatures; and to discover the whereabouts of his badly injured former friend, John Hanning Speke

So much blurb! I like that. If it can say all of that without giving a great deal away then the book itself has to be dense enough for me to fall in, get lost and forget where I came from. That's something I can get on board with. What I found, generally, is that my first assumption is correct and that I really fucking love this book. For those of you suffering from Teal Deer Syndrome, you can stop there. If you care why I love it, please let’s continue.

Firstly there’s the Libertine Propaganda and other sorts of cultural ephemera like it that begin every chapter. The one in the very first chapter is:


Everything Life Places in Your Path is an Opportunity
No Matter How Difficult
No Matter How Upsetting
No Matter How Impenetrable
No Matter How You Judge It
An Opportunity



Which is a wonderful idea in itself, but when you are trapped on THE JOURNEY FROM HELL that lasts FOREVER and in which you get stuck in Paris for 7 hours (not as glamorous as it sounds, it was an airport and they don’t do fast food) and then in a hotel in Detroit overnight (even less glamorous than you could possibly imagine) and then on a bus for 23 hours, it’s an even more wonderful idea. And it was right, in its way. I got to read this beauty twice, pick up some awesome anecdotes and think too much about the opening chapters of books. It helped! Perhaps the trauma of the journey has made me forget that there are things I don’t like and focus on how wonderfully this world was built.

After that WONDEROUS bit of fake-propaganda, Sir Richard Francis Burton’s former best friend kills himself, which is the catalyst for the events in the rest of the book. While investigating the many mysteries that present themselves to him, Burton has run ins with the violent, deranged and anachronistic Spring Heeled Jack. This is explained and made clear(ish) in the last third of the book (time loops and I do not get on). The result being that I regret that the events described did not take place because I want to meet an orangutan with a human brain who is called Mr. Belljar. I never will, of course, and life goes on but some of the invention in this book is surreal, spectacular and a lot of it is very funny.

The things I did like are many and varied, mostly I like the bizarre inventions that make their way into every day life when ideas years before their time are introduced into Victorian/Albertian society. The result being that greyhounds and foul-mouthed parrots take messages to and from houses, the Prime Minister has had more work done than Jackie Stallone and there are giant swans that swoop through the streets of London with passengers in kites on their back. It is so incredibly steampunk that it makes my eyes sad that they can’t see these things for real. Sir Richard Francis Burton is a likeable protagonist but I find myself liking the people who help him along his journey a lot more than I like him. He’s a bit impersonal, but funny and flash and all of the important things you want from a dashing steampunk hero. His sidekick Swinburn is also wonderful and provides the comic relief along with knocking Burton down a peg or two when he wants things done his way, for good or bad. I was also put onto Swinburn's beautiful poems. I'd never heard of him before this.


The things I didn’t like were mostly a general repeat of my occasional mantra “Victorian London omgWHY”, but that tapered off after a while because that’s precisely what this isn’t. It’s Victorian London on its head. It's the introduction of chaos, of flux, of absolute uncertainty about whether the things you know should happen, the things that no good Victorian London should be without, will happen. I like that a lot.

The thing I really didn't like was that a nurse who Burton encounters quite early in the story, Sister Sadhvi Raghavendra, is still presented as the bit of fluff, despite being a bad ass and saving lives, risking her own and all of that. She is of course immediately described the way Flashman would immediately categorise her: “dusky” with “almond eyes” and positively swoons when Burton says he’ll meet her again soon (he is still engaged at this point JUST SO YOU KNOW). Don't get me wrong, I like that for the most part, people from the colonies aren’t treated as they truly were in this book. I mean if you’re going to write a do-over get rid of the parts that remind us how shit humans can be to one another, but there’s still an element of “ooh, exotic!” that rubs me the wrong way when she is so much more than just a pretty nurse. If you're going to have people not be racist, lets not be sexist have men force their wives to leave the room when bad language is imminent. Just sayin. Back to the bad-assness of Sadhvi- without being too spoilery, she’s the bait at one point:

“She sat and waited, the tea at her side, a pistol in her hand.”

Know what that reminds me of? It reminds me of Budd in Kill Bill, waiting for The Bride with a shotgun in his lap. Ok, in all probability he was chewin’ baccy, not drinking tea and was not dressed as a flower seller. All that aside, Sadhvi? As bad ass as this guy:


And probably much better groomed. My point being, she does not have to be eye candy or a love interest to be a compelling/awesome character. PLEASE FOR TO BE STOPPING THIS KIND OF THINKING. Thx : )

The point I made when I reviewed Drood about dancing dead men about in strings still stands to some extent. I think I glossed over it for a few reasons:

  •  It was something that was not a bus journey of temporal or environmental extremes.
     
  • Hodder has a whole section at the back where he says “They really said this, but not this.”
  • It is not trying for any kind of historic accuracy. See Orangutan above. Drood seemed very real, despite the crazy supernatural goings on, and that made it weirder I think.

There are dozens of "real" (meaning people who once existed) people in this book, some of them saying things they really said and sometimes going off completely because this book is crazy times. I think the sheer volume of them, and the fact that I know they didn’t really meet and that this is all complete fiction that could never possibly have occured makes it a lot less creepy that they’re dead and this book is talking about them doing things they never did. I’m still not completely ok with it, but I may have attached myself to this book in rather an unhealthy way so my opinion may be completely warped. It probably doesn’t matter anyway : )

I love the Libertines and the Rakes. In my head I have to place myself in with the Libertines, they aren’t sinister or evil and I have to love the philosphy. The Rakes really scare me, but they’re so damned cool.

The poacher was just about to turn and take to his heels when an uncomfortable feeling in his neck stopped him. He looked down and his stubbled chin bumped into a wet red blade which projected from his throat. He coughed blood onto it and watched as it slid back into his neck and out of sight.

“My apologies,” said a soft voice from behind.

The poacher died and slid to the loamy earth.

The man who’d killed him sheathed his swordstick. Like all his fellow rakes, he was well-dressed, carried a bagged birdcage in one hand and a rucksack on his back. 

Little by little, the Rakes had occupied the shadows under the trees around the field and now there were hundreds of them.

They’re bastards, but that’s one of my favourite images of the book, hundreds of evil posh guys under trees killing poachers and being suave about it.

There are two cover reviews, both by the same man. I'm going to quote the longer of the two, because it unsurprisingly covers more ground.

This is an exhilarating romp through a witty combination of 19th century English fact and fiction. Mark Hodder definitely knows his stuff and has given us steam opera at its finest. In his first novel he shows himself to be as clever and inventive a writer as those who enliven his pages...A great increasingly complex, plot, fine characters and invention that never flags. It gets better and better, offering clues to some of Victorian London's strangest mysteries. This is the best debut novel I have read in ages. -Michael Moorcock

Yeah... I don't think there's anything I disagree with. Apart from the use of the word "romp", Mr Moorcock and I seem to think along the same lines when it comes to this particular book. Uhm. Yeah.

One of my absolute favourite elements is the seeming insanity of the inventions but just how much sense they seem to make to the people that use them. Spring Heeled Jack’s utter incredulity of the weirdness that surrounds him alongwith Burton’s matter of fact sense of wonder is brilliant. I mean, seen from a similar perspective half the stuff we do is just as strange and unethical, and I think it’s a cautionary tale about the dangers of invention. One of the main messages of the book is that just because you can it doesn’t mean you should. Talking orangutans being the obvious exception.

FIVE MELL HEADS.










Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Devil in Amber by Mark Gatiss

I’ve read this part of the Lucifer Box story once before, but had forgotten much about it apart from the saddest and sexiest parts. The former are a new addition to the life of Mr. Box, having taken the reader on a mega-fun time across Italy in the first book, Box is now looking at life from the other side of the Great War, and life is not as easy as it was. The latter are par for the course, though not as plentiful as they were at the turn of the last century. Here is the blurb!

At last! LUCIFER BOX, His Majesty’s most daring- and dissolute - secret agent returns in a mystery set some twenty years after the scandalous events of the bestselling THE VESUVIUS CLUB.

This time he faces treachery within his own service and a facist messiah with a peculiarly Satanic design…


The timing is what makes this book more interesting in some ways than the first. Lucifer is older, and jealous and insecure. He is as much himself as ever he was, but he is no longer on top of all his games, which makes for a different experience. The main threat he faces is from younger agents, he is framed for a crime and forced to ‘take the drop’ for the charges without his governmental contacts to make it all go away as one has come to expect. He has to use his mind and charm rather than cushy job perks to get out of trouble. This element of the story along with the satanic/fascist group he’s supposed to be investigating entwine together with the usual mix of scandal, wit and debauchery to make this darker sequel as much fun as the first.

The challenging aspects are Lucifer’s bruised ego, which is difficult to take as somebody who fell in love with his rather more robust ego of the previous age. It’s more than a little heartbreaking to see him looked over and dismissed in any way, for surely it is not possible for eyes to be anywhere else when Lucifer Box is in the room. Sadly it is and they are, and it is sad :( The other is the people lost in the war. Lucifer was not fortunate enough to be in the scant minority who came through the first world war unchanged, and it shows, and that too is sad. Again, notice my fangirlface talking about him as if he’s real. I reiterate from my first review: Shut up. I hate you.

I once again echo my first review when I say, due to the thriller spyish nature of the story, giving very much away would just be an epic fail. So instead I’m going to offer some choice quotes that display Lucifer’s own very special way of talking about his favourite subject: himself.

Upon his bisexuality:

“And, if like me, he travelled on the number 38 bus as well as the 19 (you get my drift)…”





Upon his well-maintained physique:

“Of my lean and lithe body (it still was, I swear!)...”

Upon his curriculum vitae:

“…The celebrated Lucifer Box: artist, bon-viveur, sexual athlete and wanted felon.”

These are the ones I had the presence of mind to bookmark. This book is about 250 pages of shit like that. It’s a lot of fun, although you’re liable to be sanctioned if you read it  frequently on public transport. I was overcome with the giggles more than once.

I have the hardcover, so some of the quotes are recycled from The Vesuvius Club. There is only one that I hadn’t spoken to before, and I feel like I should make a decent go of talking to it, but it says something that I said in my last review. I’m torn, Internets. Do not think it a weak attempt :(

Lucifer Box is the most likable scoundrel since Flashman Jasper Fforde

See the dilemma? I spoke of Lucifer’s like-ability and his similarity to Flashman and the obvious inspiration Gatiss took from there when I reviewed Vesuvius Club. It’s still as true as ever it was, but it makes more sense for me to tell you to go and read that one again to conserve your eye batteries. In summary, I agree with you Jasper FuhForde.

My Mell-head score is fairly predictable, because I am such an obvious Box fan-girl. For this reason I am going to take points of for less-sexyness, as it’s the only thing I can think of. He only sleeps with…2 people? And made me think about a naked old woman with a beard. Bad times.
4.5 Mell Heads!



P.S Can I tell you how much I enjoy having the excuse to write "box" quite as many times as this? I enjoy it A LOT.