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.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik

I read this weeks and weeks ago, but I am now only half an internet bum and I have a job so it’s taken me this long to write a review. I also left the country and read 3 more books. This is me catching up. I will be checking facts and things that actually happened quite often, because honestly I have only a vague impression of this book left in my brain place. Happily the blurb is a regular part of my format and will also serve as a handy refresher. Convenience!


Captain Will Laurence, formerly of His Majesty’s Navy, has had only a few months to adjust to his new life as the captain of a fighting dragon, but now he can’t imagine a life outside the British Aerial Corps- nor a life without Temeraire.

Now the Chinese have demanded Temeraire’s immediate return, and the British Government cannot afford to refuse them, even if it costs them the most powerful weapon in their arsenal. Laurence and Temeraire must journey to China, knowing that once they arrive in the exotic east, they could be separated forever.

As with the first in the series, the details are highly believable and I assume (I wasn’t there) accurate. They are also there by the bucket load, as a great deal of the book is spent on a voyage from Britain to China, and most of what is written is the minutiae of life on a boat. Not that leaving it out would have been preferable, but it just means the journey seems to take up more pages than it does. And that is already too many in my eyes. My point being: It takes long. It’s like the bit in Wicked where she’s in that castle with those people (I read it once and never will again, check the vague detailery) and Harry Potter the Seventh where they’re camping and it JUST WON’T END! Not very much happens on the voyage either. I made this criticism of the first book where Laurence and Temeraire are stationed at the encampment. A lot of plot points appear and occur and are on that voyage, but it’s so very dull. You can almost hear yourself chanting “exposition, rising action, climax, falling action.” Lather, rinse repeat. Not that it’s as clunky as that by any means, but I found myself looking for things that may imply ACTION! just so I wouldn’t want to skip ahead. I have never cheated reading a book in my life, which should say something about how much the voyage was dragged out. I appreciate that it really would have taken a long time, and having the audience share Laurence’s feeling’s of anxiety and apprehension as they are drawn out across that span of time is an effective way of making them empathise with him. However, most of his questions and apprehensions are not addressed until they actually arrive in China, or certainly as the voyage draws to a close. The lengthyness of the journey in writing served no real purpose (that I recall!) other than to illustrate that it was a really long voyage, which I have just demonstrated there in a paragraph, which I’m sure seemed to drag on forever too. *Ahem*

What a boat with a dragon may look like

Laurence’s feelings of epic woe on the voyage are caused primarily by his fear of losing Temeraire and his powerlessness to really argue his point, as the Chinese have sent the Emperors brother to bring him back, and upsetting such a high ranking official would upset his superiors and he can’t do anything about it because of honour and patriotism, or something. I’m sure people really were and are restricted by such feelings of responsibility, and the reasons given by Hammond, the ambassador, really are good reasons for Britain not shooting the Emporer’s brother in the face. They are not good reasons for Laurence to be a good boy, really. Laurence’s extreme restraint in the face of obvious taunting was very frustrating to read. If he’d just gone all out and punched one of the Chinese entourage, even once, it would have been immensely satisfying for the reader and would have made his determination to protect Temeraire far more believable (although now that I think about it he may have lost his temper...). Even still, that kind of restraint in the face of separation from family (and Temeraire is precisely that) only goes so far, even if the restraint is directed at Chinese royalty. Temeraire’s threat to stomp on anybody that tries to separate them is far more believable.

The relationship is between Laurence and Temeraire, as in the first book, portrayed perfectly, and Laurence’s desire for Temeraire to be happy conflicts with his desire for him not to fall in love with Chinese culture and serves as a bittersweet vein to run through the more action filled parts of the book. The battles are really well done too, I can always do with more of those, in any scenario. I think a lot of what happens during the voyage is political and personal stuff, wikipedia calls them “machinations”, which makes me think of machine guns, which is wrong. They were important to the plot, as I said earlier, but they’re just a bit dry when they’re set on a boat where nothing else is happening, apart from stereotypically British reactions to foreign food.

I remember the part in China quite clearly, and I remember that I loved it. Laurence’s wonder and culture shock are brilliant lenses through which to view the fantasy-dragon-China that Novik created. They see how much more freedom dragon’s are allowed, and Laurence is forced to deal with that along with his grudging acceptance that Temeraire may wish to embrace some more of his native culture. This is also the parts of the book where the mysterious actions of the Chinese royal family are explained and where the matter is brought to a resolution. It’s exciting and sort of breathless. It was easily my favourite part of the book. There is also some of that endearing Laurence/Temeraire parent/child awkwardness that I enjoyed reading.

Since that’s all I can remember, and therefore all I feel qualified to comment on, I will now argue blindly with the cover reviews.

Plenty of intrigue, swordplay, exotic locations, plausible invention. In short a treat. The Daily Telegraph
I suppose so, yes.

These are beautifully written novels…fresh, original and fast-paced. Peter Jackson, Director of Lord of the Rings
I would disagree with fast-paced, for the reasons outlined extensively above, but he is right otherwise.

Throne of Jade is even better…laced with political intrigue and exciting adventures. The Times
I think I might have enjoyed this one more, though I can’t say exactly why. It is a mystery, but I did.

So, that is it! I think the beauteous nature of their time in China might just cancel out the monotony of the boat journey, so I give it 3 Mell-heads. It might have been more if I could actually remember anything at all.