Friday, April 27, 2012

Red Seas Under Red Skies read along week 1


We liked Lies of Locke Lamora so much that we decided to do a read along of the sequel Red Seas Under Red Skies. Again, having read Red Seas Under Red Skies many times I have to approach this a little differently so as not to spoil the newbies.

This weeks questions come from Bryce at My Awful Reviews.


1. The Sinspire. It looks like our heroes (can they really be called that?) find themselves in search of a way into an unbeatable vault. Do you think they have what it takes to make it happen?

Maybe Locke and Jean can be called our protagonist, they are really anti-heroes I guess. This is a very common thing with modern fantasy, though. Despite the fact that they're thieves they do have many heroic qualities.
We're talking about Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen here, students of Father Chains. Gentleman Bastards. Of course they find their way into Requin's vault.

2.  Anyone want to guess how they're going to make it happen?

I KNOW how they're going to make it happen, so I'lll leave others to speculate.

3. It's a little different this time around, with us just being focused on Locke and Jean. Is anyone else missing the rest of the Bastards as much as I am?

Oh the Thirteenth yes! Especially Bug, but more than that I miss Camorr, this other uncredited character that was so much a part of the first book. Tal Verrar and surrounds are interesting and just as fascinating as any imagined place I've ever seen, but it's not Camorr, which felt almost like a second home to me.

4. I love the section where Jean starts to build a new guild of thieves. It really shows just how well trained and tough he is. Do you think the Bastards will end up training others along the way again like Bug?

I think Jean was carrying a bit of pent up anger, and he couldn't beat the crap out of Locke, so had to find someone to do it on. After the events of The Lies of Locke Lamora, I think it will be a while before either of the two remaining Gentleman Bastards want the responsibility of another group of thieves, especially Locke who still blames himself for what happened.

5. For those of you looking for Sabetha, we still haven't spotted her yet. Anyone else chomping at the bit to see the love of Locke's life?

YES!

6. It's early on, but the Bastards are already caught up in plots that they didn't expect. How do you think their new "employer" is going to make use of them (The Archon, that is)?

I know what he's going to do, but first time around I was asking myself and didn't expect the answer when it came. The Archon is a rather interesting character in his own right. 

That's my thoughts on the first part. Hope everyone can join me next week for the second part of Red Seas Under Red Skies.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Lost Horizon by James Hilton


James Hilton's Lost Horizon has left a huge legacy in that the lost city of Shangri-La has become a byword for any utopian place of contemplation.

James Hilton is an interesting writer in that he's best known for this book and Goodbye Mr Chips, both of which were filmed successfully and two more different works you could not find. He also worked on the screenplay for the wartime classic Mrs Miniver.

Lost Horizon is largely the story of Hugh 'Glory' Conway. Conway was a schoolboy sports star and academic achiever, who was what every student aspired to be. His experiences in WW I affected him deeply, and after a period in academia he became a minor diplomat. It was in that capacity that he was on a small plane with 3 other travellers and heading out of India.

The plane was hijacked and taken deep into the Himalayas. The four travellers found themselves at the Shangri-La lamasery. Conway is the one who discovers the lamasery's secret. It is a place where time stops, and as long as one stays there they have the ability to literally live forever and never age.

Driven by his love for Lo-Tsen; a beautiful Manchu princess, and constantly badgered by the annoying young diplomat that travelled with him, Conway leaves the lamasery, but never forgets it.

At the end of the book after having briefly met with an old friend Conway disappears again, believed to be trying to get back to Shangri-La.

It's a very short book and could have even been shorter, there's a lot of unnecessary philosophising in it. Not much really happens, but it's still an easy, even enchanting read as one strives to get to the mystery behind Shangri-La and it's mysterious ruler the High Lama.

There are countless books written about lost civilisations and eternal life. The most recent and closest to the themes in Lost Horizon that I've read and can mention is H. Rider Haggard's She, although I'd recommend Lost Horizon over that.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Anno Dracula by Kim Newman

In 1992 Kim Newman (better known at the time for his non-fiction criticism of film, especially the horror genre) released a vampire book with a difference, it was called Anno Dracula. Anno Dracula was ahead of its time in 1992. Kim Newman took Bram Stoker's classic vampire story of Dracula and tweaked it.


In Newman's reimagining Vlad Tepes married Queen Victoria and made vampirism the craze throughout England. Anno Dracula takes place in this London, and even the vampires are scared of a killer they call Silver Knife, who preys on mostly newly made vampire prostitutes. The killer later gains a new name; Jack the Ripper. 


The story follows the investigation of the killer carried out by the Diogenes Club's rising star Charles Beauregard and the aristocratic 400 year old French vampire Genevieve Dieudonne. Anno Dracula is what has come to be referred to as a 'mash up' novel. 


Kim Newman has taken the framework of Stoker's classic and added his own touches. There are references to Sherlock Holmes, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and The Island of Dr Moreau to name just a few, Polidori's very early vampire story Vampyre cracks a mention, as does the penny dreadful work Varney the Vampire


Real world historical events are also mixed in, not just the Jack the Ripper murders, but references to Chinese Gordon's death in Khartoum and the encounter between Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett. 


Anno Dracula is a fun romp that never got the attention it deserved on first release, and so was rereleased in 2011. The 2011 edition is far superior in a number of ways. It contains the original story, although I think the author may have reedited it. It also has a new afterword as well as an alternate ending, annotations, a screenplay and articles by Kim Newman. I wasn't really sure what to expect going into Anno Dracula, but all my expectations and more were met. It's one of the most enjoyable things I've read for the year and a worthy addition to the sub genre.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Across the Nightingale Floor by Lian Hearn



Lian Hearn's Across the Nightingale Floor is one book in the list that I have read. I read it when it first came out, although I hadn't read it since.

Since it's publication in 2002 it's become a bit of a minor classic in the home of it's author; Australia. It's particularly popular amongst young adults, and this isn't all that surprising as prior to putting out Across the Nightingale Floor Lian Hearn was best known as a children's author.

It's a lovely lyrical tale, as much love story as revenge story. Although Lian Hearn says that it is not set in Japan it is very clearly based on Japanese culture, and I have seen one review that even managed to find events in Japanese history that correlated roughly with the story in the book.

The story of Takeo, a young boy raised by a clan known only as the Hidden, who survives a massacre, is adopted by one of the Otori lords and trained as a mystical ninja assassin by his unknown father's family; the Tribe, forms the bulk of the book. The other two major sections are Takeo seeking revenge on the powerful lord who massacred the Hidden village, and forever altered his life. The final section is the story of Kaede, the beautiful young noblewoman who Takeo falls in love with.

One interesting thing about the book is the style in which Lian Hearn chose to write it. Takeo's sections of the story are told in first person, but when the story focusses on Kaede it switches to third person. The only other books I can remember doing this so seamlessly are Jonathan Stroud's marvelous Bartimaeus series.

At the time there weren't many Asian flavoured fantasies. The closest I can think of is the Raymond E Feist's Empire trilogy, co written with Janny Wurts. The culture of Kelewan is very closely based on that of feudal Japan, as is Across the Nightingale Floor. Lian Hearn did put out 4 sequels to the book, together they're known as the Otori Cycle. I did read two more of them, but they weren't able to capture the magic of the first book and I gave the series up. It's self contained enough to be enjoyed without needing to read on.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Left Hand Magic by Nancy A. Collins



Recently I read a fun little UF/PR excursion called Right Hand Magic by Nancy A. Collins. That its sequel is named Left Hand Magic is not only unsurprising it’s quite logical. The titles refer to the two types of m performed by the Kymerans, the six fingered, cat-eyed humans who form the dominant population in Manhattan’s magical borough; Golgotham. Right hand magic is considered ‘good’ and is practised by the series’ love interest; Hexe. Left hand magic is the ‘bad’ type and the book is fittingly named, as the threat in it comes from champions of the left hand magic path.

Artist Tate Eresby and her partner Hexe have settled down into life together in Golgotham. One of the effects of Tate’s recent move and the events of Right Hand Magic have caused Golgotham to be brought into sharper focus from the community outside of the borough and it has become a trendy place for cashed up hipsters to hang out. A confrontation between a group of bullying fraternity boys and an angry leprechaun develops into a full scale riot and two groups rise to prominence out of the incident.

One is a pro-human group calling itself Sons of Adam and the other is a militant magical group that want to remove Golgotham’s current council, known as GoBOO. The second group is headed by Hexe’s violently anti human Uncle Esau. Without meaning to Tate becomes involved and people associated with her start being killed off. Tate’s on someone’s hit list and if she, Hexe and Hexe’s obnoxious familiar Scratch don’t find out who it is they won’t be the only ones who wind up dead.

After having introduced the concept and the main characters in Right Hand Magic there was less exposition needed in Left Hand Magic, so this was a welcome change, as I felt it was overdone in Right Hand Magic. Nancy Collins seems to like it, because she does still do it, but not to the same extent. I didn’t feel as much like I was reading a visitor’s guidebook as I did with the first book in the series. Hexe and Tate’s relationship now that it’s solid also doesn’t move as much into paranormal romance territory as it did in Right Hand Magic. Teenage werecat Lukas only has a cameo in this, but Scratch does appear more frequently, and he is a highlight. His love/hate relationship with Tate’s Boston Terrier pup; Beanie, was a particular highlight for me.

Left Hand Magic is a solid followup to Right Hand Magic, and while the book has more of a final feel to it that RHM did, I’d still like to see it continue and hope that we get more than two books out of the Golgotham concept, because I feel the author can do a lot more with it.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Pastel City by M. John Harrison



It wasn’t easy to find a copy of The Pastel City by M. John Harrison, considering that it was first published in 1971 this wasn’t all that surprising. I did manage to get one, but it made me wonder why if it was considered a must-read book in the genre why was it so hard to get? I also hadn’t heard of the author or the work, but I’ve had some recent good luck (Ken Grimwood’s Replay) on that front with the list recently. Maybe The Pastel City would be another diamond in the rough.

I’m not sure where the quote on the front came from, it may have been a review, but there was no source cited, possibly the publisher came up with it. It proudly proclaims ‘The best fantasy since Dune.’ I suppose I should give them point for not referencing Lord of the Rings, but I’ve always considered Dune a sci-fi novel and Dune is a whacking thick book, The Pastel City at 144 pages barely qualifies as a novella.

It’s part of the Dying Earth milieu. The Pastel City is an important city in the remnants of a once technologically advanced society. As with some of the other books in the list I found myself question it’s fantasy qualifications. The world of Viriconium may or may not be a future Earth, that’s never made clear, and there is a dwarf, but again it’s not clear if he’s part of a magical race or he’s the way he is due to a medical condition. He does have an affinity with metal, so it may have been the former and Harrison was using him to poke fun at the genre.

The story is very basic, the protagonists, who come across as stock standard sword and sorcery clich├ęs wandering across the bleak and blasted landscape, spend their time arguing, philosophising and fighting. Most of the time they don’t even know why they’re fighting, it’s just what they do.

Harrison is a great user of language and his prose is undeniably beautiful, especially when he’s describing the landscape down to the tiniest detail. However I also like to see a tightly written plot and strongly defined characters and I didn’t get that with The Pastel City.

The characters for the most part, like the main characters in Eddison’s The Worm Ouroboros, from which Harrison could have drawn inspiration, were largely interchangeable and fairly shallow. The only one I could tell apart clearly was Tomb the Dwarf, and that was largely because he was nearly always referred to as a dwarf, plus Tomb is a pretty cool fantasy name.

The book was short, which was good, because I wouldn’t have wanted to spend much more time reading it. It and the author were both highly recommended in the list, so it’s a shame it didn’t connect with me. Maybe it wasn’t the right work to get a real feel for how talented M. John Harrison is. Later works that also have as their setting a world that has been significantly altered by technology that has either disappeared or created a disaster are Terry Brooks Shannara series, I believe the later books actually explore the events that led up to the creation of the Tolkienesque world readers first encountered in The Sword of Shannara. Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time books also make references to a technologically advanced society and characters occasionally encounter remnants of that civilisation. Mark Lawrence’s debut Prince of Thorns is set in a future Earth that has been altered forever by a nuclear catastrophe. The Pastel City may in part be inspired by Jack Vance’s Dying Earth concept, but not having ever read Vance I can’t really give any recommendations there.

Right Hand Magic by Nancy A. Collins



Right Hand Magic by Nancy A. Collins is another entry in the urban fantasy market. It has paranormal romance elements as well as urban fantasy, but only rarely strays into paranormal romance territory and the human protagonist’s love interest is not a werewolf or a vampire (werewolves do make an appearance, but no vampires as yet), but a magical race called Kymerans.

What attracted me to the book, normally any mention of paranormal romance is enough to steer me in the opposite direction, was the premise that there is a borough in Manhattan which is specifically there for magical races to live in, Golgotham, the setting of Right Hand Magic, is not unlike Fabletown in the comic book series Fables, one main difference being that no one knows Fabletown exists, whereas Golgotham is actually tourist attraction. Where else can you see leprechauns rubbing shoulders with dryads or take a old fashioned cab ride from a genuine centaur?

The fact that very few humans live in Golgotham is largely what attracts trust fund baby and metal sculptress Tate to the area. She rents a room in a house owned by an attractive Kymeran named Hexe, who practises a beneficial form of magic known as right hand, as opposed to the left hand kind which puts curses and the like on unsuspecting people. From the moment Hexe appears at the door to answer Tate he has love interest written all over him and that’s the way it goes, but along the way to romance for Tate and Hexe there’s the bust up of an illegal fighting ring run by a vicious and unscrupulous Kymeran mob boss. The finale to that is a hoot with the mob bosses crew going head to head with shapeshifters, demons and a motorcycle gang whose membership is composed of valkyries and amazons.

It’s a fun read, and while the excursions into paranormal romance territory were at times excruciating they were only mildly painful and not explicit, and they were also thankfully rare. The concepts in Left Hand Magic were great, there’s a lot to like about it. Nancy Collins is a little heavy on the exposition early on and at times I felt like I was reading a vistors guide to Golgotham rather than a novel. This does settle down about halfway through and the story starts to take shape, rather than meander on as it was before that point. This also lets readers get to know the three main characters of Tate, Hexe and the runaway shapeshifter or werecat Lukas. Of the three I tended to like Lukas the most, he was the most believable. Hexe was a little too good to be true and tate vacillated between being clueless and the tough tattooed butt kicker that populates many urban fantasy and paranormal romance novels.

It’s pretty disposable fiction, but it was enjoyable and easy to read. I’ve got the sequel (Left Hand Magic) ready to go and I can see this series becoming a bit of a guilty pleasure for me, because I do love the way it deals with mythical races. The dwarves subway and their kingdom directly under the streets of New York was a delight.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Lies of Locke Lamora - by Scott Lynch



I had to reread The Lies of Locke Lamora to participate in the Little Red Reviewer's read along.

LIAR!

I had to reread The Lies of Locke Lamora to refamiliarise myself with it before Republic of Thieves is released hopefully later this year.

LIAR!

I had to reread The Lies of Locke Lamora because I'd forgotten so much of it since the last time I read it.

LIAR!

I had to reread The Lies of Locke Lamora because it's so much fucking fun!

BASTARD!

If you've read Scott Lynch's stunning debut novel The Lies of Locke Lamora you will recognise that rather unconventional start to the review as the Gentleman Bastards little comedy sketch that they do a couple of times throughout the book. It's one of my favourite sequences in any book I've ever read and just had to do a little homage to it there.

I'm normally a fairly early adopter with epic fantasy series, but The Lies of Locke Lamora was out for a couple of years before I picked it up and read it. Why was this? It received mostly positive reviews and it was a caper novel, something I love. At the time I was in the middle of a couple of epic fantasies and getting pretty hacked off at the waits between novels to find out what the resolution to the most recent installment's cliffhanger was. I heard rumours that The Lies of Locke Lamora was the first of seven planned novels in the series. Yikes! Then the positive reviews kept coming and the second book (Red Seas Under Red Skies) came out pretty promptly, so I took the plunge.

From the opening page I was plunged into Scott Lynch's vision of Renaissance Venice crossed with Dickensian London in Camorr. I roamed it's streets with Locke Lamora and his fellow Gentleman Bastards. I watched as he pulled a huge con job on everyone, the residents of Camorr, it's criminal overlord Capa Barsavi and the unsuspecting Don Salvara and his gorgeous wife Dona Sofia.

I shouldn't have really liked Locke. He's a cocky little bastard. There's a quote from his mentor Father Chains that sums him up perfectly: 'Someday Locke Lamora, someday you're going to fuck up so magnificently, so ambitiously, so overwhelmingly that the sky will light up and the moons will spin and the gods themselves will shit comets with glee. And I just hope I'm around to see it.'
The young Locke's response is: 'Oh please. It'll never happen.'
However it does happen and The Lies of Locke Lamora is largely the story of it.

I was so totally drawn in by this novel. I laughed and cried, I raged at the Grey King and I cheered Jean Tannen when he cut the Berangias sisters up with his twin hatchets so delightfully named the Wicked Sisters.

I loved The Lies of Locke Lamora so much that I reread it IMMEDIATELY after reading it the first time, and I NEVER do that. I cannot recommend it highly enough and I can't think that anyone would read it and not get something out of it.

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Lies of Locke Lamora - the final read along



All good things must come to an end and so it is with Little Red Reviewers read along of Scott Lynch's stunning debut The Lies of Locke Lamora. The questions have been provided this week by Lynn of Lynn's Book Blog. For all the 'virgins' out there I hope this has inspired you to read the second Gentleman Bastards adventure Red Seas Under Red Skies and maybe even reread The Lies of Locke Lamora like the rest of us have.

1. The Thorn of Camorr is renowned - he can beat anyone in a fight and he steals from the rich to give to the poor. Except of course that clearly most of the myths surrounding him are based on fantasy and not fact. Now that the book is finished how do you feel the man himself compares to his legend. Did you feel that he changed as the story progressed and, if so, how did this make you feel about him by the time the conclusion was reached?

The man behind the myth is very different to the legend. He shares some things in common, but I think the Locke readers see at the start of the book has grown as a man and learned some hard lessons by the end of it. I'd like to know when and how he created the Thorn, I think the Thorn embodies a lot of things Locke wishes he was. In some ways he's an idealised version of Locke.

2. Scott Lynch certainly likes to give his leading ladies some entertaining and strong roles to play. We have the Berangia sisters – and I definitely wouldn’t like to get on the wrong side of them or their blades plus Dona Vorchenza who is the Spider and played a very cool character – even play acting to catch the Thorn. How did you feel about the treatment the sisters and Dona received at the hands of Jean and Locke – were you surprised, did it seem out of character at all or justified?

What happened to the Berangias' sisters was totally justified, especially after what they did to Calo and Galdo and the obvious enjoyment they took in killing them and arranging them in a certain way. Every time I read that section of the book and Jean produces his wicked sisters and says "Wicked Sisters meet the Wicked Sisters." I get chills. Dona Vorchenza is a little different, she's probably even harder than the Berangias' girls in many ways. She got conned by a master conman, although I do confess to wincing when Locke punches her in the face. One female character I'd like to see more of is Dona Sofia, something very interesting about her.


3. Towards the end we saw a little more of the magic and the history of the Bondsmagi. The magic, particularly with the use of true names, reminds me a little of old fashioned witchcraft or even voodoo. But, more than that I was fascinated after reading the interlude headed ‘The Throne in Ashes’ about the Elderglass and the Elders and why their structures were able to survive even against the full might of the Bondsmagi – do you have any theories about this do you think it’s based on one of our ancient civilisations or maybe similar to a myth??

The Elders are interesting, they definitely had magic or technology that was extraordinarily resistent. They may have come from the old stories about alien civilisations being involved in certain happenings in our ancient history. I think I read somewhere that even Scott Lynch hasn't yet worked out a lot about the Elders and will hopefuilly work more of it out as he continues through the series.


4. We have previously discussed Scott Lynch’s use of description and whether it’s too much or just spot on. Having got into the last quarter of the book where the level of tension was seriously cranked up – did you still find, the breaks for interludes and the descriptions useful or, under the circumstances did it feel more like a distraction?

I've always loved the interludes. I thought the way they were used later in the book were excellent ways to give the readers more information about the city of Camorr was brilliant. The little fable about the game and how two men held a grudge throughout the years for one contentious umpiring decision was classic stuff. They gave the readers a chance to relax a little during the breakneck, high octane last section of the book.


5. Now that the book has finished how did you feel about the conclusion and the eventual reveal about the Grey King and more to the point the motivations he declared for such revenge – does it seem credible, were you expecting much worse or something completely different altogether?

It was understandable, and I never saw it coming. I did wonder about timing and ages and how the three of them survived and built their reputations, but they're minor quibbles and they may also be answered to an extent later on. The Grey King and his sisters may be dead, but I don't think it's the last time what they did will impact on Locke's life.


6. Were you surprised that Locke, being given two possible choices (one of which could possibly mean he would miss his chance for revenge on the Grey King) chose to go back to the Tower – especially given that (1) he would have difficulty in getting into the building (2) he would have difficulty in convincing them about the situation and (3) he would have difficulty in remaining free afterwards? Did anyone else nearly pee their pants when Locke and the rest were carrying the sculptures up to the roof garden?

It didn't really surprise me what Locke did. Locke is essentially a good bloke. He's as his title suggests a Gentleman Bastard. Honour is important to him, it was something instilled in him and his 'brothers' and 'sister' by Chains and something that he was trying to pass onto Bug as his protege. The scene with the sculptures is very tense, but I love the way that Dona Sofia breaks it up a little when one of the guards asks what happens if they drop one of them: "First we'd burn our hands, then we'd fall over senseless before we could take six steps, and then we'd be Gentled.And then we'd all feel very silly, wouldn't we?' Love the line and the character. Seriously I'd read a book about Sofia.



7. Finally, the other question I would chuck in here is that, following the end of the book I was intrigued to check out some of the reviews of LOLL and noticed that the negative reviews mentioned the use of profanity. How did you feel about this – was it excessive? Just enough? Not enough?

I read some of those and thought what? Most of the characters are essentially fantasy's version of the Goodfellas. They're a criminal underclass, of course they're going to swear and they're going to do it a lot. Swearing, even swearing a lot, is fine in a book if it fits the characters and the situation, it did in The Lies of Locke Lamora. I did feel it was out of place with the nobles, though. Fortunately with them it was kept to a minimum.



8. Okay one further, and probably most important but very quick question – having finished, will you pick up the sequel, Red Seas Under Red Skies?

I picked up Red Seas Under Red Skies as soon as I'd reread The Lies of Locke Lamora the first time, and that was immediately after reading it the first time. I haven't reread it as much as The Lies of Locke Lamora, but only one less time. So the answer from me is a resounding YES.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

She by H. Rider Haggard



She by H. Rider Haggard is the first of the H's for the challenge and one of the genre's definite classics.

Sir Henry Rider Haggard is probably best known for his African adventure story King Solomon's Mines and the hero of that Allan Quatermain. In terms of recognition She probably isn't that far behind.

It's quite obvious when reading the book that Rider Haggard was the inspiration for a number of later writers, especially Edgar Rice Burroughs and his Tarzan, Haggard is however a far better writer than Burroughs. He did have the advantage of actually having some first hand knowledge of the African landscape, having lived in South Africa for some time, unlike Burroughs who simply made it all up, partially from having read writers like Haggard.

The story is told in first person, the conceit being that the author was presenting a mass of manuscript sent to him by an acquaintance who goes by the name of Ludwig Horace Holly, although he is generally referred to as Holly. It is an account written by Holly of a journey with Holly's loyal manservant Job and Holly's ward Leo Vincey. Leo is the last member of an extraordinary family that has a history in the wilds of Africa and is this history that the trio attempt to uncover.

They find a lost tribe who practice human sacrifice and worship a goddess they refer to as She Who Must Be Obeyed. This is the She of the title. A member of the tribe; Billali, guides Horace, Job and Leo to the lost city of Kor where She dwells. She is Ayesha, one of Leo's ancestors. She has lived for over 2,000 years and has always waited for the reincarnation of her long dead lover Kallikrates. Owing to Leo's resemblance to his ancestor Ayesha believes him to be Kallicrates returned.

Ayesha's insanity, jealousy and power eventually leads to her demise and the destruction of Kor itself. Only Holly and Leo are able to escape alive to tell the story.

She is a number of things, it's an adventure, a fantasy and a romance. Psychologist Carl Jung believed it was a commentary on the female psyche.

I can't say I really enjoyed the book. I could appreciate Haggard's descriptions of Africa, but having read a bit of this sort of stuff as a kid it wasn't anything new to me, and I felt that the author's I read improved on what Haggard did. He does action quite confusingly and I found it hard to connect with the characters. With the exception of Ayesha, who was the villain of the piece, they were relatively passive. Job was irritating and when Leo wasn't unconscious he was so bland and one dimensional that he may as well have been.

A lot of Ayesha's speech, and she talks a lot, was spoiled by the fact that she spoke a form of medieval Arabic which was interspersed with a lot of thees and thous that were fairly unnecessary and didn't add to the story in any way.

Edgar Rice Burroughs Tarzan books are similar in terms of the action, interestingly enough in parts so is Philip Jose Farmer's hamfisted bit of erotica A Feast Unknown. Katherine Neville's brilliant The Eight also deals with the concept of immortality through longevity, although it contains an explanation of sorts as to why one of it's characters lives forever and remains young.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Flashman at the Charge - Appendices and wrap up



Flashman at the Charge doesn’t quite finish with Harry’s arrival at the British customs post at Peshawar. The story does, but George MacDonald Fraser included a couple of appendices.

One is entitled Balaclava and concerns itself largely with the fateful and widely publicised Charge of the Light Brigade and who may or may not have started it. Fraser through his narrative obviously seems to believe it was Lew Nolan who initiated it in some sort of misguided grab for glory. Then (the book came out in 1973) as now, more than 150 years after the charge, debate still rages about it. Readers find out that both Raglan and Nolan never made it back to England. Nolan died in the charge and Raglan died sometime after of illness in the Crimea.

The second appendix covers Yakub Beg and Izzat Kutebar. George MacDonald Fraser had a knack for uncovering largely unknown footnote characters in history, giving them pivotal roles in his fictional hero’s life and bringing them back to life wonderfully well. Yakub Beg and his bandit friend Izzat Kutebar are two such characters. Beg was more important to the story and the region in general than Kutebar, who although colourful was largely still an opportunistic bandit, and Fraser expresses surprise that more isn’t known or reported about Yakub Beg, who in his opinion should be some sort of regional hero. The status of the Silk One is interesting. There is a historical record of Yakub Beg marrying the daughter of Ko Dali, a Chinese warlord, some years after the action described in Flashman at the Charge, and it’s very obvious that this is where the inspiration for the character of the Silk One came from, but she seems to be a largely fictional construct.

I find Flashman at the Charge the most satisfying of the early Flashmans. Despite weighing in at just over 300 pages it’s a big story. It’s really two books in one. The first book covers the Crimea and the famous charge and the second deals with interior Russia, Central Asia and Ignatieff’s scheme. It contains two of the more memorable characters from the series in Ignatieff, who is an excellent villain, and even better he’s a real person, even if I’m sure Fraser took considerable liberties with the character of the real man, and the Silk One, who as I have said could have stepped right out of the pages of an epic fantasy, and would have been a great heroine in a book of her own. It’s a shame that the original attempt to film Flashman as Royal Flash didn’t really work, because Flashman at the Charge would make a fantastic film, and I do hope that if the latest rumoured attempt with Michael Fassbender in the title role comes off, it is Flashman at the Charge that they film. There’s also some significant character growth from Harry himself. I felt this was encapsulated in his thoughts about young Willy’s demise and how his relatives may have felt about him if they’d known the boy better, as Harry did. Harry Flashman may have been Willy’s only real friend and the sad thing about that is that not even Harry knew it at the time. Flashman at the Charge also contains two highly amusing and action packed sequences, which have very little to do with a bawdy humour that categorised Royal Flash, and would translate well to film. Those sequences are the insane sleigh ride out of Russia and the assault on the Russian fort in which Harry played such a courageous role even if it was under the influence of a liberal amount of opium.

As Flashman at the Charge took me a little longer than I had anticipated to do and we're already into April I'll start Harry's 5th adventure; Flashman in the Great Game, in May. Join me here and see how Harry Flashman manages to mess up the Sepoy Mutiny.