Starsight by Brandon Sanderson – Book Review

This review was originally posted over at!

Skyward was an explosive whirlwind of action, quick dialogue and quirky characters that went immensely deep by the time I reached its closing chapter. Little surprise here, as this is Brandon Sanderson we’re talking about. Starsight, meanwhile, is a different beast altogether, delving into the complexities of the galaxy outside of the human settlement/prison that is Detritus.

Spensa is a warrior – if you’ve read Skyward, you know this to be true. Hell, you’d know it to be a severe understatement, since the scudding girl has grown up listening to the finest tales of heroes Old Earth folklore has to offer and wishing to be every single one of them. Beowulf? Sure! Conan the Barbarian? You guessed it! Over the four hundred and fifty pages of this novel, however, Spensa is forced to play a deadly game she does not excel at, constrained into the role of spy when she gets an opportunity that’s impossible to pass by. Leaving her home behind in the guise of a humanoid alien (holograms are so cool!), Spensa has one task – to steal the Superiority’s secret method of hyperdrive transportation.

Most of the action takes place on a space station by the eponymous name of Starsight, which is also the seat of the Superiority. This dread empire intent on humanity’s destruction turns out to be much, much different from what Spensa imagined. This galactic society is so dissimilar to the humanity of Detritus; the most striking moment that illuminated the gap between these aliens and the humans was Spensa’s reaction at the notion of graphic designers, a profession unimaginable to someone who has spent most of her life struggling for survival.

But what is this novel, at its heart?

Starsight is an exploration of the other, and a way to reconcile with it. It is a story of fear, of facing that fear and growing stronger for the staring down of it. It is a tale of friendship, loyalty and sacrifice. And it is beautiful.

On the exploration of the other, I have already said something. But let me dig a little deeper: the two sides of this other are signified by two of the Superiority’s high-ranking officer, Winzik and Cuna. A dione, Cuna is tall and wanky and inhuman, with a predatory smile that puts Spensa on edge. It’s by her invitation that the non-Superiority humanoid pilot, Alanik, is invited. “Alanik” continually questions her motives for the invitation, suspecting Cuna of seeking to use her as a spy for her own political advantage. Winzik, meanwhile, is one of the Krell, as the humans of Detritus call them, a crab-like bureaucratic creature in charge of the Defense ministry. It is his push for creating a pilot force of “lesser, non-prime intelligence aliens” that is the reason behind Spensa’s opportunity to infiltrate the Superiority.

What of fear? The closing of Skyward revealed *Skyward Ending Spoilers until the end of the paragraph* Spensa’s cytonic  and I’ll admit, it got my brows lifted in my trademark look of suspicion. Cytonics sounds positively chthonic and that, even though it means relating to inhibiting the underworld, also puts me in mind of Chthulhu nonsense! I thought with this level of exactness… and the early description of the delvers, the other-dimensional threat that casts a long shadow over much of this novel did indeed tap into that same well-spring of horror of the unknown. It’s the terror of scale, the idea that these otherworldly creatures live beyond the confines of our space and time, too great to even comprehend: “The black mass shifted toward the planet. Were those arms I picked out in the shadows? No, could they be spines? The shape seemed intentionally designed to frustrate the mind, as I tried—against reason—to make sense of what I was seeing. Soon, the blackness simply became absolute.” (39) This is but one of the quotes which plays on this fear…but in typical Sanderson fashion, both my original impressions and those of Spensa’s get twisted around in ways neither of us could’ve dreamed of by novel’s end.

I couldn’t possibly wrap this review up without talking about the new friends Spensa makes along the way. While I regret not having more of Kimmalyn, Jorgen, Cobb and the rest of our merry band of human pilots struggling for humanity’s survival present for a sizable chunk of the book, plenty of new characters make up for this. My absolute favourite new addition to the cast has to be Hesho, a tiny sentient fox monarch, the former monarch of a sizable chunk of his home planet. This member of the kitsen, as his species is called, reminds me of Spensa the way she started off – hungry for glory and heroics and not wholly conscious of the ridiculous level of cheesiness she occasionally exhibited. Some of the funniest pieces of dialogue come from Hesho’s lips: “’Ah, the indignities you must suffer when your people are a true democracy and not a shadow dictatorship ruled by an ancestral line of kings. Right?’ The other kitsen flying past raised a cheer for democracy.” (208) As you might imagine, Hesho is quite a bit removed from your average kitsen, much as he likes to claim otherwise.

He’s far from the only one. Notable characters include Morriumur, the only dione aggressive enough (in the entirety of the species) to try out for fighter piloting. There’s also Vapor, who is a fragment, a species that’s, well, vapor-like. They lack tangible bodies, instead consisting of…I don’t know exactly, some form of gas which, when they are in a resting state, has the smell of cinnamon. Invisible and able to take over electronics, Vapor makes for one of the most interesting characters introduced in Skyward’s world yet. I’m looking forward to learning more about her species.

The prose is, in the usual Sanderson fashion, perfection. It allows the reader to lose themselves fully in this world, while also opening up questions, challenging the reader’s pre-conceptions and delivering clever twists, some of which I saw coming; most of which I didn’t. The very best of escapism, in one neat package, and as you’ve no doubt seen, with a glorious Gollancz cover to grab the attention of  My Skyward cover was the US edition – which is a nice cover, don’t get me wrong, but so generic next to the Gollancz one. I now feel the desperate need to get the UK edition of Skyward as well, just so I can have both covers next to one another – that’s how good the artwork is.

This one is an ace, a 5/5 on Goodreads, a Masterwork, a 10/10! Not a dull moment to be had, not a single of the annoying elements that so often seep into books that are marketed as YA. Bravo, Brandon, you did it again, you madman.

Dimension Hopping and Character Agency: An Interview with Benedict Patrick

This interview was originally posted over at

Hey Benedict, thank you for joining me today! First thing to get out of the way before we jump into it – you made it to this year’s SPFBO semi-finals; even though Lynn ultimately went with Rob Hayes“Never Die” as her finalist, you put up one hell of a fight! Are you pleased with how this year’s contest turned out?

Thanks for having me, Filip – excited to chat for a bit! I owe a lot to the SPFBO, so I’m always delighted to take part. It’s a great way to meet new people – authors, readers and bloggers – and it kills my TBR list every year! I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit gutted at getting knocked out today (my third semi-finalist position, dontchaknow), but it was always going to be a hard group, and that’s with the authors whose work I’m already aware of. The SPFBO is strongest when connecting new authors with new readers. I wasn’t aware of M L Wang’s work before this year’s contest began, but now she’s a hot favourite to win, and I’m excited to get stuck into her book!

The Sword of Kaigen is a special novel. I will admit it might be my own favourite so far, though having read it before the contest, I’m staying far, far away from booknest’s official score of it. I was a bit gutted to find out you didn’t make it to the finalists this year, myself but I’m cheering you on for next time!Your latest novel, The Flight of the Darkstar Dragon saw its release last month, on October 7 – what’s that been like in terms of initial reception? Has it been a load off your mind, finally having it out there?

Darkstar Dragon took a lot longer to get out into the world than I had planned, so it certainly was a relief to finally hit the ‘publish’ button. I’ve had that world running around in my head for a good few years now, and had planned to leave it there for a lot longer – at one point I had promised myself I’d have six Yarnsworld books published before trying something new. After finishing Owl Queen’s Court last year, however, I knew I wanted to take a break and try something different, so the Darkstar books got a bump in priority.

Initial reception has been great, so far. Not all of the Yarnsworld readers have picked it up straight away. I had expected that to be the case; it is always more difficult to get people to try something new, and this was a departure from those first books – much more action-adventure, lighter than the Yarnsworld novels. What had thrilled me, however, is that the majority of people I’ve heard back from have loved the story, the world in particular. That’s feedback I can roll with, and I’m excited to return there in 2020.

Owl Queen’s Court was a powerful novel, very dark, even sublime. It must’ve tapped into the darker side of your imagination – and that’s part of why I enjoyed your latest work. “Darkstar” is a book that is a break away from what you’ve been doing in the entirety of your career as a self-published author so far, with the tightly-knit folklore of Yarnsworld. Instead of the claustrophobic spaces of the Magpie King’s forest, you had the freedom of a hundred worlds to play with. How liberating did that feel?  Was it a little daunting, as well?

Oh, I loved it. One of the best parts of this gig is getting to create your own playgrounds, and I wanted to go to town with the Darkstar, create somewhere all kinds of stories could take place in. The first book wasn’t daunting, but the second one might be, especially after hearing how enthusiastic so many of the readers have been. Will I be able to keep up that level of wonder, will I be able to live up to the promises that seem to have been made in the first book?

Crap. I’m not going to get to sleep at all tonight, am I?

I wouldn’t bet on it… I was going to ask you if you were planning on returning to Min and her crew in the future, but you’ve given me the answer already… unless you  are interested in telling brand-new stories with different characters in the sandbox you’ve created for yourself?

Got to keep myself busy, don’t I? The current novel is another Yarnsworld book, then back to ‘The Return of the Whalefleet’ (Darkstar 2), and after that… I’ve got a few ideas. I do want to return to the City of Swords at some point soon, and of course the Magpie King’s forest demands a return trip too, but… Well, there are one or two other ideas bouncing around that are demanding attention, and one of them is looming particularly close on the horizon right now.

I understand you’ve been hard at work on a new novel – To Dream and Die as a Taniwha Girl. Could you tell us a little bit about it?

Happy to talk a bit about it! I knew I wanted to return to the Crescent Atoll, but I honestly thought Kaimana and Rakau’s story was done. I adored the film Kobu and the Two Strings, and it really hit home for me when the creators were asked about a sequel; they did not want to, because then they would have to escalate the follow-up. As it stands, the events of Kobu are the most important moments in that character’s life. If they made a sequel, would they relegate those moments to second place? Or would the sequel be less important? I had felt the same about K and R – their story was done. They would pop up in other tales, of course, as side characters or Easter eggs, but it was time for something new.


Sometimes, the characters call to you, don’t they? It’s like they have a mind of their own.

The characters had other ideas. I HATE it when authors say that, but this time it really is the case. In fact, the main events of ‘Taniwha Girl’ stem from the closing folktale in ‘Where the Waters Turn Black’, where we learn that the people of the Atoll are starting to tell folktales about Kaimana now. In a place like the Yarnsworld, stories have a price. In this next book, Kaimana and Rakau are going to find out that becoming modern folklore characters brings with it a hefty toll…

As someone who hasn’t yet read “Where the Waters Turn Black,” I think I better get to it soon! I’m looking forward to finding out what price Kaimana and Rakau will be forced to pay although knowing the Yarnsworld, I have the firm suspicion it might involve more than a pound of flesh… But to step away from the writing side of things, Authors today, especially those in self-publishing, are required to do so much more than just write. How do the mish-mash of marketing and near-constant need for social media presence affect your writing process?

I get around it by not being that good at them! I’m lucky in a way that the writing side of things tends to be well received, although of course I’m always striving to improve, and always have areas of my craft I want to keep developing. Compared with that, marketing is still a crap shoot for me. Marketing changes so often, that anytime I feel I’ve got a handle on something that is working for me, algorithms shift and success rates change. I took a break from major ongoing marketing for most of this year to focus on the writing, but plan on returning to it in 2020, hopefully not affecting the writing speed too much! It is tough, though. I’ve got nothing for admiration for the authors who seem to ace both sides of the business, and that’s really what you need to do to be financially successful at this game.

Now, for a trio of fun questions!

You used to be a devout World of Warcraft player, this much I know – “used to” being the operative word. Well, phrase. During which expansion did you finally give up?

Mists! I had actually been in and out during Cataclysm, but I ran a casual raiding guild during Mists, and when it fell apart my reasons for sticking around left too. I did nip back during Warlords for a month, but the storyline did not appeal to me. But I’m telling you this now, Filip – I’m going to try again. Did you hear they have fox people now? Fox people! I’ve already logged in with a free account to save the name ‘Vippon’. Next year is the year!

The fox people even have a cute song! I will send it to you later. *Laughs* If you need reinforcements, I might just be open to aiding you in the construction of a brand new fox-guild!

You have a D&D podcast – Crit Faced – with fellow authors Josiah Bancroft, Timandra Whitecastle, Phil Tucker and David Benem. It’s excellent fun for those who don’t know about it but as a fellow DM, I was hoping you’d tell me how you got into the hobby. What’s one advice you’d give a newcomer to role-playing games?

One of my high school friends introduced me to role playing via a book called Dungeoneer. I don’t know if you had the Fighting Fantasy books when you were growing up, but it was basically an RPG using those rules. I stayed away for most of my twenties, but it was actually podcasting that got me back into it. I read a lot of webcomics at the time, and two of the strips I followed – PVP and Penny Arcade – started an irregular DnD podcast. I had never known how much fun the game could be until I heard those guys play, and I wanted to have a go.


Don’t stress about the role playing. Certainly not about the silly voices. Most people you hear or see playing online – the Crit Faced crew included – already have a history of playing together. It takes a while to get comfortable playing together, and you need that before players allow their characters to shine through.

Either that, or get drunk. That usually leads to some odd gaming experiences, though.

It’s a hobby like no other – somehow, role-playing teaches you so much about personal choice and consequences while bringing groups of people together. Although, when alcohol is involved, things tend to get a touch more explosive!

I find the guys turn into barmaids. Not pretty.

Mine end up chugging potions way past their end-dates, puking rainbows and once, forcing a gigantic ice wyrm to grow a moustache.

Thank you so much for doing this, Benedict! Before I leave you, one last question: Which of your novels would you point out to a first-time reader, and why?

 Oh, I wouldn’t point them to a novel at all! I think a great starting point would be the short story ‘And They Were Never Heard From Again’. It is short, it is free, and I’m bloody chuffed with it – I reckon it is a great introduction to the Yarnsworld in general, and the Magpie King’s forest in particular. If someone enjoys that story, then they can be pretty such there are other Yarnsworld books out there that will appeal to them.

 You know, that’s the perfect entry point I’d offer them as well, having read And They Were Never Heard From Again. It encapsulates everything great about the Yarnsworld.

Now you’ve got me wearing my ‘aw shucks’ face.

I am happy to accept all the credit for that! This was extremely fun – let’s do it again next year! Maybe over video chat this time, eh? Will we be brave enough? Time will tell!

I’m up for it! Give me a warning, I’ll grab a few beers first, and then we can all be barmaids together. This was a lot of fun, man – thanks loads for asking me to do it!

A better first interviewee I could not have asked for!

Afterparty Review – Crude Fun, Surprisingly Deep

Afterparty, the latest game by Oxenfree developers Night School Studio, swaps suspense for crude, crude humour, while holding onto the good old-fashioned interpersonal drama that might be familiar to you from their previous title!

Does it work? You’d be surprised. Several factors help Afterparty along, foremost among which is the fact that Milo and Lila are a pair of really likable protagonists. The sharp dialogue and its delivery by a stellar cast don’t hurt none, either. Overall, this is an excellent game and I am happy to recommend it…but don’t take my written word for it, watch the video! Go on, you know you wanna.

The Word for World is Forest by Ursula K. Le Guin – Book Review/Essay

Originally posted over at

Published by: Gollancz, SF Masterworks Series
Genre: Science Fiction
Pages: 128
Format: Paperback

Here is a work of speculative fiction worthy of the “Masterworks” label. The Word for World is Forest by Ursula K. Le Guin has plenty of meat on the bone despite the short number of pages its text occupies. It’s thematically rich, a novel of memorable ideas and characters both. Le Guin problematises the ethic of exploitation in her signature style, poignant and deeply thoughtful.

“…it was becoming clear that the ethic which approved the defoliation of forests and grainlands and the murder of non-combatants in the name of “peace” was only a corollary of the ethic which permits the despoliation of natural resources for private profit or the GNP, and the murder of the creatures of the Earth in the name of “man”. The victory of the ethic of exploitation, in all societies, seemed as inevitable as it was disastrous.” (from Le Guin’s Introduction).

This realisation is the initial push that gave birth to The Word for World is Forest. The theme of exploitation is joined by the equally relevant subject of colonialism: our very own human race, now travelling along the stars, has promulgated across different planets; central for The Word is the so-called world of “New Tahiti,” dominated by oceans and lush green forests, where a little over two thousand men are working to deforest the world one island at a time, in order to sate the unquenchable thirst of an Earth that has exhausted all its natural resources of wood.

New Tahiti isn’t a world devoid of life, however – it teems with small green humanoids, as short as human children (or ewoks, if you, like me, have an unhealthy Star Wars obsession and measure everything according to ewok size). The earthling conquerors call these native cousins of theirs ‘creechies’. They think of themselves as human – and indeed, they’re an off-shoot of the human race, just one branch in many throughout the galaxy, as Le Guinn’s narrative tells us. They do not know violence towards one another, except for those few among them who grow insane, and they inhabit the world of dreams in the same way that they inhabit the waking world. To them, there is no difference between what we would describe as ‘real’ and ‘unreal’. The message is clear – reality is more nuanced than our understanding of it.

The humans of the world that is forest are the vessel of the third major theme of this novel – the collective loss of innocence of a whole race. Because while they never could take lives before the coming of the humans, after three years of what is called “voluntary service” and is in fact slavery, and the horrific brutality of one particular man, Captain Davidson, the “dumb, simple, harmless creechies” change. The catalyst for their change is one native of the planet, Selver. Put through a horrible gauntlet, Selver changes, becomes a god to his own people. “We may have dreamed of Selver these last few years, but we shall no longer; he has left the dream time. In the forest, through the forest he comes, where leaves fall, where trees fall, a god that knows death, a god that kills and is not himself reborn.” Selver is nothing like our own gods, for the word carries a different context – it stands to mean someone who brings change along with them.

As for Davidson? He is, in Le Guin’s own words, “pure evil.” The spirit of the militaristic, exploitative imperialist is imbued in his image, a man whose implacable certainty in the fact that he knows best is nothing short of horrifying, a man who would describe himself as “a world-tamer. He wasn’t a boastful man, but he knew his own size. It just happened to be the way he was made. He knew what he wanted, and how to get it. And he always got it.” Davidson is a scathing critique whose Point of View speaks more loudly about the sickness of imperialist policy and thought than I ever could.

The short novel is an art form in itself and The Word for World is Forest shows, once again, Ursula K. Le Guin’s mastery to the fullest extent. I give this novel a 5/5 and my absolute recommendation – this is a must-read for any fan of science fiction and for anyone whose interests involve any of these three major themes. The way Le Guinn examines them leaves awe and awakens deep reflection in the reader – and the ultimate fate of the natives of the world is tragic, for as Selver says, “You cannot take things that exist in the world and try to drive them back to the dream, to hold them inside the dream with walls and pretenses.”

Pretenses, after all, are one thing Le Guinn has never allowed her readers to hold onto.

Anna of the Five Towns by Arnold Bennett – Book Review

Ah, literary realism, how thou mildly interests me.

Arnold Bennett’s Anna of the Five Towns is a painfully middle-class English novel, with all that entails. What’s that, I hear you ask — and I’m all too happy to provide as long-winded an explanation as some of the descriptions within the novel. Before that, however, I feel the need to point out one fact:
Despite this novel seeking to present the perfectly ordinary everyday happenings of a small Victorian community, I wasn’t bored. I read it mainly in two sittings for my university course, Researching Literature, and I. Was. Not. Bored.

I enjoyed, as always, the view of Victorian society, the break-down between the social classes (as always, never shown but always hinted at). It’s all very prim and proper until you get to the English Potteries where the genteel mask of our middle-class characters slips away with such remarkable ease. Except, of course, for Ephram Tellwright, father of the eponymous Anna. Ephram is one of those interesting literary characters, easy to despise but also remarkable for the fact that they hold onto no pretenses of their own nature. Ephram’s nature is ugly – devilishly ugly…but he is honest about it, at least.

Now, then. What’re the major issues I take with this novel?

Anna’s meekness: here is a character so perfectly, painfully innocent that you can’t help feeling that she’s a cardboard cutout on which Bennett projects his vision of womanhood. It fits so well, my theory! Anna is the model of the Victorian woman, a dutiful mistress of the household who lives and dies by the responsibilities resting on her shoulders.

The way Willy Price is presented: Oh look at the poor people, they’re so meek and unfortunate! Yeah, no. That’s something I take issue with. Someone in Willy’s position wouldn’t be this accepting and timid – they’d be angry, they’d be pissed!

Really, it all boils down to the overuse of stereotypes. Bennett can’t step outside his I can’t blame him for this – it’s a marking of the time he lived and wrote in. But it makes the ‘realism’ label suspect.

And can I take a minute to disect the blurb on Goodreads for a minute? Listen ‘ere:

Anna, a woman of reserve and integrity, lives with her tyrannical and selfish father. Courted for her money by the handsome and successful Henry Mynors, Anna defies her father’s wrath–with tragic results. Set in the Potteries against a background of dour Wesleyan Methodism, Anna of the Five Towns is a brilliantly perceptive novel of provincial life in Victorian England.

Time and again, we readers are told by Bennett that Mynors is courting Anna because he truly loves her and money doesn’t even come into his considerations — there’s a scene, about 90% into the book, in which money enters into Henry’s considerations, in fact, and it’s very obvious how it affects him.

And “Anna defies her father’s wrath – with tragic results.” What?! Who wrote this?! She defies her father, aye, true enough – but only after tragedy has striken. And “defies her father’s wrath” isn’t correct, either; it’s her defying his will that causes old Ephram’s wrath – but the man is a sexist tyrant and a miser, everything causes his wrath!

Whoever wrote this blurb needs to be severely mocked, is my pronouncement. As for the book? Three stars, thank you very much. Maybe slightly less? 2.95/5? 2.75? Ah, well.

It’s an okay read – and if you’re in love with Victorian England and its middle class, you will just LOVE this. My professional interest in this novels extends no further than…mild enjoyment, however.

Make of that what you will.

The Dragon’s Banker by Scott Warren – Book Review

Originally posted over at! The review below is an annotated version.

Published by: Scott Warren (Self-Published)
Genre: Fantasy (Economic Adventure!)
Pages: 255
Format: e-book
Review/Purchased Copy: Provided through NetGalley, in return for an honest review.

Sailor Kestern is a fine banker in an unenviable position. His former client, a nobleman by the name of Brackwaldt, has it out for him and that’s made business difficult. So difficult in fact, Sailor’s prospects in the capital of Borreos are looking increasingly forlorn. Gates are shut in his face, trade routes are blocked for him, human shipmasters refuse to work with businesses that so much as associate themselves with the Kestern banking house.

Even with this one major issue at hand, it’s an exciting time to be a financier and Sailor isn’t one to shy away from a challenge. The Royal Mint is driving a major initiative on behalf of the Crown, introducing paper currency and hammering it into the economy with all the strength an institution has in wielding hardcore monetary policy. Adam Smith’s invisible hand?  Pfft, please, Borreos has one Darrez Issa, financier extraordinaire, who looks over the interests of the Crown with an eye sharp enough to make even an eagle jealous. A man like Sailor has a healthy dose of awe for the queen’s financial advisor, and the good sense to stay away from him after the last time the two crossed paths.

As a reader with a bachelor’s degree in economics, I was the perfect audience for The Dragon’s Banker. The economics made sense and Warren seems to have a good grasp of how demand and supply work; he’s thought through all sorts of issues that the reader could’ve picked up on and works them in the story seamlessly and just at the right time. Some of Sailor’s most minor actions, at first, see great pay-off by the end of this 255-page read and in ways I didn’t necessarily expect.

One aspect of this novel won me over, and it’s a specific reading of the novel that I will now expand on:

At one level of The Dragon’s Banker, there’s a critique of capitalism’s ceaseless chase of profit maximization. Though avaricious, Sailor never has the amassing of riches as his personal goal. For him, money is most valuable for what it can do for people. In that way, what could’ve been a cynical take on banking is instead a subversive work of fantasy well worth the read for that angle alone.

Sailor Kestern is a humanist – and that, I think, is the greatest triumph of The Dragon’s Banker. This banker, the only one worthy of representing the interests of the most avaricious creature of all, the dragon, ultimately differs from his cold-blooded patron in the following way – money isn’t an end goal for him. It is merely a tool.

To me, The Dragon’s Banker is a 4.5/5 star read. I enjoyed it immensely, partially because of my background, partially because of my reading of it as a critique on some of the woes of capitalism. It’s my firm belief that you’ll find plenty to love within these pages.

As for me, I am curious to see what else Scott Warren is capable of.

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

I’m happy with the progress I’ve made with Haruki Murakami’s books over these last few months. Kafka on the Shore in May, Norwegian Wood in September and just this last week, What I Talk About when I talk About Running. The last is freshest in my mind but I’ll contain myself and instead turn to Norwegian Wood, the title inspired by the Beatles song of the same name. It also happens to be the work that really shot Haruki Murakami to fame first in Japan and later internationally.

Norwegian Wood is a love story and it’s about overcoming grief, and it’s about those first coming of age years after you leave home, quite uncertain about what comes next, the direction you’re supposed to take as the world begins to mold and pressure you in ways outside of your control. It’s easy to lose yourself — something that main character Watanabe manages at one point in this novel.

Let’s look at it as a love story first, shall we? It’s sweet and sexy and tragic enough that you might just tear up by the end of it. Bittersweet but hopeful – that’s how I’d describe it in three words, were I forced to do so.

As a side-note, I would ride on the bus, listening to the audiobook more than once, when a ridiculous, steamy sex scene started up. You know, these are the moments when you’re not quite certain whether you should be grinning or blushing or pressing ‘Pause’. Say one thing about that, say it was funny.

What about dealing with grief?

Toru Watanabe, the protagonist from whose PoV the novel is told, loses his best friend Kizuki. Kizuki kills himself on his 17th birthday and this marks Watanabe for life — as it would most of us. Another, Kizuki’s girlfriend, Naoko, is as affected by his suicide as Watanabe; perhaps more. Years later, Naoko and Watanabe reconnect and fall for each other but Kizuki’s shadow never fully clears between the two. Unable to cope, Naoko eventually ends up in a sanatorium, doing her finest to piece herself back together.

Some of the characters are unforgettable. Maybe not their names – I forget names easy enough – but the personalities will stay with me. Nagasawa is Watanabe’s exact opposite — driven and ambitious, and far more cynical than our protagonist, Nagasawa is in many ways Toru’s foil. Despite that, or perhaps because of it, the two become close friends…although Watanabe never allows Nagasawa into his heart the way he let Kizuki in.

I was partial to Midori, an older woman in the same sanatorium as Naoko. As Nagasawa is to Watanabe, Midori is a foil to Naoko — though burdened by her own demons (her story is perhaps the highlight of Norwegian Wood for me) Midori has strength, the presence of character necessary to survive and perhaps overcome all that placed her in the sanatorium. Midori’s a guitar player, a concert pianist and totally the coolest, yo! Very flirty, too, which gives rise to some hilarious exchanges between her, Watanabe and Naoko, who also happens to be her roommate and dear friend.

This isn’t the best Murakami book I’ve read, nor is it my favourite. I’d live these honours to Kafka on the Shore and Dance, Dance, Dance, respectively. But it has a certain appeal to those who know a little of loss and pain and love, and I am certain some of you will be well-served by reading it.

I straightened up and looked out the plane window at the dark clouds hanging over the North Sea, thinking of what I had lost in the course of my life: times gone forever, friends who had died or disappeared, feelings I would never know again.

The opening paragraph of Norwegian Wood.

My score for this novel is 4 stars. There’s plenty you can get out of it — but it’s not a book for everyone. Stay away if you can’t handle suicide and depression in your fiction – leave me a comment down below with your preferences, and I’ll point you to another one of Murakami’s novels, instead. If you’ve read any of his previous novels, there’s a chance this one’ll surprise you — it lacks many of the eery, magical realism and even surrealism that’s typical for most of his other works.

The audiobook narration by John Chancer was enjoyable – no complaints there, he distinguished between the characters and delivered an excellent performance.

The Enemy by Lee Child – Book Review (Jack Reacher #08)

Child rarely goes back all the way to Reacher’s military career but this one tackles a pair of decisive moments for everyone’s favourite army policeman, one personal and the other one professional, both coinciding and intertwining in ways that change Reacher forever.

The Enemy sees Major Jack Reacher of the US Army welcoming the New Year posted in a military point in the middle of some rural state in the vastness of the States. A call comes through notifying him of the death of a two-star general at a motel nearby. Reacher has never seen a dead two-star before, he’s curious. Besides, you got a general dead thirty minutes away from a military base, you want to make sure nothing’s rotten.

But it’s a Jack Reacher novel, isn’t it, which means of course something isn’t right. Two-star looks like he had himself a bit of fun before the old ticker blew up. Seems a likely enough explanation – a general is as virtuous as the next soldier and often enough he’s plenty worse. Only, this general was heading to a conference and his briefcase is missing. In that briefcase? The agenda of the conference. Only, none of the other would-be attendants admit to this document’s existence. That’s when Reacher knows something is fishy…because if there’s one thing the army loves, it’s tightly-planned agendas.

What follows is an investigation that disillusions Reacher and changes his views on the one organisation that’s always been home to him – the U.S. army. The way this case develops, I’d be disillusioned too in his place – and I ain’t nowhere near as tough as that tall bastard.

On the personal front, we’ve got Reacher and his brother facing down a life without their mother, one hell of a tough French lady dying from late-stage cancer that’s eating I loved everything about this part of the plot – some fantastic revelations which shake the character of Reacher to the core at the worst possible time. Makes for great drama.

Lee Child’s unique brand of noir prose, solid supporting characters, fine antagonists and one hell of a mistery — what more can you want from a Reacher novel?

And do I even have to get into the narrator? When I read Reacher, I hear Jeff Harding’s voice in my head – his voice embodies the tough as nails military cop, if that makes any sense. He is brilliant! 5/5! 10/10! A hundred percent badassery!