The Tuesday Book Digest (26/03/2019)

Or: How many different ways can I name my reader’s diary?

These past few days, I had the pleasure of finishing several novels and beginning several more, as well as reading another short story by the brilliant Ursula Le Guin.

A Dangerous Fortune by Ken Follett

This is my second proper piece of historical fiction by one of the greatest contributors to the genre, the one and only Ken Follet. If I had no liking for this genre before, this book alone would’ve won me over. As it is, I’m hungry for many more words penned by the very fine Mr. Follet.

A Dangerous Fortune has an awful lot going for it, chief amongst which is a cast of compelling characters moved by very believable motivations, and a historical accuracy both in the spirit of late nineteenth-century London, as well as the details of the age. It’s a riveting tale with plosts and turns that surprised me more often than not; and that’s an ever more difficult task for someone who reads as much as I do. #wotisevenmodesty

I didn’t expect I would love a historical novel about a banking family as much as I did. The main characters I either loved, or loved to hate — the villainous Augusta, the matron of the Pilaster family of bankers, some of London’s richest and most cunning financiers, is a woman who delights in her power over others, and though she knows nothing of banking, manipulates everyone in her family (and outside it) in both subtle and very brutal ways. Everything she does, she does for her son, Edward (or Teddy, as she calls him), as well as her own advancement in society. She is blind that her pampering and humouring of Edward’s every want and need has made a monster of her son. The fact that he’s an inept banker is besides the point.

Edward’s counterpoint in every way is Hugh Pilaster, the family’s black sheep through no fault of his own. Hugh’s father kills himself over the bancrupcy of his businesses; an event that hardens Hugh early on and makes of him a principled and ambitious banker, scrupolous and very much aware of the responsibility all employees in financial institutions should be conscious of (but rarely are, as the 2008 crash, and many others besides, show). I was awed by Hugh, and cheered for him harder than for most other characters I’ve been reading about–and I’ve been reading about some incredible characters these past few months!

The pacing, twists and turns, and characters all will leave you breathless, if ever you decide to pick this one up. In all honesty, had I read this book three years ago, I’d probably have taken a wholly different relation to my finance classes in university! Oh, well!

A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine

I read an ARC of this one, and it is a beautiful, inspired science fiction novel, filled with truly masterful worldbuilding and brimming with political intrigue. I’ll say no more: you can expect my review of it very, very soon, over at BookNest.eu. I regret being unable to release it today, as it is technically launch day over at the USA (though I did see it already on sale in a Swedish bookstore last week, which surprised and confounded me to no end.)

Stay tuned for that, I’ll post a link on one or all of my social media channels as soon as it goes online! Follow my twitter, in particular, if you haven’t yet!

Semley’s Necklace by Ursula K. Le Guin

The second story in the “Real and the Unreal, Vol. 02” anthology, “Semley’s Necklace” is one half fantasy, one half science fiction, and all tragedy! Semley is a beautiful alien princess from a race that has attributes that reminded me of the Norse gods — warlike and proud, tall and stunning. However, her people are destitute, have been ever since the “Star Lords” came into contact with them, and all war of conquest between the natives of the world has come to an end. In the backdrop of all this is the story of Semley, who seeks riches enough for her lord husband, the prince of their people. She goes on a quest to reclaim a great treasure of her people, in the hope that it’ll be tribute enough for her family.

This short story very much feels like a classical myth, again of Norse origins. Towards the end, however, things take a turn that pierces the heart in its tragedy. I recommend this one with the greatest pleasure.

Thank you for reading!

Currently Listening to: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

Currently Reading: The Imbued Lockblade by M. D. Presley.

Reader’s Diary: March 03, 2019: Le Guin and Iggulden

I’ve the highest regard for Ursula K. Le Guin. In tandem with that, I have something rather more tangible: one of her volumes of “The Unreal and the Real,” in particular the second volume, called “Outer Space, Inner Lands”. And what a fine volume of short stories it is — if you’ve little experience with shorter fiction, you, my friends, need to buy yourselves some Gaiman, a bit of Poe, Le Guin, a hundred others!

The first story in “Outer Space, Inner Lands” is “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” a Hugo Award-winning piece, very short and all too brilliant. This short story breaks most, if not all of the guidelines your average creative writing class will impose on you; and yet, Le Guin’s story is superb in its prose, skill, and the moral and philosophical quandry it puts forwards.
What price is the happiness of the many worth? And what difference does the knowledge of the price paid make?

This story is a mind-fuck, in other words.

It is also a shining example of what short stories can achieve, the feats they are capable of. “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” is the kind of short story that, like “The Lottery” will long remain in your minds, for years and years to come.

One thing I know there is none of in Omelas is guilt.

Found this on Google, don’t know what edition it’s from — some booklet, perhaps?

Today also marks the day when I finally finished my first proper historical fiction novel: “Dunstan” by Conn Iggulden!

This one, I got on one of the Audible.co.uk (Audible — it sales books that speak to you!) Daily Deals. It tells the story of Dunstan of Glastonbury, one of England’s most beloved saints. It’s a fictionalised account of the patron-saint of blacksmiths, a man who saw and served in one capacity or another seven kings of England, put the crown on the heads of several of them, and supposedly even held the devil by the face with the help of his tongs.

Wild stuff! This fictionalised account of his life explains away the miracles in ways both amusing and sobering, showing Dunstan to be a man of impressive willpower, action and greatest cunning. It’s this cunning that serves to raise Dunstan from son of a minor Thane to Archbishop and Kingmaker. A very fine novel, though it took me a while to get into. Perhaps too much time was spent on Dunstan’s childhood but it served to develop his character well.

Dunstan’s sins are many, nearly as many as his great successes. The characters of the myriad kings he served under come alive on the page, and even though I knew what was coming (history nerd alert!) to most of them, I was still overcome by tension — Iggulden’s easy prose and the wry tone of his narrator, an older, experienced Dunstan at the dusk of his life, did much to make this a captivating listen.

The narration was also fantastic — thank you, Geoffrey Beevers!

“What is a first line, but a door flung open by an unseen hand?”

I’m just excited to have finally taken my first steps into the unimaginably vast, detailed world of historical fiction. I’ll be reading (or listening to) more Iggulden in the future…but first, I think, it’s time to explore Ken Follet. It’s been a long time coming.

Monday Morning Book Clubbing: “And They Were Never Heard From Again” and “UR”

Hullo and welcome (back) to my blog! It’s been a little while since last I had the pleasure of working on a blog entry for this here Grimoire Reliquary and since I just finished two rather small works (in terms of content), I thought now might be a good time to tell you about these two. One is a short story by Benedict Patrick, a friend and a fantasy author I admire greatly for his folklore-inspired Yarnsworld series. The other is by Stephen King, a novella originally written exclusively for the Kindle. Both together, these reads are a little over a hundred pages — the perfect length to read on a busy Monday evening, afternoon, or whenever you’ve got the freedom to do so. Let’s talk about each of them in turn:

“And They Were Never Heard From Again” by Benedict Patrick

The Magpie King’s Forest was one of my favourite new places to inhabit last year, when I first came across Benedict’s work. It’s a mysterious place, dangerous during day and deadly at night, the Forest still unclaimed by the human villagers who live in its reaches. I’ve had my share of exploration of its great and dark confines, and yet have hungered for more over the past few months. Once Benedict Patrick gets in your head, you see, it’s difficult not to hunger after more knowledge of the Forest’s denizens of the night.

But what is a monster of the night without a pair of humans to horrify and appall? The unlucky protagonists of this story are two brothers, one younger and the other older — as these stories tend to go — by the names of Tad and Felton. Felton drags his younger brother to another village for just about the most teenage reason you could think of, and after a series of unfortunate events, the two end up far, far away from the safety of home after darkness falls down on the forest.

What follows, I won’t spoil — but this was the kind of story that questions the power of storytelling and the collective subconscious in a way eerily reminiscent of my favourite work of Neil Gaiman.

The best part? It’s completely, absolutely, unreservedly free, this story. That’s right. $0.00. I’d grab it if I were you. If you’ve never experienced the world, you might just fall in love with it. My score for “And They Were Never Heard From Again” is 5/5.

“UR” by Stephen King

When I opened this on my Kindle on accident a few days ago, I did not expect to come across a very solid, enjoyable 61-page novella that was also tied to Stephen King’s “The Dark Tower” series, one of my most beloved meta series.

“UR” does all the things Stephen King’s best novels do. It presents a relatable, likable protagonist with very human flaws — in English Lit professor Wesley’s case, a sort of childish spite — and an event that sees said protagonist’s grasp on reality begin to slip, pushing him towards a questioning of reality as he knows it.

It’s incredible how much I grew to care about Wesley in the span of these sixty pages. The mark of good writing, and King’s writing in particular — the man can make you care about anything and everything in just a few pages, and then force you to bitter tears. I’m looking at you, “The Stand.”

It’s a simple enough story — Wesley is looking for a way to show university colleague and his ex, Ellen, that she’s wrong about him, and so buys a Kindle. This used to be in the very earliest day of Kindle, kids, when you only had the one variable; it came in white, didn’t have touch-screen or LED lights, and was generally a somewhat bulkier and worse device than some of its competitors — but it did have all of Amazon’s considerable catalogue of e-books, which crowned it King of the e-reader market. History lesson over!

At any rate, Wesley gets a pink Kindle, which at first he doesn’t at all mind — he hasn’t done too much research, after all, it was more of an impulse purchase on the advice of one of his pupils, “the Henderson kid” who plays an important role in the novel’s interpretation of “The Three Stooges”. Ha-ha, my reference game is strong today!

At any rate, it’s not the colour that’s the strangest thing about the Kindle — it’s the fact that its experimental features allow the reader to access the works of writers like Ernest Hemingway and William Shakespeare; only, Wesley discovers works never written by these authors. Works that are so obviously written by these authors that to deny their authorship would be madness, greater even than accepting the impossibility of the small pink device being able to tap into the virtual libraries of alternate realities. I’ll say no more, but let’s just leave it at this: there are other, more impressive features this pink Kindle possesses.

What surprised me was the ending. It could’ve gone several kinds of wrong, but unlike in, say, “Pet Sematary” or even “The Dark Tower” itself, King decides to give us readers a break…mostly.

I will say, if I ever see a pink Kindle delivered to my door by mistake, I’d like to think I would squash it with the heel of my boot…but I have the gnawing doubt that I’ll pick it up and sign up for the experimental “UR” features, instead.

My score of “UR” by Stephen King, is…5 stars! Again!

A fine day to review titles, I reckon. Not that I’m complaining. If they weren’t good, I’d be a sad lad! At any rate, thank you for following along! As always, more is soon to come!