Greetings, fabled followers, craven cultists, grimoire gnomes and blog butterflies! The first twelfth of 2020 is behind us and the eternal question must be asked: What the heck happened last month?
Here, at the Reliquary, not too much. Books were read, old posts revisited, humans hunted for spo–don’t know where that came from, to tell you right. Let’s see wot’s wot!
I read the best Fantasy Release of January 2020…
Even though I read none of the other releases of the month, I have to say, the Shadow Saint proved brilliant every step of the way. Hanrahan’s Black Iron Gods series has been a revelation, a celebration of the imagination, a wonderful journey into the dark and the macabre. Fascinating characters, deep lore, yet more impressive worldbuilding and truly one of the best character arcs I’ve come across in recent years. You owe it to yourself to read Gareth’s work. But if you’re still on the fence, you can take a glance at my review!
…And Caught up on one of the Finest Debuts of 2019!
Alix E. Harrow sure writes pretty. So pretty in fact that it’s easy to forget to come up with full sentences – The Ten Thousand Doors of January will leave you grasping for breath with the sheer beauty of its prose. It emulates a female bildungsroman; January’s ‘stream-of-consciousness’ offers a wonderful vessel to tell this most unusual story, with its great respect for words and stories and the Doors between worlds. Breathtaking.
I Looked at Characters, and Found them Lacking, thanks to…
I am counting down the days – and books – until I have the chance to dig back into Rachel Cusk’s Outline trilogy. A fascinating work, which does some very interesting things to the notion of character. I’ve spoken more about it here.
I Finished Catch-22!
With Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five behind me in 2019, I thought it was a good time to read the other great Post-WW2 anti-war classic, Catch-22. I have neither scored it, nor reviewed it yet but I was shook, you guys.I haven’t laughed at something this dark since Erikson and Abercrombie; the same sort of excellent gallows’ humour, mixed in with high stakes and a message at once fatalistic and hopeful.
“They’re trying to kill me,” Yossarian told him calmly. No one’s trying to kill you,” Clevinger cried. Then why are they shooting at me?” Yossarian asked. They’re shooting at everyone,” Clevinger answered. “They’re trying to kill everyone.” And what difference does that make?”
I Finally Got some K. J. Parker Into My System with Prosper’s Demon!
Good question! There’s some Star Wars nonsense at work, presently – I’ll be writing a review on the audiobook of Ahsoka, which is nothing short of a real fun space journey with one of the most lovable characters of the Star Wars universe!
I’m also considering whether to post the notes I take on my study of “The Theory of the Novel” by McKeon – a massive side-project I’m undertaking as part of my bachelor’s. Not necessarily the most interesting reading for people uninterested in the in-depth study of literature but there you have it.
I’ve also got to work on a bunch of SPFBO content for Booknest.eu! I’ll be posting my review of A Sea of Broken Glass over there in just a few days; after, I’ve got interviews to prepare for all the finalists willing to chat with me about their books!
Welcome to my first month in review! I’ve been busy these last few weeks, both on the blog and over at BookNest.eu. I’ve been busy reading about Mice and Men, Demons and Warded Men and Healer Women, Inquisitor-y men in the 41st Millenium, Time-Travelling Men in love with Tall, Brilliant 60’s Women. Some dogs and time-displaced men were also involved. Most of the reviews below were originally posted over on booknest.eu — each title will lead you to the review in question.
Please feel free to look through the titles and only sample through what seems to be your cup of tea — I’m playing with the format of this “In Review” thing and if you don’t think it’s working, give me some feedback and I’ll change things around next month. Happy reading!
Our “Demons and Warded Men and Healer Women” section is all about Peter V. Brett’s first Demon Cycle book. I enjoyed this one, more than I originally thought I would.
Entering a new fictional world that might take up dozens or even hundreds of hours of your time is no small thing; those first few hours are decisive as they can either mesmerize or let you down. The Warded Man hooked me, and it did so in several ways. First of all, the atmosphere of fear and constant danger that oozes across every page through the first half of the novel is nothing short of impressive. It’s owed to one of the most original renditions of demonic entities I’ve come across in recent memories – the demons. These appear as soon as the sun is down, every single night, filled with malice and hatred for humans. The only thing that keeps them at bay are the wards, magical symbols of protection etched into wood, stone and cement. Thanks to these and these alone does humanity survive, whether in great walled cities or in tiny villages, spread throughout the land, often cut off and isolated from one another. But wards are not failproof; the demons possess base cunning and test them time and again. If any of the wards are weakened or imperfect, the demons will find the weakness and break through.
The review can be found over on booknest.eu. I’m actually itching to get back to the Demon Cycle and am looking forward to unpacking the second book. I expect I’ll be going the audiobook route once more, the narration was excellent!
I worked really, really hard on this one, and I think my efforts paid off. This isn’t the last time I’m going to mention this particular review on the Reliquary — I’m adapting a part of this review into a full-blown essay!
Finally we get to Elric of Melniboné! You know, I quite enjoyed my time with the 170 or so pages of this story. It finally does what I was pining for when I got this here novel – it gives me some actual prose about Elric of Melniboné! Shocker, I know. The verdict?
It’s good, it’s interesting, it’s uh, uh, uh, okay, are we talking about proper prose now, I can do this, I remember how to deconstruct prose. Elric of Melniboné deconstructs the sword&sorcery genre in a single sentence. See, sounds good, doesn’t it? Let’s take a look at the sentence: “The paradox was that Elric tolerated Yyrkoon’s treachery because he was strong, because he had the power to destroy Yyrkoon whenever he cared.” This is the sentence that shows Elric’s character in full – he is distinguished as much by his restraint as by his albino skin. In a genre full of characters who know nothing of restraint, Elric is the exception.
His cousin Yyrkoon, meanwhile, is an excellent example of your average sword&sorcery character with his unflinching militarism, the ‘might is right’ mindset that we all know and…love? Yyrkoon has his own defining sentence, following hot on the heels of that first one: “And Yyrkoon’s own character was such that he must constantly be testing that strength of Elric’s, for he knew instinctively that if Elric did weaken and order him slain, then he would have won.” And just like that, these two characters are diametrical opposites of one another. Reading about the conflict between them was fascinating. The way the two of them develop from beginning to end has a real consequence on the wider world, and that’s what fantasy, according to Moorcock is about:
The hero ranges the lands of his own psyche, encountering the various aspects of himself. When we read a good fantasy we are being admitted into the subterranean world of our own souls. … [fantasy] rarely produces a comforting end. Whether the hero wins through or not, the reader is left with the suspicion or knowledge that all is not quiet on the supernatural front. For supernatural also read subconscious and you’re still with me. (345)
For The Emperor is presented as the archived diary of the amusing Commissar Ciaphas Cain, with footnotes and editorial comments penned by an Inquisitor who plays no small role in the untangling story of an Imperial frontier world that has erred away from the Emperor’s light. If a lot of what I said doesn’t make much sense to you, let me explain – in the fortieth millennium of the grim future, a very xenophobic humanity is barely surviving thanks to the will of a god-like entity entombed alive in a golden throne, holding together thousands of worlds and trillions of human lives through strength of will alone. This doesn’t play a factor, really, but you might as well know it if you’re still with me so far. This book doesn’t exactly get into any of this ‘bigger picture’ stuff but it’ll expect you to know certain backdrop information like this, or a few species of xenos (aliens) that aren’t explained in-depth. Certainly a minus for newcomers, I have to note, much as I adore this book.
Stephen King is the rare kind of author who does not allow himself to be bound by the staples of any one genre. He’s been writing a book or two a year for so long that the tools he once borrowed for his early works have now become so seamlessly his that in combining conventions of different genres he weaves stories quite unlike anything else out there.
Take for example the victim of this review, 11/22/63. I could label it as sci-fi, of course, because the central plot point of this novel is time travel. I could label it a thriller twice over, because during two—three, even—parts of the novel, it certainly borrows from murder mysteries, spy-craft novels and the like. I could easily call it a great romance because…I think you can figure that one out. Hell, it’s an excellent introduction to the history behind Lee Harvey Oswald’s assassination of Kennedy, with a number of artistic freedoms. It’s all this and beyond; an 850-page novel that’s more than the sum of its parts. This is one of those books that you owe to yourself to experience.
J. C. Kang is a name I’ve seen circulating around. Fellow reviewers have mentioned The Dragon Songs Saga, praising the worldbuilding and characters, among other elements of that quadrilogy. It’s fair to say, I’ve been looking for the right time to pick up one of his works. When he contacted booknest.eu with the specific request that I review his latest in a series of novellas, the time seemed only right to carve out an hour and a half and get through what turned out to be a delightfully kinetic 93-page dive into a world reminiscent of medieval China…but with an exotic half-elf courtesan/spy taking the lead!
I do love those pointy-eared lads and lasses.
Thorn of the Night Blossoms is an excellent introduction to a world that’s beautiful and hideous in equal parts. This is best illustrated by “The Floating Wind”, the finest among many houses of pleasure both in its riches and in its finely trained girls. But the splendour and finery hide a cutthroat world of flesh peddling, information trade and manipulations both physical and magical in nature. The women of “The Floating Wind” are trained in the art of seduction from young girls but that’s far from the only skillset they learn; from a secret sign language to a myriad of abilities that would make a ninja blush, both in combat and outside it.
The single superhero novel I read this month was by newcoming author WIlliam Dickstein. The book left me with mixed feelings but the main character was a treat, as you can tell from the quote below:
Dickstein nails Ivy’s voice in the chapters from her perspective. She’s interesting, she’s likable and it wasn’t hard at all to be invested in her story and the mystery that surrounded her power. It’s a pity she spends most of the book in a training facility. Granted, several of the supporting characters in this Cape recruitment academy are interesting and add to the story, like Ivy’s estranged childhood friend Hilly who is also a fellow trainee, or Tristan, a Tinker who has an adorably awkward crush on Ivy. The instructors at the facility piqued my interest as well, in particular, Hunter. Hunter is a veteran Cape, retired from those pesky superheroics but more than ready to mold the next generation of Capes. He had several memorable quirks, like the fact that the AC in his quarters is always blasting a cold gust at a temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
I’ve been looking forward to getting to know Kurt Vonnegut’s works for a long time now, and when an Audible 2-for-1 deal offered The Sirens of Titan up along with Murakami’s Kafka on The Shore, I couldn’t very well keep away, could I?
Winston Niles Rumfoord is stuck inside a weird wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey thing that allows his conscience to penetrate time; however, there’s a catch – he can only manifest throughout different parts of the Solar System for very small windows of time. It’s very complicated but it doesn’t stop this man, this spacefaring millionaire from dictating the fate of humanity.
What is human life all about, anyway? That’s the question at the centre of this novel, the question that plagues Rumfoord, that pushes him to create his church of “God the Utterly Indifferent” through downright Machiavellian manipulations. How does Rumfoord do that? Through the creation of a militaristic Martian civilization, the funds for which are funnelled through Swiss banks by his ancient, loyal butler. Said Martian civilization is then used as a blunt object to batter all of Earthen humanity, but not in the way you would think.
Coming Up Next…
Plenty is coming in August — Sharp Ends by Abercrombie, Soul Music by Pratchett, The Humanist Karl Marx which I picked up purely through happenstance on Netgalley and of course, The Dragon Republic by Rebecca F. Kuang IS COMING OUT AND THIS WORLD WILL BUUUUUURN and I am looking forward to reading it, of course. Oh, and Thrawn: Treason, the latest novel by Timothy Zahn is brilliant! So many excellent books to talk about, dear reader — and in case you’ve read all the way down,