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 Sword of Destiny by Andrzej Sapkowski – Book Review (Excerpt)

Hullo again! This weekend was nice and lazy and full of…actually, a lot of studying, one week into this new year of uni. I wanted to share my review of Sapkowski’s second Witcher novel, The Sword of Destiny before this first week of September is truly and forever gone!

The full review, as usual, you can find over at booknest.eu. Below, you’ll find the reviews of my two favourite stories in this latest anthology:

Eternal Flame

Hands down the funniest story of the lot. In a case of stolen identities, mimicked halflings and an economic boom, Geralt is so far out of his comfort zone, it’s ridiculous. He’s just an observer, a visitor in Novigrad, one of the biggest cities in the North. While reading this, I couldn’t help but think, time and again, Gods, it sure would suck to have your identity stolen by a doppler, to only see that doppler do better at all you’ve worked your life towards, in a matter of three days. And that’s much of what the plot is about. But in this case, it’s not about plot as much as interactions, dialogue and showing how being seen as an evil monster does not necessarily correspond to the reality of a creature’s nature.

Seeing Novigrad in written form for the first time was also pretty great, I won’t lie – I’d been looking forward to seeing how it would look outside of the Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt. If there’s anything I can say for sure about Eternal Flame, it’s that this is my favourite Witcher feel-good story; with its light mood, and a sense of humour that keeps on giving, this was a great place to switch gears after two emotionally heavy stories, and as a result, it worked out quite well.

Oh, and Dandelion is here. Starving artist and whatnot, wot, wot.   5/5

A Little Sacrifice

This is it. This is The Story. The one that affected me the most, one of the emotionally heaviest tales I’ve read in recent memory, a heart-tearing, gut-wrenching punch in the teeth that left me wiping away a single, manly tear from my eye.

It started off funny – but oh, Andrzej, this is the last time you bamboozle me, I can promise you that. The funny bits have to do with riffing on The Little Mermaid, with a duke and a mermaid obviously in love with one another but neither of them willing to compromise, to make a little sacrifice in order to be with the one they love. It’s all played for laughs until the duke refuses to pay Geralt on grounds of expecting results; results which Geralt has failed to deliver. Penniless, Geralt and Dandelion are forced to move on, despite their empty stomachs. As luck would have it, a rich villager runs across them and recognizes Dandelion and invites him to a wedding. The invitation is accepted, of course, and our Witcher is all too happy to tag along, if it’ll mean a belly filled with food and a night’s rest spent in-doors. In the wedding, the pair of travellers come across Essi.

A newly introduced character, the troubadour Essi, also known as Little Eye, is the catalyst of this story. Her relationship with Geralt is fascinating and not only this but it also kicks open the doors for the witcher to reflect on his relationship with the sorceress Yennefer. To say anymore would be to take away from this excellent story, which hit especially close to home.

This one also shows the depth of Dandelion’s character. Dandelion, to you lot that do not remember wot’s wot, is Geralt’s closest friend and frequent travel companion. This one is the first story I’d recommend to anyone who doubts that the Witcher might not be packing a heavy enough emotional punch. A full 10/10, 5/5, and so on and so forth.

The Bi-Weekly Mini Review-a-Thon! Legion, The Lady in the Lake, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Hello, everyone! I’ve read(listened to) one excellent book and a few deeply enjoyable ones, and it’s well past time for me to talk about them. And just in case you’re curious… Here’s the last pair of mini-reviews!

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

It’s hard to believe I haven’t read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz until now! Thank the gods for Audible.co.uk’s daily deals and Anne Hathaway’s inspiring reading of this classic children’s book. The Wonderful Wizard has so much heart, and Anne (I call her Anne now, that’s how close I feel to her after listening to this!) adds so much to the world and characters with her performance. The vocal range on her! Just look at this if you need a taste. I’m really glad to have come across this daily deal; another classic off my list, and one I’ll go back to whenever I can’t fall asleep — that’s how good Anne Hathaway’s narration is! This one is a definite 5/5, for the novel’s cultural importance, its quality as a children’s book and Anne’s performance!

Putin: Prisoner of Power

This is a podcast I got on Audible since I’m a member, and it was free and about Russian politics, which I’m ever fascinated with. Misha Glenny’s to blame for this one, and he goes on a trip down Kremlin lane to talk about the events surrounding Russian power-broker and oligarch Yeltsin which eventually placed Putin in power, the Russian president’s ability to learn from his mistakes in a shrewd, powerful way, and how Putin used one tragedy after another to fortify his position as hero and saviour to the Russian people, weathering political storms that would have seen most others in his place resign in disgrace. The people Glenny has gathered and spoken to include close functionaries of Putin’s, having served as parts of his team at one time or another, as well as several prominent American specialists on Russia, the most well-known of whom is President Clinton’s advisory on Russian relations. It’s a really solid, seven-episode podcast. 4/5

The Lady in the Lake (Philip Marlowe #4)

The original master of noir is a pleasure to return to. Raymond Chandler’s private investigator is impossible to dislike, even if this fourth novel in the series is less memorable than The Big Sleep or The Long Goodbye. What I enjoyed about The Lady in the Lake the most is, it sets up a simple enough story, in which Marlowe begins to look for the missing wife of a rich LA businessman, comes across another woman’s body by accident, and everything just spirals out of hand.

Ray Porter’s narration is a solid 5/5 on its own, as always. He is Philip Marlowe to my mind, his is a signature performance that I’ll be coming back to time and again. The Lady in the Lake gets an overall 4/5 score from me.

Legion (Horus Heresy #7) by Dan Abnett

This one started off slow and then ramped up to a fascinating conflict. The stars of this Warhammer 40k novel are the members of the Alpha Legion and their primarch, Alpharius! This most secretive of all Astartes legions was fascinating to observe, as they led a bloody, secretive war that ended

The protagonist who made this novel as fun for me as it was is John Grammaticus, an immortal human recruited by the Cabal, an interplanetary council of xenos of all walks of life, whose ultimate goal is to stop or slow down the ascent of Chaos in the universe. The Cabal’s purpose was to manipulate Alpharius and his men to this purpose, and the conflict between them and the Alpha Legion played out to an unexpected end.

Great narration by David Timson. Good action, great plot twists and solid characters once again serve to prove that Dan Abnett is the unmistakable master of Warhammer 40k novels. My score for this one is 4/5.

Is it weird I listened to all of these on audiobook? Maybe; but the narrations of all these are well worth listening to! Thank you for joinining me today and I hope I’ve piqued your interest with at least one of these !

Excitement OVERLOAD! – July Edition

GAAAAAAH! Hello! I’ve been thinking about what book I’m most excited to read next, and it’s actually not a difficult decision at all.

It’s funny, too, because I’m reading Abercrombie’s Sharp Ends right now and rather than sate my appetite, this short story antology set in the First Law universe is making me all the more excited.

A Little Hatred picks up in the familiar world of the First Law, decades after the conclusion of our first trilogy, with a generation of new and, I assume, deeply flawed characters who will be coming into conflict with all-new threats to the Union. We’ll see familiar faces like Sand dan Glokta, King Luthar the Not-So-Blond-Anymore and who knows who else! Are you excited, I’m excited, me, me, me!

Joe Abercrombie’s writing only gets better and better and I am so looking forward to all the delightfully horrible ways in which this latest bloody book will blow my mind. No one writes quite like he does and I can never get enough of his words. They’re downright divine, if you ask me!

It’s coming out in just over a month and a half, on September 17! Who’s aboard the hype train with me?!

Inspired by Lynn’s Book Blog, and this blog post, in particular.

The Warded Man (Demon Cycle #1) by Peter V. Brett – Book Review (Excerpt)

The entirety of this review is published over at booknest.eu. Below is an exerpt of it because…well, #everythingiscontent, and this is mine.

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.

What follows is a merciless slaughter, the kind only fanatical, thoughtless hate can inflict upon innocents. It’s evil made manifest. How humanity responds to that at the time of the book’s opening is not too difficult to picture; the time for fighting has long since passed and fear has nestled deep in the hearts of men. There’s no fight left in most of them and those in whom resistance still burns bright are the blazing exception. The demons can’t be hurt by conventional weaponry and trapping them until dawn is tough work, demanding sacrifice that most are unwilling to pay, and bravery none possess. And who could blame them? If creatures materialised out of smoke outside my home every day and spat venom or fire, or were fifteen feet high and made of rocks, I wouldn’t be bursting with bravery, either.

Jim Butcher’s Fool Moon (The Dresden Files #2)

Hullo and welcome to this tiny review, in which I will bitch and moan about Fool Moon for a wee bit! Why? Because #EverythingIsContent !

I listened to James Masters’s reading of the first Harry Dresden novel almost two years ago — my Goodreads shelf tells me I read it on June 29, 2017 — and I enjoyed it deeply. Here was the humble beginning of a likable protagonist, the lead of a first-person novel that defines more than any other work of fiction the look of today’s urban fantasy. To top it all off? I have it on good authority that James Masters, over the sixteen or so books in the series, makes the character and series his own with a remarkable audio performance.

So there I was, excited to know more; I quickly got Fool Moon, I started it and somewhere half-way along the book, I pressed pause and did not touch it for nearly two years. Why?

Because of Murphy.

The way she was written in the first one didn’t make much of an impression. Cool, the competent detective prototype that’s common enough in this urban fantasy subgenre we so adore. She wasn’t memorable enough next to Harry, his talking skull and dangerous businessman and mafioso John Marcone.

In Fool Moon, Murphy is impossible to stomach. She doesn’t act like a competent cop, investigating ritualistic murders that seem to have been committed by some sort of a beast, instead choosing to jump to one wrong conclusion after another without any solid evidence. She goes as far as to arrest Harry Dresden, refusing to trust him even a long, long time after a menagerie of events proves his innocence beyond reasonable doubt. Murphy acts as judge, jury and executioner without anything but circumstantial evidence and facts unrelated to one another.

How does Dresden accept her accussations and behaviour? He feels bad. Doesn’t get annoyed at her, doesn’t get rightfully pissed, he feels guilty for having to keep secrets from her; secrets that, if he shares with a non-wizardy person, he’ll be commiting a crime punishable by death! She arrests him, refuses to trust him and he nods along with it, feeling bad for himself and for her. God dammit, Harry, get a grip!

This was a relationship that completely broke my immersion from what was otherwise a really interesting novel about magic and werewolves. And there’s a lot of good werewolf stuff here. Five types of the beasts! A talking skeletal head! The sexy journalist lady from the occultist paper that Harry has a fun semi-relationship with! Some sweet action scenes!

And I could barely enjoy all of these because Murphy’s relationship with Harry went against everything I know about how human relationships function, in fiction or otherwise. It’s kinda funny, if you think about it.

Except, it isn’t.

What’s important, however, is that it’s all uphill from here on out! All the Dresden fans agree (or most of them, anyway) that Fool Moon is the weakest in the series. I’m looking forward to seeing what heights the series will offer next.

Would I recommend this novel? Not by itself. As a stepping stone to get to know more about The Dresden Files? It has some interesting aspects. But once I read the rest of the series, I will probably come back to this review and give one last verdict as to whether this is, in fact, important enough to read despite the glaringly bad relationship between Dresden and Murphy.

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.

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!

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

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Naomi Novik spins gold in this excellent new standalone novel, which perfectly captures the essence of Slavic fairy tales while doing an excellent job of turning the classical Rumplestiltskin tale on its heels.

Novik’s previous novel, Uprooted, was a 2015 favourite of mine. Novik’s love for Slavic folklore shined through. For the first time had I read an author who recaptured that very special feeling of magic and wonder which I hadn’t felt since those childhood nights spent listening to my grandmother tell Russian and Bulgarian fairy talesBeyond the nostalgia lay a very atmospheric, character-driven story that is well-worth the read. If you haven’t read it but would like to know more, I have a short recommendation for you! 

Uprooted left me wanting more of the same, and in Spinning Silver, I got it–and so much more. A fully realized story which goes down an unexpected road, with characters you’ll quickly grow fond of, a world covered in winter’s magic, and to top it all off…one hell of a memorable last line!

Naomi Novik went to great lengths to work on presenting the Jewish moneylender stereotype in a different light, and did admirable work with it. Antisemitism is a major theme in this book, and it is handled very well, owed to the author’s Jewish heritage and skill, both.

This novel contains six viewpoints, three major and three minor ones. All are told in the first person which isn’t anywhere near as confusing as you might think. That clarity is owed to the fact that Spinning Silver starts off with one character and introduces the viewpoints of the others at very logical points in the story. More on that later.

Miryem is the very first character the novel introduces us to; she is not only its first main character but also the engine of the story. She is a Jew, the daughter of a bad moneylender and the granddaughter of a great one. Without giving away too much, Miryem becomes a moneylender herself–and an excellent one at that. While collecting her debts, Miryem meets Wanda, the lone daughter of the town drunk and unknowingly gives her an ounce of freedom by demanding her father’s debt be paid with Wanda’s services as a maid.

Wanda sees the world in a simpler way than Miryem does. The language of her PoV sections is simpler, less colourful, as you’d expect from the daughter of a poor farmer. She is strong, though, possessing the kind of strength a young girl needs in order to survive her mother’s passing at an early age. I enjoyed her development. Some serious personal growth there, making this young lady a lot more likable by the end. Some of her scenes dragged along a bit but I hardly mind.

Irina is the third main character in the book, and she’s excellent. Her moral choices are delightfully gray and very clever, after a fashion. She too grows a lot — from the sole daughter of a moderately powerful duke with neither looks nor any great talent, to a powerful woman whose choices shape her very nation, and more.

Miryem is this story’s Rumplestiltskin, spinning coins of silver into gold not by employing magic, wink, but by her own wits and the occasional trickery. The road she goes down on isn’t an easy one, and it’s far from one her parents appreciate.

“My darling, my darling, I’m sorry.”
Sorry? To be warm instead of cold? To be rich and comfortable? To have a daughter who can turn silver into gold?
“To see you harden yourself to ice, to make it so.”

It’s a very powerful road Miryem goes on early in the novel, from a kind but starving girl  freezing every winter because her father can’t ever force himself to take a stand against his neighbours, those who owe him money; to a young woman who takes what she is owed, threatening and cajoling and bending the truth to get what she is owed and build off it, I loved her arc most of all.

Boastful of her skill, Miryem unwittingly summons unwanted attention; the Staryk, creatures of ice and winter, thieves and hoarders of gold, pillagers and even rapists. As luck would have it, Miryem doesn’t attract any old Staryk, but their king. He gives her three tasks, and a promise: To turn her heart to ice if she fails, or make her his queen if she succeeds.

See what I mean? Engine of the story.

Mild Spoilers Ahead:

I absolutely loved the character of the Staryk king, both at the beginning and towards the end of his appearances; I disliked only the parts where he acted like a petulant child. The Staryk culture, their home, their inhuman nature — I loved all those. I wonder if they are partially inspired by the Wild Hunt.

The Staryk came closer and took it from me. He didn’t pour the purse out: it was too full for that. Instead he dipped his hand inside and lifted out a handful of gold to tumble ringing back into the bag through his fingers, until there was only one last coin held between his white-gloved fingers, shining like sunlight. He frowned at it, and me. “It’s there, all sixty,” I said. My heart had slowed, because I suppose it was that or burst. “As it must be,” he said. “For fail me, and to ice you shall go, though my hand and crown you shall win if you succeed.” He said it as if he meant it, and also angrily, although he had set the terms himself: I felt he would almost have preferred to freeze me than get his gold. 

SPOILERS: The Miryem/Staryk story felt like a bit of a rehash of the Agnieszka/Dragon romance from Uprooted without packing the punch that relationship had due to a lot more ‘screen-time,’ if you will. I enjoyed it but it was the one thing in the novel that was familiar, expected and safe to bet on.

Speaking of descriptions, this book does them really well. All of them. I didn’t feel like any of them slowed down the story.

Spinning Silver transported me into its magical world; I read it for five hours straight only to fall asleep, wake up and finish it after two more hours. Truly the kind of book to miss dinner AND breakfast over. My recommendation? Read it. There’s so much packed inside — references and winks to so many myths, memorable characters forced to use their wit to survive, and loads more well worth experiencing!

It’s escapism, pure and simple, and magical to boot.

You’ll enjoy this book if you:

  • are an Ice Elf who’s looking to apply for a Wild Hunt scholarship;
  • are a lover of Slavic folklore;
  • enjoyed Uprooted and want something that captures the same feeling, while being very different, for the most part;
  • love good escapism;
  • and more! Prob’ly.

 

Book Review: Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft

Senlin-Cover

I’ve had some trouble putting my thoughts in order where Senlin Ascends, the first book in Josiah Bancroft’s Books of Babel series of four, is concerned. This book is an excellent read, the kind whose characters live with you well after you’ve put it down for good. Perhaps Senlin Ascends is one of those rare novels which excel so completely at surprising and thrilling many of its readers that words all of a sudden elude you.

Then again, maybe it’s the sort of read you need a few days to process. And process I have. What did I come up with during those few days?

Senlin Ascends is an excellent novel that doesn’t fall into any one genre checkbox. We can spend all day discussing its Victorian influences and steampunk elements, but at its core, this is (the beginning of) a story of a husband doing everything in his power to find his wife.

Senlin is the headmaster of the only school in the small town of Isaugh, a man ‘at the edge of things,’ a man of reserved judgement who looks on his fellow residents as uneducated and treats them somewhat like children, to their mild disdain. He only recently married the beautiful, talented and lively Marya, described as:

Marya was a good match. She was good-tempered and well-read; thoughtful, though not brooding; and mannered without being aloof. She tolerated his long hours of study and his general quiet, which others often mistook for stoicism. He imagined she had married him because he was kind, even-tempered and securely employed. He made fifteen shekels a week, for an annual salary of thirteen minas; it wasn’t a fortune by any means, but it was sufficient for a comfortable life. She certainly hadn’t married him for his looks. While his features were separately handsome enough, taken altogether they seemed a little stretched and misplaced.

She played the piano beautifully but also brutally. She’d sing like a mad mermaid while banging out ballads and reels, leaving detuned pianos in her wake. And even still, her oddness inspired admiration in most. The townsfolk thought she was charming and her playing was often requested at the local public houses. Not even the bitter gray of Isaugh’s winters could temper her vivacity. Everyone was a little baffled by her marriage to the Sturgeon.

Not much time at all passes before Marya and Senlin lose track of one another, in the very foundation of the massive structure that is the Tower of Babbel, the setting — and, in a way, the prime antagonist — of this fantastic story. Senlin has had a deep fascination with the Tower for most of his life, having bought into all those books proclaiming the Tower of Babel the greatest accomplishment of humanity. Senlin’s trusted Everyman’s Guide to the Tower even describes it so:

The Tower of Babel is most famous for the silk fineries and marvelous airships it produces, but visitors will discover other intangible exports. Whimsy, adventure, and romance are the Tower’s real trade.
Ah, how wonderful it sounds, how exciting! If only reality were so…
Senlin’s obsession with the Tower will cost him, as its true guise is much different from what he’s imagined and read about throughout his life. His wife lost, Senlin is forced, after a period of dumbfounding shock, to begin his ascension of this great structure.
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Along the way, questions will pile up. Who built the Tower, and just what is its purpose? These lay on the wayside, however. More central are the myriad questions, which shove and prod Senlin at every corner, forcing the well-meaning but cowardly teacher to grow and change in order to survive and follow Marya’s trail. Despite the trials and tribulations in his path, what Senlin retains is a core of decency, compassion and the belief that the Tower’s destructive influence doesn’t necessarily erode everything good and decent in people. It’s this belief in men and women that forces them to do better, to meet him half-way.
Senlin’s growth, in fact, is one of the main reasons this novel pulled me in so thoroughly. It’s no small feat, making a likeable person look completely unprepared and incapable of dealing with a situation, to have all his positives turn into flaws to disastrous effect, only to see him realize all this and, step by step, rebel against it, becoming something of a charming rogue by the end. (Bit long-winded, that sentence.)
Mysteries abound in the form of indebted slaves called ‘hods,’ a terrifying gentleman monster playing at Dr Jeckyll/Mr. Hyde called Red Hand, four ringdoms, levels of the Tower, each under different authorities, built for different purposes, and so on.
Plenty of side-characters are to be found, all of them excellent. My favourites have to be Edith and Tarrou, the latter’s description:
A two-pointed black beard accentuated his iron gray mane of hair. He seemed hale and athletic for a man his age. Senlin was a little intimidated by the width of his chest and shoulders, though his smile seemed amiable enough. “And that is the dazed look of a man fresh from the monkey pen.” He gave an exaggerated shudder. “The Parlor is an awful place.”
The prose is nothing short of exceptional. Bancroft’s sentences flow easily and present a clear view into another world, a world that is sometimes beautiful, sometimes unspeakably ugly and nearly always bizarre. It will set your imagination on fire, both with its adventurous streaks and with the darker undertones Senlin Ascends is rich in.
In short, Senlin Ascends is excellent and well worth your time and hard-earned cash. It’s even worth your tiny sum of pocket money, if you make no cash what-so-ever.
I can see why it has as much hype as it got; I’m almost sad to have found it only now that a big publisher has republished the first two books and will soon publish the third (in September). Now that I’ve started, I can’t wait for the last two books of the series to hit the shelves!
The simplest way to make the world mysterious and terrifying to a man is to chase him through it.
In this, Josiah Bancroft certainly succeeds…even if Senlin Ascends doesn’t always feel like a chase, it’s one hell of a ride. There I go, mixing my metaphors again.
Thank you for reading this review! I’ll be back with a review of the second book in the Tower of Babel series as soon as I finish reading it! Now I’m off to read it!
P.S. Action scenes! Excellent bloody action scenes!
P.P.S. Six seasons and a movie!