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What I’ve Read Lately – Aug 2010 – Part 2

So this is a couple of days late… I got delayed writing this by the time it took to scribe the long Neverwinter screed that is sticky’d right now, by goofing around in DDO and Borderlands, by working in my garden and reading other books. But enough is enough, here is the second half of my recent reading list.

Starting with Boneshaker by Cherie Priest. This book was part of a buying craze I had of steampunk novels and my impulsive buying habits paid off. Set in the early days of the Civil War, the story takes place in Seattle where the city has been ruined by a strange gas seeping from the earth that zombifies people. To stop the gas from spreading giant walls were built around Seattle and the people who fled the city eke out a meager living outside those walls.

One of the things I like about it is that the setting isn’t the typical steampunk venue of England, but rather the pacific northwest. Given that I live just a few hours south of Seattle in Portland it was very fun for me to see something in the steampunk genre set a little bit closer to home. Plus, while steampunk novels often spend a lot of time focusing on the weird technology (“Look at us! We have airships!”) the technology in this story was treated by the characters much more as something that was just there, the way we treat our cars every morning (it is just there and it works instead us going “Oh my! I have a four-wheeled remarkedly fast device for getting to work!” every morning), and the focus was instead much more on the characters and their ties to one another.

The story itself was quite enjoyable and was one of those rare stories that managed to end in a way that left me quite satisfied and actually felt complete while leaving the ready to decide on their own what the future might hold for the characters. Or, to put it another way, while I intend to look for more written by Cherie Priest now as I enjoyed the writing, I am for a change not clamouring for a sequel or more about these characters and setting because the story ended in a way that actually feels like their story is told and done.

The Affinity Bridge by George Mann is another steampunk novel and one that also pays homage to the character of Sherlock Holmes.

It was strange reading these two novels almost back to back as they both are steampunk novels and both have outbreaks of zombies in them. Where Boneshaker had them coming from exposure to gas, The Affinity Bridge has it as a disease brought to England by soldiers returning from their time spent in the Indian colonies.

The technology is a lot more at the forefront of the story in The Affinity Bridge with everything from steampowered carriages to airships to automatons to Queen Victoria being kept alive by a primitive life support device. The story however doesn’t get bogged down in look-at-how-steampunk-we-are but instead moves at a fast clip as it follows the mystery that the main character, an agent of the crown, has been assigned to unravel.

I suppose to compare the two, The Boneshaker would be the more ‘dramatic’ where The Affinity Bridge would be the more ‘pulpy’ of the two. Before anyone jumps on me, I have to say that being ‘pulpy’ is by no means a bad thing and I do fully recommend anyone picking up a copy of this book if you like your mystery novels with some action in them or your steampunk novels with some mystery in them. I myself am looking forward to reading the sequels: The Osiris Ritual which just came out in the US in August, and The Immorality Engine which comes out in the UK in September and has no US release date yet.

For something entirely different we have Teatro Grottesco by Thomas Ligotti. This is ‘weird fiction’ or ‘horror fiction’ in the vein of Poe or Lovecraft. It is a volume of short stories divided up into three themes, “Derangements”, “Deformations” and “The Damaged and the Diseased”.

This is the sort of fiction that you either like and enjoy, or you put the book down and pretend you never read it and hope the nightmares go away after a few days. The prose doesn’t run wildly across the page but instead proceeds slowly, building up the disturbing images and scenes of the tale one line after another. It isn’t shock-horror but the slow tide of wrongness that creeps in between the lines as the stories build and proceed. While I do recommend it I also have to say that you have to enjoy this style of writing, this genre, and while it reading it may be one way to find out if you do I don’t want to be the one you blame if you have really fucked up dreams for a while after you read.

Lev Grossman’s The Magicians is the last book I have to talk about. The short form of this review is that if you are reading this blog, you should probably go and buy a copy of this book as you will enjoy it.

It is urban fantasy and a coming of age story, the main character is brilliant and gifted and miserable as he is finishing high school and looking forward to nothing in particular in the future when he discovers that magic is real and that there is more to the world than he know and it is what he had always dreamed or wished the world could be.

Without spoiling any more of the story than that I can say that it taps into the bit in most of us that dream of a world that is better or different in some way without ever thinking about whether that would actually make us happy, or if it would just mean we’d be the same person we were living our life the same way in a slightly different world. It’s about growing up and facing who we actually are and it is quite simply very very good and possibly the best book I’ve read this year (competing for that spot it Changes, the latest Dresden Files book by Jim Butcher, but to be honest that is because I am simply a huge fan of that series).

The sequel coming in 2011 is The Magician King and while I am looking forward to it, to be honest I am not sure how he is going to be able to improve upon this first book and I am left wondering where the story will go.

Other than that, in reading news…

My Kindle should be arriving sometime in the next few days. Will have to write more about that after I’ve had a chance to play around with it some. I do however have a long list of books I am planning on buying on it right away, mostly sequels to series I like that are still in hardback and that I want to read now instead of waiting for them to come out in paperback (as much as I might like a book, and be willing to pay for it in hardback, I simply don’t have the shelf space to store hardbacks).

I am reading a few different books at the moment: The Automatic Detective by A. Lee Martinez, These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer, Wings of Wrath by C.S. Friedman, Money Shot by Christa Faust, and The Family Trade by Charles Stross. Give me another week or two and (if I am not distracted by new Kindle books first) I’ll be writing about all of them.

I don’t seem to quite at the pace I was last year for reading, but with the weather cooling off and most of my yard and garden work being done for the year, I may yet catch up and start to get closer to my reading count for last year.

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