Now these are jolly nice looking covers. And Dragons!
There are blessedly few of these and only one truly bad book. I have had the very good fortune of reading some wonderful books this year, which can be read here.
And I mean bad in every way. The writing was cliched and repetitive. The characters were laughably two dimensional. In fact some barely had that many dimensions! The plot was nonsensical with more holes than a colander. The descriptions were pedestrian.
Ladies and gentlemen, the worst book I read this was Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s The Strain.
Do not waste your time on it!
I wonder what it says that two of my least successful reads were co-written. I hope the both Messrs del Toro and Pratchett were minor contributors to these disappointing projects.
One more co-written book which was so bad I did give up on it was Dragons Of Autumn Twilight by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. I’d picked it up – well downloaded it – as a trip down memory lane having warm memories of it from reading it as a kid. Alas, some things should not be revisited. Banal. Tedious. Formulaic.
A small part of my childhood died as I read it.
Ooooo David Mitchell!
I do love your voices! They are just about perfect for audiobooks, which is how I’m reading it. Or receiving it? The verb choice for the act of engaging with a story seems increasingly fluid for me as I often start a book on paper, continue it aurally and finish it in an e-reader.
Anyway. I digress.
So far I’ve loved Holly Sykes, the teenage runaway. She has been thoroughly enjoyable and I look forward to following her life.
Hugo Lamb, the broadly sociopathic Cambridge undergraduate I was less enamoured of. I don’t think I was necessarily meant to like him but I found his language a little too forced and he lacked authenticity for me. As a Cambridge graduate myself, I don’t think I met anyone like him or his companions. Which may simply bode well for my mental state!
Currently, I’m on the third section. The Wedding Bash. Bless Ed Brubeck in the opening section: the gentlemanly knight on a rusty bike. I’m far less happy with him in this section: he seems a different character, as desperate to leave Holly and their child as he was to find her earlier. Maybe it will be explained. I’m willing to give Mitchell time.
I’m also loving the recurrence here of characters from and references to Mitchell’s other work: Hugo Lamb is the obnoxious cousin of Black Swan Green‘s Jason; Ed Brubeck writes for Spyglass from Cloud Atlas; and Elijah D’Arnoq from the Chatham Islands may be a recurrence of Mr D’Arnoq from the same novel, Cloud Atlas.
This interweaving of characters is undoubtedly fun – with a genuine penny-dropping moment when Hugo Lamb revealed the connection. But it’s nothing new. Mitchell himself did it throughout Cloud Atlas and it’s actually rather common in fantasy writing. Which brings me rather neatly to the fantasy elements. The are the weaker part of the novel for me. Mitchell is great at narrative voice and character, a natural ventriloquist. The Horologists and the Anchorites, for me, got in the way of the human voices and human dramas. And this is me speaking as a self-confessed fan of fantasy.
Again, maybe Mitchell will mould it all together.
Being Dad to a twelve month old daughter, my days are replete with a steady diet of Disney at the moment! Not to mention my own reading preferences which tends towards the Fairytale and mythological. Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber is a book I return to over and again. As is the rather disturbing In The Company Of Wolves based on her versions of Red Riding Hood in The Bloody Chamber which can be seen here.
One example of a Grimm fairytale which exemplifies the moral and narrative ambiguity of the genre is conveniently brief and a single paragraph long:
Once upon a time there was a stubborn child who never did what his mother told him to do. The dear Lord, therefore, did not look kindly upon him, and let him become sick. No doctor could cure him and in a short time he lay on his deathbed. After he was lowered into his grave and covered over with earth, one of his little arms suddenly emerged and reached up into the air. They pushed it back down and covered the earth with fresh earth, but that did not help. The little arm kept popping out. So the child’s mother had to go to the grave herself and smack the little arm with a switch. After she had done that, the arm withdrew, and then, for the first time, the child had peace beneath the earth.
This is deliciously sparse: the image of the child’s arm stubbornly popping up out of the grave is undoubtedly comic: it’s almost Monty Pythonesque in its visual comedy. I have visions of the villagers surrounding the grave, whacking the arm like a game of human Whack-A-Mole! But… was the child buried alive? The paragraph doesn’t actually say he died: are we laughing at the desperate attempts of a sick child to claw its way out of its grave? And allowing a child to become ill and die because it didn’t obey its mother? It doesn’t recall sound like a Christian way for “the dear Lord” to respond. Is the recalcitrant hand a sign of divine remorse, a forgiving resurrection thwarted by human ignorance? And why does it say the mother ‘had” to go? What compelled her? Was she torn from her grieving by the villagers? However stubborn her child was, and all children are incredibly stubborn, a mother would mourn its death keenly. And keen mournfully. Is the mother a victim of or a symbol of the oppressive dictatorial (and male?) village? Is it significant that the mother reverts to violence when the others could be seen as tenderly covering the arm over? How convincing is the peace discovered in the final sentence?
So this sounds like a fabulous conference at Comic-Con that I wish could have attended.
I had started reading The Golem and the Djinni as an end of year treat to myself and so far absolutely loving it! Only two chapters in but loving both the Golem and the Djinni! A few rather Frankensteinesque moments I. The creation of the female golem. Brilliant!
But the Djinni reminds us that he is only one of many djinn creatures including the ifrit (familiar to any player of Final Fantasy and star of a rather tender body-exchange gay sexual encounter in Gaiman’s American Gods)
I was intrigued. I had never heard if a ghul save for Batman’s Ra’s al-Ghul. The book describes the ghul as
loathsome and flesh-eating
which did wonder whether there was a connection between the ghul and ghouls beyond mere phonological similarity.
And there is: ghouls which have somehow always struck me as a particularly British and somewhat archaic synonym for ghost is actually a bastardised image of an Arabian shape-shifting desert demon.
Well, the writers at DCC Comics presumably!