Sunday 5 July 2015

Reading Challenge 2015 - Choose a Book by Its Cover

I'm working through the Lords of Gossamer & Shadow stuff and enjoying what I'm reading - but annoyingly my tablet broke and I read pdf's more slowly from the laptop so it's going to be a little while before I'm ready to give decent comment. Cool concept so far, though, and I reckon character gen is less complicated than I first thought. 

They say never to choose a book by its cover, but that was one of the challenges. I had done that previously, with The Children's Book, and felt stung, but these books were far more satisfying and examples of why it isn't always a bad thing.

Theatre of the Gods - Matt Suddain
Goodreads gives an expected publication date of 15th September this year for this cover art, which is a bit weird because I read it around about March...
Additional challenges covered:
    - More than 500 pages
    - Author I'd never read before

A man who is not a wizard is accompanied by his servant on a dangerous mission demanded by the Queen: to, as he claims to be able, travel to another dimension. His ship is captained by a depressed teen and crewed by slave children. They are hunted by assassins and the full weight of the Pope's army, and have stowaways in the form of a blind girl and a deaf boy, both with unusual powers.

It's not like anything I've read before: the pace is frenetic and the story jumps around to give a character's backstory or fill in some detail that was forgotten earlier as the narrator tries to get the tale from the protagonist, M Francisco Fabrigas. I was drawn in by the cover art and convinced by the blurb on the back - the sales assistant had read and recommended the book, so that helped too (my local bookstore might be a chain, but the staff are there because they love books). I'd recommend it, but it wouldn't be for everybody.

Published June 2011
Additional challenges covered:
   - Popular author's first book
   - Author I'd never read before

I like old photographs and camera trickery, so the front cover caught my eye when I first saw it before Christmas. When I saw 'book by cover' on the challenge list I thought I should check it out and I did enjoy it.

The book begins in the USA, with a young man feeling frustrated with life. His grandad is then killed by what everyone else believes to be wild animals but he thinks more is going on, so ends up with his dad travelling to Wales to visit the children's home his grandad spent most of the war in. It was bombed out, but he discovers the children survived and are living in a time loop to hide from the same creatures that killed his grandad.

The photographs were fun, but it was fairly obvious that the pictures had come before the story and at times I found the way they were pushed in frustrating. Another thing breaking the fourth wall for me was that the place described felt much more like and English seaside town than Wales - "whitewashed cottages", when (Portmeirion aside) every old building I've ever seen in Wales has been grey stone and on the road, with no "muddy gravel streets", much less a grid of them (towns in the UK pre-date cars and were not built with future-proofing in mind but rather grew organically, so unlike the US there are very few places laid out in grids). It's telling that the film is using locations in Cornwall for the island. Also, the name of the island - "Cairnholm" - doesn't feel very Welsh. Ynys Carn, maybe?

There were other issues for me as an English reader familiar with Wales, the Welsh accent and the Welsh language reading this book written by an American for an American audience: I found the description of the language awkward because I'm coming at it with an English ear. It's a bit of an annoyance of mine, that British authors have to translate their novels to American English for the American audience but American authors(/publishers) feel no compunction to return the favour.

I'll probably an eye out for the film (Tim Burton directing sounds ideal), but the story never lived up to the promise. It was a cool concept but never found traction because the author seemed too focused on shoving in and describing the photos, letting the plot and particularly character development fall by the wayside. It felt under geographically under-researched and that was frustrating for somewhere I consider home. I don't know if I'll bother reading the sequels.

The Invisible Library - Genevieve Cogman
Published Jan 2015
Additional challenges covered:
    - Published this year
    - Female author
    - Mystery/thriller (I'm not 100% certain it does meet this, but there's certainly mystery)
    - Book with magic
    - Author I've not read before

Patrick Rothfuss's Slow Regard of Silent Things comes out in paperback later this year, so I'll reserve judgement until I've read that, but this might be my favourite book of the year. Whilst this is the author's first novel, she has written for roleplaying games and I think that comes through - I kept thinking what a fantastic concept the Library would be for a game. I mean, so many ideas just spiralling out of my mind...

The main character, Irene, works for the eponymous Invisible Library, an extra-dimensional place whose inhabitants' goal is to collect books from across the dimensions and, in the process, stand in opposition to Chaos. Librarians have no family or, less commonly but in the case of Irene, are the children of librarians. Worlds seem to be arranged on a scale from high magic, no technology to high tech, no magic, with plenty of crossover in the middle (I reckon ours to be no magic, medium tech), and the Librarians are sent out to gather books - either on simple shopping sprees for common books, or on more dangerous missions for those that are rarer or more unique. The collection and protection of books is the Library's overriding purpose, but the senior librarians no doubt have their own intrigues and agendas.

So anyway, junior librarian Irene is sent off to a world with a chaos infestation to track down a particular copy of Grimm Fairy Tales that is unique to this world. Her boss gives her an apprentice, a haughty but good-looking young man called Kai. The relationship between them is refreshingly calm - none of this tired "but I work alone so I hate my partner who I'll come to love by the end of this cliche buddy-cop movie book" - their initial wariness is down to not being used to working together and they try to get past that and work as a team. I enjoyed the dynamic. Before leaving, Irene's rival, Bradamant, appears and tries to take their mission. The handling of their relationship - the revealing of their history and their character and the way they deal with each other - was also handled well.

Things are, of course, not what they seem in the realm they've entered - a steam-punk Victorian London with fairies (agents of Chaos), werewolves and vampires. There are twists and turns and mortal danger and I enjoyed it thoroughly. I am really looking forward to the sequels and, if I don't manage to run a game using the concept, will probably end up writing some fanfic based in the same universe.


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