The Furthest Station – Ben Aaronovitch

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“Jaget said he’d been watching this documentary on TV about the way people learn to track animals.”

Set between Foxglove Summer and The Hanging TreeThe Furthest Station picks up with PC Peter Grant well into his training as a… well, magician is probably not a word he’d enjoy. Practitioner? Either way, this isn’t really a starting place for the uninitiated – you’d probably still be able to enjoy the story, but the background isn’t explained in any way here.

What we do get is a curious case that soon attracts the attention of The Folly, the magical-stuff branch of the Metropolitan Police. Ghosts have been harassing people on the Metropolitan Line, and in investigating some of the cases, Peter and his boss, Nightingale, start to wonder if there’s something bigger going on…

I would have grabbed at this to read much sooner, but quite frankly the price tag for such a short tome seemed a bit steep. Hurrah for libraries! 🙂 I actually ended up enjoying this almost more than the full-length novels in the series. I liked the focus on the single plot-line, without some of the distracting diversions that creep in to the longer stories.

I also liked the reintroduction of Abigail, Peter’s far-too-curious little cousin. She was slightly forgotten in the most recent book, but actually her ongoing story should be impacting quite a lot. I do wonder if Mr Aaronovitch is struggling a little with his plot- and time-lines, as things have been jumping around a little. Perhaps more novellas like this could help fill in the gaps that are appearing? Of course, any use of magic is likely to leave gaps in the grey matter, so…! 😉

Fully recommended for fans, even if I do think charging full price for a slim volume you could easily read in a day is a little bit of a cheek. And if you’ve yet to discover the series, absolute give Rivers of London a go first! 🙂

Hardback: 118 pages / 9 chapters
First published: 2017
Series: PC Peter Grant / Rivers of London book 5.5
Read from 10th-13th June 2018

My rating: 8/10

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Low Chicago – George RR Martin (ed)

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“It had been one hundred and forty-two years since John Nighthawk had been inside the Palmer House, and then it had been the earlier incarnation of the luxurious Chicago hotel, known simply as the Palmer.”

It seems very odd to jump into a series at book 25, but this isn’t the kind of story where that matters too much. Sure, I had to do a quick google for the underlying premise: an alien virus hits the Earth, and while most of the infected die, those that survive are altered. Known as the Wild Card event, most of those whose ‘cards turned’ become ‘jokers’ – cursed with some kind of abnormality, like the woman with rabbit ears. Some are ‘deuces’, granted low-level, party-trick kind of powers. But a very few are the ‘aces’, those with real superpowers.

The whole series has been collections of short stories, and this latest volume is no different. We start with a framing tale – very Canterbury Tales 😉 – of a high stakes poker game. Each player is allowed to take two bodyguards in with them, be that physical muscle or ace-skills, or both!

The human mutation premise isn’t exactly novel, but I think it’s a nice take on things here, feeling different enough from, say, X-Men.

When something goes awry during the card game, it turns out that one of the superpowers in the room is the ability to send people to different time periods. So, with regular interludes back to our framing tale, we then get a series of stories written by different authors detailing the ‘adventures’ of one or more of the party, flung into the distant or recent past.

I’m not sure I would have noticed the different authors if it hadn’t been made clear at the start, but once pointed out then yes, I caught a few differences in writing styles. That works well, though, given the range of eras the stories are set in: Jurassic to 1980s, with stops at several quite famous events – and with a few famous faces, to boot!

I really enjoyed both the premise of the stories here, and the individual time travel tales. There were a few times when I thought, “This is probably a reference to a previous story”, but nothing to detract too much. If I did have a complaint, it’s that this book gives a bit of a glimpse at a clearly well-established universe, but we don’t get to spend a great deal of time with character development or deeper explanations.

Still, that just gives me an even bigger reason to check out the rest of the series!

NetGalley eARC: 432 pages / 7 short stories plus framing tale
First published: 2018
Series: Wild Cards book 25
Read from 3rd-10th June 2018

My rating: 8/10

Daughter of Smoke and Bone – Laini Taylor

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“Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love. It did not end well.”

Karou’s life is anything but ordinary. From her blue hair and somewhat mysterious lack of details on her previous life, she seems perfectly suited to being a 17-year-old art student in Prague. Her sketchbooks are filled with strange creatures about whom she has myriad stories – except, while her friends assume they of course must be fiction, Karou is only telling the truth.

Raised by chimera – creatures that seem composites of other animals, such as a snake-woman, or bull-headed man – Karou still runs errands for the gruff Brimstone, generally involving meeting less-than-savoury types to purchase teeth, of all sorts and species. Quite what Brimstone does with these teeth is only one of his many mysteries, but he pays Karou in wishes. She only ever gets small wishes, though – enough for blue hair, but not flight.

Plagued by the feeling that she’s meant to be living a different existence, Karou’s lack of knowledge about herself only deepens when one day a strange man – a strange winged man – takes a sudden and intense interest in her…

Following an enjoyment of Strange the Dreamer, spotting this first book in Laini Taylor’s earlier series in the library felt like a no-brainer. And then I realised I’d read the opening chapter as a free sample before, and decided that this was perhaps a little too ‘young adult’ for me. Which bits of it are: teen romance rarely interests me. But that aside, the rest of it made me glad I gave it all a second chance.

I do like the art student lifestyle that Laini Taylor describes, and the city of Prague is made to sound amazing. The layers of mystery slowly, oh so slowly, unfold, as we discover more about the creatures who raised Karou, the other world she can only enter through doors when someone opens them from the other side, and all sorts of smokey, ancient-feeling magics and elsewhere-ness. Very atmospheric!

As we find out more, my interest did waver a little, as we end up back with the romance plot. But, still many mysteries to keep me going – including a huge cliffhanger! Thankfully the entire trilogy is available, so I don’t have to wait to find out what happens next.

Paperback: 418 pages / 60 chapters
First published: 2011
Series: Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy book 1
Read from 13th-29th May 2018

My rating: 8/10

The Blue Sword – Robin McKinley

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“She scowled at her glass of orange juice.”

Harry Crewe never quite seems to fit in with other girls or polite society. Orphaned, she finds herself in a colonial house on the edge of the Damar desert. The barren landscape transfixes her, as does her first sight of the Hillfolk – secretive, possibly magical, they like these colonisers not much but the not-quite-human Northerners even less. Is a war brewing? What does that mean for a girl like Harry?

I feel a bit mean not liking this book more than I did. I came to it on the back of a recommendation from an author whose work I enjoy very much, claiming this as one that spoke to her a lot in childhood – and I can understand that. I think if I’d read this when I was younger, or back in the 80s when female-led fantasy wasn’t as strong as it is now, then I probably would have enjoyed this a lot more.

As it stands now, though, I found it a little hard to get past the idea of these ‘Homelanders’ colonising another land and that being so okay to the point of not being much of an issue. Or, a female character being kidnapped and sort of going along with it. Hmm. Then, of course, there’s just too much these days of the fantasy trope where a character goes from knowing nothing to being a superb fighter etc because ‘training montage’ and/or reincarnation/prophecy/destiny/something like that (you pick: I’m not giving spoilers!).

So yes, I get that if I’d read this when I was 12 I would have been entranced by Harry and her adventures, and that ‘a girl’ was getting to do all these cool things. Now, though, I thought that while well enough written, this hasn’t aged as well as those childhood memories had raved about.

Kindle: 292 pages / 17 chapters
First published: 1982
Series: Damar book 1
Read from 6th May – 2nd June 2018

My rating: 6/10

Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

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Han Solo: cool, suave, cheeky grin. Shoots first, knows you love him. Almost certainly the best character in Star Wars. And once did the Kessel run in 12 parsecs, don’t ya know?

I had mixed feelings about this film – going in, and coming out. I like the Star Wars universe, it’s got a lot going for it that we maybe haven’t seen the best of via the main movies. So sure, let’s have another story set here, where aliens and humans and droids and all sorts of things mingle on planets of every type not just deserts, honest. I’m not entirely sure it needed to be this story, though: did we really need that cool-guy mythos broken down and laid out quite so much?

That aside, Solo is a fun watch. There’s a teenie little bit of the social commentary stuff that led to such a slow chunk of The Force Awakens, but mostly it’s just action, some laughs, more action, and plenty of nods to events and knowledge that viewers of the original movies will ‘get’.

I think the cast did very well here, especially Alden Ehrenreich with his near-impossible task of being Harrison Ford – he’s not as cool, but I suppose will grow into it 😉 Stand out for me was probably Phoebe Waller-Bridge as droid L3, done with such swagger and a chip on her shoulder the size of (“that’s not”) a moon (!). I wasn’t quite so taken with Paul Bettany’s baddie, but that might have been finding his menace less disturbing than why he had a face full of stretch marks o_O

Plot-wise it’s got few surprises, but it does try to cram quite a lot into the 2 and a quarter hours to stop you thinking too much. And that’s rather what I like from a trip to the cinema!

Released: 24th May 2018
Viewed: 25th May 2018
Running time: 135 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 7.5/10 –  I think this would have been better as a complete stand-alone rather than a prequel, tbh

Lucifer (season 1)

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Once upon a time a little graphic novel series, Sandman, told of the Lord of Hell, Lucifer Morningstar, growing bored of the job and deciding to decamp to Los Angeles – where else?! He opens up a nightclub and sets about living life to the full, encouraging the mortals around him to do the same.

Neil Gaimain’s story was picked up by Mike Carey, and Lucifer got his own spin-off comics – which have now been adapted for the small screen, but with the same irreverent humour and sympathy-for-the-devil tone that would probably have my granny rolling in her grave. Ahem!

So… after a shootout at Lux, his nightclub, Lucifer ends up consulting for the police department. He’s soon rather obsessed with Detective Chloe Decker – possibly the one person on earth who seems immune to his plentiful charms. But talking of immunity, how is Lucifer’s power, and his invulnerability, going to be affected by a prolonged stay in the mortal realm?

I’m a bit late to the party with this one, seeing as it was squirrelled away on a less-than-handy broadcaster. Still, better late than never – except for the bit where, after three series, they’ve only gone and cancelled this! Is it still worth watching? Hell, yes! 🙂

I absolutely love the story here. It’s dark and funny and not as blasphemous as some might think (ymmv). More, the intrigue levels are kept high – I practically bounced off the sofa at the big cliff-hanger statement setting up season 2!

Tom Ellis does wonderfully as the sardonic, not-quite-slimey-somehow title character, utterly clueless as to why he can’t walk through life doing and getting what – or who! – he wants. The fish out of water schtick works really well when your outsider character is a fallen angel with the power to make people blurt out their deepest, darkest desires…! His relationship with the detective is so-so, but his experience with therapy (yes, really!) is a hoot, and his faithful demon, Mazekeen, is absolutely kick-ass and I love her a lot!

Best of all, perhaps, is the way that Lucifer is so upfront about who and what he is and watching all the humans around him try to turn into into something else – metaphor, delusion, etc. Waiting for the penny to drop for some of them is the least of what’s keeping me watching, but watching I am! More!! #SaveLucifer all the way!

First broadcast: 2015
Series: 3
Episodes: 13 @ ~42 mins each

My rating: 9/10

Deadpool 2 (2018)

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I frickin’ loved Deadpool (2016) so of course I was a little worried that the sequel could only disappoint. But thankfully following a successful movie isn’t always just a money-making exercise these days, and with a team that loves the source material as much as any of the fans we’re in safe hands here.

It’s hard to say too much about it without giving away plot points, but safe to say that we’re still breaking the fourth wall, subjected to a barrage of swearing (including a use of the c-word that surprised (but not shocked, it’s just a word, people!) me a little in a 15), and treated to more gore than Marvel’s entire output to date – good! 🙂

What I love so much about these movies is that they are ‘proper’ superhero action movies, while at the same time utterly poking fun at superhero movies in general – one fav line: “You’re so dark are you sure you’re not from the DC universe?” 🙂 And anything else they can think of to poke fun at, let’s face it – I’d need to trawl the ‘net or watch this about six times (tempting…!) to get all the references, I think! Top of the hit list is Ryan Reynolds himself, from previous performances to just him as an actor, and likewise Josh Brolin’s turns in the Goonies and last week’s (!) Infinity War.

Amongst the mayhem and jokes, however, there’s also quite a moving story about family and friendships. It almost hits harder when things happen, as you’re not expecting it between the laughs and blood splatter.

I won’t say this is perfect, but dang I am struggling to pinpoint any actual faults. It’s pretty much everything I could have wanted from a Deadpool sequel, and part of me hopes there are about sixty more to come 🙂

So remember… #WadeWilsonDemandsYourSisterSorryStupidAutocorrectSilence especially during the FIVE post-credit scenes (but not shoved all the way at the end, so you don’t have to sit too long) 😀

Released: 15th May 2018
Viewed: 17th May 2018
Running time: 119 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 9/10