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The Magician's Apprentice

The Magician's Apprentice

3rd February 2016

Effectively the fourth book in the series, this prequel is set several hundred years before the original trilogy and provides an interestingly different view on the same world through a dirty provisionally similar plot.

One day, a young girl accidentally discovers she can do magic when threatened by a confrontational magician and is separated from her family to learn magic, not get on with other students, and get involved in a war.

As a sucker for world building and character establishment, I really loved the beginning of the book as it introduced people and places and followed their daily lives. My interested waned slightly when the plot moved on to other, faster and more exciting events and away from the humdrum. Maybe I'm weird.

The book has a slight feeling of being a failed trilogy. It could divide neatly into the sections, and maybe that's how it was plotted, but, in my imagination at least, the author wasn't able to pad each part out enough to make them stand alone.

An adequate prequel, but not quite living up to the original series.

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Blood Line

Blood Line

3rd February 2016

Anna Travis returns for her seventh outing, but her first since promotion to Detective Chief Inspector - and it's her first chance to lead her own investigation and prove to her superiors that she's really up to it. At first it seems like just a straightforward missing persons case that Anna looks into as a favour, but gradually more and more things don't add up.

Like the previous books in the series, the mystery is good, with a surprisingly small set of suspects and yet still so much going on that the reader really has no idea what's going to come out at the end. However, this also does have the slight effect of being frustrating for the reader as it seems as if even the author is just going with the flow and hadn't planned where the story is going to go.

I also continue to find the ongoing storyline of Travis' personal life to be unrealistic and irritating. The emotions seem too simple, and are portrayed through the characters introspection rather than being something that can be inferred from events, actions and speech. I think it seems too much like a token gesture at fleshing out the character rather than making her feel realistic.

Finally the dialogue - the characters in this novel do not talk like humans. The speech sounds like something a computer might construct (Data from Star Trek maybe),and is devoid of natural humanizing patterns such as contractions. It means that the characters are left without distinctive voices and the reader is dropped out of the narrative when they sound forced.

Actually there's one more thing. Without spoiling too much, this book involves some homosexual characters, and this came across as a bit too much of a cliche unfortunately. Clearly it's only natural that some gay characters will appear in any fictional world, but the sudden leap from none to many seemed forced in this book and almost as if it was considered that there had to be a sympathetic gay character to balance out each one tasty featured a an antagonist. And on top of that featured the classic grumpy old homophobic policeman who can't help dropping stupid comments, as featured in many crime novels.

Right, rant over. Overall it's a good, if overly complicated story, and I'm looking forward to finding out what happens next.

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The Mystery of the Talking Skull

The Mystery of the Talking Skull

2nd February 2016

The eleventh Three Investigators story begins with the youngsters attending an auction of left luggage, where they obtain an old magicians case rumoured to contain his star trick - a skull which speaks.

As T3I stories go, it's fairly run if the mill, with all the usual ingredients - spooky mysteries, gangs of baddies, slightly racist stereotypes, hidden passageways and being caught.

There's nothing much to criticise, but also not a lot to make it stand out against a backdrop of the previous ten books, and so it's difficult to say a lot about. Generally the story stands the test of time, assuming the reader can appreciate that it is a product of its era and that the detectives do not have the advantages of modern conveniences.

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Buy book: UK
The Clocks

The Clocks

2nd February 2016

Agatha Christie's The Clocks continues the theme of Poirot novels without really featuring the character for most of the narrative, as if the author head by this point become horrifically bored of her star detective but has to keep him in for the marketing value of his name on the cover.

It's a fairly straightforward story with a mix of suspects, clues and red herring that you might expect, with an interesting subplot between some of the characters. It doesn't really add anything dramatically new, and a lot if the clues seemed fairly obvious and I managed to successfully work out the solution before the reveal.

The best feature of this novel is actually the humour. Christie writes with sharp sarcasm introducing a wide range of quite deep characters as witnesses are visited and interviewed by the investigators. There are many winks to a knowing audience and this I absolutely loved.

An average Christie novel I think, though worth it if you've read a few for some good fun.

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Buy book: UK
The Last Colony

The Last Colony

12th January 2016

The third story in the 'Old Man's War' series by John Scalzi continues the tale of the life of John Perry, an elderly man who left Earth to join humanity's colonial defence force and regain his youth. Now retired, he finds himself offered an opportunity he can't refuse - to start a completely new colony.

Once again it's a fantastic story filled with a rich volume of intrigue, comedy and drama - while a complex plot it's really approachable and manages to avoid the pitfalls that many science fiction stories seem to suffer, such as being unintelligible or dull. The pacing is spot on and the action flows in an episodic manner that still feels naturally continuous.

Despite the time that's passed since I read the first two books, and my memories off then being somewhat hazy, the narrative provides just the right amount of setup to get me back into the world without me feeling overly burdened by recaps and I'm sure this would provide an easy starting point for a new reader to the series.

I love the characters and the humour that Scalzi creates and reading this was another great experience. I'll definitely be looking out for the later books in the series and hope that they continue to be as great.

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The Great Bazaar

The Great Bazaar

6th January 2016

The second short story from The Demon Cycle depicts another moment in the life of Arlen, one of the main characters from the novel series, taking part in one of the moments that feel between chapters in (i think) the first novel, The Painted/Warded Man.

I found it fascinating to read from a number of perspectives. It adds some crucial worldbuilding that parallels events in the first novella, provides insight into two of the major characters from the series, and reveals an element from the plot that I hadn't even realised was missing from the main series.

A really enjoyable short read for anyone who is devouring Brett's novels that fills a pleasant half hour gap between the longer tomes.

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A Figure in Hiding

A Figure in Hiding

, &

6th January 2016

The sixteenth novel in the original Hardy Boys series (in the 1965 rewrite edition) sees the brothers up against a mysterious glass eye which they discover when one of their acquaintances' boat goes for a test run. It features a number of the tropes of the stories that I've recognised over the course of my re-read so far, including experimental modes of transport, car chases, car crashes, gangs, mystery faces at windows, Chet having a weird new hobby, and so on.

While the first ten books feel comfortably as if they have had some effort to make them varied and interesting in different ways, since then the series has gone downhill, repeating similar situations and almost seeming to follow a formula rather than putting in a reasonable amount of imagination.

As such, it's becoming harder for the stories to grip my attention as I go on. Now admittedly this might be because I am not part of the target audience of young teens in the 1960s, but I think the change in my response since reading the earliest books again is to the change in quality of storytelling.

In this particular example the mystery is really wrapped up in a page of exposition right at the end rather than being uncovered as part of the drama, with the story feeling much more a thriller than a proper detective tale. Overall a fairly weak entry in the early original series and not one that I'd put on a must read list.

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  15. Death is Forever
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  19. Blood Rites
  20. The Disappearing Spoon
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  25. Alcatraz Versus the Shattered Lens
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  27. Hot Six
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  29. Play Dead
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  32. Surely You're Joking Mr Feynman
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  36. The Escape