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Elantris

Elantris

20th July 2014

Elantis is the first published novel by Brandon Sanderson, who later became famous for being invited to finish the Wheel of Time series, and also for his own later works, including the Mistborn trilogy. I've been reading his works out of publication order, so to me Elantris felt very reminiscent of Mistborn - they share a pattern of female lead character, stratified society, revolution and change.

Sanderson's writing has many strengths, even this early, particularly in world building. Very quickly, he establishes the basis of a fantasy world for his characters to inhabit, and then gradually reveals more and more about it, and in particular its unique magic systems, while leaving plenty of hints that there could be far more to uncover if there were ever a sequel.

The narrative moves at a good pace, keeping things changing throughout, although towards the end the pace is upped quite a bit, and the conclusion almost feels rushed, with a lot happening in the space of a few chapters. The ending also seemed quite abrupt - there's clearly a lot of space to explore further in this world, and it felt like at least a little of that could be done within the novel.

I very much enjoyed returning to something early from Sanderson's canon, and its made me realise again how much I enjoy his writing, and encouraged me to continue catching up with his novels that I've missed so far.

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Close Call

Close Call

9th July 2014

I'm surprised to find this is the eighth Liz Carlyle novel by real life MI5 head Stella Rimington, who lends a strong sense of reality to proceedings that other authors miss in an attempt to write a thrilling story. I thought this was a really good book that tells a strong, authentic tale, and is probably the best in the series.

The characters in the series clearly grow from book to book, rather than stay the same throughout the series as is the case with some long-running characters, and this adds a sense of realism to their lives. The main character does come across a little too perfect though - everyone seems to love her and there’s not a hint that she’s anything but perfect. There are some good character moments in the book however and it takes things places I really wasn’t expecting, which was good.

As usual, the plot isn’t incredibly action heavy and is quite tied to the concept of a procedural security service story. There’s a lot going on though, and we follow the characters as they learn more about a terrorist threat - unlike some books, we’re not presented with the enemy’s point of view, so we get the surprise as we travel through the narrative alongside. It’s a really interesting look at how terrorism is countered, probably far more than we realise, and there’s nothing here that I can’t honestly believe possible in the real world.

I read the book in just two days (aided by some long train journeys) and it’s kept me really entertained throughout. Definitely one of the strongest in a good series, and I hope I can look forward to more to come.

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The Light Fantastic

The Light Fantastic

8th July 2014

Jeffrey Lang returns to Trek to follow up on the events of the Cold Equations trilogy, which in turn followed from Lang's own Immortal Coil. I've not read Immortal Coil, so I can't really say how much is referenced back to that book, but one thing this book does do is refer back to almost every android that's ever appeared in Star Trek.

Despite the serious subject matter, the narrative is quite light and the characters in particular are presented in a similar manner to some of the more jokey episodes of The Next Generation. In fact the main characters of this story are probably the best part, each having real depth and growing through the novel.

The plot is quite fun too, a cross between a heist and Sherlock Holmes, and is entertaining throughout despite posing some good moral questions in the Trek style. I really enjoyed the non-linear nature of the narrative, continue happy jumping around the characters' timelines to gradually reveal more to the reader.

I can't really pick out anything to criticise - although I thought I spotted one or two continuity glitches (but I might be the one misremembering). A great fun read, and one that I hope Lang is able to follow up on.

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The Mystery of the Silver Spider

The Mystery of the Silver Spider

4th July 2014

The Silver Spider is the eighth adventure for the Three Investigators, and sees the teenage detectives called to a small European country to visit the local prince, who has a case for them.

Despite the slightly unbelievable setup, the author manages to pull it off well, and the reader is carried along well - I don't recall from reading as a child that there was ever a question in my mind about whether this would ever really happen (or about the language barrier).

My one real criticism would be that it's very much an adventure - there's not really a lot of mystery going on - but all the classic three investigators ingredients are there, baddies, allies, secret tunnels, capture, escape etc.

Another good entertaining tale in a series that I can still enjoy today almost as much as I did as a youngster, aided by my only remembering one (albeit key) plot point.

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The Long Mars

The Long Mars

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4th July 2014

The third entry in Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter's 'Long' series is pretty similar to the first two - the narrative is split into quite distinct chapters leaping around between a group of main characters each on an unrelated adventure.

I felt though that the story didn't really live up to my expectations. There was a significant conclusion to the previous book that I had felt would become the focus this time, but although it sticks in the background, it felt like the repercussions had mostly been brushed aside in favour of a more 'sci-fi' plot that felt less engaging to me, and a little more like an ethical manifesto. There are two other areas of the story that felt a lot like repetition of a theme that's used throughout the first two books.

Having said that, once I had got through the first few chapters, I was surprised by how easily readable I found the book and was disappointed each day when the end of my commute meant I had to put the book away. Having glanced back now at my reviews of the previous books in the series I realise that I may have been misremembering as I seem to have felt similarly then.

Ultimately though it's a book about the plot, exploring scientific concepts of parallel worlds and some moral and ethical questions, and it felt it suffered from not making the characters more engaging. I also felt that the wittiness had dropped off in this book, making it a more serious read despite the continuation of classic movie references.

So overall, it's worth reading if you enjoyed the first two books, but I don't think it serves as a particularly enticing entry point to the series. It feels like it might be the final book, and if not I'd probably think twice a about whether I want to continue.

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The Silkworm

The Silkworm

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28th June 2014

The second book in the Cormoran Strike series follows the private detective as he investigates a case that bears more than a passing resemblance to that covered in the previous novel. He’s hired to find a woman’s missing husband, and author who’s just delivered a surprisingly inflammatory novel.

It’s always interesting when authors write about the book world, as they can give an insight into their industry, but also tend to exaggerate and use the opportunity to make fun of themselves - to an extent, that is the case here, as the characters are larger than life and each have some extreme quirks, though those all play important parts in the plot too.

Like the first novel, Strike’s assistant Robin feel like she’s sidelined and I would have much preferred for her to serve as the main character - although clearly a strong character when she is in the action spotlight, there’s more a focus here on her personal life rather than work, and I felt she could have been utilised better to advance the central plot line.

There’s a quantity of gore and explicitness that matches the author’s previous adults works - it feels less now that it’s done just because it’s now permitted after years of writing for children, and more that it really is the author’s preferred style. There are reminders of the children’s novels though - the relationships between the characters feel familiar and are presented in a similar way to those in the Harry Potter series.

Overall though I found it an enjoyable read, despite the occasional graphic scenes, lighter than a lot of crime series while remaining serious, and I see no reason to think I won’t continue reading about these characters for a lot more books.

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The Wilful Princess and the Piebald Prince

The Wilful Princess and the Piebald Prince

27th June 2014

This novella is a prequel to Hobb’s Realm of the Elderlings series, an epic fantasy made up of four trilogies (although one had four books), though this is most reminiscent of the first of these. The story has two main characters, mentioned in the title, and tells the story of their lives from the point of view of a common member of the court. It’s a really interesting way to tell the story that makes a lot of in-universe sense and really draws the reader in to the range of characters presented.

Although short (I read it in two days, and was deliberately taking it slow to make it last), the book is a riot of emotions and Hobb manages to flit between tragic and lighter moments with ease. The tale is really well-crafted and flows at exactly the right pace. Unlike some of her previous shorter works, I felt this was the perfect length, reminiscent of her original Farseer trilogy without retreading material, and providing a little bit of insight into something that was hinted at in the original novels.

I absolutely loved this brief visit back to the Six Duchies, but I think a big part of that is because I’ve read the original trilogy - I don’t think it would be as appealing to someone who hadn’t.

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Terra's World

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