All 2020 reviews - Shastrix Books

2020

All reviews

Arcanum Unbounded

Arcanum Unbounded

Brandon Sanderson

2nd January 2020

This is the second time I’ve read the Emperor’s Soul - my memory of what happened was barely existent from when I first read it nearly six years ago. It’s a really strong opener to this volume, standing alone despite being set in the world of “Elantris” and requiring no prior knowledge of Sanderson’s works. It does the standard Brandon thing of introducing a world and a magic system through a compelling character in an unusual situation, and does it masterfully.

The Hope of Elantris is like a deleted scene from the original novel, and fairly near the end I think, so contains a number of spoilers. It’s been six years since I read the novel, so took me a few pages to get my bearings again and remember the key aspects of the plot. But that done, it’s a great little short story about one character’s moments in this world.

The Eleventh Metal is a little bit of Mistborn backstory. It’s a nice little introduction to the Mistborn world, but didn’t feel like it added a lot to the overall mythos or character. It’s been quite a while since I read the original Mistborn trilogy though, so my memories of Kelsier’s story are patchy.

The third Mistborn short is a fiction within a fiction. It’s the sensational newspaper account of Allomancer Jak - and Indiana Jones style character. It’s very reminiscent of the author’s Alcatraz novels in tone, and feels a bit like it’s trying to be Pratchett-esque (Sanderson has stated that Terry Pratchett is his own favourite author) - but I’ve never quite got this form of Sanderson, feeling like it’s missing a layer of satire or sarcasm and being a bit too in-your-face with silliness.

Mistborn: Secret History - another story I’ve read before, but barely remember, tells a second story of things that were happening alongside the original trilogy. As such it’s massively spoilerific. It’s a long time since I’ve read the trilogy, so I read synopses if each novel from the internet before entering each part, and that felt like it stood me in good stead to understand. I kind of feel like someday I need to read the two intertwined though, to get a real understanding.

White Sand is presented interestingly as both the opening chapters of the graphic novel (which I have read about half of previously), and as the opening chapters of the unpublished prose version upon which it was based. As before, I found the graphic version hard to consume. I don’t think my brain works in the right way to read graphic novels - I just focus on the words, so miss the artwork and the visual elements of the storytelling. However I found the prose version of the story much more engaging and compelling, and found myself wishing this was the version I had available to read in full.

Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell is a shorter story I’ve read before in the Dangerous Women anthology, but which my memory of was patchy. It’s a dark short set in a world that Sanderson will hopefully return to one day, as there’s clearly a lot of potential. It’s a tad reminiscent of Peter V Brett’s Daemon Cycle in terms of the world building, and there’s a slight sense that Star Trek’s Borg might have been a part of the inspiration.

Sixth of the Dust is a new story to me. It’s another great new world to explore, with a fascinating idea for a magic system, and a nice few moral messages to go alongside. One I greatly enjoyed reading.

The final 40,000 words of this collection make up Edgdancer, a Stormlight Archive novella, which I really enjoyed. It’s written in the slightly more casual form reminiscent of Sanderson’s Alcatraz, which is a nice fit for the character of Lift, despite taking me a while to get used to. It almost feels like it’s tying to be Pratchett-esque, but without the satirical element I’m not sure this works. The plot here feels surprisingly important, and I’d be a little concerned that casual Stormlight readers would miss it and just read the main series - although having said that I’m not sure there is such as thing as a ‘casual’ reader of Brandon Sanderson’s works.

Overall, this is a great collection, and I’ve really enjoyed both revisiting the works I’ve read before, and taking in the new ones for the first time.

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The Book of the Year

The Book of the Year

James Harkin, Andrew Hunter Murray, Anna Ptaszynski & Dan Schreiber

2nd January 2020

So it’s taken me a surprisingly long time - two years - to get to the end of this review of 2017, wherein the stars of (possibly) the world’s biggest podcast, No Such Thing As a Fish, have collected all the unusual news stories of the year.

It’s a fun trip around the lighter side of the news, although something about the pages in combination with my bathroom lights seems to interfere with my eyes, making it slightly hard to read.

Good fun, and I might even look out for the 2018 edition now…

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The Norfolk Mystery

The Norfolk Mystery

Ian Sansom

2nd January 2020

This first mystery in the County Guides series spends a lot of time introducing us to the main characters before what is ostensibly the plot kicks off.

While generally inoffensive (although some of the characters are painted in a dated light to reflect the time the story is set), there’s little to say for the story.

The characters aren’t particularly compelling, and the mystery doesn’t seem to follow the classic setup that allows the reader to follow along with the clues.

Ultimately, a bit boring - I’m not really sure what compelled me to pick this up, and I doubt I’ll put much effort into following the rest of the series.

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The Lies of Locke Lamora

The Lies of Locke Lamora

Scott Lynch

2nd January 2020

I don’t remember where I first heard about this book, but when I spotted it on the shelves of the book shop I scooped it up and have been waiting for read it for a few months. It opened with an introduction by Joe Abercrombie, who described this book as better than his. I did not get on with the Abercrombie novel I read a few years ago, so was immediately wary - but it turns out I didn’t need to worry.

The story dives into excellence, beginning as it means to go on. The opening chapters in particular are entertaining and do brilliantly to set up the characters and story. The world is left with broad brush strokes, as a lot isn’t immediately of relevance, and the story focusses on the characters and their activities.

Lynch has crafted a masterful tale with interwoven timelines that reveal just the right information to make the plot work and keep the reader entertained. The pace really picks up as the story unfolds as well, with events coming so rapidly that I was shocked and had to take a break from all the drama!

A really great opening novel in this series, and I can’t wait to pick up the sequels and continue reading.

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The Mystery of the Strange Messages

The Mystery of the Strange Messages

Enid Blyton

2nd January 2020

This is the absolute classic Five Find-Outers mystery. One of the best investigations that Fatty and his friends have had, and possibly one of the best that Enid Blyton ever wrote.

The clues stack up in turn like a grown-up detective story, and allow the reader to slowly piece things together at the same pace as the characters.

Erin’s guest appearance stands out as a returning legend of the series, and the focus on him and Fatty, and what feels like quite revealing points about their relative social status, and indeed a plot that in places seems to be part commentary on social issues, feels quite a diversion from the earlier books in the series which were very focussed on prim and proper behaviour.

Like I say, the best novel of Blyton’s I’ve read.

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The Guardians

The Guardians

John Grisham

2nd January 2020

I was worried when I started reading this Grisham novel that it was just going to be the same again - he’s written the story of a man on death row over and over again - but it managed to retain my interest and tell an interesting story from a slightly different angle.

It does feel though like this is a bit cookie cutter - Grisham can clearly output legal thrillers almost with his eyes shut now, and his other works seem to be the ones that have more interesting characters and plots, exploring other genres. The narrative here is perfunctory and dry - the classic Grisham move of sticking to fact fact fact, and not adding emotion or colour - it does read a bit like it’s being narrated by a neutral lawyer rather than someone passionate.

An enjoyable read, but not particularly anything special - and I am beginning to wonder whether I want to keep investing my time in reading Grisham’s output.

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Collateral Damage

Collateral Damage

David Mack

2nd January 2020

Billed as the final episode in a series of Star Trek follow-on novels that have been published over nearly 20 years, wrapping everything up before the new Star Trek: Picard TV series begins in early 2020 - however that’s not really what it is.

This story does feel like it’s wrapping up some of the threads that have been explored over a lot of books though, with Picard returning to Earth to defend his record, while Worf takes the Enterprise on a complicated mission, which also serves as something of a follow-up to some of the previous events, while doing the traditional Star Trek thing of providing a mirror to our world.

It’s a really good, solid Star Trek novel, that explores a lot of important themes in a way which treats the characters with respect. I did feel in places that it cut between scenes a bit more frequently than I felt necessary - feeling a bit like it was afraid one of the plot lines might be too boring if not mixed up constantly with the other, more action-packed plot.

A happy place if it is the final novel we see from this era of Star Trek - though I hope it’s not, as I’ve got a lot of pleasure over the years from reading these continued adventures - as excited as I am about the new TV series, I hope the novels are able to continue too.

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