Sunday, November 18, 2012

Books read in October

Railsea, China Mieville
Borrowed from a friend.  I wasn't quite sure about the blurb, which suggested a land-based fantasy version of Moby Dick (we've already seen one of those, thank you very much), but I needn't have worried.  This is in fact another cracking novel from Mieville.  Influenced by, but not a retread of Melville's famous sedative.  The protagonists live in a world in which soil, not water, stretches out between patches of habitable land, and gigantic burrowing animals frolic in its depths.  Traders drive their various types of train over a network of rails whose origin is a mystery, and whose maintenance is carried out by fearsome mechanical "angels".  The hero is a young apprentice on a whaler-equivalent train whose captain is obsessed with a vast pale-furred mole called Mocker-Jack.  He and his crewmates get caught up in somebody else's quest to find a line that leads out of the railsea and off the edge of the charted world.  Great stuff.

Mortal Engines, Philip Reeve
Spotted in the high street at a bargain price.  First in a series of four young adult books set in a future world of scarce resources.  In the name of Municipal Darwinism, the cities of Europe have been mounted on gigantic wheeled platforms and now go charging about the dried-up continent hunting villages, towns and each other to absorb their population and melt down their precious materials.  A boy is thrown out of London by the head of his guild because he's seen something he shouldn't; he and a girl who wants to assassinate his guild master must trudge across Europe in the hope of catching up with London before it does something terrible.  Variable in tone - is it written for young adults, or children? - but fun.

Shadowfell, Juliet Marillier
Recommended by a friend, on the grounds that it's eligible for next year's SJV awards.  Decidedly average off-the-shelf fantasy product.  Mechanically, the prose is good, in that it's engaging and moves along at a fair clip.  Stylistically, however, highly cliched, and the same could be said of the story itself.  It appears to be the set-up for a hoary old coming-of-age magical faerie quest series - I'm told it's to be a trilogy, although this feels like the opener to a more leisurely series than that, given the size of the to-do list the heroine has been presented with.  The repeated use of cod Scots accents for arche-speech and faerie characters also got right on my tits.  Admittedly I'm not part of the likely target readership (young teenage girls, at a guess), but even so.

The Hydrogen Sonata, Iain M Banks
SFFANZ review book.  That's two Banksies in a row they've stumped up for me.  Thanks, SFFANZ!  Verdict: positive.

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