17 July 2012

Angelmaker - Nick Harkaway

The Blurb: From the acclaimed author of The Gone-Away World - a new riveting action spy thriller, blistering gangster noir, and howling absurdist comedy: a propulsively entertaining tale about a mobster's son and a retired secret agent who are forced to team up to save the world.All Joe Spork wants is a quiet life. He repairs clockwork and lives above his shop in a wet, unknown bit of London. The bills don't always get paid and he's single and has no prospects of improving his lot, but at least he's not trying to compete with the reputation of Mathew "Tommy Gun" Spork, his infamous criminal dad.

Edie Banister lives quietly and wishes she didn't. She's nearly ninety and remembers when she wasn't. She's a former superspy and now she's... well... old. Worse yet, the things she fought to save don't seem to exist anymore, and she's beginning to wonder if they ever did.When Joe fixes one particularly unusual device, his life is suddenly upended. The client? Unknown. And the device? It's a 1950s doomsday machine. And having triggered it, Joe now faces the wrath of both the government and a diabolical South Asian dictator, Edie's old arch-nemesis. 

With Joe's once-quiet world now populated with mad monks, psychopathic serial killers, scientific geniuses and threats to the future of conscious life in the universe, he realises that the only way to survive is to muster the courage to fight, help Edie complete a mission she gave up years ago, and pick up his father's old gun...

If you are able to read the blurb of the book and find yourself disinterested in it, there must be something wrong with you. It's really well written, and shows what can be done with a blurb. It's one of the better ones out there.

Nick Harkaway has followed up the frankly brilliant The Gone Away World with this gem, Angelmaker. Most of the plot is explained in the blurb above, but that isn't where the strength of Mr. Harkaway's writing lies. It's in his characters. Damn me, he can write interesting characters.

And not just interesting, funny as well. I'm not sure how he does it, but each character stands strong on his own, with his own sense of humour. That lifts them all from the page, fleshes them out and make you feel as if they are real.

There is some liberal usage of flashback chapters in the book, but how else are you going to tell the story of a 90 year old spy? Edie's input is brilliant, her chapters a joy to read and her dog quite terrifying in his own right.

Our main character, Joe Spork, has issues. Issues with his dad, grandfather and himself. His struggling for his place in the world is one of the big driving forces in the book, and the resolution of it is well crafted and implemented.

The action in the book happens mostly iin London, and it's well enough described to be interesting and really relevant in the book. The story is a London story. It wouldn't really work as well somewhere else. 

There's violence, language and a suggested sex scene in the book. Since it's kind of a gangster story, what else would you expect? It's all constructive to the story, and done well. 

This is easily the most fun book that I've read this year.  I just wish there was more Harkaway to read. Well done sir!


11 July 2012

Joe Abercrombie's Red Country UK cover!

Damn I love these Abercrombie covers! And I can't wait for this book. Bring on the Bloody Nine.

09 July 2012

Under Heaven - Guy Gavriel Kay

The Blurb: Inspired by the glory of Tang Dynasty China in the eighth century, Guy Gavriel Kay melds history and the fantastic into something both powerful and emotionally compelling. Under Heaven is a novel on the grandest narrative scale, encompassing the intimate details of individual lives in an unforgettable time and place.

Shen Tai is the son of a general who led the forces of imperial Kitai in that empire's last war against their western enemies from Tagur, twenty years before. Forty thousand men on both sides were slain beside a remote mountain lake. General Shen Gao himself has died recently. To honour his father's memory, Tai has spent two years of official mourning alone at the battle site among the ghosts of the dead, laying to rest their unburied bones.

One spring morning, he learns that others have taken note of his vigil. The White Jade Princess in Tagur is pleased to present him with two hundred and fifty Sardian horses, given, she writes, in recognition of his courage, and honour done to the dead.

I bought this book on a sale a while ago, mostly because of the cover. It's quite unique and stood out well between the other sale offerings. I plopped the book onto my bookcase and promptly forgot about it. On Friday, while admiring my collection, I saw the book and thought I should at least give it a bash. And am I glad I did!

I love my Epic Fantasy. I love the traditional European setting with Knights, castles, Kings and chivalry. It's like a comfortable coat. This isn't quite like that. I know nothing about the Tang Dynasty of China. If I hear that the book is in an eastern setting, I immediately think about ninjas and samurai'sClich├ęd I know, but I cannot help myself.

Mr. Kay does an amazing job making the new and really strange easily understandable. The whole culture in the book is quite different from what I'm used to, with respect and standing sacrosanct and the Emperor the ruler ordained by heaven. Public Service is the highest honour, with difficult exams. Poetry is everywhere, and how a person conducts himself in the vicinity of his betters can lead to his death if he's not careful. It's a strange, mystical world and it's amazing.  

The characters are brilliantly done. Shen Tai - the POV - spends a lot of time in his own head, and this helps making his decisions and motivations clear to the reader. It's not like he can scream and shout or think out loud, as the culture in the book won't allow it. The nuances that comes through in a persons body language becomes important, every written word gets scrutinised for extra meanings. The depth here is amazing.

I usually hate poetry in a book, but here it fits. A normal person in the book can quote the greats, and the Public Servants must be fluent in it. It's presence is everywhere, but it does not overshadow or draw attention away from the story.

Everyone should read this book. It's amazingly done and easily the best thing I've read the whole year.