cirquedesgeeks: Susan: She is too fond of books and it has turned her brain. ([Susan])
The cover of The Ninth Circle by Alex Bell; a complicated black and white building on a colourful background.The Ninth Circle by Alex Bell // Gollancz, 2009 // Borrowed from the library // Read November-December 2011, reviewed December 2012

A man comes to on the floor of a shabby apartment in the middle of Budapest. His head is glued to the floorboards with his own blood. There's a fortune in cash on the kitchen table. And he has no idea where, or who, he is. He can do extraordinary things—speak any number of languages fluently, go three days without food or sleep, and fight with extraordinary prowess. But without a name, without a past, he's isolated from the rest of the world; a stranger to everyone, including himself—until a chance encounter with a young scholar leads to his first friendship, and his first hint that someone out there knows more about him than he does. Someone is sending him clues about his past. Photographs hidden in books and crates of wine. Cryptic clues pointing towards a murdered woman. And clear warnings against Stephomi, his only friend. But that's not all; Gabriel Antaeus is seeing strange, impossible things: a burning man is stalking his dreams and haunting his mirrors, his dreams are filled with violence from the past, and his pregnant young neighbor is surrounded by an extraordinary golden aura. Something dark and violent in Gabriel's past is trying to resurface. And as he pieces the clues together, everything points towards an astounding war between angels and demons—a battle not just for the future of the world, but for the minds and souls of everyone in it.


Oh, I was not keen on this one. The blurb made it sound really interesting, at least the first half - mysterious people plus angels plus demons sounds like the sort of thing I would gobble down in a heartbeat! And yet this... This felt like a slog. I kept picking it up resentfully, muttering about how I didn't want to read it, I'm not enjoying it - the only reason I did finish it was because it had been on my to-read list for years.

(I am still really disappointed that the story isn't as good as the blurb. So disappointed.)

Part of my problem was that I couldn't really stand the narrator. While paranoid/unstable narrators can be interesting in their own right, and I have no objections to characters taking time for very justified freak-outs, but Gabriel was just... I couldn't like him. Part of it was that he was extremely self-righteous - nothing is his fault, and everything he says or does is right (if he's wrong, then he'll either find another justification or be dramatic about it.). The rest of it is that he almost comes across as an unreliable narrator - I'm willing to believe that what Gabriel reports is factually right, but not the conclusions he draws - and that's not actually a trope I like. On top of that, his relationship with Casey comes across as really creepy, even in his own narration.

The rest of my dislike for this book comes from the fact that it is so hamhanded. It is trying to make about good and evil not being so different, but it feels like the book is trying to beat me over the head with it. (See also: Devils are charming and friendly! Angels will terrorise and intimidate you! ... My notes for this do have "CHAOTIC GOOD DROW ARE A THING!" written on them in big letters, I'm sorry.) Worse than that, Gabriel and his mysteries actually bored me. There were Dramatic Reveals all over the last third of the book and I just didn't care.

I was much more interested in Casey and her story, and that didn't get enough screentime. For something as important as Casey's pregnancy, I really felt like there should have been more time spent with her. Her story was actually more interesting than Gabriel's turned out to be - a teenager alone in a foreign country, trying to look after herself and her brother while dealing with her mysterious pregnancy - and quite frankly, I would probably read a book about her. I guess what I want is for Casey to be focused on as a person, rather than as an object in a cosmic struggle or of Gabriel's obsession, with a satisfactory conclusion to her story!

I have to admit though, the writing does have its good points, despite some serious plot holes. It managed to portray Gabriel as an unsettling, genuinely creepy guy even as he's trying to convince himself that he's acting rationally/justified in acting irrationally. The way it handles the final chapter while staying in the limits of the diary format it uses actually worked really well, in my opinion! Just a bit too-little-too-late.

The back labels this as a "Theological thriller", which makes me laugh. There's a lot of debate about "Could you kill baby Hitler?" and the like, and so much discussion of theology, but... I would have said it was more moral than theological, despite the presence of angels and demons, if that makes sense? Certainly I wouldn't have said that it was a thriller, theological or otherwise. (Suspicion: they made up this genre so that they wouldn't get lumped in with the fantasy novels, even though that's really the best fit for it.)

Suffice to say, I didn't enjoy this book. It did have some good moments, but the amount of work it took to get to them didn't make it worth it for me.
cirquedesgeeks: Susan: She is too fond of books and it has turned her brain. ([Susan])
The cover of Skellig by David Almond; a plain blue background with a white feather outlined on it.Skellig by David Almond // Hodder Children's Books, 1995 // Borrowed from the library // Read October 2011, reviewed December 2012

Michael was looking forward to moving into a new house. But now his baby sister is ill, his parents are frantic, and Doctor Death has come to call. Michael feels helpless. Then he steps into the crumbling garage and encounters a strange being who changes his world forever.


I really liked this! It is a very nice, simple story, with the fantastic elements built on a lovely foundation of reality that makes me happy. It has perfectly believable characters, from things as big and important as Michael's conflicted feelings about the baby, to the moments of his school friends being believably annoying.

I also like that there isn't just Strange Occurances: Fantasy, in this book; everything in Michael's life is in upheaval, so much of what's happening to him falls under Strange Occurances or Strange People. And all of these things - his new neighbours, the baby, the man in the garage - seem to have equal effect on him and tie together really well in the end.

My favourite part of the book though is the fact that it still made me think and still made me look at things in new ways. For example, the owl-like aspects and comparisons, or the sections about Persephone - seriously, I studied Ancient History, I've gone over the Persephone myth more times than I can remember, and this book still offered me a perspective on it that I'd never considered.

It's also interesting the difference in perspective age brings to this story. On the one hand, I think it's a good and comforting story, but on the other hand I ended up chatting to another student on my course about this book, and we agreed that as an adult, there's an extra layer of creepy in the discovery of Skellig that just wouldn't be there in a child's reading. It's a really odd feeling.

That said: this is a really good read with imagery that is beautiful or gross and sometimes both, and I really enjoyed it. Definitely recommended, and I'm planning to pick up the prequel when I can find it at the library.
cirquedesgeeks: Tonks: Enemy of troll-leg umbrella stands ([Tonks])
Hello there! I'm Tonks, and I'm sorta new around here. I say sorta, because I've been involved behind the scenes for a while, but I've only just been given the powers of posting. I'm a PhD student in chemistry trying desperately to find something to do that isn't chemistry. I'll mostly be doing reviews though I may treat you to a rambling monologue about something if you're really lucky. I'll mostly be talking about films, books and tv shows I like, and I'm also the resident music geek, so I'll ramble about that a lot. But without further ado, I present my inaugural review.


Once Upon a Time


The Evil Queen being evil. And slightly sexy.
 

 Once upon a time, the standard beginning to every fairy story ever. Staid, boring, cliché and tired out. Once Upon a Time is also the title of a new TV show from ABC but it is anything but tired or old (though it may dip into cliché occasionally).

 

The premise of the show; every story book character you’ve ever heard of, and probably a few you haven’t, have been banished from them their magical world to live in modern day America, without any memory of their pasts or their true selves. The curse that banished them is exceedingly powerful and can seemingly only be broken by one person; the lost daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming, Emma Swan.

 

It is through the eyes of Emma Swan that we see much of the story. She is brought to Storybrooke, the town where all the fairy tale characters are trapped, by Henry, the son she gave up for adoption ten years ago. Emma only means to drop Henry back with his adoptive mother, the town mayor Regina Mills, the Evil Queen, but once there she finds it difficult to leave. Henry who tells her this is because of the curse and that only she can break it. At first Emma thinks he’s merely an imaginative kid who hates his mum. But the longer she stays is Storybrooke, the stranger things seem, not least the way the mayor treats her.

 

As the season progresses we are introduced to more and more characters, see the story through their eyes as their backstory is fleshed out through flashback to the fairy tale characters’ lives in the Enchanted Forest.

 

The dual nature of the majority of these characters means they’re a lot more fleshed out a rounded than a lot of TV characters. The interplay and parallels between the real and fantasy worlds is interesting and the fairy stories told are not quite the ones that are generally told to children. This definitely helps to keep it interesting; elements of the stories are familiar but different enough to stay fresh. The slight changes in the fairy tales add more depth to the characters, and even some of the more evil characters seem more sympathetic in light of their embellished backstories. Themes of love and loss and betrayal fill this world, and the fact that magic has a price is drummed into you again and again.

 

In this world, the story is filled with political machinations, intrigue and just a little backstabbing as the Evil Queen fights to keep the curse and her little kingdom intact. Opposing her is Emma Swan, fighting as much for her son as she is to break the curse (perhaps more so). Characters are complex, their allegiance is not always what you think it is, and often change sides. The ‘good’ characters are often flawed, the ‘evil’ characters have positive traits and can be sympathetic, and nothing is ever, ever what it seems.

 
Once upon a time is excellent television; familiar enough to be easy to watch, different enough to keep it from being boring. The characters have depth and complexity lacking in far too many shows, and there is potentially a twist for every corner. Each and every episode you are essentially watching two stories unfold. So see if you can catch it and join the Emma, Henry, the Evil Queen, Snow White, Prince Charming, Rumpelstiltskin and a whole host of others as they fight the ultimate battle of good versus evil. You might just fall in love, true love.

cirquedesgeeks: Sam: I wear a fez now. Fezzes are cool. ([Sam])
         


Say one thing for Sam, say he's not very good at keeping up to date with his writing commitments. I keep getting waylaid by a million other tasks, not to mention my crippling apathy & laziness. Still, if I want to make any headway with my writing then I need to, you know, do some writing.  You have to be realistic about these things. So, without further ado, here is a very quick review of the book series I have just finished being enslaved to reading.

The Blade Itself is the first book in Joe Abercrombie First Law trilogy. It's also his debut, and a damned good one at that. It sets up a wonderfully brutal fantasy world with hints of Middle Earth, Westeros and Sharpe-era England. The plot is a fairly standard one - a handful of disparate characters are slowly brought together and manipulated like pieces on a chess board in an epic quest to blah blah blah. Yes, yes I know it sounds like you've heard it all before. But trust me, the books have merit. The plot can't be given justice by a one-sentence description. The joy of it lies in the rich world he has created - and of course in its characters.

You have Logan Ninefingers, the brooding warrior from the barbaric North, prone to philosophising about violence and leadership and whether a man can change his nature. You have Jezal dan Luthar, a spoiled prissy soldier swept up in matters beyond his control and forced to consider that he may not in fact be the most important thing in the world. You have Collem West, a soldier of common origin elevated, some would argue, above his station. You have Ferro, a traumatised killing machine who lives only to get vengeance on her hated enemies. You have the mysterious Bayaz, First of the Magi, a magician of boundless talent and limitless guile. Best of all, you have Sand dan Glokta, a ruthless inquisitor who was a promising young war hero until he was captured, tortured, broken and reduced to a husk of a man. 

The characters really make these books worthwhile. Through their quests, fights, squabbles, wars, betrayals, back-stabbing, snarkery, sarcasm, highs and lows you come to know and care about them shockingly quickly. The one that makes the most impact is Glokta, as his viewpoint passages are peppered with internal monologues. Abercrombie does a great job making each viewpoint character's chapters stand out. The Northmen's chapters contain colloquialisms and oft-used phrases of theirs (the death euphemism "back to the mud" being a particular favourite of mine). Jezal's tend to have scathingly biting comebacks he utterly fails to voice.

This is one of those series where almost every character is a bastard, going about their bastardy lives and doing dastardly barstardy deeds - and yet each character is strangely endearing, likeable even. It's not like you can't identify with any of them and so find it difficult to root for them.

The characters fight and learn and grow against a backdrop of war an intrigue, where lies are piled on lies and betrayal isn't a matter of if but of when. It's a nasty, brutish world with little time for happiness and pleasantries. And yet it's compelling reading. The pages practically turn themselves in some parts.

I urge you to seek these out and give them a try. If you like Game of Thrones, The Lies of Locke Lamora and other tales of fantasy-flavoured bastards' shenanigans then I can guarantee this is right up your alley. 
 


 
cirquedesgeeks: Susan: She is too fond of books and it has turned her brain. ([Susan])
UK cover of 'The Scorpio Races' by Maggie StiefvaterTitle: The Scorpio Races
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Published: Scholastic, 2011
Notes: Borrowed from the library // 482 pages // Fantasy // Paperback // Read 24/12/11-25/12/11

It happens at the start of every November: the Scorpio Races. Riders attempt to keep hold of their water horses long enough to make it to the finish line.

Some riders live. Others die.

At age nineteen, Sean Kendrick is the returning champion. He is a young man of few words, and if he has any fears, he keeps them buried deep, where no one else can see them.

Puck Connolly is different. She never meant to ride in the Scorpio Races. But fate hasn't given her much of a chance. So she enters the competition — the first girl ever to do so. She is in no way prepared for what is going to happen.


Judging a Book By Its Cover: I really like this cover. It's simple and eyecatching and detailed and effective, although I can't honestly say that I noticed the heart until um, now. (Dear publisher: are you trying to market this as a romance? Because if you are then I'm confused.) But yes, silhouettes and squiggles and a limited colour pallette is in fact the key to my heart, why do you ask?

The Review: I will be perfectly honest with you: this review was impossible for me to write. I mean, I'm sure writing "This book was incredible and I wanted it to never ever end" is not considered good reviewing technique!

I've never read anything by Maggie Stiefvater before - I have the vague understanding that her other series revolves around fairies and maybe werewolves? And one of those "all-consuming teen romances of DOOM!"? But I spotted this in the library and remember that one of the Book Smugglers quite enjoyed it - the rest is history, really.

I really enjoyed this book. It has brilliant, realistic characterisation, a detailed world setting, fantastic writing, relationships that make my heart ache, a touch of feminism, and killer horses that rise up from the sea. I don't know how else to sell it to you, and I don't know how else to review it other than to write up the notes I made after I read it. ... This got long, I'm afraid, so I've put it behind the cut.

THERE ARE UNMARKED SPOILERS BEHIND THE CUT, PROCEED WITH CARE.

Let the teal deers roam wild and free! )

YES. THAT. This book gives me ~feeeelings~ and suffice to say that I love it a lot. Kinda embarrassingly and to the point where I actually bought myself a copy after I returned the one I read to the library.

If you liked this...
... and can think of any other titles REMOTELY LIKE IT please for the love of sanity let me know. This is one of my (possibly even my absolute) favourite books of 2011, and I would love to read more like it.

1: ... Not that I've read any that do that. Nope. Ignore any occasion where I've bitched and moaned about switching to the boring character, or grumbled about Soon I Will Be Invincible not being as awesome as I expected.
2: No really, this one actually gave me chills.
3 Look, I have a trope that makes me feel warm and fuzzy on the inside, which I will elaborate on when I get to reviewing The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms or The Long Price. Suffice to say that inhuman overly-powerful god-like/supernatural beings who don't care about humanity but have an extremely dangerous soft spot for one particular human are an awesome thing that pleases me. It comes up more often than you'd think!
cirquedesgeeks: Susan: She is too fond of books and it has turned her brain. ([Susan])
Title: The Dream Travellers
Author: Sherry Ashworth
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, 2004
Notes: Borrowed from the library // 330 pages // Fantasy // Paperback // Read 14/10/11-22/1/12

When a mysterious lodger named Dolf Hunter comes to live with 12-year-old Sam Kenyon and his family, it's the beginning of a seriously spooky adventure. For Sam has seen the man before - in a nightmare. He discusses the shifty new tenant's arrival with his best friends: Hannah, Dean, and Amy. Together, they decide to trail him - and learn that Dolf Hunter makes strange straw dolls that will allow them to visit each other's dreams.

At first, the children have fun visiting each other at night in their dream kingdoms; but soon, they become aware of an increasingly sinister presence. For while they're trying to stalk the mysterious lodger, someone - or something - is stalking them in their dreams...


Judging A Book By Its Cover: This is a fairly striking cover! I like the shifts in colour (from black through a sky-like spectrum to pink - I'm not sure if the colours they've chosen for the title text are right with it, but go figure), I like the dramatic silhouettes (although I genuinely did not notice the egg and the running figures at the top until I was almost at the end of the book), I like that the silhouette of the man is faded but undeniably present, and the character he's looming behind most makes a lot of sense in context. I don't like the pose they've chosen for Amy because it looks so awkward. Is she supposed to be walking? It just looks odd in contrast to the other poses on this cover.

The Review: I have actually been meaning to read this book for years now. The author came to my school to give a talk, and described the book1 in a way that made it sound like my sort of thing in a way that I knew her other stuff wasn't. Plus, she read out an exerpt that concluded with an image that stuck with me. The protagonists are trying to find a way into the villain's dreams, and conclude that the only place it can be is in Hannah's dreams - where she doesn't want them to be.

Sam thought maybe she was embarrssed by her Dream Kingdom. Hannah could be a bossy girl at times, and maybe there were parts of her that she didn't want her friends to see. [...] But they had to go there anyway.

"We don't mind what your kingdom is like, Hannah."

"No," she said.

"No!" said the receptionist behind the gleaming metallic desk. "No!" struck the large clock in the lobby. "No!" whistled the wind which blew through the revolving doors.

"Why?" demanded Sam.

"Because I only ever have nightmares." [Page 107]


I liked the image of a kingdom of nightmares compared to kingdoms of happy dreams, which is probably why I remembered this book when I first started making a list of books I wanted to read. As to whether or not it was worth the wait...

I still really like the ideas behind this book - the idea of dream kingdoms intrigues me, and in fact the dreams themselves are really well described and done! They have the right level of whimsy and sheer randomness you get in your dreams (like an ocean that tastes of sweet and sour sauce, or leaves that sounds like bells - plus the illogical conversations that come with them). I loved some of the things in the background of the dreams. The plot, once it got going, was fairly fast paced and I raced through the book in about an hour.

On the other hand, it took me the best part of three months to muster the care to read further than page 94 of The Dream Travellers and I think that the writing is to blame.

The writing is really simplistic and lacks authenticity - the dialogue doesn't feel right for starters, in that I can't imagine anyone actually saying any of the things the characters say, at least in the way they say them. There's no ambiguity, in either emotions (because the characters seem able to read each others' minds), or plot (the plot and what the characters need to do next is generally handled by having an adult appear, provide exposition, then leave. Or there is the fact that Amy somehow knows and explains the villain's appearance, plan and motivation at the beginning of the book before they even know that the villain exists, which comes up all of once.). So much of the story is told rather than shown - people's emotions are narrated to the reader rather than shown to them, and Hannah's nightmare kingdom is described as scary rather than actually being shown to be scary. It gets better as the book goes on, but it still feels off to me.

("Susan," I can hear some of you saying. "This book is blatantly aimed at twelve year olds at the oldest. Why are you complaining about that?" To which my response is "Because I finished reading Skellig the day I started reading this, which set the bar high - it's aimed at younger children than that and manages not to talk down to them. Because Diana Wynne Jones says you're wrong. Because being young does not mean that your stories need to be written entirely in flat notes.")

There doesn't seem to be much struggle either - the characters achieve their goals without meaning to, or being sure how they achieved it, they have to work out very little of the plot themselves, and in some cases manage to solve the plot by accident.2 This just seems like an odd way to handle it.

It also seems odd to me that in a book that explicitly says that every person in the main characters' friendship group is vital and important, everyone takes a back seat to Sam. He is the Hero, and his friends seem to serve mainly to help him. It's similar to having a destined hero (see... Pretty much every fantasy series with a destined hero, starting with Harry Potter.), except without Sam actually having an epic destiny. He is just the villain's primary target because the villain thinks he'll be easier to get to. I don't know - I feel that the other characters don't get enough development, that most of them seem to be more stock characters than anything else. Other people's mileage may vary - I just feel that things like "And this character can see and speak to ghosts" needs to be explained with a little more than "Well, she's Chinese and sensitive."

(As an aside, I thought that having Amy's race not be described but mentioned with an off-hand "Once he had heard Hannah's mum refer to her as an 'elective mute'. Which was better than calling her [racist epithets here] which was what some of their class did." It was an interesting way to handle it - I'm not sure it was the best way, but it's not one I've seen before.)

I want to say that the bad guys could have done with a little more depth (the villain's three helpers are introduced over half way through the book and serve mainly to cackle maniacally and metaphorically tie hostages to train tracks), but I think that having the main villain pose as a nice man who is just trying to be friendly was interesting. I don't think it was handled particularly well (I generally find those things more convincing if the person starts off as friendly or starts pretending early on, rather than "Oh, it's half way through the book and most of my plans are working! Well, better try to be nice to lure in the good guys."), but I think it was interesting.

At the heart of it though, I think this is an interesting book that could have been handled better. It wasn't bad, and it's a short read (this book is really short - for some reason all of the text is double-spaced.), but it's average at best.

If you like...


1: I don't think it was even published at the time, which means that this title has been in my brain for at least seven years. Now I feel old.
2: I am willing to give examples for this, but I think that would involve too many spoilers.
cirquedesgeeks: Sam: I wear a fez now. Fezzes are cool. ([Sam])
 
 
The target audience for this film.
                                                   The target audience for this film.

I found this mostly-finished review languishing on my computer and thought I should blow the dust off of it and finally get back in the reviewing game. For those not in the know, Cirque des Geeks is where I and a couple of friends do the occasional review, when we remember that it exists.

At the time of writing the bulk of this review I had just come back from watching fantasy comedy Your Highness with my sister. Tellingly we’d had the entire screening room to ourselves.

To say I’d heard mixed reviews before going in would be more than a bit of a fib; in truth all of the reviews I’d read said pretty much the same thing. They panned it. And deservedly so. If I were to write this review in just three words, those words would be ‘not funny enough’. But where would be the fun in that?

Plot recap: Danny McBride plays Prince Thaddeus, second-fiddle to and dweller in the shadow of his aptly named elder brother Prince Fabious, played by James Franco. While his celebrated brother is off slaying villains and rescuing maidens, Thaddeus and his manservant Courtney loaf around drinking, wenching and getting stoned. When Fabious’ new fiancé is kidnapped by an evil wizard, however, Thaddeus gets roped into helping him on his quest to retrieve her and thwart the wizard’s attempt to fulfil an ancient prophecy … by boning her.

Um.

Standard fantasy stuff, then?

Your Highness is the sort of film that I should have loved. It plays with such traditional fantasy tropes and stereotypes as the Noble Prince, the Grand Quest, the Warrior Maiden. The protagonist, being reluctant and childishly surly, is at odds with the traditional square-jawed hero. It had the potential to be a great Pratchett-style satire capable of tipping the dusty genre of high fantasy on its head. Instead it just gives it a wedgie and laughs at its chainmail underwear.

See that ‘hilarious’ quip up there in title of this post? That’s more or less the calibre of jokes on offer in this film. It’s far from high brow; most of the jokes are penis-related and very unfunny. Not every films needs to be sophisticated, of course – but equally, not every film or genre suits the stoner-comedy treatment. Especially when it’s simply not funny. Laughs are few and far between which is not an especially desirable trait in a comedy. There are long stretches where it would seem as if the film were playing it straight if it weren’t for the fact that every other sentence is filled with ‘humorous’ expletives. Swearing for the sake of swearing isn’t funny. Using the word ‘fuck’ in a grating whiny tone is not always an acceptable substitute for an actual punchline.

The lack of effective jokes also highlights the sub-standard ‘quest to point A to get item B to defeat bad guy C’ plot which would be excusable (even expected) in a parody film such as this. The jokes would serve to ridicule the flimsiness of the plot, not leave it squirming in plain sight trying to be taken seriously. Apparently the film’s dialogue was mostly improvised; perhaps that was a bad idea.

It’s not all negative, though. The special effects were mostly excellent, including a perverted puppet wizard and a well-endowed minotaur. There was a very interesting arena fight scene which had a better CGI monster than most straight fantasy films I’ve seen recently, and you can tell that quite a few of the cast were having a great time. Natalie Portman as the warrior woman was clearly here to blow off steam from the harrowing Black Swan shoot, and she got deliver one of the film's best lines ("It's my duty to stop people who fuck to make dragons." No, you don't need context. Natalie Portman's delivery is context enough). Overall there was a strange sense of enjoyment to be had from the film. When the occasional joke did work then it worked quite well. On the whole, though, it just wasn’t enough.

It’s not a terrible film, it’s just not very good at all. It left me feeling certain that I could probably write a similar film myself far more successfully. I may well try it one day.  In all, I give it two and a half Ye Olde Spliffs out of five.

Having  reread the words I’ve written here, I think I’ll happily give it another chance to charm me. Perhaps an empty cinema isn’t the best environment to enjoy this film is. Your Highness round two will need to involve a large group of friends, snacks and beer. Plenty of beer. A heroic amount of beer.
cirquedesgeeks: Susan: She is too fond of books and it has turned her brain. ([Susan])
Title: Eight Days of Luke (GoodReads)
Author: Diana Wynne Jones
Published: Mammoth, 1992 (originally 1975)
Notes: Bought from the library when I was a child // 165 pages // Fantasy // Paperback // Read April 2nd 2011

There seemed nothing strange about Luke to begin with, except perhaps the snakes. If they were snakes -- David wasn't sure. He was just grateful for a companion as agreeable as Luke, who seemed able to twist anyone around his finger, even David's odious relatives. "Just kindle a flame and I'll be with you, " Luke said, and he always was -- which turned out to be more awkward than useful in the end.

For who were the people who seemed to be looking for Luke: the man with one eye; the massive, malevolent gardener, Mr. Chew; the offensively sprightly Frys; the man with ginger hair? Why were ravens watching the house, one in front and one at the back gate? And then of course there was the fire.


It was a very strange experience reading this book again. I’d read it a few times when I was younger, and every time I did I enjoyed it, but I had a feeling that I was missing something. I know a lot more about Norse muthology now (and I have friends who can summarise the Ring Cycle in five minutes or less), and suddenly I understand almost everything about this book!

The two halves of this story are very different - one half about hiding or hanging out with Luke, and the other half a mystery story - but they’re both equally fun. The world building is AWESOME, and I love how the mythology is worked into the world and modernised (it’s a little bit of a cook’s tour of Norse mythology with elements of the Ring Cycle - you don’t lose anything by reading it without knowing anything, but if you do there are things that make more sense). I love the link between the visitations and the days, I love the way the plot and character threads manage to fit together neatly (such as the neighbour character who is mentioned in passing and later becomes important, or the cricket players, or Astrid). The way David’s family is wrapped up at the end is a little too tidy in my opinion1 and removes some of Astrid’s agency, which is sad.

On top of this, there are the characters. At least half of them are stereotypically awful - David’s family are a prime example of this, in that they’re the generic, shrewish figures who don’t really have much depth. Astrid is the only one in the family who doesn’t fit this - she actually has character development, and in my opinion she turns out to be quite a likeable character. The less mundane David, of course, is my favourite (Him and Luke are the BEST TEAM oh my goodness.). He’s very easy to understand - I can see exactly how he thinks he’s being polite to his family and they’re over-reacting to him, and I can see why he can’t stand them. It’s also interesting to see how his family, awful as they are, have prepared him for the social situations he finds himself in - while the people who he meets through Luke teach him how to deal with his family. I find it to be a nice contrast!

I think his relationship with Luke is one of the best bits of the book though. David is charmed by Luke but also realises very early on that no matter how much he likes Luke (or how much I like him - Luke is so much fun and manages to be suitably inhuman and still human enough and - the way he only seems to care about David, regardless of reasons! Like I said, I think it's fun.) he's dangerous. Luke cares more about cleverness than people, and David not only realises that but he appreciates it and learns to be bloody careful.

David also has the nice contrast of "being fairly smart as a protagonist" and "being completely oblivious because he is a young boy/teenager", or believing things that he shouldn't, and he deals with the mystery and associated strangeness in a believable way (no, really, he cares more about the real life problems, like being ashamed of his uncle, than he does about the supernatural problems which is kinda how I like my children's fantasy books.)

Um... The long and the short of it is, I really enjoy this book! If you want to start reading Diana Wynne Jones' books and have no idea where to start, I think this is a good place to do so. (And then obviously read all the rest of them!)

Other books to try by this author:


1: This isn't necessarily handled in a bad way, as it does clear up some plot points, but it's done noticeably. I don't know why this pings for me and David's accident with the wall doesn't.
cirquedesgeeks: Sam: I wear a fez now. Fezzes are cool. ([Sam])


Hooray! I’m the first to put up a review! Consider this a massive honour, pleasure all mine, etc. etc. Without further ado, on with the review!

The Lies of Locke Lamora is a fantasy novel set in the seedy rough-and-ready city-state of Camorr, where for the poor life is cheap and the rich live in obscene luxury. This state of affairs is maintained by the Secret Peace, an accord between the head of the criminal underworld and the city’s authorities – the thieves won’t rob the rich, and the city guards won’t wipe the thieves off the face of the planet.  Everybody wins!  Enter Locke Lamora and his gang of Gentleman Bastards, Camorr’s first con-men, and they’re set the shatter the Secret Peace and take the city’s rich folk for all they can get.  As you might imagine, though, things don’t exactly go to plan…

Lies is the debut novel by American author Scott Lynch, but the sheer ease with which the narrative flows and the world is painted gives you the impression Lynch has been writing these books for years.  There’s a superb balance between the humour and … well … anything that’s not the humour.  As fellow reviewer Susan put it, this is a book that can make you laugh out loud in delight the very next page after a rather uncomfortably graphic torture scene.  In that respect, Lynch doesn’t pull his punches – the fights are brutal, the violence gritty.  I often found myself wincing at the gruelling ordeals certain of the characters were put through.

The story’s real strength is in its characters.  There’s a very genuine feeling of camaraderie and loyalty between the Bastards and you soon find yourself caring very much about them and their crazy hustle.  Lynch very quickly lets you know that just because you’re growing attached to the characters doesn’t mean he’s going to be kind to them – nearly no one’s safe, everyone’s expendable.  Just because the story’s liberally peppered with jokes and humorous circumstances doesn’t mean this is a fairy tale or family-friendly romp through bright and breezy meadows; the mean streets of Camorr are a dangerous playground and the inhabitants play rough, very rough indeed.

Camorr itself is also an impressive piece of work, evoking lush visions of Renaissance Venice.  This could be due to the descriptions of the clothing, all the canals and the use of Italian-derived words such as ‘capa’ and ‘pezon’.  It’s probably just that I’ve been playing rather a lot of Assassin’s Creed 2 lately and it’s gotten to my head a bit.  Either way, the setting is just familiar enough that there’s a grounding for it and nice and foreign in every other respect, especially the descriptions of such unique features as the Elderglass buildings and the Duke’s fantastically opulent tower.  I don’t know how long Lynch took to create the place, but the result is an effortlessly real location that, if you’ll forgive the cliché, leaps right off the page.

In terms of narrative structure, the book’s put together quite interestingly.  The chapters alternate between the troubled times in the present and Locke’s youth under the tutelage of Father Chains, the man who taught him and the other Bastards the grifters’ way.  This lets you get to know the characters’ past without getting in the way of the present’s events. It can be quite jarring to have a load of past events dumped in your lap willy-nilly, or to start a book with the characters as children and then suddenly jump to their adulthood with barely any explanation.  This dual-narrative method works so much more naturally than the ’20 Years Later’ approach

Put simply, Lies is one of the best books I’ve read in a few years.  Its pacing is excellent, the setting feels very real and the characters are so well fleshed out you really do want them to succeed, be foiled or die very gruesomely indeed.  Though the unrelenting violence means it’s not for the faint of heart, it’s balanced out brilliantly by the lighter moments and the sheer scale of the hustle the Bastards are trying to pull off.  The only real criticism I can think of is that it is at times a tad predictable, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing as it’s kept fairly in check.

And that’s my review of The Lies of Locke Lamora!  Agree? Disagree? Have your say in the comments below – all views welcome!

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Cirque des Geeks

About Us

Welcome to Cirque Des Geeks! We are a trio of geeks who review books, manga, comics, tv shows, and films as the mood takes us. Our trio comprises Sam (the fez-wearing philosopher), Susan (the book-addled librarian), and Tonks (the shape-changing scientist). Our interests are wide and varied, but generally come back to science fiction and fantasy in all their forms.

Sam and Tonks can also be found working with Black Stump Films (On Vimeo and Youtube) making short films.

We do not have a formal posting schedule, but the current goal is at least two posts per week. If you wish to be kept in the loop of what's happening, please follow us on twitter - [personal profile] cirquedesgeeks.

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