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])
Title: Only An Alligator
Author: Steve Aylett
Published: Gollancz, 2002
Notes: Lent by a friend // 133 pages // Surreal? Fantasy? // Paperback // Read 28/1/12 - 30/1/12

Accomplice is the Wonderland of a sick Alice. In this self-contained, less than comfortable city the surreal and the nightmarish is everyday. And in its midst is the simple Barny Juno, nemesis of a king demon, who must tirelessly ignore the hordes of hell.

Judging a Book By Its Cover: I actually find this cover fairly uninspiring. It's too plain for my tastes (Yes, I find the infinite background of logos plain, mainly because I'm not keen on the logo. What do you think they actually are?), although the plastic alligator's okay I guess.

The Review: This book was chosen to be my forfeit book, and I have absolutely no idea how I'm going to review it. Only An Alligator is the literary equivalent of a magic eye painting - you have to unfocus your brain and let it wash over you, otherwise there is no way to get through this book. By which I mean that the blurb is probably the clearest description of what is supposed to be happening in this book that you will get from it. No, really.

I enjoy the premise of Only An Alligator - a young man pisses off a demon by accident, the demon gets the (very, very mistaken) impression that this man is a genius plotting against him, and everyone who isn't the demon is blissfully unaware of any of the attacks and schemes against them. I enjoy the ideas of it - everyone having a statue that's linked to their life, floor-lobster that breed where there's corruption, a city grown from spores. It quite funny - sometimes from an aspect of the world building, sometimes from the ridiculous situations people end up in, sometimes from their reactions to the same (most of them being acceptance of this as normal), sometimes from Bread Eggs Milk Squick and the reverse Oh Wait This Is My Grocery List. (Fair Warning: links go to TV Tropes. Click at your own peril.) The story and characters didn't really have depth, but then there wasn't room in the book for depth between all of the random events that happened. Beyond that - it left the texture of the colour of liver in my brain (not the texture of liver, the texture of the colour), and I'm not sure I would read it again.

My only suggestion is that people read the first page and judge from that whether it's the sort of thing they would enjoy. Conveniently, I've reproduced the first page for you below!

1: The Idiot

Enthusiasm and coherence don't always go together.

Maybe it was the mascara in the spaniel's eyes, or just dumb luck. Either way Barney was playing with fire. As they passed the scary glare of the creepchannel entrance, the dog began laughing so hard the mascara was blotching with tears and Barney knelt to check it out. Behind him, sour light needled from the creepchannel mouth like a drench of ice and vinegar.

And the dog Help had always been a strange one. He could shuffle all his fur down to one end of his body, sit upright in a chair like a human, whistle after women, and attack anyone who started singing in a sprightly manner. He'd clamp his jaws and hold on, looking up at you silent and rueful of this unwanted intimacy. His ears turned blue and flowed like water. The butter-wouldn't-melt mischief of his species had reached its pinnacle with Help. So it was no great surprise to Barny when he slipped his leash and did a runner into the stewing vortex.

Kicking through emeralds, Barny ascended the little slope, passed a beached and tilted grandfather clock and entered the demonic transit system. Of course, he was instantly assailed by searing pain, stickled spinelight and corrosive etheric bile, but he was thinking about his dad's birthday. Pa Juno had been complaining about some undulant psychic parasite in his shack. Classic poltergeist activity and everyone was sure it was the ghost of his hair come back to mock him.

So yes. My opinion on this book is something of a resounding meh, mainly because if I try to form a strong opinion on it one way or the other my head starts hurting.

If you liked this...

... Try some of Steve Aylett's other stuff! I believe that I've read Atom, which I found amusing enough to read chunks of it aloud.


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.

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