Children of Earth and Sky – Guy Gavriel Kay

81hzuc0hezlIn a shock twist, GGK can still write beautiful stories that make people, especially this person, deeply sad about big, grand themes and also about little individual lives. This time with a lot of references harking back to his previous making me sad fun times. Double bonus sad points!

As with Tigana, the problem with reading more GGK near reading some GGK… is that I end up comparing it to GGK, rather than other, lesser novels. So getting that out of the way first, it’s definitely not his best. It still got 5 stars, I still loved it, but The Sarantine Mosaic books are better, as is Lions of Al-Rassan and Song for Arbonne. For all that I really enjoyed that it did so, this one spends a bit too long making little in joke references to his other books (primarily The Sarantine Mosaic ones, but also Lions) and if you haven’t read them, or maybe just not recently, it’s clear enough that he’s going “look! Look I did a thing!” in the moment that you’d know you were missing something, but just not know exactly what it was. And that would annoy me. Luckily, I’ve read them recently or remember them well, and also just *clutches at heart*. But some of them are references to fairly small things (there’s a little temple mentioned that gets visited on the road in Lord of Emperors, and there’s a brief discussion of the mosaic falling down, and then it gets briefly visited in this one, and again, mosaic falling down), so it would be quite easy to miss the links, I suspect. None of them affect your understanding of the plot, but there would definitely be some resonance and emotive links being lost. For me, worth it. But I read the books in the right order, so *shrug*. And yeah, I think it’s telling that it needs to link itself to his other novels – it’s almost like he knows it needs something to shore it up a little.

But… still five stars. And so much better than a lot of other books. I need to keep that part in mind (and just spread out reading his books, jeez). As ever, he really has the knack – and one I miss so much in some other, otherwise well constructed books – of getting a character weaselled right into your heart. And another one. It’s never just one. He makes each of his people valuable to you in some way. It’s not just that he makes them fully rounded people with their own internal lives and visible character (he does, and more people should be better at this), but there’s something more than that, something that makes them not just engaging but emotionally immediate. I have no idea really how he does it, but he consistently does, so I’ll consistently give him money to keep ripping my heart out.

Everything else… well, the other problem with me keeping on reading GGK books is they’re all good in the same ways. That’s not boring to me, because I’m reading them and they’re great. But it’s boring for you reading this, because I’m just going to praise all the same things again. He’s still good at worldbuilding (by nicking it from history). He’s still good at plotting (by nicking the big picture from history and filling in the small scale with compelling detail and humanity). His descriptive passages remain great at painting a great visual without spending too long distracting from the narrative. I always feel a really good sense of place and of the time we’re in with his work. He captures awe particularly well, for instance. Like he’s done in all of his other books. He always has great female characters with a variety of perspectives, as well as men, and he portrays all of them having reasonable and strong emotional responses to things. He manages the line between historical realism and “I don’t want to read about the horrific reality of the past all the time” really well.

Look, GGK. I’ll say nice things about you more eloquently if you stop being so damn consistent, ok? Write something wonderful in an entirely different way to all your other wonderful stuff, then we’ll talk.

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Wild Embers: Poems of Rebellion, Fire and Beauty – Nikita Gill

9781409173922Another poetry audiobook. Because this is clearly becoming a Thing.

To some extent, it’s an annoying thing, because my choice is severely limited to whichever poetry collections audible has… and it’s surprisingly few. I’d have expected they’d be a great thing to have as audio – they’re intrinsically a medium for reading aloud, for listening to and speaking. Poetry is just often better when spoke – I know I often speak bits of it quietly to myself when I’m getting it in book form. But apparently the good folks of audible disagree with me, so all the stuff I search for? Nah! (Relatedly, if you know of some good poetry that’s definitely available on audible, especially if it’s read by the author, do tell me – I’m not immensely picky about what it is, and am still trying to figure out what I do and don’t like in modern poetry, so anything goes. It does have to be via audible though, as I get a credit a month and also buying e.g. CDs is a faff). But I soldier on somehow, and basically end up with random stuff and see how I go. It worked out ok here.

Firstly, it turns out Nikita Gill has a really excellent reading voice. Like, properly lovely. It was an actual joy to listen to. This isn’t the main reason it’s good, but it did make it instantly appealing.

A lot of the subject matter here is very similar to Rupi Kaur’s milk and honey (though less rigidly structured). There’s a lot of stuff about empowerment, shame, trauma, survival, and just the life of being a woman. The poems are nearly all very very short, and when read in Gill’s quiet, measured tone of voice, you get a real amount of space around them to think them through. A lot of the issues she touches on feel vividly real to me – not all, but enough that it’s easy to see my own experiences in some of what she narrates, and it makes you feel close to the subject at hand. It’s not exactly a universality of experience, as it is often definitively female, but it feels like it’s drawing from a wide pool. She uses fairly simple language and ideas, in a quietly measured way, to give the sense of bigger things, rather than overcomplicating.

This is just going to sound like my Rupi Kaur review, isn’t it?

Well, I mean, I guess the problem is that what I liked about it is basically the same as what I liked about Milk and Honey, I just thought it did it slightly better. Not by a huge amount, it’s only the jump from four stars to five, but a bit better. Possibly the structural difference was the main thing. By not confining it to separate sections on each theme, there’s the need to wait and see what each poem ends up being about, which I think worked better. You have to wait and listen for the pay-off. There’s also more hope to Gill’s work – though it’s not entirely without darkness – and I found that easier to connect to (though of course that speaks more about my personal experiences than anything else). Gill is primarily writing with a thought towards growth and looking forwards, to getting past the bad and into the better, whereas Kaur is often writing about trauma itself, processing it. They’re both valid things to write about, but we connect with what we connect to, and for me, that’s more Gill’s work. Gill also speaks directly to the reader/listener, and works to create that bond in a way that Kaur does less, and which seemed to work well for me.

There’s nothing deeply complex here, but as with Kaur, I think its worth is in its simplicity. It’s accessible poetry, no need to get my pencil out and start doing scansion. And I like both things, but this is doing the simplicity well. And it’s good that poetry exists that doesn’t require a degree and three reference texts to read it. It’s good poetry for listening, for feeling to. Would definitely listen again.

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Little Fires Everywhere – Celeste Ng

81zqjqhcotlThis was one of the exciting kind of books where you have no idea what it is before you read it. I’d seen the adverts on the tube (a while ago) but I’d never looked it up or come across it in another way. So when I was given it for my birthday, it was a mystery! I like that. Sometimes I think I enjoy books more when I let them tell me what they’re going to be, not my preconceptions. I can’t be disappointed when I have no expectations*. And even if not, the mystery of what genre it is is kinda fun. Letting the book surprise you. It’s just really nice.

And it’s even nicer when you really, really like the book. And when it’s really really well written, with great characters and complex relationships. That always helps.

Yes, this is one of those. As it turns out, it’s a book about people, and travelling, finding roots, and running away from things, and about teens and their parents, and the relationships between them, and about being poor but having rich friends, and seeing the world through the experience of others. All of these are pretty compelling as themes, but the joy comes in a writer really good at portraying fraught relationships from both sides, and giving both those sides very real reasons for how they behave. You see exactly why both sides of the argument behave as they do, and no matter that you may be taking a clear side, you’re very much prevented from seeing it as one-sided. However much the other mum does some terrible stuff, every time you see inside her head, you see exactly why she got through some totally reasonable thoughts to get there. Maybe you wouldn’t have got there yourself, but it’s not… completely out there. And then on the flip side, you have some teens. And it’s rare and lovely to see grumpy, surly teens being portrayed sympathetically and well in adult literature while being surly. Ng has made it really really easy to empathise with everyone and their perspectives, and so made a book in which the reader is pulled every which way by the various opinions of the characters, their own perspectives, and gets to feel the real sense of how difficult to navigate these problems can be.

And a lot of the problems in the book are pretty mundane. It’s not that she’s got a truly sensational and hilarious plot reeling you in. But she’s fully invested you in the tension of the (mostly) everyday, by making it deeply compelling. She manages to fully realise the drama of being a teen, of being an outsider, and make all those normal dramas almost as immediate to the reader as to the subject.

The basic plot follows and girl and her mother, who’ve been travelling most of the girl’s life for the mother’s art, settling in a town with a promise that this one will be long term. The girl then sets about making friends and building a life for herself in a way she’s never been able to in their ever-moving life up to now. She and her mother become part of life in the town, and the book is about their evolving relationship with the people they meet there, and particularly one family.

But I wasn’t really in it for the plot. As I’ve said, it’s the people. Her writing is wonderful, and manages to get to the heart of what her characters are thinking and doing, and feel very true to the soul of them, without going over the top and feeling like a teenager’s personal diary. Which I imagine is a harder line to walk than it looks. No one is boring, inside their own head, and she makes that deeply true. Everyone you get a glimpse of, even if only briefly, gets a realistic and honest internal life, that brings them to life even if they seem dull on the outside.

And that sucked me in enormously. I couldn’t put it down, and rushed through it in a couple of days. It’s absolutely not something I think I’d have picked up on my own, but I’m really glad to have read it, and it’s a reminder that there’s so much outside of the couple of genres I habitually read that’s worth reading, and that maybe I should expand more often. It’s hard, because there’s so much I want to read inside my genres too… but it’s so rewarding to find something new and wonderful, I should really push myself more often.

*This is a lie. I am absolutely capable of being disappointed by all sorts of things. I believe in my abilities. But I can’t be sad it isn’t the book I envisioned in my head, when it’s just a different, equally good book, if I don’t have some sort of platonic book ideal ready to compare it to.

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Milk and Honey – Rupi Kaur

milk-and-honey-rupi-kaurI decided I wanted to engage with some more poetry. And I had a load of audible credits to use… so hey, why not in audio form. Free books (not free books, but I already paid, so it feels like free). Turns out, I am absolutely fine with audiobooks when they’re poetry. Maybe something to do with the rhythm helps keep me focussed and engaged where novels don’t manage it? I don’t know. But they do. So I’m going to exploit this until I run out of audible credits*. It possibly also helps that the poetry I’ve found so far (spoilers, there’s at least one more of these coming in the blogging soon) have been read by the author, and maybe that makes a difference?

That being said, the one thing I didn’t super get on with here was the voice. I got used to it eventually, but I am kinda funny about what accents I find easy or hard to listen to, and Kaur’s Canadian was grating on me slightly, so I could never relax into it as much as I wanted to. I had the same probably with The History of Rome podcast (which is legit excellent and I’ve listened to the whole thing at least once), but I could never quite get over how the guy doing it spoke. This is totally my problem, and it’s not bad… but it does mean podcasts are a bugger for me, because I want to find non-American accented ones**. And then yeah, if the poet is Canadian, she’s going to speak like a Canadian. But it was a minor thing, just a slight niggle at the back of my mind throughout. On the flip side, she also has a really lovely, emotive voice (and shockingly is really good at putting that emotion into her own poetry, go figure).

On the whole though, I really really enjoyed this one. It was a friend-rec, so I wasn’t super worried, but still. There’s a definite rhythm to how she speaks, and a slow, measured pace that forces me to really listen and engage with the words. I found myself skipping backwards a little sometimes, just to catch something again, think it over again, and that kind of slow contemplative tone is exactly what I want – it’s how I read written poetry, so getting it over in audio is really helpful. I never felt the urge to turn the speed up, like I do with novels, and enjoyed it as I had it… maybe there’s hope for me yet.

Kaur’s work is very accessible, and very immediately emotional. It’s not about obscuring meaning (I’m not against that), it’s putting it out there and available for the reader, rather than asking them to work for meaning. It’s not about ambiguity and puzzle. Instead, it’s about taking the rawness of an emotion and saying it plain, not letting the language of normal speech obscure the visceral power of feeling. By stating a thing plainly, clearly and openly, then leaving a pause, giving herself space to speak of her experiences, of women’s experiences, she creates a lot of impact. She likewise creates that impact/pause sensation in her structuring – she leads with “the hurting”, then follows with “the loving”, a more positive chapter in the wake of the brutal start, before repeating that again in her last two chapters, “the breaking” and “the healing”. Nothing is rushed – the poems are often short, giving you the space you need to feel what she’s giving you around them, before moving on to the next, rather than piling emotion upon emotion and swamping the listener.

None of this is to say there’s no art in her writing. Simple doesn’t have to mean bad or wrong or without skill. But it’s a very specific line she seems to be taking, and she’s leaning into it quite hard. For me, it works. The content and themes are sufficiently impactful, and the way she’s chosen to put them sufficiently deft that it’s a really good decision. But I think it only works for something that has this level of impact – I’m not sure you could create quite the same atmosphere if you used it for something more light-hearted.

I ended up giving it four stars over all. I liked it, I felt it, and I will definitely listen to more of her – she absolutely has the knack of putting feelings out there for you to feel and experience. But it was missing a tiny spark of something, the something that made me love, for example, Brand New Ancients or The Half God of Rainfall.

*Except it turns out a lot of the poetry that looks cool and interesting isn’t on audible. Monstrous.

**I don’t only want British ones though. I was listening to my Children of Blood and Bone around the same time as this one, and the speaker’s accent there was totally fine and not British (and actually a really important and well done part of how the audiobook was presented). Brains are weird.

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Children of Blood and Bone – Tomi Adeyemi

a1e37vzc5vlIt’s been a while since I made a(nother) fruitless attempt to consume audiobooks, so I was due a new try. And this one I actually finished, so not even fruitless. I don’t think that’s happened since the summer I spent scanning literally every book in Newnham college library, while listening to The Iliad, The Odyssey and anything else I could get hold of for free on my headphones to stop me from being bored out of my skull. Which should have alerted me to the precise set of circumstances I need to power through an audiobook, but I’m not very smart sometimes. After a difficult (and steadily increasing speeded) start, I found I could manage to listen to this without tuning out when, and only when, I was doing data entry. Anything else, especially if it involved any level of concentration, and I zoned out. And if I was just listening to it with nothing else going on, I got impatient and bored, even on 1.75x speed. I’m assuming I’m weird in this, because lots of people listen to audiobooks and they can’t all be doing data entry or library scanning the whole time. Lucky me, I did at least have a big ol’ bunch of data entry I needed to be doing last week and this, so I got through it without losing the plot desperately much, but it still just… wasn’t as enjoyable an experience for me as reading a words-on-a-page book, nor as immersive. I’m much more aware of my surroundings and other stuff going on when I’m listening than when I’m reading – when I’m reading, I can very easily go totally in-the-zone, to the extent that I won’t notice if someone speaks to me or touches me. Notable – and somewhat embarrassing example – I was reading something very good, and the boyfriend came and sat next to me and I think either hugged me or held my hand. About fifteen minutes later, when he was no longer in the room, I asked “hang on, were being affectionate just now?”. It just… took about 15 minutes to sink into my brain that something outside of the story was happening. I don’t get this level of monofocus when I’m doing basically anything else, and definitely not when listening to an audiobook. And I think I associate the act of consuming stories with that level of immersion so it feels incomplete without it. So audiobooks just feel… unsatisfying. I’m missing out.

And then of course there’s the fact that even at 2x speed, I read more quickly than the audiobook goes. And so I get really impatient. I want the story to be going as fast as stories normally go in my head.

Genuinely interested to hear if anyone who does use audiobooks has any suggestions for how to manage better with them. They’d be a really useful way for me to continue consuming books e.g. at work, but I can’t always be doing data entry. I hope. I’m not sure that would be worth the trade-off.

All that aside, I also didn’t particularly like the book.

The narrator was great, she read really pleasantly and did a good set of easily distinguishable voices for the different characters. Also it was really nice to get the accent, and how that varied between the different characters’ social statuses. Bahni Turpin – no complaints.

But the story? Ehhhhh. Some of this is just because it’s YA, and I don’t like YA. The only ones I read as an adult are the ones I have nostalgia for because I read them when I was the right age. The stuff I come to fresh now feels so… samey. There’s a limited selection of narratives, and they tend to be very focussed on a small subset of problems (shockingly, the ones affecting teens), rather than the breadth you get in adult fiction. I mean, don’t get me wrong, some adult fiction is obsessed with love triangles between the people saving the world too… but there’s other options. And since I’m not a fan of teen-hormone-crush-obsession as a major part of my narratives, I like having those other options. It’s just not my thing. And this is very YA. I spent a pretty chonky section of the book getting annoyed that the only way people could see past years of oppression was if the person who represented the other side of the issue was really really hot. Because it really is just “your people have murdered and oppressed mine but you’re really pretty so I’m going to ignore it and work with you” vs. “I’ve been brought up to think your people are dangerous rebels and should be kept downtrodden at all costs but omg you’re so hot so we can totally fix the system I was happily supporting up until literally five seconds ago”. Guys! That’s not… please… really? Ok no apparently that’s how we roll.

Even leaving aside my own reading tastes and desire for a less annoying narrative… give teenagers some credit. None of the people I was friends with aged 16 were like that… they were relatively sensible and level headed and sure, they had crushes, but they weren’t all-consuming things that required them to throw all sense and logic to the wind and change every opinion they had. It just feels like it’s playing into some really crappy stereotypes of “omg so hormonal” about teenagers that aren’t… real? And it’s annoying to read.

The story in and of itself is… fine I guess? In broad strokes, it sounds fairly similar to a lot of other YA fiction (fictional country, oppressed minority, cruel heartless nobility, one girl defies the world order, has special unique property that allows her to do so, attracts attention of sexy boy in heartless nobility, quests to free her people, undergoes vast quantities of angst). The overall premise is similar to, for instance, Red Queen, which I read a while ago. The details are different, the flavour is different… but it’s just a different reflex of a common narrative. It’s not a great example of it though. The pacing is somewhat nonsense, and goes all over the place near the end. It’s the first book in a trilogy, but it doesn’t do enough of a good job of tidying up loose ends even for that – it’s not stuff being left hanging for book two, it’s just stuff that’s been abandoned (or so it feels). Far too much space in the story is given to a central section of doubled up relationship drama, and you end up sort of forgetting how the actual plot is getting on while this is happening.

And then of course the fact that the relationship stuff is so fucking cringe. I don’t know how many times I had to listen to the phrase “the seasalt scent of her soul” but it was too many. Far too many. There’s also a bit about someone’s eyelashes going on forever, which… weird. And people using the word “scent” in a way that feels downright creepy – I don’t think I’ve ever found the idea of someone enjoying a person’s “scent” romantic. It feels far more… predatory.

This also comes through in broader aspects of the novel – there’s a tendency towards overblow descriptions and behaviours that undermine a lot of the themes it’s going for. There’s a definite striving for the oppressive king to be comprehensible while still evil – we get a lot of his motivation – but he’s so caricaturedly evil that this just doesn’t land at all, and feels like a waste of time. We get introduced early to how evil he is, and however many times you talk about his tragic backstory, it doesn’t outweigh the massive evil.

Likewise, the attempts to make the oppression of the maji (magic users) more complex by giving them a dangerous history of their own feels… iffy. There’s a history in SFF of trying to do an in-world history where x oppressed group is oppressed because in the past actually they were the evil overlords and huzzah now it’s complicated and morally deep oh what a clever author I am. And that isn’t… good. It says some really nasty shit about how people think about oppressed groups and whether they “deserve” what they got. And likewise here, there’s an unresolved sense in the second half of the book that the concern about how dangerous the oppressed group is legitimate, and the way it’s handled feels kinda icky to me. I would have liked to see it shut down more firmly, rather than just set aside when other bits of the plot were more exciting. I feel like it didn’t really get refuted (and is probably an issue coming back for more in book two), but that abeyance feels far more like a tacit agreement to it than I’d like.

There’s also a real polarisation in terms of the female characters that I didn’t like… it’s setting a very real dichotomy of the ungirly, fighty one vs. the soft, gentle, pretty and nice one. And even though the “nice” one gets some development throughout the book, it doesn’t really ever stop that characterisation. Likewise, the fighty one gets to be a bit softer… by being in love with a dude. Like, guys, can we not? Can’t women just have some development for their own sake?

On the plus side, the setting was at least enjoyable. There’s a lot of decent evocation of place, and parts where I was given very clear mental images or impressions of environment – Adeyemi definitely likes emphasising smells, for instance, and that worked well for me in creating an atmosphere. But even this is undermined, because she’s fallen into the common trap of “real world stuff but fake name”. Like in The Black Magician Trilogy, where there are animals that are absolutely spiders, mice and rats, but they need fantasy names because this is a fantasy book, all the animals in this have fantasy names. But not only are the “real” animals discernable underneath from the descriptions… the names are often also just the real animal name with “uh” on the end. Maybe in the paper version the spelling makes that less obvious, but over audiobook, it was kind of rubbish, and definitely eyeroll enough to make me fall out of immersion at points. There was also a bit of “this is the city of <one notable feature that permeates everything>”, which… again, just a bit dull. But the descriptions of the journeys and places were quite well done, so for all I was sighing, at least the hackneyed ideas were being worked fairly hard? I sound catty, but for the most part, I did enjoy the descriptive passages, so long as they weren’t applied to people, and some of the buildings, villages and communities had a very real and evocative feel to them.

However, it was a fundamentally unsatisfying book, frankly, that fell into a lot of stuff I don’t particularly like, but also was doing some of the valid and aspiration-worthy stuff it was clearly trying for quite badly. The issues it’s engaging with are, for the most part, issues worth engaging with, but some of them are dropped part way through, left behind or just made a bit dodge, so it’s hard to see it as a good response to those issues. Its joy for me is in the surface level stuff, the stuff that isn’t enough to sustain a novel. I don’t like or really engage with the characters because there’s not really enough to them to do so – they’re often defined by a simple selection of traits, and we spend too much time watching them lust over someone else to get enough actual character development out of them.

Basically, it’s a very YA novel, and it’s the sort of thing that’s exactly why I don’t read YA… and why I think YA on the whole has some kinda bad points to it. It undersells, I think, what teens are capable of and may enjoy, by narrowing the focus to a specific subset of fairly predictable narratives. It’s not wrong to enjoy those narratives, but I think teen-me definitely wanted a broader scope – and aged out of YA fairly quickly because of this – than it was willing to provide her. I have nostalgia for some YA books, but none of it as strongly as for adult books I read around the same time. Not that this one book is a referendum on all YA, but it does exemplify a lot of the stuff that drives me away from it, as a genre.

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Gods of Jade and Shadow – Silvia Moreno-Garcia

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It’s so pretty…

I was at least partly just attracted to how pretty this is. The cover is extremely attractive. But also, it got a lot of good social media publicity, I absolutely accept that marketing works, and the premise is very much up my street. Or… well. The premise (mythology rejigged) used to be unreservedly up my street, and now is a cautious pique of interest, pending examination of how actually interesting a reimagination it is. I’m not saying there are a fair few that are a) boring or b) kinda sufficiently out of the spirit of the original that it doesn’t even make sense why they chose to do it in the first place – just write your own damn story if that’s what you want… except I totally am. And often they’re the ones that get a lot of marketing… for reasons I don’t really understand, but I’m sure are there. Luckily, this wasn’t one of those. This one is just good.

There are several schools of “let’s redo a myth”, and this has chosen the “lean heavily into the spirit of the mythic narrative” style, rather than updating everything or changing tonnes. It’s writing a myth into a novel, which I think can work really well when the author has a solid take on what a myth really is. I have my own thoughts on that, but it doesn’t even have to agree. They just need a clear idea, a strong take, and for that to bleed through sufficiently into the story that it doesn’t feel like just another novel. Because the whole point of myths is being more than just a story, right?

Anyway, Moreno-Garcia does it and does it good. The novel follows a girl who accidentally resurrects the Mayan death god Hun-Kamé, and is bound to him and his revenge against his brother, at the risk of her own life. Structurally, it doesn’t deviate much from what I’d consider traditional mythic narrative*, and it becomes closer and closer to that as the story progresses – it has the same logic, the same repetition of key themes, the same ideas of the trial and the sacrifice and the promised reward that crop up again and again. And it does them well, and manages to really capture that feeling of wonder and strangeness that myths have when told well. Even if you don’t know how any of the magic works – and you never really do – it has an intrinsic, intuitive sense to the whole thing that makes questioning it irrelevant. There’s no how, it just… is. There’s also the strange inevitability you get, the feeling of the narrative force being stronger than any of the characters possibly could be, the weight of fate on them all. It’s properly mythy.

But it manages to do all that while still giving good characters. For all that she’s absolutely a mythical maiden, Casiopeia also feels like a person, with her own hopes and wants and internal life. She feels if not totally modern – the book is after all set in the 20s – then sufficiently close to be familiar. Her life is accessible to us, as are her feelings, her problems. We see the other characters through her eyes, and for all it’s very difficult to like any of them, they all make sense as people… except for the gods, who follow their own, baffling rules. But even they fit well into the landscape created, they are unknowable in predictable ways. They are detached and cold and distant and their actions make sense for people outside of normal consequence and time constraint… but we get to see them through Casiopeia, and so the familiarity of story is overlaid with a real and human confusion, so the myth and the realism lie side by side with each other. The skill is present and visible in balancing both so they don’t fight.

The way I describe it, it sounds like a simple book. And in a lot of ways it is – it tells a story, without fuss or nonsense. But it tells that story so well, and gives you the feelings that myths are meant to give you, so you find yourself needing to turn that next page and the next, needing to know how it turns out. It’s deeply compelling, and full of the unexamined magic I want from these stories – the magic of the unexplained world, not unfamiliar, just unknowable, and part of the fundamental existence of life around us. The magic of stories written to explain the world, and so the magic is itself the explanation. Simple things can be wonderful, when they’re done with care, attention and skill. And this has all three.

*I know very very little about Mayan myths, so if I have stabbed wildly into nonsense here, I have only myself to blame. But it felt familiar, in that way all the myths I do know do, so I’m going for it and ah well, someone will correct me if I’m wrong, probably.

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Reread: The Player of Games – Iain M. Banks

51xa9xou6ml._sx315_bo1204203200_This is a quick one, because my opinion basically hasn’t changed on rereading it, please pardon the… somewhat clunkier prose of the me of three years ago. I reread it for book club, but honestly, it was quite nice to do this shortly after rereading Consider Phlebas, where my opinion has changed a lot, to reflect on the differences and similarities between the two. I think the thing Player of Games manages much better is immersing you in the world, and without a compelling character to glom onto in either of them, you need that immersion to see you through. I gave, and gave again, five stars to Player of Games for making a book where it totally didn’t matter to me how likeable the character was. I loved watching him, I loved watching his progression, his growing understanding, his changing realisations about himself and the world around him, and I loved learning about that world, so much that it just… was fine. He wasn’t the point. Banks has the gift of giving you an abundance of substance – there’s things to glom onto everywhere, throughout his books, in a way that a lot of the books with unsympathetic characters don’t manage. Dune, and the world it inhabits, just isn’t as rich, as layered, as complex and as well thought through as the Culture. There’s just the one, plain, visible layer of the ooh-look-a-mysterious-world, and that’s not enough to captivate. It feels flat and dead, a stage set, when held up against the vivid and realistic backdrop Banks provides. And I suppose Banks is being deeply character focussed – a huge amount of my interest is spent on watching Gurgeh change and grow through the book. He’s just made it interesting outside of me liking him. And that’s really cool.

And of course he writes lovely prose. I didn’t mention that so much in my original post, but it really, really matters to me. He’s clever and funny and witty and wry, and there’s a care and thoughtfulness to each word on the page, without there seeming to be at any point. Banks is just… good at his craft, in all the ways he needs to be, rather than merely sufficient.

So yeah, still great, still love it. Still doing a thing I don’t really find in anyone else’s books. Will still reread and love.

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