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Georgiana89 (London)

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Prince of Fools (Red Queen's War, Book 1) (Red Queen's War)
Prince of Fools (Red Queen's War, Book 1) (Red Queen's War)
Price: £6.99

4.0 out of 5 stars The fragrant rather than thorny variety of dark fantasy, 5 Dec 2014
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In the opening chapter, our "hero" Prince Jalan is fleeing through a window after being caught in flagrante by his latest lover's terrifying brother. It quickly becomes clear that both the illicit sex and the running away are pretty standard for the caddish Jalan. But at least he has a relatively soft landing: "I vaulted down into the bushes, which were thankfully the fragrant rather than thorny variety. Dropping into a thorn bush can lead to no end of grief."

The reference to Lawrence's earlier series, Prince of Thorns, is clear, as is the insinuation that this is going to be a different sort of book and a different sort of protagonist altogether. And on one level, this is true. Being in Jalan's head is certainly less traumatic than being in Jorg's - where the latter is driven by revenge and a lust for power and will kill anyone who stands in his way, the former is interested only in sex and luxury and gambling, and will run for his life from anyone who stands in his way. For the first third or so of the book, the whole tone is lighter, and is genuinely quite funny in parts.

To some degree, this relative lightness of tone is maintained throughout - even in the darkest situations, Jalan is never a man to take life too seriously. But on the whole, as the book goes on, some of the sinister edge from the earlier books starts to creep in, and the last few chapters have some plot points that practically seem darker than anything the author has ever written.

This book runs more or less exactly parallel to Prince of Thorns (and I'd guess later books in this series map onto later books in the other). As a result, there are no direct spoilers for the other books, and technically, I guess you could read this book before the Thorn books - but I think you'd miss out on the explanations of the world in those books and the knowing comments in this one. My favorite parts of this book were where the two plot lines interacted - notably Jalan's trip to Ancrath, which happens to be on the day that Jorg returns to confront his father. This section had me laughing out loud and holding my breath in equal measure, and it was great to see the same events from a different perspective. Jorg and Jalan get as far as being in the same room as each other, but never actually interact - I'm hoping they'll do so in later books in this spin off series. The bad side of the parallel stories approach was that if you know how Emperor of Thorns ends, it takes some of the urgency away from this plotline, and it's slightly frustrating not to move forward.

Apart from Jalan (who really dominates proceedings - like Lawrence's earlier series, this is very much a character driven work) there are two key players. Firstly, Snorri, a giant, super-strong, unbeatable viking, with strong ideas about honour and bravery. There could hardly be two people more different than him and Jalan, but from a combination of his bravery, Jalan's cowardice and a hefty touch of magic, they are forced to go off adventuring together, odd-couple/buddy-movie style. I always enjoy characters who can fight anyone, and this was no exception.

Secondly, while Jalan gives his name to the novel, his grandmother gives her name to the series, and although the Red Queen doesn't appear much, she utterly intrigued me. I noticed her name cropping up several times over the course of the Thorns books, and as the only named female ruler in the Broken Empire and someone that even Jorg's even-more-psychotic-than-his-son father seemed a little scared of, I wanted to hear more about both her and about her adviser, the Silent Sister, who similarly seemed to unnerve all of the other terrifying magicians and "dream-sworn" characters working behind the scenes. "Do I have to be a monster? Do I have to be a new Queen of Red?" Katherine asks at one point in King of Thorns. But to be Jalan, she's basically just his batty old granny, who has an irritating habit of distracting him from womanising and drinking by summoning him to her throne room to witter on about necromancers and emperors. As a result of seeing things through Jalan's eyes, we never really get to understand her, but throughout the book, it is heavily suggested that's she's playing everyone and driving events across both series. I looking forward to learning more about her over the course of the series, and establishing just what she was up to at the end of Emperor of Thorns.

In conclusion, most of what made Lawrence's earlier series so interesting is present and correct here - the writing, the setting and world-building, the strong characters. I really enjoyed reading things from Jalan's point of view, but he ultimately didn't grab me quite as much as Jorg. He was still very different from your normal fantasy hero, but there wasn't quite that "oh god I'm supporting the villain" shock and thrill. This is still an absolute must read for fans of the other books, but for those new to this author, I'd definitely read them first.

Emperor of Thorns (The Broken Empire, Book 3)
Emperor of Thorns (The Broken Empire, Book 3)
Price: £3.49

5.0 out of 5 stars Some issues, but still a strong end to a unique series, 5 Dec 2014
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I absolutely loved the first book in this trilogy for its strong writing, its interesting setting (medieval meets post-apocalyptic) and above all, its ultra-compelling protagonist, Jorg, a man who enjoyably blurred the lines between anti-hero and outright psychotic villain. Book Two, while still an enjoyable read, seemed to meander slightly, and didn't grab me quite as much. It will probably depend on taste, but for me, this third and final installment ranked somewhere between them.

Half of the alternating chapters flashback in time by a few years and continue the story, began in book two, of Jorg's travels round the Empire, developing his power and knowledge and learning more about "the builders" and their technology. This fills in some of the blanks that left that end of Book Two slightly confusing, notably where and how Jorg got a gun. Like before, this aspect was very episodic and there were some parts I definitely enjoyed more than others. A little pruning would potentially have been useful here.

The other half is in the "present" and was much stronger on the whole. Miana, Jorg's child bride, is now fifteen and pregnant with his heir, congression, the four-yearly event where all the kings gather to attempt to elect an emperor from amongst their numbers (so far unsuccessfully) is upon us, and the Dead King, merely hinted at in earlier books, is basically attempting to take over the world and fill it with dead things. As this brief summary suggests, this section is action-packed and dramatic, and it provided some of the best show piece scenes in the whole series, even if at times, I sometimes felt the author almost had too many plot lines running simultaneously.

There was a lot of character development going on here, which left me torn. On a technical level, I admired the way the author humanised Jorg and had him start to feel regret for his earlier actions and concern for others. On the other hand, I have to admit that I missed the driven psychopath of book one. Indeed, while I accepted him gaining a conscience, I could have done without him gaining self-doubt. His absolute drive and self-belief made him a fascinating character to me. That said, I loved the strength of his feelings for his new baby - genuinely touching. And considering these feelings, and considering how he tends to react when people mildly inconvenience him, I was waiting with baited breath to how he'd react to someone who tried to kill his son. Let's just say I wasn't disappointed.

As far as other characters went, most of the "brothers" took a relative back seat here, but it's still a strong supporting cast. I loved Miana (one of the few people who ever feels like a match for her husband) and I was hoping they'd develop a strong relationship and he'd get over his weird teenage crush on Katherine. She was a little more interesting in this book now she'd developed dream powers, but I still couldn't understand the depths of his obsession, especially with what feels like the perfect woman for him at his side and pregnant with/mothering his child.

I can't give too much detail without spoiling some plot points, but there were some scenes I was almost certain would be in this book, based on all the rules of storytelling, such as Jorg having a final showdown with his father or some combination of seducing/killing/conclusively getting over Katherine. I got the impression that the author avoided these scenes to avoid cliche, which is understandable, but I felt that the novel lost something as a result. Sometimes things become cliches for a good reason.

The ending was conclusive and suitably dramatic and mostly hard to predict (although I figured out one of the key plot point a few chapters in). On the other hand, the ending was extremely complicated and convoluted, and left me wondering what the hell had just happened. Still, you certainly can't accuse the author of giving readers a cop-out.

That feels like quite a lot of complaints for a 5-star review of a book, but that really sums up how I feel. It was a great read, well-written and unusual. I admired the way it took risks and though for me, some of them didn't quite work out, I'd rather a few brave plot choices that I didn't enjoy than more of the predictable same old same old. As with the rest of the series, this isn't for everyone, but if you'd read this far, I'd definitely recommend this as a fitting, if sometimes frustrating, conclusion.

Mortal Heart (His Fair Assassin Book 3)
Mortal Heart (His Fair Assassin Book 3)
Price: £4.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Best installment in a brilliant and very original series, 1 Dec 2014
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I really enjoyed the first two books in this trilogy for their unique premise (assassin nuns), unusual setting (fifteenth century Brittany) and careful balance between detailed historical fact and imaginative fantasy. As a result, I purchased this as soon as it came out, and enjoyed it even more than its predecessors.

Each of the first two books feature a different main character, and this was no exception. While Ismae and Sybella make appearances in Mortal Heart, the focus shifts to Annith. Brought up in the Convent of St Mortain since birth and widely regarded as its best assassin, the mystery of why she was never sent out on missions was a running background theme in the earlier installments. In this concluding volume, the answer is revealed - along with a whole host of other revelations.

Despite her skills, Annith felt like the most normal and relatable of the three protagonists. She was easy to empathise with and to like, though she didn't quite catch my imagination quite as much as the other two. On the other hand, this book's love interest, Balthazar, was much stronger than those in earlier books, and the chemistry between him and the heroine was exceptional - one of the best romances and best romantic heroes I've come across in a while.

The politics of France vs Brittany took a relative back seat here in favour of Annith's personal story, convent politics and more of the folklore of the Nine, but there were still plenty of Kings and Ambassadors and Emperors to keep my attention, and the backstory and mythos really came into its own here. There were several twists, some of which I suspected, some of which caught my by surprise, but all of which worked well. If there was one thing I didn't like it was that some of the legends had never been mentioned in earlier books, which made the role they played in this one feel a little too convenient.

Overall though, I'd highly recommend this if you've enjoyed the rest of the series. The three books have quite different feels, and I suspect everyone will have their own favorite, but this was definitely mine.

King of Thorns (The Broken Empire, Book 2)
King of Thorns (The Broken Empire, Book 2)
Price: £2.49

4.0 out of 5 stars Continues much of what made book one brilliant, but a little weaker overall, 13 Nov 2014
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I read the first book in this series, Prince of Thorns, and absolutely loved it. The moment I finished, I downloaded Book Two and started reading.

At the end of Book One, Jorg Ancrath, our utterly amoral "hero" had taken one step closer to his ultimate ambition of being Emperor of the Broken Empire by taking revenge on the uncle who'd killed his mother and brother, and becoming King of Renar in the process. Some chapters in this book pick up almost where that book left off, with Jorg newly crowned and exploring the world. Alternating chapters jump ahead four years, when Jorg is facing overwhelming odds, his country surrounded by 20 000 armed men fighting to conquer Renar for the Prince of Arrow.

The Prince of Arrow - good looking, kind, intelligent, seeking to conquer the Empire purely to bring peace - is the sort of character who'd be the hero of most fantasy novels, even fairly edgy, modern ones. Every mystic Jorg meets tells him that Arrow is prophesied to be Emperor and bring piece to the world. Unlike in the first book, where Jorg was basically a bad man amongst bad man, it's therefore particularly disconcerting to find yourself rooting for him when he's clearly the worst of two evils.

Many of the things that made the first book good are still present and correct. The "seemingly medieval but actually post-apocalyptic" world is well developed, the writing is smooth, and the willingness to play with genre conventions is refreshing. Above all though, it's the main character that makes this series special - his ruthlessness, his absolute determination, and his damaged psyche make compelling, repellent, and sympathetic all at once. Though he's by no means become a good guy, he's calmed down a bit in this book compared to the first, due to a combination of the responsibilities of being a king, growing up, and getting a degree of freedom from the corrosive influence of Corion, a sort of evil magician who was partly controlling his actions in the first book. While this undoubtedly makes him a more nuanced and interesting character, I must admit that part of me missed the jaw-dropping awfulness of Book One Jorg.

In some ways, I didn't enjoy this one quite as much as Book One. Firstly, I really appreciated the way the first book demonstrated that contrary to popular belief, it's possible to write a short, tightly plotted fantasy novel. This one was notably longer and felt a bit padded out in places. In particular, some of the "four years previously" sections dragged a little. Secondly, the flashback/jump forward structure, while clever, made the book feel a little disjointed and confusing. I generally enjoy non-linear narratives, but I felt that it didn't add much here.

There were also a few specific plot points that didn't quite work for me. I don't want to go into too much detail here and risk spoilers, but in short - not just one but about five consecutive deus ex machinas during the pivotal battle, Jorg's obsession with Katherine that seems to have no basis in anything (they've only ever met in person very briefly and don't obviously have much in common), and a terrible, lost memory carried around in a box that was both predictable and (considering the terrible things Jorg's done) rather underwhelming.

At the same time, other aspects of the plot - an interesting double twist around the Prince of Arrow, the wonderful concept of a "Mathmagician", one of the most heartwrenching stories of childhood trauma/animal abuse/terrible parenting you'll ever read, a fantastically ruthless child bride for Jorg - were up to, if not exceeding, the standard set in the first book.

Overall, this is definitely worth a read if you enjoyed book one. Most of the good stuff is still in place and there are some new things to enjoy, but for me, it was definitely weaker in places than the first book. It's also worth bearing in mind that you really have to have read this middle volume before you can read Book Three, which both picks back up again and explains some of the things that didn't entirely make since in this instalment.

Kiss Me First
Kiss Me First
Price: £3.59

2.0 out of 5 stars Depressing and not at all thrilling, 28 Oct 2014
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This review is from: Kiss Me First (Kindle Edition)
The basic premise of this book - one woman is paid to impersonate another on the internet to hide the fact that the latter has killed herself - sounded unique and intriguing, if a little far-fetched. Sadly, despite a few potentially promising moments early on, the books was mostly quite dull, quite depressing and didn't really go anywhere. There was some clever commentary on internet use and some believable online conversations, but they couldn't save this book for me.

Both the (seemingly autistic, certainly very socially awkward and isolated) imposter and the (bi-polar and suicidal) real women were difficult to identify with, and while I felt some sympathy towards both of them, I couldn't bring myself to like them. I also feel as though autism as plot device is becoming far too much of a cliché and an easy plot device. Most of the supporting cast also combined being unlikeable with having depressing lives. I'm generally a fairly cheerful person, but each time I picked this up, by the time I put it down again, I felt quite down myself. I'd definitely avoid this if you're at all depressed.

I could have forgiven the characters and the air of gloom if the plot had had some drama and twists and turns. Surely there had to be more to this bizarre plan than met the eye, some sort of conspiracy or murder mystery or clever twist. But no, with a few bumps along the way, the premise is the entire plot, and it eventually trails off with no real denouement. It's presented as a thriller, but there are few thrills to be had.

Drums Of Autumn: (Outlander 4)
Drums Of Autumn: (Outlander 4)
Price: £3.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Some great scenes lost in a meandering plot. An amazing series that feels like it's starting to run out of steam., 27 Oct 2014
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One of my pet hates is when a great series is dragged out for more books than the author ever originally intended and gradually grows weaker and weaker until you struggle to remember what you liked about it to begin with. In my experience, it's a rare author who can keep a series really strong beyond four or five books. The Outlander Series has by no means got to this stage yet, but while this was still mostly an enjoyable book, I got the distinct impression that, after the high point of Voyager, it was starting to run out of steam.

Firstly, I thought the book suffered slightly from the move from Scotland to Colonial America. The Scottish setting always felt like half the point. Secondly, while Jamie and Clare continue to be interesting and sympathetic characters and while there's still something romantic about their love, they are at this point in an established marriage. While there are some touching depictions of married love and while after all they've been through, it was hard to begrudge this well-loved couple a bit of peace, this is inevitably less exciting to read about than the first book's sexual tension, the second's first flushes of young love and the third's painful separation and dramatic, heartwrenching reunion. I also felt that Clare is now far too comfortable with the past - it's easy to forget she's a timetraveller at all. Most of the drama is left to the younger generation, with Jamie and Clare's 1960s daughter and Gellis and Dougal's great, great, great, great, great grandson Roger playing the "will they, won't they?" game and having increasingly unlikely obstacles thrown in the way of their love. Unlike some reviewers, I quite liked these characters, but they lack whatever it is that makes the series' original couple quite so compelling.

The book's major failing is it's size. I suspect that most of the books in this series could do with losing a few thousand words, but here, the lack of plot relative to the length of book felt especially pronounced. And that was sad, as despite my complaints, the book had some great twists and plot devices, and some of my favourite scenes in the whole series. It's just that all these good bits got slightly lost under relentless descriptions, pointless scenes, and meandering sub-plots. I also hated that for the hundredth time in the series, we get rape as a plot device. Surely the author must be getting bored of that one by now. I think this series is at it's best when it keeps some focus on the time travel angle, and I enjoyed this book the most when I was waiting to find out whether Brianna would give in to the temptation to travel back in time to see her mother again and meet her birth father for the first time.

Overall, this is worth a read. Expect some great scenes and high emotions, but don't expect quite the magic of earlier books. I'm in two minds whether the continue with the series or leave it here. I can't quite believe that there are four more books after this one - I'm struggling to imagine what more can possibly happen to our long-suffering hero, heroine and family.

Prince of Thorns (The Broken Empire, Book 1)
Prince of Thorns (The Broken Empire, Book 1)
Price: £1.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Evil hero, interesting world, dark story - and a great read, 27 Oct 2014
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The opening chapter of this book involves a band of brigands slaughtering most of the male inhabitants of a village, raping their daughters, looting the corpses and then setting the whole place on fire. All of them seem to be having a wonderful time, particularly the deeply sinister first-person narrator.

Having picked this book up without knowing anything about it other than that it was a highly recommended fantasy novel, I wasn't sure what to make of this attention-grabbing but disturbing opening. Had the author written a prologue that was broadly unrelated to the rest of the novel to set the scene and demonstrate the grimness of his world? Or was the hero going to swoop into the village and be avenged on this bunch of murderous psychopaths? And then, as dying villager muses that his murderer could be no more than fifteen, the chapter ends with the line, "Fifteen! I'd hardly be fifteen and rousting villages. By the time fifteen came around, I'd be King." And I came to a shocking realisation that this sadist was actually our protagonist, the titular Prince of Thorns. Basically, if you've ever read a Song of Ice and Fire and wished that the whole thing was narrated by Ramsay Bolton, then this is the book for you.

The fashion nowadays is undoubtedly for fantasy characters to be presented in moral shades of grey, and often even to be outright anti-heroes. But I've never read anything in the fantasy genre that makes the "hero" so utterly, irredeemably villainous. The closest comparator I can think of is a Clockwork Orange, and the main character, Jorg, did seem to share some characteristics with that books hero beyond his love of ultraviolence - a scene where he sits and reads Plutarch following a massacre particularly jumps to mind. I can imagine some people really struggling with this approach to characterisation, but frankly, I loved it. It made for such a different read and the author did a fantastic job of making me root for Jorg while hating myself for doing so. He also struck a nice balance between explaining his behaviour (trauma and a desire for revenge following the brutal death of his mother and young brother, the need to survive and thrive in a cruel world, a horrible father) without ever excusing it. Jorg is almost painfully self-aware, and makes no excuses to the reader. I have an awful tendency to fall in book-love with villainous characters, but some of Jorg's specific actions as well as his overall attitude to life were sufficiently beyond the pale that I never got to the stage of liking him. Nonetheless, he fascinated me.

While it's undoubtedly both a clever and a well-executed device, an evil hero is by no means all this book has going for it. The world is interesting, firstly because the concept of a hundred little principalities fighting to seize control of what was once a united empire allows for lots of politics and scheming. Secondly, because what it quickly becomes clear that what as first feels like a classic medieval fantasy world is in fact a post-apocalyptic earth where the survivors have lost the use of technology and returned to feudal ways. And somehow also gained a degree of magic - possibly through radiation left behind by a nuclear war, though that wasn't fully explained. I'm not sure this always 100% worked (why would people replicate medieval norms quite so exactly?) but it added an extra level of interest and distinguished the setting from your average fantasy novel. It did remind me a bit of the approach used in the Book of the New Sun series, where what appear to be towers are actually abandoned spaceships, but that's no bad thing.

The plot is entertaining and flows well. The writing is great. It's not over-clever or pretentious, it simply works. At times it's actually quite funny, if you can cope with dark humour. The violence is ceaseless and at times extreme, but it's never really gratuitous or lingered over. Most of the really bad stuff (the rapes, the torture of a bishop by sticking needles in his brain etc etc) happens "off-screen" and is mentioned in passing by characters, not described in loving detail by the author. I'm not someone who likes to read about violence for violence's sake or who will choose to read a book because it boasts of being "dark." I could never get on with Joe Abercrombie's book, partly because the world depressed me too much, but despite the fact that the world and the protagonist presented here are if anything, even darker, it somehow kept me entertained and almost cheerful, swept along by the sheer energy and enthusiasm of the protagonist. In his absolute determination to succeed in his quest to become Emperor of his fragmented world whatever it takes, he reminded me of Lucifer in Paradise Lost, though unlike Milton, Lawrence knows full well he's of the devil's party.

There are some books I'd recommend to nearly everyone. This is not one of them. If you like clean-cut heroes, shy away from violence or simply want to see some signs of joy and goodness in your fantasy worlds, you should probably stay away. But if you're looking for a very different and original fantasy novel and think you can cope with a dark world and a morally empty lead and a ruined world, this is a great and surprisingly fun read.

Whispers Under Ground (PC Peter Grant Book Book 3)
Whispers Under Ground (PC Peter Grant Book Book 3)
Price: £3.98

3.0 out of 5 stars Much the same as the earlier books in the series - a fun read, but didn't set my world alight, 13 Oct 2014
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If you've read the previous books in this series, then you'll know broadly what to expect - a police procedural spiced up with magic, some Discworld-esque humour, and a loving depiction of the best and the worst aspects of London. All narrated by a likeable, knowledgeable and self-deprecating mixed-race wizard policeman.

I enjoyed both of the first two books, but at the same time, they left me feeling mildly disappointed. I always feel that this series should be absolutely amazing and should completely seize my imagination, and every time, it almost leaves me feeling like that but somehow just misses the spot.

I've kept hoping that the next book will be the one where it all falls into place, the author hits his stride and this becomes one of my favourite series, but once again, for me at least, the literary alchemy was not quite there. I can't quite put my finger on what's missing - it's a bit like when you go on a date with someone who is perfect for you on paper, you get on well, but there just isn't that spark. If I tried to be a bit more specific, I'd blame the rather convoluted plots that don't really go anywhere and the fact that three books in, there's still not a lot of backstory about the wizarding world or much sign of the overarching plot bursting into life.

That said, you don't have to love and adore every book, and when I pick one of these up, I know it will at least amuse and entertain me, and be a light read that still has a bit of substance behind it.

On balance, I'd say this was better than book two but weaker than book one, and despite my slightly half-hearted review, I'd still recommend this one to fans of the series and recommend that people who like this sort of thing give the series a go. I will be reading book four at some point, but I'm not rushing to start it, and for me, the real test of whether I've enjoyed a book is whether or not I can wait to read the sequel.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
Price: £2.69

9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars One interesting "twist", but otherwise a combination of generic family drama and animal rights polemic, 13 Oct 2014
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After reading the first few pages of this, I already disliked the main character/first-person narrator, who seemed painfully self-absorbed and hated the attention seeking drama student who is the other character introduced at this stage. The next few chapters go into dull detail about our narrator's family dynamic and painstakingly outline a tedious and uneventful Thanksgiving dinner. At this stage, it just felt like every other navel-gazing novel about a middle-class, mildly dysfunctional American family, and the narrator like every other over-privileged, whiny twenty-something character.

I was tempted to drop it there and then, but I stuck with it because a)surely all the good reviews and the Booker nomination meant it had to get better, b)occasionally the knowing, self-referential narrative voice caught my attention, and most importantly, c) from both the text and some of the reviews, I was getting the hint that there was something more to the plot - some sort of underlying family secret.

About a quarter of the way through the book, we find out what this secret is. As this isn't mentioned in the blurb and comes as a bit of a surprise, I suppose it should be described as a twist, and I suppose I shouldn't reveal it. But I found it very odd that the author and/or publishers and publicists had decided to treat it this was. For me, this revelation came so early and was such an integral part of the book that it really should have been in the blurb and all over the advertising material. It's sort of like if all descriptions of Twilight were careful to avoid mentioning that the love interest is a vampire in the hope that readers will be shocked when they find out (not that I like Twilight, I hasten to add, but it was the best parallel I could think of!).

It's actually quite difficult to say more about the book without giving away this plot detail. Let's just say this "twist" caught my attention and for a while, made me feel more interested in the book. The flashbacks to the narrator's childhood that linked to it were interesting and if there'd been more focus on those, I might have been better disposed towards the book. But then the narrative returned to the present, and despite the fact that we now have an explanation for some of the oddities of the narrator, I still found her as unlike-able and disinteresting as ever, and found most of the supporting characters to be even more irritating. Furthermore, there were suggestions that there was still one more secret childhood memory to be revealed, but there really wasn't. If the twist didn't quite qualify as a twist, then the final revelation, really, really didn't qualify as a revelation and it made for a huge anti-climax.

There were some meditations sprinkled throughout the book on what it means to be human and whether humans are really any different from other mammals and particularly from other primates. At times, these were interesting and got me thinking, but far too often, the book felt in danger of turning into a lecture on animal rights and the evils of animal testing. I was looking for a clever piece of fiction, not a polemic. Ironically, I think the message would have been far stronger if the plot had been allowed to speak for itself instead of characters being used as mouthpieces.

By the end, I just couldn't see the point of this book. I recently read We Were Liars, and while I didn't love that either, I felt that was a better portrayal of a damaged family and of the way families create their own mythology and can hide secrets. And if I wanted to learn about animal rights or human/animal psychology in detail, I'd read a non-fiction account, or at least a novel that dealt with the issue subtly. The only thing that really makes this book unique or at all interesting is the plot device I'm not meant to talk about, but despite a brief "wow moment", even that didn't bring the book alive for me.
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The Bone Clocks
The Bone Clocks
Price: £6.99

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A lot like Cloud Atlas, but not quite as good - which still makes it better than the vast majority of books, 3 Oct 2014
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This review is from: The Bone Clocks (Kindle Edition)
One of the characters in this novel of many narrators is Crispin Hershey, an author whose books clearly owe something of a debt to Mitchell’s own. So when Crispin is constantly offended that everyone thinks his latest offerings aren’t up to the standards of his greatest literary and commercial success, it seems fair to say that it’s something that plays on Mitchell’s mind. It therefore makes me feel slightly guilty to say that if I were going to sum up this book in one sentence (which I’m not – concision was never one of my strong points) it would be: “a lot like Cloud Atlas, but not quite as good.”

There’s something about Mitchell’s way with words and way with a story that makes me enjoy everything he writes, whatever the genre and style. Cloud Atlas is one of my all time favourite novels, but I also enjoyed the relatively straightforward narrative structure of his more recent offerings, Black Swan Green and the Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. Underneath all the cleverness, he’s fundamentally got a fantastic imagination and an amazing ability to tell a story.

Nonetheless, I was excited to see that here, Mitchell had returned back to the style of his earlier works and to what (I think) he does best: short stories that somehow coalesce into a complete novel, genre-bending and experiments with style, complex structures and narrative devices, and a blurring of the lines between literary and genre fiction.

That said, while you would never exactly describe the Bone Clocks as a conventional novel, it was actually rather lighter on tricksy devices than I had anticipated.

On the positive side, it felt much less like a cleverly linked combination of short stories than some of Mitchell’s books, and more like a coherent plot that happened to have several narrators and go off at a few tangents. Basically, it’s the story of Holly Syke’s life from 16 to 75, mixed with the story of an ancient battle between the Anchorites and the Horologists. In some sections, Holly was front and centre whereas in others she made little more than a cameo appearance. Similarly, some sections were basically full blown fantasy, while in others, this paranormal war was only hinted at. But the two poles of Holly and Horologists held the novel together as a coherent whole rather more effectively than comet birthmarks or ghosts really managed in earlier works.
On the less positive side, most of the chapters - despite having different first person narrators – felt oddly similar to each other. They were all told using a linear, first person narrative and used a broadly modern literary style. I rather missed the real jumping around between forms – now a diary, now an interview, now letters – and styles that so wowed me in earlier works. Chapter Five, cheerfully abandons the “basically realism but there are a few weird things going on” approach in favour of just giving into the temptation to write things like, “I can invoke Shaded Way acts without disturbing the Chapel, but the Cathar’ll detect psychosoterica from the far side of the Schism.” But while this chapter shattered the genre divide (and there’s nothing I love more than when serious writers bring a bit of fantasy into their novels), it still stuck to the same approach. This isn’t an attack. They were good stories, the succession of first person narrators had engaging and differentiated voices, the modern literary style was smoothly executed. It’s just that it didn’t amaze me, and I was longing to be amazed.

It’s always something of an inevitability with this sort of book that there are going to be sections you like more than others. Here, I struggled with the overly long and overly self-indulgent section about the author, and even more so with the rather preachy “global warming is a bad thing” end section. But I loved Holly’s working class teenager in the eighties bit and the wonderful noughties section that cut back and forth between a war reporter’s time in Iraq and time at a family wedding as he weighed up the relative importance of family and duty. It’s inevitably going to divide people, but personally, I also loved the hardcore fantasy section. Generally, I find that literary writers are rubbish at this sort of thing, but I thought Mitchell cobbled together an interesting enough mythos. Oh, and for anyone who's ever read one of my books, I suspect it goes without saying that I loved the section about the posh, handsome and caddish Oxbridge student who seduces our heroine and then joins an evil cult that grants him eternal life. I once claimed that Mitchell could take any writer’s novel and write a better version of it in one chapter. Now I know how it feels when it happens to you!

Finally, maybe it’s just my imagination or my slight obsession with that book, but at times, I sort of felt that Mitchell was rehashing characters from Cloud Atlas. One of the nicest things about being a Serious Author is that people tend to give you the benefit of the doubt. If a real fantasy author had several characters in his new book that were rather similar to characters in an earlier work, he’d be accused of laziness and predictability. If Mitchell has done so, I can only assume that it’s some clever device. But come on. Was Hugo Lamb not just a 1990s Robert Frobisher? Wasn’t cynical author Crispin just a tad reminiscent of cynical agent Timothy Cavendish? And brave war reporter Ed seemed to take a similar approach to life as brave crime reporter Luisa. And actually, those three stories come in the same order in both books, which probably means our too clever for his own good author is doing it on purpose.

This may be the longest review I’ve ever written, and I think that’s indicative of both the complexity of the book – which makes it very hard to summarise or reach an overall conclusion on – and my rather conflicted feelings, between admiring what Mitchell has done, and somewhat unfairly wishing that he’d done a little more. I don’t think this book is for everyone – the fantasy element will put some people off, while the unconventional structure will drive others away. But if you can bear a combination of fantasy subplot and state of the world pretentions, give it a go. There are some flaws and misteps, but there’s also both brilliant storytelling and real literary cleverness waiting inside.

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