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George Eliot "irnan" (Zurich, Switzerland)

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Diplomacy of Wolves (Secret Texts)
Diplomacy of Wolves (Secret Texts)
by Holly Lisle
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fear and Loathing in Calimekka, 5 Aug. 2007
In the world of Matrin, and especially the great city of Calimekka where the Five Families rule, magic is a forbidden science. Those who practice it are executed - as are any who are touched by it, even blamelessly.
One of these last is the young diplomat Kait Galweigh. She has inherited an age-old family curse: she is Karnee, a woman who can Shift into the form of a wolf-like beast. Her entire life has been spent hiding her curse, and so she is overjoyed to be sent on her first "mission" for the Galweigh Family. Kait's cousin Tippa is about to be married to a Dokteerak, in order to cement an alliance between the two Families. Kait is only at the engagement party to chaperone Tippa; but her Karnee abilities lead her to uncover a Dokteerak plot with the Sabir Family - the Galweigh's most hated enemies -that could mean the end of the Galweigh Family. As if this weren't bad enough, Kait meets and finds herself strangely attracted to a man who shares her Karnee curse - problem is, he's a Sabir.

Lisle writes with verve and energy and great style, the typical medieval fantasy setting offset by modern-sounding dialogue and descriptions that shouldn't really fit as well as they do. She can do grand and poetic as well, but somehow the whole trilogy has a feel to it that is - I'm sorry but theres no other words for it - sexy and cool. And no matter how much it sounds like Romeo and Juliet with magic on top of the blood and carefully crafted intrigues, Kait spends more time denying her growing love for Ry Sabir and clinging to her duty to her Family than she does hanging over balconies sighing his name. She's a great character: tough, clever and resourceful, although her uncertainties (especially in regard to Ry) can get a little irritating - even sound a bit whiny - sometimes.
The story can seem a bit confusing as the reader is dropped in the deep end right from the start, but the more we see of Kait's world, the more we come to understand it. But be warned: this is the first part of an (excellent) trilogy, and ends on a dreadful cliffhanger!


Fevre Dream (FANTASY MASTERWORKS)
Fevre Dream (FANTASY MASTERWORKS)
by George R.R. Martin
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars At last, a completely new and original take on vampires, 21 Jan. 2007
No longer re-animated corpses possessed by demons, but a race of beings in their own right. Vampires live for centuries though they cannot survive for long in the sunlight; they are stronger and faster than humans; they possess the power to mesmerize humans into doing their bidding; and once a month, the "red thirst" comes on them, driving them to drink human blood.

One of the most powerful of these "vampires" has just become Abner Marsh's new partner. His name is Joshua York, and he needs transportation along the Mississippi (and a place to hide from the sun) so that he can search for others of his people who have fled the Old World for the New. Joshua believes he can save them: he has invented a drink that suppresses the "red thirst" thus making it possible for the "People of the Night" to live alongside humans for the first time.

But Joshua is about to find out that not all his people want to be saved. Some of them are, in fact, rather enjoying their existence as unkillable blood-drinking demons - notably the ancient, powerful bloodmaster Damon Julian, who may yet bring all Joshuas dreams for his people to a bloody end.

I've always loved vampire stories, and this one is exceptional. Comparisons with Anne Rice are, given the setting, inevitable. The rotting Louisiana swamps are a marvellous setting for any horror story. Martin conjurs up the same humid atmosphere of decay in the swamps and slums of New Orleans, contrasting it with the glittering beauty of the richer parts of the city - and, of course, the steamboats themselves - that Rice describes so vivdly; but he makes his protagonists a lot more interesting. No self-obsessed Lestat here, searching for his own personal redemption. (Or maybe not. You can never be quite sure with Lestat, can you? Anyway. I digress.)

Joshua is trying to save his entire race, searching for a way for them to live with humans before they die out - or are destroyed. Martin has created a whole mythology for the People of the Night, making them the hunted not the hunters, giving them a depth and character that far surpasses any other vampires in books or on screen. Along with some serious horror, lots of blood and the odd Byron quotation, this book becomes a story you're not likely to forget. I for one want don't want to.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 4, 2009 8:15 PM BST


The Virgin Suicides
The Virgin Suicides
by Jeffrey Eugenides
Edition: Paperback

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Creepy but fascinating, 16 Nov. 2006
This review is from: The Virgin Suicides (Paperback)
The title says it all: Five teenage sisters in Suburbia commit suicide over the course of one year, spied on all the while by the neighbourhood boys, who narrate the story decades later in a creepy, anonymous first-person-plural.

Sounds depressing, doesn't it. Believe me, "Virgin Suicides" is nothing of the kind. And it isn't nostalgic or wistful either - I notice everyone who has thought so has been a man, by the way. As a young woman not many years older than the Lisbon girls, I found it creepy, voyeuristic, lecherous even. This is not, I hasten to assure you, meant to put you off reading the book. "Virgin Suicides" is one of my favourite novels. Eugenides has written an incredible book: rich dark prose that conjures up the very smells of the Lisbon sisters home, black jokes that pop up when you least expect them and characters so carefully drawn I believe I could recognise them on the street. It is the narrator that gives the book its creepy tone, though. A streetful of boys watching over the every move of five young girls? Prying into every aspect of their lives from used tampons to Lux's rooftop orgies to Cecilias picture of the Virgin Mary? Treasuring these artefacts for decades, even collecting them into an exhibition of sorts? Spied on like this, is it any wonder the girls killed themsleves, you might think.

The reader is drawn into this decaying world with the expectation that everything will be explained in the end; but nothing is explained. The narrator(s) give us detail upon detail upon detail - and then realise that they will never be able to explain. The boys will never understand the Lisbon sisters, never know them, never be able to comprehend why they killed themselves - no matter how many diaries they read or brassieres they steal or old boyfriends they question. We are left to draw our own conclusions, to determine for ourselves what was going on in their minds. The really scary part, the part that makes this book so unforgettable, is the impression we are left with at the end: that the girls are laughing at us somewhere, that they have, in some strange way, stolen a march on all of us.


Dragon and Phoenix (Earthlight)
Dragon and Phoenix (Earthlight)
by Joanne Bertin
Edition: Paperback

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Three cheers for sequels!, 18 Oct. 2006
In the far-off Empire of Jehanglan, the power of the Emperor is assured by the priest-mages who hold the Phoenix captive, drawing on it's magic to protect the Empire. Nobody in Dragonskeep, the home of the Dragonlords, knows too much about it - or cares. But then Raven Redhawksson, childhood friend of newest Dragonlord Maurynna Kyrissaean, arrives at the Keep, escorting a man who brings distubing news from Jehanglan. He claims the Phoenix is held captive by using the magic of an imprisoned Dragonlord! Before long Linden and Maurynna's friend Lleld has a plan to free both captives; and the only possible candidate for the main part in it is Maurynna. Meanwhile, in the Empire, tensions are building as Lord Jhanun and his followers plot to take the throne from weak, bumbling Emperor Xiane. But they hadn't counted on Xiane's concubine Shei-Luin, who will stop at nothing to become the first Empress of Jehanglan in centuries...

"Dragon and Phoenix" is proof that not all sequels are a let-down. Linden and Maurynna's story is interesting as ever (one or two great insights into their respective childhoods coming up!), Lleld's 'ideas' great fun, and most of the new characters - notably Shei-Luin, who is my favourite - fascinating. But the book suffers from the occasional very tedious chapter, Raven in particular is just awful, and Bertin's writing is still rather clumsy sometimes. However, all these faults are made up for by the magnificent showdown, in which all the major characters play a part from various different places. Bertin switches from Maurynna to Linden to Shei-Luin to any of the numerous others in a way that never lets you catch your breath. As much fun as the first one.


The Last Dragonlord
The Last Dragonlord
by Joanne Bertin
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Terrific fun to read, 18 Oct. 2006
Linden Rathan is the youngest of a race of weredragons: humans who share their bodies with a (sleeping) dragonsoul and are able to Change back and forth between human and dragon form. They live for centuries, and are often called upon to settle truehuman's political disputes in order to keep the peace in the world. One such dispute - over a regency - is currently taking place in the city of Casna, and Linden is sent there with two other Dragonlords to settle the debate. But soon they find themselves dealing with the Fraternity of Blood. This secret society, led by a powerful mage, is determined to destroy all the Dragonlords - starting with Linden and his new-found soultwin, who has no idea who she is, and mustn't be allowed to find out before she's ready!

Bertin has written an immensely enjoyable book. A fast-paced plot, interesting characters and a simply brilliant new idea for dragons make sure you'll never get bored. In fact, I've reread it numerous times. But there are some downsides. The writing (especially the dialogue) is occasionally awkward, and despite the fact that two of the main characters have lived for, oh, about a thousand years, the whole history of the world seems to start with Linden. I often found myself wondering about before he became the be-all-and-end-all greatest-Dragonlord-ever.

These are just quibbles, though. "The Last Dragonlord" is like that favourite action film you always end up watching on Sunday afternoons: you know it's rather juvenile and not really as good as some of the other things you could be watching, but it's such fun you just don't care.


The Tin Princess
The Tin Princess
by Philip Pullman
Edition: Paperback

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Ruritanian romance for modern readers, 21 Sept. 2006
This review is from: The Tin Princess (Paperback)
And by "Modern Readers" I mean all those sillys who can't be bothered to try and keep up with old-fashioned prose because they are too desperate to get to the action. Let me assure you from the start that getting to the action will not be a problem in THIS book. On the contrary, the novel opens with a bomb going off in a London suburb.
Becky Winter, hired to teach the "lady of the house" reading, writing and German is not a little surprised that her new employers are a target for anarchists, but she is even more surprised when she finds out that said employer is Crown Prince Rudolf of Razkavia, her native country. Little larger than an English county, it lies between two political giants of late 19th-century Europe: Germany and Austria-Hungary. Both Empires are all too eager to annex Razkavia, for the tin mines there would be very useful in building their armies. And hardly has Becky learned all this than she makes another new acquaintance: Jim Taylor, private detective and current right-hand-man to Prince Rudolf. But Jim's real loyalty lies not with Rudolf but Rudolf's wife: a cockney girl by name of Adelaide, for whom Jim and his best friend Sally Lockhart have been searching for ten years...

Its a good idea to read the first three Sally Lockhart books before you start "Tin Princess": Sally does not play a central role here, but Adelaide and Jim are much more interesting characters if you know about their background. Pullman pits them here against everyone from scheming diplomats to revolutionaries to Bismarck himself (via a pompous chamberlain and a bar brawl or two) - and they are fantastic. So is Pullman's writing: he evokes 19th-century Europe with amazing ease and style, and wonderful comic timing. Adelaide's Cockney English is excellently deployed to get the most laughs out of any situation, no matter how serious, and Jim is always a terrific protagonist (the scene in the cellar captures every aspect of him in three pages, without Pullman once drifting off into long-winded ruminations on his character - simply marvellous). Becky, from whose point of view much of the book is narrated, is also very good. She doesn't have Sally's fire, but then, who does?
It is the extraordinary story of people who are fighting to preserve what they believe in - Razkavia - in the face of overwhelming odds, written with all Pullman's considerable skill and ending with glorious heroism and the sense that the battle may be over, but the war is not. I know most people prefer well-rounded happy-ends, but I love books that - like this one - end with exciting possibilities...


Song of Kali (FANTASY MASTERWORKS)
Song of Kali (FANTASY MASTERWORKS)
by Dan Simmons
Edition: Paperback

3 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A one-way ticket to Calcutta for the price of a paperback, 10 Sept. 2006
Robert Luczak, poet and editor, has just been hired to hop on a plane to Calcutta and investigate the claims of a man who says he wants to publish new material by a celebrated Indian poet... the problem is, the poet has been dead for years. So Bobby and his Indian wife Amrita pack their bags and their baby daughter and head off to Calcutta to hear about M. Das' mysterious resurrection. And as it turns out, Das has indeed been resurrected - by the Goddess Kali, the Hindu Goddess of death and destruction, so that he might be the voice that proclaims the coming of her dominion to the world.

And that is the entire plot, I'm afraid.

India and Hinduism have always fascinated me, so when I spotted "Song of Kali" in the bookshop I couldn't resist. Simmons is a fine writer, really: he describes Calcutta in glorious, disgusting detail. Reading the book, I could smell the stench in the streets, feel the overpowering heat, breathe the foul air... but unfortunately, Simmons talents as a writer seem to stop there (in this book, at any rate). He has no concept of a plotline, a coherent story with a beginning and an end. I don't by any means insist on hero quests in fantasy novels, but I do like to finish a book feeling as if someting had happened. I finished "Song of Kali" with the sights and sounds and smells of Calcutta all around me... and nothing else. Simmons went to a great deal of trouble to describe the most horrifying, frightening, sickening, miasmic city I have ever read about - and then he did nothing with it. Just to make matters worse, the ending drifts off into sheer silliness: Star Warsian philosophising on the Good and Evil inside us corruptable humans (Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. And Hate is the path... well, you know the rest.) The book's title should have been "Song of Calcutta" - the city gets more "screen time" even than the main protagonist, and is far more interesting.


The Year Of The Griffin (GOLLANCZ S.F.)
The Year Of The Griffin (GOLLANCZ S.F.)
by Diana Wynne Jones
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The trials and tribulations of the Wizards University, 9 Sept. 2006
Eight years after the events of "Dark Lord of Derkholm" Derk and Maras children are off to see - and put right - the world Mr. Chesneys Tours so nearly destroyed - at least, most of them are. Elda just wants to go to University and learn magic properly. But upon arrival, it turns out that Dad might have had a point when he said she'd be wasting her time. The University is, not to put too fine a point on it, stony broke and most of the teachers utterly incompetent. And Chairman Corcoran isn't helping: he'd rather spend what little money he can dredge up on building his moonship than repairing roofs, or buying food. Still, when his new students arrive, and he realises that they all come from rich and important families, he manages to stay on the ground long enough to do the only sensible thing: send their parents pleading letters begging for money. Meanwhile Elda has made friends with them all, and quickly discovers that each and every one of them has, to use the common phrase, done a bunk. Just how their respective families feel about that becomes clear when assassins, pirates and various enraged monarchs begin to show up at the University!

Plot? What plot? "Year of the Griffin" is pure fun, with no pretensions to any kind of world-shaking storyline. It's about friendship, family, and, of course, university. It's about new life and fresh ideas and crawling out from under the debris of the past. It's about jinxes and angry parents, greedy senators and griffins (obviously). But most of all, as always with Jones, it's about magic. And once again, one of the best things about her book is way you can almost feel her joy in writing jumping off the pages. It shines through every single sentence, and it's extremly contagious.


Deep Secret (GOLLANCZ S.F.)
Deep Secret (GOLLANCZ S.F.)
by Diana Wynne Jones
Edition: Paperback

9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of my favourite books, 9 Sept. 2006
You know all those conspiracy theories about secret societies running the world? Well, as it turns out they have a basis in fact: the Magids are a group of magicians who answer to the mysterious "Upper Room" and whose job it is to maintain the balance of magic, keep an eye on magic-users in a myriad of worlds across the galaxy and, every now and then, give certain people a little nudge or two to get them (and events) going in the right direction. "Deep Secret" is the story of one Magid on Earth, Rupert Venables, and his attempt to find a successor for his recently deceased mentor Stan. It shouldn't really be a problem - there are a number of candidates, and all Rupert needs to do is pick the most suitable. So he gives fate a helping hand in order to bring all five candidates to a hotel in Wantchester, where he can interview them.

But once he gets there, he realises that NONE of them are suitable - and his problems don't stop there. A fantasy convention is logded in the hotel, trouble is brewing in the Koryfonic Empire (one of the worlds he is responsible for), Stan is haunting his car playing Scarlatti tapes, his neighbour Andrew keeps turning up in the most unexpected places, and to make matters worse, the most detested of the candidates Maree Mallory and her cousin Nick are rather inquisitive about Rupert's attempts to keep a lid on things - too inquisitive...

Sound confusing? It isn't when you read the book. Jones is far too good a storyteller for that. She weaves her character's seperate stories into a funny, smart, scary, magical, multi-layered tapestry that is enormous fun to read. A totally original story (no hero quests here, thank you very much!) engaging characters, lots of magic (I loved the Witchy Dance for Luck especially) and a sense of mischievous glee that underlies Jones's writing all combine to make "Deep Secret" totally irresistable.


Stardust
Stardust
by Neil Gaiman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.89

8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Do you know what your Heart's Desire is?, 8 Sept. 2006
This review is from: Stardust (Paperback)
Tristran Thorne does. Her name: Victoria Forrester. The most beautiful girl in the village, he would do anything, go anywhere, for her. Even across the Wall, into Faerie, to retrieve a fallen star. In return, Victoria will give him anything he desires of her.

But when Tristran reaches the place where the star fell, he discovers it is not a lump of celestial metal, but a girl: a sharp-tongued young lady with a broken leg, who is being chased by a witch who wants to cut her heart out. Achieving his Heart's Desire is turning out to be even more difficult than Tristran thought...

The story, I must admit, is hardly original. But that doesn't matter in the least. It serves Gaiman only as an excuse to journey into Faerie, to describe what he sees there, to tell us about the people he meets in marvellous, complete, unparalleled detail. And he meets some wonderful people: a unicorn, a talking tree, a witch who sells frozen charms in the shape of glass flowers, lords Primus and Septimus, "fighting for the crown" of Stormhold (or rather, sneaking around trying to murder each other for it - hilarious!). But I think my favourite character is Lady Una. She is so selfish and vain you can't help but like her. And all of them described with Gaiman's unmistakeable flair for the horrific, the funny, and above all the fantastic. The first thing I did upon finishing this story was go back and start again. I find something new (and usually hilarious)in it every time I read it.


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