Sunday, November 16, 2014

A few new reads I recommend.

I’ve read two amazing novels in the last few weeks.
That’s a rarity for me. The two part I mean. These days, if I’m really lucky, I can manage a novel in about three weeks on the average. I mean, full time day job and my own writing and that eats a lot of my day away. Some books make me break my rules and spend more than fifteen minutes at a time reading and both of these  managed that feat nicely. 
The first of the amazing books was Tim Lebbon’s THE SILENCE. As happens from time to time the publisher asked if I might consider reading an early copy and saying something nice about it. I told them I’d be delighted to read it. I never promise nice words, because sometimes the books sent are…less than spectacular.  While I do not publish bad reviews of books, I also do not like to lie about the quality of what I’m reading.
Now to be fair, I know Tim Lebbon and I know his work. I’ve never run across one of his tales I did not enjoy. Some I liked more than others, as is always the case, but so far there have been no lemons in the crowd.
THE SILENCE is no exception. It’s a damned solid piece of work about the end of the world. Novels of the apocalypse happen. Tales of how the world as we know it have been around almost as long as there’s been a world and a way to communicate the idea. Lebbon has done end-of-the-world before and done a mighty fine job with it. In particular I’ll point to WHITE which is a deeply disturbing tale of monsters hiding in the frozen cold and taken out humanity one step at a time. Deeply disturbing stuff, and until recently I would have called it the best work Tim Lebbon has done to date.
Now? I have to give that title to THE SILENCE. The story is intimate, told through the eyes of one family, a father and daughter to be precise. To add to the matter part of the story is told in the third person and part in the first. It’s a lovely trick for differentiating the narrators and perspectives and I liked it a lot.
I’ll not give away the plot. I’ll only say that the intimacy makes for a novel that is both horrifying and at time softly beautiful. All the carnage in the world means nothing without an emotional impact and Lebbon does a truly wonderful job of making every moment in the book count and every sacrifice great and small a potent jolt to the system. He also shows us exactly how easily society might crumble when the simplest luxuries are taken away from us.
A profoundly disturbing tale by Tim Lebbon. I cannot recommend THE SILENCE enough.

The other book that blew me out of the water was HALF A KING by Joe Abercrombie.  I’ve gone on about Abercrombie before. My friend Charles Rutledge suggested the man to me and loaned me a few books. I read the first chapter of THE BLADE ITSELF and was immediately hooked. Abercrombie knows how to write and more importantly knows how to tell a solid tale. Fantasy can be a nightmare in its own right. You have to do a lot more world building in a full on fantasy series than you do in most horror or mainstream work. If it ain’t set on this planet, things are going to get tricky, and Abercrombie handles they challenge better than most. Not too much information at one time but rather enough slow reveals to let the world develop without even really noticing that it’s happening. That’s a skill, folks, and a mighty rare one. Not a once in one of his books did I get bogged down in wasted details or lost for the lack of important knowledge.
HALF A KING is a story about a young prince who gets his life turned around completely by the death of his father the king and his older brother, who should be lined up to take the king’s place in case of emergency as it were. When they both die at the same time, our hero—if I can safely call him that, as most of the characters in an Abercrombie novel are well and properly human when it comes to their moral compasses, which is to say flawed—is stuck dealing with the consequences of a life he never wanted. And from that moment on his life goes downhill at a frightening pace.
I won’t reveal much more than that. I loathe reviews that tell you what happens to the point of ruining possible surprises. What I will say is that Abercrombie is in top form here, working with deft skill to show a new world, to let us know what we need to know, and offering up several surprises that I genuinely did not expect.
Some of the most profound characters that Abercrombie creates are the sorts that we should not cheer fro and yet we find ourselves enjoying just the same. He is adept and making characters we could easily love to hate, and many of the players in HALF A KING easily qualify along those lines.  
HALF A KING is a shorter novel for Abercrombie. That doesn’t make it any less complex or rewarding. Top notch stuff and highly recommended for anyone who loves a good story.

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