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Posts Tagged ‘Rachel Caine’

The solar eclipse was cool, wasn’t it? Even if you saw only a partial, like what we experienced here in Central Florida, it was memorable. The light was strange, darker but still somehow bright, and the temperature dropped in the shadow of the moon. It was lovely and odd, an exclamation point in a long, hot summer.

I like books that arrive like an eclipse, turning things off-kilter, punctuating the ordinary scheme of things. Natasha Pulley’s new novel The Bedlam Stacks (Bloomsbury, digital galley) has the air of an 19th-century historical adventure, one where explorers search for lost cities and/or fabled treasure in the Amazonian wilds  In 1859, smuggler Merrick Tremayne travels from England to Peru for the East India Company, which is in need of quinine to combat malaria. Merrick finds the rare trees that are its source high in the Andes, but he also encounters dangers and secrets: an enigmatic priest, mysterious moving statues, clockwork lamps, illuminated pollen, a village carved out of volcanic glass and rock next to a border of salt and bone. It’s all quite wonderful and weird, the lines between reality and imagination cunningly and plausibly blurred. There’s also  a tenuous connection with Pulley’s whimsical first novel, The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, another tale of fate and friendship touched with subtle magic.

With Meddling Kids (Knopf Doubleday, digital galley), Edward Cantero pays gleeful tribute to H.P. Lovecraft, Enid Blyton, Scooby-Doo, Escape to Witch Mountain and other 20th-century pop culture touchstones. It’s a lot of fun finding the Easter eggs in the careening narrative, but the madcap adventures of  the Blyton Summer Detective Club keep you plenty busy. In 1977, the four kids and their dog made headlines for unmasking the identity of the Sleepy Lake Monster. But 13 years later, tomboy fugitive Andy convinces biologist/bartender Kerri, her mentally unstable cousin Nate and her Weimaraner Tim (descendant of original dog Sean) to reconvene in the small Oregon mining town, scene of their past triumph. Teen movie star Peter is with them in spirit, having presumably committed suicide several years ago. Something strange is still  going on in Sleepy Lake, and legends linger of lost treasure at the old Deboen Mansion. It’s time to lay the ghosts or whatever to rest. The story moves along at quite a clip, including a terrifying chase through the old mine tunnels before a thrilling show-down with a powerful alchemist plotting the apocalypse. E-ticket ride, for sure. With tentacles.

If you’re a fan of Fargo, movie and TV series, then check out The Blinds (HarperCollins, purchased hardcover), Adam Sternbergh’s third novel. The title refers to Caesura, a small West Texas community whose residents are all either criminals or crime victims who’ve had their memories voluntarily zapped by an experimental institute. No one knows who’s who. Allowed to pick new names from lists of movie stars and vice presidents, the 50 or so citizens live without interacting with the outside world — no cell phones, mail or internet — although there is a TV in the makeshift laundromat. The institute delivers groceries and supplies to the general store, and life is humdrum and safe under the watchful eye of sheriff Cal Cooper. Until there is a suicide, and then a murder, and outside suits come to investigate. Meanwhile, Fran Adams, mother of the town’s only child, eight-year-old Isaac, is having disturbing memory flashbacks, and a new resident has a message for a notorious serial killer. Sternberg weaves issues of guilt, innocence and redemption into his involving story, but contrivances cut down on the suspense. The body count multiplies as secrets are revealed and identities recovered.  I liked The Blinds — except for the coydog massacre — but I think I like Kelley Armstrong’s City of the Lost series more, which has a similar premise minus the memory tampering.

I’m taking my time reading The Clockwork Dynasty (Knopf Doubleday, digital galley), the new novel from Robopocalypse author Daniel H. Wilson. It’s a complicated but engaging tale of intricate and lifelike automatons living among us, their origins dating back to the courts of the tsar. Chapters alternate between June, fascinated since childhood by antique automatons, and Peter, a clockwork man with a curious history and a mission. Lucy Keating’s Literally (HarperCollins, digital galley) is nifty YA metafictional romance  as a  high school senior’s life is upended when she discovers she’s a character in her creative writing teacher’s new novel. Will Annabelle ever figure out how to wrest control of her life from clever Lucy Keating? I thought Rachel Caine was wrapping up the Great Library series with the third volume, Ash and Quill (Berkley/Penguin, digital galley), but it looks as if there will be at least a fourth book of the adventures of book smuggler Jess Brightwell and his cohorts trying to save the Great Library of Alexandria even as they rebel against it. Having escaped from Alexandria and London, they’re now imprisoned in a frontier Philadelphia, controlled by the Burners. Lots of action and atmosphere, as in Ink and Bone and Paper and Fire, and another cliffhanger ending.

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invisibleSometimes you just need to get away. Could be that out-of-town isn’t enough, or even out-of- the-country. Let’s try out-of-this world.

First stop is Genevieve Cogman’s The Invisible Library (Roc/Penguin, digital galley), where the shelves of books stretch in all directions across time and space and where hidden portals lead to alternate realities. Born and raised in the Library, Irene now works as a spy to retrieve rare volumes to add to the Library’s immense collection. On a mission to pick up a singular copy of Grimm’s fairy tales, she and her new assistant Kai arrive in a London infected by magic known as chaos, resulting in a steampunk Dickensian city whose inhabitants include demons, vampires and the Fair Folk. The rules are different here, as Irene and Kai’s pursuit of the stolen book is threatened by competing factions willing to kill for the prize. In the course of their adventures, they meet up with a Sherlockian detective, Irene’s former mentor and the evil Albion, the Library’s greatest traitor. Fans of Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series and/or Dr. Who will appreciate the imaginative worldbuilding, literary references and galloping pace. Sequels The Masked City and The Burning Page arrive in September and December.

onedamnedSpeaking of timey-wimey stuff, Jodi Taylor’s Just One Damned Thing After Another (Night Shade/Skyhorse, digital galley) is also a British import, the first in the series known as the Chronicles of St. Mary’s. Time-traveling historians aren’t new — American Connie Willis has been dispatching them with elan for years — but Taylor takes the concept and runs with it. Narrator Madeleine Maxwell is a new recruit to the mysterious St. Mary’s Institute of Historical Research, where trained historians like herself “investigate historical events in contemporary time” — yep, time travel. Max soon discovers that hurtling back centuries can be downright dangerous, as when she and her colleagues work in a World War I battlefield hospital. But that’s nothing to the Cretaceous Period, where slathering dinosaur jaws await the unwary, as well as time-traveling terrorists determined to sabotage St. Mary’s research. Really, it’s one disaster after another for Max and company, but it’s often hilarious. Good thing, because the pace is uneven, the secondary characters underdeveloped and the laws of logic don’t apply. The whole could use an editor. Still,  A Symphony of Echoes arrives next week, and I understand there will be Dodos.

paperfireAction and adventure, knowledge and power. They’re intertwined in Rachel Caine’s Great Library series, which began last year with the thrilling Ink and Bone. In that book, London book smuggler Jess Brightwell was sent off to study at the Great Library of Alexandria, which has survived through the ages as librarians rule the world by limiting access to all original books. In the second book, Paper and Fire (NAL/Penguin, review copy), Jess and his fellow students who made it through the perilous final exams are ready to enter the ranks as soldiers or scholars. But the dark side of the Library is revealing itself: Jess’ best friend Thomas has been accused of treason and reportedly executed, his girlfriend Morgan’s alchemical talents have landed her in the Iron Tower, and their teacher, Scholar Christopher Wolfe, is barely recovering from torture and imprisonment at the hands of the evil Archivist. Still, when Jess and his friends figure out that Thomas is being held captive in Rome, they set out to rescue him, braving the fearful automata of the Library and the deadly explosives of the heretical Burners. Yes, you really need to read the first book, although Caine tries to fill in gaps for newcomers. This makes for some slow going at the beginning of Paper and Fire, but the action picks up in Rome, and then it’s off full speed ahead to London and presumed safety.  Ha! I’m booking passage now for a third book.

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watchmakerAt first, The Watchmaker of Filigree Street (Bloomsbury, digital galley) reads like really good historical fiction, evoking the atmosphere of 1880s London — bustling gaslit streets, boisterous pubs, conversations buzzing about the latest scientific discoveries or the new production from Gilbert & Sullivan. But then as Natasha Pulley’s first novel follows the solitary life of a young telegraph operator at the British Home Office, oddities appear, like the intricate watch that Thaniel Steepleton finds on his bed. Soon after, the watch save his life as it sounds an alarm coinciding with a bomb set by Irish terrorists, and Thaniel goes in search of its mysterious maker, Japanese immigrant Keita Mora. He’s another solitary soul but a mechanical genius when it comes to fashioning timepieces and automata. He’s also strangely prescient.

Thaniel and Mora’s growing friendship is complicated by Mora’s secrets, official suspicion that the watchmaker may be the sought-after bombmaker, and the entrance of Grace Carrow, a strong-minded Oxford physicist in need of a husband to secure her independence and a family inheritance. Questions of love and fate play into the intricate and surprising plot, which may yet hinge on the actions of Mora’s playful mechanical octopus Katsu, who hides in dresser drawers and steals socks. The Watchmaker of Filigree Street is much like Katsu — whimsical, magical, oddly plausible and totally enchanting.

uprootedSpeaking of enchantment, Naomi Novik puts readers under a once-upon-a-time spell with Uprooted (Del Rey/Random House, digital galley), drawing on Polish fairy and folk tales to conjure up a magically medieval world. Readers familiar with Novik’s alternate history Dragons of Temeraire series may be surprised to know that the Dragon of this story is a wizard who once every 10 years — in return for protecting the region from the evil, encroaching Wood — selects a village girl as his serving maid. Narrator Agnieszka, plain and pragmatic, is surprised when she’s picked to accompany the enigmatic Dragon to his isolated tower. Left to her own devices and longing for home, Agnieszka is an initially awkward housekeeper and cook until she develops her true talents and realizes the reason she was chosen. Eventually she becomes part of a perilous quest involving a young prince, a lost queen and the thorny depths of the sentient forest.

Novik’s immersive writing reminds me a bit of Emily Croy Barker’s The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Practical Magic and/or one of Robin McKinley’s fairy tale retellings. Magic.

aliceThe cover of Christina Henry’s Alice (Ace/Penguin, digital galley), with its bloody-eyed rabbit in menswear, is your first clue that this is not Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. True, Henry is inspired by the classic, borrowing characters’ names and familiar motifs, but her wonderland — the Old City — is dark and dystopian. When a fire engulfs an insane asylum, an amnesiac Alice and fellow patient Hatcher escape, but so does the ravenous, flying Jabberwocky. The fugitive pair, seeking shelter and then revenge, follow the maze-like streets of the crumbling city, its sectors presided over by the overlords known as Rabbit, Caterpillar, Walrus and Cheshire. Crime is commonplace, from thievery to human trafficking, and evil is afoot and aloft. This is midnight-dark fantasy, occasionally confusing and not for the squeamish. Henry leaves enough threads hanging to spin a sequel. I’d read it.

inkandboneLibrarians are both guardians of knowledge and brave warriors in Rachel Caine’s Ink and Bone: The Great Library (NAL/Penguin, digital galley), a rousing YA action-adventure set in a near future where “knowledge is power.”  The great Library of Alexandria has survived the ages and its librarians rule the world by strictly controlling access to all original books. The librarians’ alchemy allows regular folk to read “mirror” versions of select volumes on blank tablets, but the ownership of real texts is forbidden, and the printing press is unknown. A thriving book-smuggling trade for collectors is threatened both by tyrannical librarians and their fearsome automata, as well as by the heretical “burners” who destroy books as an act of rebellion. At 16, Jess Brightwell is an experienced thief and smuggler in London who loves reading real books, and whose father wants him to become a spy among the librarians. But first he must pass the entrance exams and survive the training at Alexandria. So, it’s Harry Potter meets The Book Thief meets young Indiana Jones, sort of.

Caine puts her experience as a successful series writer to good use, creating vibrant — if somewhat — stock characters in her steampunk-studded world. Jess’s classmates include a brilliant Arab scholar, a mean-minded Italian playboy, a prickly Welsh girl and a talented German inventor. Their stern teacher has secrets of his own, some of which are revealed when the students are sent to rescue a cache of ancient books in the library at Oxford, a city caught up in a brutish war. (Shades of Henry V). Surprises await, as do romance and betrayal. But we have to wait until next summer for the next book. Ah, for a little alchemy to make it appear sooner.

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