The Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone

This might surprise you, but I don’t really read fantasy fiction. You might have gleaned otherwise from the slew of Terry Pratchett and JK Rowling books on my shelf, but those are two of the most widely-read authors in Britain. I’m not much of a reader lately, but my go-to fare is more of the Michael Crichton variety. I enjoy clean, efficient, unobtrusive prose – which also explains the few Stephen King books that share that shelf.

So that’s the real reason for the Greg Keyes novels, which came recommended from a friend. When I heard he was writing the Elder Scrolls spin-off books, I instantly understood why he’d been chosen, since his world and Bethesda’s are so similar as to seem interchangeable. What they share is a mundane sense of the magical – its presence is as low-key and matter-of-fact as the sci-fi in Battlestar Galactica. What’s kept in the foreground is the real drama of a highly-charged political situation, and the carnage of its graphically-described battle scenes. In that, it’s closer to one of the many dramatisations of the Tudor royals than your usual Elves-and-sorcery nonsense.  Continue reading

Review of the Year 2011

It’s been a funny year. I spent most of it pregnant, which is a lot like being really hung over for nine months. Not really conducive to productivity. Now my tiny bundle of trouble is here, blog posts are hastily composed in the few minutes she is able to sleep without being cuddled up on my lap. It’s been a funny year generally, though. There were terrifying natural disasters, tumultuous political events, and a slew of zeitgeisty buzzwords. There were the riots in the the UK, which was the logical result of our filesharing culture: if you tell people that they can take music, films and games without permission, payment or consequence, then of course they’ll just start smashing shop windows and stealing televisions and consoles to play them on – because, really, what’s the difference?

Steve Jobs died, to worldwide mourning, and John McCarthy – who coined the term “artificial intelligence” – died the same month, to little fanfare. Amy Winehouse succumbed to her addictions, and Charlie Sheen miraculously survived his own. A royal couple who actually seemed to like each other got married. Lady Gaga got boring. An American preacher predicted the Rapture – twice – and was a little embarrassed when the dates passed without incident.

And a number of things were released that I rather liked.

Continue reading

Trending Topics: #booksthatchangedmyworld

I’m not really a book person. I rarely finish novels – most of them are simply too boring to make me want to find out how they end. When I do enjoy a book, I tend to read it over and over. I’ve read each Harry Potter book at least three times (except the last), and have read Pride and Prejudice (197 years old and still f***ing hilarious) about six times.

I can’t, even now, think of a (fiction) book that has profoundly changed my life in the way my favourite music has. The closest to a life-changer would be Dice Man by Luke Rhinehart, which taught me the habit of flipping a coin over important decisions – not, in my case, to act so impulsively, but to reveal my subconscious desires: if I’m disappointed by a result, it means I didn’t really want to do it in the first place.

Mostly as a child I grew up reading standard fare – Lewis Carroll was a particular favourite, as were Grimm’s Fairy Tales and other fantasy fiction: The Wind in the Willows, Narnia; the usual. When I was eight, I used to read a comic written by Pat ‘Judge Dredd’ Mills called Misty – a fabulously morbid slab of gothic horror – specially for little girls.

The first book I remember finding profoundly affecting was A Rag, a Bone and a Hank of Hair by Nicholas Fisk. I was about ten, and I’d read a couple of his other stories – Trillions, for one – and the thing I loved about it was that he didn’t patronise his audience. He wrote grown up, solidly-written science fiction in which the protagonist happened to be a child. What was most arresting, other than the vivid detail of the worlds he described, was the shock twist ending. I bought the book from Amazon a couple of years back and, finding it just as good now as it was back then, sent it on to my nephew. I hope he read it. When I first stayed over with one of my closest friends, I was pleased to see Nicholas Fisk’s children’s stories nestling comfortably between Stephen Hawking and Brian Greene on her bookshelf.

Continue reading