In no particular order, and in no way a complete list, here are some thoughts on some books I’ve read recently. These aren’t quite reviews, and I’m not therefore going to be scoring them.
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Tail of the Blue Bird by Nii Ayikwei Parkes
Like David Devereux’s Hunter’s Moon, which I’m writing about below, this book comes into the category of “Book I probably wouldn’t have bought under normal circumstances, but did so because I met the author and he seemed like a pretty cool bloke.” And like Hunter’s Moon, if I were assigning scores, I’d probably give Tail of the Blue Bird a 4 out of 5 “good, I really enjoyed it” rather than a 5 out of 5 “great, it blew my mind” because it’s not quite my thing. (i.e. If I really liked it and it isn’t quite my thing, then if it really is your thing then it might just blow your mind).
I met Nii Parkes at the London Writers’ Club a few months ago, when he came to give a talk. As I said above, he seemed like a pretty cool guy, so I bought a copy of his book, and read it on the train that week. What’s it about? Well here’s the publisher’s blurb:
Sonokrom, a village in the Ghanaian hinterland, has not changed for thousands of years. Here, the men and women speak the language of the forest, drink aphrodisiacs with their palm wine and walk alongside the spirits of their ancestors. The discovery of sinister remains – possibly human, definitely ‘evil’ –and the disappearance of a local man brings the intrusion of the city in the form of Kayo; a young forensic pathologist convinced that scientific logic can shatter even the most inexplicable of mysteries.
As events in the village become more and more incomprehensible, Kayo and his sidekick, Constable Garba, find that Western logic and political bureaucracy are no longer equal to the task in hand. Strange boys wandering in the forest, ghostly music in the night and a flock of birds that come from far away to fill a desolate hut with discarded feathers take the newcomers into a world where, in the unknown, they discover a higher truth that leaves scientific explanations far behind.
Tail of the Blue Bird is a story of the clash and clasp between old and new worlds. Lyrically beautiful, at once uncanny and heart-warmingly human, this is a story that tells us that at the heart of modern man there remains the capacity to know the unknowable.
As novels go, it’s perhaps a little more literary than I generally go for – but it’s still a very good fun read. Nii uses a lot of Ghanian words, phrasing and manners of speech (something which he discusses here); this can make the book slightly harder to read, but in return really transports you to this other world and culture.
I think I can best explain this book to my roleplaying readers by saying that after reading it, I wanted to run a Call of Cthulhu / Trail of Cthulhu game set in Ghana, because it perfectly catches that Cthulhuesque point on the cusp of reality and magic.
Anyhow, it’s a good book and I enjoyed it.
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Hunter’s Moon by David Devereux
This is another book that I originally bought because I met the author (we were on a panel together at Dragonmeet), and he turned out to be a cool bloke – but it’s good enough that I now would have bought it anyway, something that I can say with some certainty because I’ve just ordered its sequel, Eagle Rising.
Hunters Moon is of the genre that I believe is called Urban Fantasy; this isn’t typically a genre I read, which should be borne in mind when reading my comments. (i.e. I thought it was pretty damn good, so if you are into urban fantasy you might think it was pretty damn great).
The book’s probably best summed up by the tag line on the cover: “Magician by profession. Bastard by Disposition.” but if that’s a bit cryptic for you, here’s the back-cover blurb:
“My name is unimportant, but you can call me Jack. I’m a musician by choice, a magician by profession, and a bastard by disposition. I’d been doing the magic thing for about five years when they found me. They said I had a talent, that I was smart enough and fit enough and enough of a shit that I could serve my country in a way most people never even get to hear about. And I did want to serve my country, didn’t I? I didn’t really want to contemplate what might happen if I said no.”
Jack has found himself on the front line of a secret war, so bizarre, so terrifying that most people simply wouldn’t believe it was possible. Working for a secret organisation tasked with defending our country from whatever supernatural threat faces it. MI5 know nothing about it and would laugh if they found out. Well at first they would …
Wherever the forces of darkness gather, Jack is there in the shadows, waiting for them.
He is a very modern sort of magician – trained in a variety of the magical arts, adept at exorcism but also a dab hand with a Heckler and Koch, skilled in unarmed combat and electronic surveillance. And with a coven of witches calling on their dark master to help them assassinate the prime minister he’s going to need all those skills and more.
It’s a good quick read; fun, action-packed, and with one particular incident of assassination whose method still makes me both smile in admiration (at the inventiveness of the author’s mind in coming up with it) and wince in horror (at the horrible awfulness of the victim’s demise).
I won’t spoil anyone’s fun by revealing it further, but trust me, when you get to the bit where you’re shaking your head and saying, “Oh God, no, that’s just sick!” you’ll know it’s the bit I’m talking about.
I liked it.
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Red Moon Rising by Matthew Brzezinski
Red Moon Rising was a Christmas present from my lovely wife; that she has good taste and knows me well is evidenced by the fact that I really enjoyed it. It tells the story of the very first part of the Space Race, starting from the V2 rockets of the Second World War, and ending with the launch of Explorer I, the first US satellite, on the 31st January 1958.
I’m quite a space nut, and thought I was already well-versed in the history of space exploration. But this book went quite a bit deeper than my previous level of knowledge, with many fascinating anecdotes that revealed the degree to which chaotic internal politics influenced the decisions taken by both Eisenhower and Khrushchev during this period.
If you’re into space, I’d strongly recommend this book.