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A Second Pile of Books

David Gemmell: Legend
The last stand of a grizzled veteran whose name really is worth a thousand men, defending a doomed siege.  I really like David Gemmell's Troy series but this wasn't quite as appealing to me - I'm not the greatest one for war books, even fantasy war books, and this was his first book and the writing definitely isn't as polished as his later work.

And it's undeniably derivative(though personally I think originality is vastly overrated in books.  Most people don't have the skill to make something brand new without reusing parts, but that certainly doesn't mean that many of them can't make something that is well worth reading).

That said, I shall definitely be reading this one again.   Druss the legend is likeable, the coward (or as I think of it, 'sane sensible caste member', Rek is likeable.  I quite like it when characters in books are people that you'd really like to meet.  And the story is readable, well told and has some nice twists.

Elizabeth Knox : The Rainbow Opera & The Dream Quake

I got the first one for Christmas and had to buy the second one as I needed to read it.  This is a good thing.   These are two Young Adult novels- well, that's how they are printed, but really they are one long one that's been printed as two books: don't read the second one first, you'll be utterly baffled.   They are set in an alternative very early twentieth century, in a country/world where providing dreams for entertainment and profit is an industry. Only, some of the dreams are nightmares, and are being used for terrible purposes.

Wilkie Collins : The Moonstone
I don't know why I hadnt' read this before. Anyway, I heartily recommend it.  It's an excellent detective story containing Mysterious Indians,  a phlegmatic detective who adores roses, an opinionated steward, a tragic maid and an irritating spinster, told from a selection of viewpoints. 
If you like Dorothy L Sayers, the  vibe is quite similar though it pre-dates Sayers by a long way, being published in 1868.   Kudos to Wilkie Collins that it's still so readable despite its age.

Katharine Briggs : The Fairies in Tradition and Literature
Though mine is a new edition, this was published in 1967, so its survey of fairies (in which it encompasses elves, brownies, hobgoblins, imps, Black dogs, Fairy Plants and the Devil) ends up with Tolkien as the final word, which is quite nice.   And of course she doesn't know that the Cottingley Fairy photos were faked.  

None the less it contains some wonderful anecdotes and folktales, and is also comprehensively referenced, so I may need to read some of the references next.    And it hadn't occurred to me previously that the lyrics of the playground dance/rhyme 'in and out the dusky bluebells' - where each verse ends 'I am your master' is actually quite creepy.  (At our school we sang 'Now I am your master' which possibly makes it even more like a spell).

Pratchett : Unseen Academicals 
He's done crime, war, newpapers, post, cinema, communications, apparently now it's time for football.  Pratchett is always very readable, of course, and always has interesting things to say.  I am not quite sure about the way that all the Authorities of Ankh Morkpork now seem to be all so basically benevolent.  Even the Patrician is now essentially a nice guy.  Nasty people are basically isolated loners and everyone hates them, and where they are supported by others, it's only through fear and ignorance...

I think what made 'Night Watch' one of his stronger stories for some time  was that there was a bit more genuine conflict there.



( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
18th Mar, 2010 17:27 (UTC)
I enjoyed The Rainbow Opera and The Dream Quake very much. While it didn't quite engage my emotions in the way it probably should have done, I really liked the set-up and the world building. I probably need to reread them some time, since I'm sure that certain things will make a lot more sense on a second reading.

I'm racking my brains trying to work out what we used to sing for the last line of Dusty Bluebells (as I'm fairly sure we sang it, rather than Dusky.) I'm sure it was a question, but I can't remember if it was "Who will be my master?" or "Who will be my partner?" or something else entirely. But, whatever it was, you've launched me into some fond nostalging for childhood singing games and skipping rhymes. :-)

On a different topic... I notice that it is almost 20 hours since you posted a collection of reviews that contained some criticisms, and as yet none of the authors have appeared in your LJ to berate you about this. What's gone wrong? Why has normal service been departed from in this respect?

18th Mar, 2010 17:52 (UTC)
I suspect we are just a little too old for Rainbow Opera/Dream Quake :-( and that people reading them in their teens now will treasure them for years to come.

Authors: That's why I had to post the second bunch. Obviously my authorbait wasn't waggling sufficiently enticingly... :-p
18th Mar, 2010 17:54 (UTC)
.. tell you what though, if Wilkie Collins turns up, then we'll know that Katharine Briggs's theories about fairies being dead people a little too good for hell and a little too bad for heaven were spot on!
18th Mar, 2010 18:17 (UTC)
Communicating with the living via LJ comments definitely beats knocking on tables. I guess it's only fair that the dead aren't excluded from technological advances merely because they're dead. Hmm... Wonder if I should read the government's Digital Exclusion report to see if proper consideration was given to the needs of the dead.
1st Apr, 2010 00:45 (UTC)
Although I did know the "Dusky Bluebells" wording, we sang "Dusty Windows" at school - no idea if this is a known 'regional variant' or just an invention of some kids at my school. Doubtless those children's folklore people know, whose names escape me at the moment (I think it was two joint authors?) And I think we did it as a question at the end too, definately with "master" though.
1st Apr, 2010 17:07 (UTC)
I checked the Opies today at work, and their main title for the song was "Dusty Bluebells." At the end of the little article on it, they listed various variants: dusky bluebells, Scottish bluebells, Scottish windows, cottage windows. They also said that it wasn't included in a 1922 anthology of singing rhymes, and various people brought up in the nineteenth century had no knowledge of it, which led them to believe that it was a fairly modern rhyme.
1st Apr, 2010 00:54 (UTC)
Legend was the first David Gemmell book I read, and it was years ago (either pre-Uni or the first year or so there), but I found it very striking. To me it seemed very different and original (perhaps more in manner of storytelling more than the ideas themselves, I'm not really sure now.) But then that might be just because it was rather different from the sort of books I tended to read (I borrowed it from Pelago) so perhaps I was less familiar with the things it is derivative of? Still, as I say, it made a big impression, and you have made me want to read it again soon.

I *loved* The Moonstone when I read it in Secondary School, which was my big burst of reading old classic stuff (Dumas, Scott etc). There's also The Woman in White, though I don't think that's quite in the same class.
1st Apr, 2010 07:47 (UTC)
I liked the Woman in White too - just read his 'Dead Secret' but was less impressed. It's too full of people who sigh and become hysterical because they are women.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

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