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review 2017-11-15 18:24
Allan Quatermain / H. Rider Haggard
Allan Quatermain - Henry Rider Haggard

Allan Quartermain is a sequel to the famous novel King Solomon's Mines. Quatermain has lost his only son and longs to get back into the wilderness. Having persuaded Sir Henry Curtis, Captain John Good, and the Zulu chief Umbopa to accompany him, they set out from the coast of east Africa, this time in search of a white race reputed to live north of Mount Kenya. They survive fierce encounters with Masai warriors, undergo a terrifying subterranean journey, and discover a lost civilization before being caught up in a passionate love-triangle that engulfs the country in a ferocious civil war.

 

I have read Haggard’s She and King Solomon's Mines, and I basically knew what to expect when I began Allan Quatermain. In many ways, AQ is a combination of the other two novels, but not quite as good as either one of them. It’s an adventure fantasy, starring rich Englishmen in deepest darkest Africa. They shoot a lot of animals and incidentally kill off quite a few African servants in the course of their quest. And what are they searching for, you ask? Why an unknown civilization of white people in an area where almost no one has gone before.

When the men find their Lost Civilization, Haggard doubles down on a good thing. Instead of one mysterious white woman ruling the area (as in She), he provides two of them in this novel! And just to show that the love triangle trope is not unique to modern romance literature, both of these queenly personages fall head over heels in love with Allan’s companion, Sir Henry. To say that this causes problems is an understatement. Also similar to She is Allan’s position vis-à-vis Sir Henry, just as Horace Holly played wise, humbler advisor to his young companion Leo.

I adore Haggard’s She, having discovered this portal to fantastical adventure during my high school years. I feel affection for all of his work because of that and it is impossible for me to rate it objectively, but if you are only going to read one of his adventure fantasies, choose She and get to know She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed. Allan is just not quite as much fun.

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review 2017-10-30 17:39
The Severed Streets / Paul Cornell
The Severed Streets - Paul Cornell

Summer in London: a city in turmoil. The vicious murder of a well-known MP is like a match to tinder but Detective Inspector James Quill and his team know that it's not a run-of-the-mill homicide. Still coming to terms with their new-found second sight, they soon discover that what is invisible to others - the killer - is visible to them. Even if they have no idea who it is.

Then there are more deaths. The bodies of rich, white men are found in circumstances similar to those that set the streets of London awash with fear during the late 1800s: the Whitechapel murders. Even with their abilities to see the supernatural, accepting that Jack the Ripper is back from the dead is a tough ask for Quill's team. As they try to get to grips with their abilities and a case that's spiralling out of control, Quill realizes that they have to understand more about this shadowy London, a world of underground meetings, bizarre and fantastical auctions, and objects that are 'get out of hell free' cards.

 

  I read this book to fill the ‘Darkest London’ square of my 2017 Halloween Book Bingo card.

I really must give Neil Gaiman credit for being a very good sport—I am not sure how I would feel about becoming a character in someone else’s fiction, especially if that author gave me some rather dodgy motives, as Cornell does.

I liked this second book in the series considerably more than the first one. It’s like the majority of the world-building has been settled now and Cornell can get on with telling us the dark and twisted tale of what’s going on under the surface of London!

There is a walking tour of Jack the Ripper sites, where two of our coppers see ghosts of each of the victims, there is an auction of supernatural items, and a mysterious Ripper-like murderer at work in the great city. Our team of Shadow Police get ripped apart in several ways and kind of patched back together eventually. I’ve got to get to the third book, Who Killed Sherlock Holmes?, as soon as I can arrange, to see if their team can survive these upheavals.

 

   
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text 2017-10-27 14:57
Reading progress update: I've read 198 out of 416 pages.
The Severed Streets - Paul Cornell

Well *of course* Neil Gaiman has the Sight and *of course* he hangs out at the local supernatural pub.  Why wouldn't he?

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review 2017-10-16 17:27
Use of Weapons / Iain M. Banks
Use of Weapons - Iain M. Banks

Cheradenine is an ex-special circumstance agent who had been raised to eminence by a woman named Diziet. Skaffen-Amtiskaw, the drone, had saved her life and it believes Cheradenine to be a burnt-out case. But not even its machine intelligence can see the horrors in his past.

 

Somehow, I had come to think of Iain M. Banks’ Culture as a pretty ideal society. This book shattered that somewhat for me, as it contains a lot of war & violence, plus a really cruel twist as the end of the novel. What can you do if you live in the Culture, but you’re not an easily entertained, peace-loving guy? Well, you can sign up for Special Circumstances and become a sort of super-soldier, getting horrifically injured, revived, regenerated, and going off to fight another battle. Even some of the Machine Minds in this one seem to be destructive and cruel.

But Banks accomplished what I think he wanted to—making his readers rethink what the Culture is all about (and maybe rethinking some the assumptions about their own culture). I look forward to tackling State of the Art next.

Book 265 of my Science Fiction & Fantasy Reading Project.

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review 2017-10-10 18:58
Northanger Abbey / Jane Austen
Northanger Abbey - Jane Austen,Elizabeth Hardwick

'To look almost pretty, is an acquisition of higher delight to a girl who has been looking plain the first fifteen years of her life, than a beauty from her cradle can ever receive'

During an eventful season at Bath, young, naïve Catherine Morland experiences the joys of fashionable society for the first time. She is delighted with her new acquaintances: flirtatious Isabella, who shares Catherine's love of Gothic romance and horror, and sophisticated Henry and Eleanor Tilney, who invite her to their father's mysterious house, Northanger Abbey. There, her imagination influenced by novels of sensation and intrigue, Catherine imagines terrible crimes committed by General Tilney. With its broad comedy and irrepressible heroine, this is the most youthful and and optimistic of Jane Austen's works.

 

I chose this novel to fill the “Gothic” square of my 2017 Halloween Book Bingo.

In Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen turns the gothic novel inside out, having some fun with all of its parts. Catherine Morland, our main character, is not a stereotypical gothic heroine—she isn’t tremendously beautiful, she isn’t sophisticated or educated, and she’s not even too bright! But she does read gothic romances, like The Mysteries of Udolpho to use as a guide for her behaviour. Unfortunately for her, her frenemy Isabella turns out to be a gold-digger, her visit to Northanger Abbey produces no murders nor secret passages, and there turn out to be no impediments between her and the man of her choice. The most ungothic of gothic romances!

I do have to wonder a bit about Henry, who is obviously intelligent and amusing, if only Catherine had the wits to understand him! I’m afraid he will be singularly bored, unless she can be enlivened a bit.

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