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review 2018-07-14 13:50
"Magic Shifts - Kate Daniels #8" by Ilona Andrews - THIS is how you reboot a series
Magic Shifts - Ilona Andrews

 

I delayed reading this book for a while as I knew the previous " I am your Father and I may need to kill you" story in the last book,"Magic Breaks" was originally meant to be the end of the series and I didn't want to spoil what I'd already read with a faint-hearted extension requested by the publishers. I was also a little disappointed in and frustrated by the last book.

 

I should have had more faith in the writers. "Magic Shifts" does exactly what the title implies, it shifts the series to a new level - completely rebooting it.

 

So how do you reboot a series?

 

You don’t wallow in nostalgia, repeat storylines, make things a similar as possible to the original but with a few decorative twists.

 

You do make the present valuable and the future something to hope for; introduce new threats, new uncertainties and new opportunities to collaborate; dare to let your characters grow, let their actions have consequences, let their lives have meaning beyond kill-the-bad-guy save-the-world try-not-to-die.

 

When we first met Kate as a misfit mercenary, calling “Here, kitty, kitty” to the werelion Beastlord in "Magic Bites", she was alone and in hiding, taking on all-comers because she had nothing to lose and she knew her doom was coming for her one day. She was afraid of her blood and ashamed at being good at nothing but killing.

 

At the start of "Magic Shifts" as Kate rides home through the Atlanta night, sword on her back, blood on her clothes, we immediately see how she's changed: she's comfortable in her own skin, reconciled to her power and happy to use it. 

“…the night shadows watched us and I watched them back. Let’s play who can be a better killer. My sword and I love this game.”

She's also not alone. She now has a family, friends and a city to protect. At the end of the last book, she has turned her whole world upside down - a truce of some sort with her father, a responsibility of some sort for the city she claimed, a life completely outside of the Pack, even a house in the suburbs. She and Curren have gotten past the will we won’t we? stage into the more interesting how will we stage. Of course, she still has this I-have-to-save-everybody reflex, she still behaves as if she's invulnerable, although the evidence shows she isn't and she still worries about the monster she might become. I guess that's what makes Kate Kate.

 

Curren is having fun in the suburbs, free from the politics of being Beastlord and enjoying being underestimated by strangers who see him as Kate's muscle.

 

This is a fast-paced action-packed book that starts with a battle that's really more of a slaughter - two against thirty isn't really fair when the two are Kate and Curren - and the violence escalates from there. We get new monsters, a new baddy an interesting new ally, all wrapped up in a puzzle that uses characters from earlier books in new ways. One of my favourite pieces was Kate meeting her I'm-the-most-dangerous-being-in-the-world father at Applebees for a family dinner. That started off as funny and became quietly menacing.

 

Although the pace is fast, it's always perfectly controlled. .When I reached the penultimate chapters I thought “Oh no - cliffhanger ending” I should have known better. What I got was a perfectly executed, action-packed, denouement that delivered a satisfying conclusion to the puzzles in the book, followed by an epilogue that deepened the emotional impact of ending and opened intriguing possibilities for the next book.

 

This is how you do Urban Fantasy when you’re at the top of your game.

 

I won't delay in reading book nine.

 

 

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text 2018-07-11 22:38
Reading progress update: I've read 47%.
Magic Shifts - Ilona Andrews

I delayed this book for a while as I knew the previous " I am your Father and I may need to kill you" story in the last book was originally meant to be the end of the series and I didn't want to spoil what I'd already read with a faint-hearted extension requested by the publisher's.

 

I should have had more faith in the writers. This post-Pack episode is energetic and full of renewed vigour.

 

The fight scenes are strong.  The enemies seem to be new and the dynamic between Kate and Currently is changing in interesting ways.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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review 2018-07-11 10:54
"Full Dark House - Bryant & May #1" by Christopher Fowler - DNF - reluctantly abandoned at 37%
Full Dark House - Christopher Fowler

The premise behind this book was intriguing: a Peculiar Crimes Unit, set up during the Blitz quietly to handle crimes that might undermine civilian morale, leaving lots of room for Mulder-meets-British-stiff-upper-lip humour.

 

The Unit is led by Bryant: an eccentric, ostentatiously intuitive, tactless, scarf-wearing, driven twenty-two-year-old who is more comfortable with exotic books than with ordinary people. His newly-hired first-day-on-the-job side-kick is the enthusiastic, scientifically-minded, charming, good-looking nineteen-year-old May, brought in as a detective despite his lack of experience because all the experienced people have left to fight the Germans.

 

The overall effect was that of a frenetic young "Dr Who" meeting "Endeavour".

I liked the spirit of it. It would make great television. It didn't hold my attention as a book.

 

The opening, in London in the 1990s when Bryant and May are still serving officers although they are both beyond the normal retirement age, didn't quite work for me. It asked me to care too much about characters I'd barely met. I had no context and so didn't get the emotional impact of the devastating fire-bomb.

 

Once the story flipped to London during the Blitz it hit its stride. The writing was strong on visuals, a little predictable on dialogue and way out there on the weirdness of plot.

 

The problem I had was that this retrospective visit to London felt a little too cosy and too nostalgic, a feeling that was amplified by the "Mystique of the Theatre" riff. The murder was surprisingly gruesome but carried little emotional impact.

 

I abandoned the book when my irritation with the changing points of view, sliding timelines and self-consciously look-how-clever-but-quaint-we-were-back-then technology innovations overwhelmed my interest in who had what to whom and why.

 

I'm sure many people will enjoy this. Maybe I'd have ridden with it more easily if there was an all-cast audio version but the text by itself didn't hold me.

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text 2018-07-09 22:38
Reading progress update: I've read 15% and it's getting there after a slow start
Full Dark House - Christopher Fowler

I think this has the makings of a good retro series. The opening didn't quite work for me as it asked me to care too much about characters I'd barely met.

 

Once it went back in time to London during the Blitz it hit its stride. 

 

The writing is strong on visuals, a little predictable on dialogue and way out there on weirdness of plot.

 

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review 2018-06-30 18:44
"A Delicate Truth" by John Le Carré
A Delicate Truth - John le Carré

I came late to John Le Carré, falling in love with his prose storytelling style upon my first encounter with them when, last year, I read his remarkable novel"A Legacy of Spies".

 

Naturally, I had to have at least one Le Carré in my Summer of Spies reading challenge this year, I picked "A Delicate Truth" because, published in 2013, it was his next most recent book and because the audiobook version that I listened to was narrated by Le Carré himself.

 

I found the novel very satisfying both because the world it describes is frighteningly plausible without ever becoming melodramatic and because the cadence of Le Carré's prose and his nuanced use of language, especially in dialogue call to something in me in the same way that the best music does.

 

In some ways, this is not a very dramatic tale. It covers poorly conceived, disastrously executed and robustly covered-up covert operation. The body count is low by genre standards. There are no car chases. No desperate gun battles on the streets of London. No evil genius strapping our hero to a table to be dissected by an industrial laser. Yet the import of what it describes is truly disturbing.

 

The tale starts slowly satisfyingly,  by establishing the point of view of a mature senior Civil Servant in the FCO, pulled in over his head by an ambitious Minister, to oversee a covert operation in Gibraltar.

 

As I watched the stolidly upper-middle class civil servant, son of a general, married to money, well-educated but only moderately accomplished, thrill, in an appropriately low-key it-wouldn't-be-good-form-to-express-my-feelings kind of way, to the opportunity to serve his country, even if that meant obeying a bullying, egocentric, self-serving Minister, I understood that Le Carré's England is not mine or, at least, not an England I want to tolerate.

 

I recognise that it's real enough. It's the kind of England the odious Boris Johnson and the surprisingly dangerous Jacob Rees-Mogg want to drag us all back into so that they can live the Eton dream while the rest of us touch our forelocks and hope to keep our jobs. 

 

It's an England where the under-funded State is preyed upon by billion dollar Private Military Corporations that are contracted to kidnap and kill with an impunity secured by anti-terror legislation that has eroded public accountability to the point of non-existence.

 

Le Carré describes the people of this world with great precision and insight without ever once straying into empathy. I admire that.

 

Nothing in the content of Le Carrè's story surprised me, a fact I find deeply depressing, but it acted as a reminder of how the clannish secrecy of an entitled ruling class mixes with the greed and egocentricity of politicians whose eyes are the revolving door into high-flying commerce to create something fundamentally corrupt.

 

Yet what I like most about Le Carré is the way he tells his tale. He takes his time. He uses complex sentences. He moves the reader effortlessly backwards and forwards along the timeline and he perfectly evokes a sense of place, whether it is a Cornish Fair, a Private Club or the corridors and conference rooms of the FCO.

 

Here's a sample of that prose from the start of Chapter Two, where we are introduced to Toby Bell, the man around whom most of the story centres. It's a slightly long extract but that is necessary to demonstrate how he evokes the man and his situation. If you like this, you'll like the book.

"On a sunny Sunday, early in that same spring, a thirty-one-year-old British Foreign servant, earmarked for great things, sat alone at the pavement table of a humble Italian café in London's Soho, steeling himself to perform an act of espionage so outrageous that, if detected, it would cost him his career and his freedom. Namely, recovering a tape-recording elicitly made by himself from the private office of a Minister of the Crown whom it was his duty to serve and advise to the best of his considerable ability.

 

His name was Tony Bell and he was entirely alone in his criminal contemplations. No evil genius controlled him. No paymaster provocateur or sinister manipulator armed with an attaché case stuffed with hundred dollar bills was waiting around the corner. No activist in a ski mask. He was, in that sense the most feared creature of our contemporary world: a solitary decider. of a forthcoming clandestine operation on the Crown Colony of Gibraltar, he knew nothing. Rather it was this tantalising ignorance that had brought him to his present pass.

 

Neither was he in appearance or by nature cut out to be a felon. Even now, premeditating his criminal design, he remained the decent, diligent, tousled, compulsively ambitious, intelligent-looking fellow, that his colleagues and employers took him for. He was stocky in build. Not particularly handsome with a shock of unruly brown hair that went haywire as soon as it was brushed. That there was gravitas in him was undeniable. The gifted, State educated only child of pious artisan parents from the South coast of England who knew no politics but Labour..."

One of the joys of the book, for me, was Le Carré's narration. Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear him read the start of Chapter One.

 

[soundcloud url="https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/89424970" params="color=#ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&show_teaser=true&visual=true" width="100%" height="300" iframe="true" /]

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