Saturday, 29 April 2017

2017 Reading, Part Two

My second batch of books for 2017. There's a bit of a fantasy theme running through them again this time. Usually amongst the six books in an entry there are one or two but this time (and last time, it's getting a habit...) there are four. But at least they are all from different authors and somewhat different subject matter!

So this time I'll set off with the first of the fantasy books. I guess the title at least will not be unfamiliar to most of you. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collin is a series of three books which spawned a series of four extremely successful films. This is fantasy of the Dystopian Futures kind - a future where things have gone horribly wrong with the world. In this case, the thirteen districts that now cover the continent of North America have at some stage in their past revolted against the rule of the Capital and have been severely repressed in retribution. As a lasting reminder not to challenge the Capital again, District 13 (where the revolt started) has been totally destroyed and the rest of the Districts are required once every four years to send one boy and one girl aged between 12 and 18 to fight in an enclosed arena of several square miles until only one of the 24 combatants still lives. I had seen the films but my daughter kept saying I should read the books (and I almost invariably find the books better than any film anyway). She was right.

Ducking out of the fantasy genre into Historical Fiction for a moment, I continued my journey through the Roger Brook novels by Dennis Wheatley. This also has undertones of Wheatley's other famous genre, Black Magic, as Roger makes an enemy of someone he considers a charlatan but who turns out to have genuine sinister occult powers. Once more sent abroad on secret work for Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger, Roger runs into bother in India before running into both his new enemy and his old adversary, Napolean Bonaparte, in Venice.

Then it's back to the murky world of the 14th century university life in Cambridge. In this our heroes physician Matthew Bartholomew and University Proctor Brother Michael find themselves once more members of an impoverished College and at the mercy of both murderous criminals and also the elements as workmen have removed the roof of their sleeping areas only to leave that work for better paid work elsewhere. A fearsome family headed by a woman feared as a witch and backed up by her ferocious warrior son cause Matt some moments of terror, thinking he's about to be sliced and diced, some moments of exasperation, as the old woman needs a tooth removed but will not permit it, yet expects Matt to cure the pain. Finally the woman's granddaughter has set her eyes on Matt as a suitor and pursues him - which causes him to fear the slicing and dicing at the hands of her father! Add to all this an increasingly malicious series of pranks played by the various Colleges and Hostels of the university upon each other and the result is a very entertaining tale.

Fantasy of the Fairy Story kind now from Neil Gaiman as a young boy makes friends with a family at the farm nearby who seem to have lived there forever. When he inadvertently releases a malevolent spirit into this world who takes (as far as his father is concerned) voluptuous female form, his new friends at the farm have their work cut out to protect him and his family and banish the spirit from the world. A very clever and engaging book. Neil Gaiman's American Gods appears on TV from this weekend, but as it's on a pay-to-view basis I imagine I'll wait for the re-run on a regular channel!

Comedy time now and another of Terry Pratchett's books from the Discworld featuring the Night Watch. I've read them all out of sequence - this is the first as far as I can make out so far - but it hasn't mattered as all the books work well as stand-alones. Here a secret society find out how to conjure up a dragon into the world, but once there the dragon has ideas of its own. Meanwhile Sam Vimes' tattered police force (they creep round dark streets shouting "All's Well" and if it isn't then they run away to somewhere quieter...) have a new recruit - the strangely noble-minded human-brought-up-as-a-dwarf Lance-Constable Carrot. Vimes himself meets the formidable upper-crust lady who aspires to become Mrs Vimes who knows all about dragons - and may just be about to be sacrificed to one...

Wowsers! I bought this in The Works for the magnificent sum of 50p a couple of weeks ago and read it this week in short order, barely able to take my nose out of it. This is once again Dystopian Future fantasy and turns out to be the third in a series but I had no problems understanding what was going on. Aimed at young adults (the only difference is that at least one of the good guys will be a teenager and swearing is absent - not a bad thing...) this has a post apocalyptic landscape where cities have recognisable names, but are variously mobile - traction cities lumber around on tracks and wheels whilst others float. They all seem to prey on each other and there are parallels with today's global corporate takeovers here. Philip Reeve has created a brilliantly intriguing world as the background to this tale of kidnap, slavery and rescue set against the background of a long-lasting war which catches up with the good guys at the point at which they seem about to pull off the rescue of their daughter. I'll definitely be looking to read the other books in this series and found today whilst searching the Internet for more info that a film based around the series is being made by none other than LOTR/Hobbit director Peter Jackson. I suspect it will be well worth seeing.

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