Thursday, 28 February 2013

Anne Lyle - Merchant of Dreams

Anne Lyle - Merchant of Dreams (The Night's Masque #2)

The Merchant of Dreams kicks off where Anne Lyle's great debut, The Alchemist of Souls, left off, but doesn't quite live up to the debut (which, in the interest of fairness, I must admit to having received for free in a giveaway). That said, it is still a very good, romping adventure through the streets of an parallel Renaissance Venice & London, full of plot twists and great action. The biggest draw, however, is Lyle's characters - particularly the three main characters of Ned, Coby and Mal.

Kicking off in London, but swiftly moving to Venice, The Merchant of Dreams follows Mal, Coby and Ned's adventures with the New World, reincarnating fantastic species the Skraylings. Fresh from discovering a plot in London (in the first book) involving 'guisers', Skraylings in human form (of which Mal, and his identical twin brother Sandy, happen to acidently be), they are sent via dying intelligence officer Walsingham to investigate Skrayling dealings in Venice.

While Mal and best friend Ned are split from Sandy, Coby and Ned's partner Gabe Parrish, adventures happen with both groups, both at sea and on land. The scenes set at sea are excellent, and provide both good pacing and settings - the prose is sufficiently cramped and swaying to engage with watery travel.

However, when the groups land, the middle 200 pages drag a little. There are issues with pacing and the plot seems forced at times - there are scenes that are two page long MacGuffins - they serve no purpose in the logic of the world, and at times feel like they have been forced in to make the plot go a certain direction. The prose, too, has moments that feel forced - at times cod-renaissance 'art's and 'thou's and 'Jesu's take away from the plot and my immersion in it - indeed, they are not always coherent and lack a certain continuity. However, once over this middle hump, the action picks up and the conclusion is very well done - we feel the pain of loss and redemption well.

The characters' personalities are, once again, really well built - we know the innermost thoughts and feelings of the three effortlessly, in any given situation. The relationships of Mal/Coby and Ned/Parrish are lovely, and its refreshing to see a gay main character, and a (questionably) bisexual one as well. Further, questions of gender are well written in, easily done with Coby's male-dress/female person combo.

Overall, I'd recommend The Merchant of Dreams if you enjoyed The Alchemist of Souls (which I also recommend...) - however, take it with a pinch of salt: the middle part isn't quite up to the scratch of the character development, the magic system, nor the overall storyline - all of which are excellent.

Overall rating: 3.5*

Saturday, 2 February 2013

January and reading objectives

Three books in January. Three. THREE.
That's really shit.
It gets worse when you consider that all three were for my American Fiction module at university.

Admittedly, 8 days of January were taken up by mass panic about essays, but that's still a book every 7 days or so, which doesn't feel great. However, when I think about it, I did 53 last year, 56 the year before, so around one a week - I should be reading far more. This years 'goal', loosely termed, is 75 books, of which around 40 should be my own choices and 35 university related, though there is bound to be overlaps once I start on my dissertation in third year (tentatively titled 'The Urban Space in Contemporary Secondary World Fiction'). Of these, moving on from my last log, I hope for at least 20-25 (33%) to be women writers. I aim for 50, but my literature course is overtly male biased in terms of reading (a paltry 3 of 21 complete novels read for my 8 modules last year whereby women) so that seems unrealistic.

Today also saw a trip for myself and my girlfriend to Foyles and Forbidden Planet, for my Valentine's Day gift: £60 worth of books and a subscription to Interzone magazine. I finally picked up a few 'classics' I'd been planning to get - Roadside Picnic and The Prestige, as well as both James Smythe and Myke Cole's new books, as well as an anthology and Costa Prize winning biography/graphic novel 'Dotter of her Father's Eyes'.

As I picked up both the 'classics' above I also made the conscious decision to attempt, slowly but surely, to acquire all the SF Masterworks series, both old and new. Both Old and New titles are beautiful books, but on top of that they will improve my knowledge of SF immeasurably. If your interest in SF goes beyond 'its shit and for children' (I.e. you are a fully rational and independent Human, capable of some degree of autonomy) I'd recommend picking up someone from that series just to see the best at SF has to offer - I'd go for Flowers for Algernon myself.

On top of this, my other purchasing aim is to get all the old-style covered Discworld books. They'd look ace on my bookshelf. Worthy aims, all, I think.