A Different Kingdom (1993) by Paul Kearney

After enjoying Paul Kearney’s 2016 Oxford-based tale ‘The Wolf in the Attic’, I sought out this earlier work by him. ‘A Different Kingdom’ was first published in 1993, and republished by Solaris in 2014. It tells the story of Michael, a young boy growing up on a rural farm in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. In the woods near the farm, Michael begins to witness things he can’t explain. Are there strange creatures living in the woods, or does Michael just have an overactive imagination?

‘It is a last breathing space, a final look around at the soon-to-be-felled woods, the rush-choked bottom meadows, the fields with the wild flowers that have seeded for a thousand years and which knew the feet of the Druids.’ (Loc 118)

 

This is a fairly dark fairy tale which includes some of the standard tropes found in many fantasy stories: a young “hero” sets out on a quest to find a lost family member, he travels through a strange land, and is both helped and hindered by the characters he meets on his journey. He must stay ahead of the dark forces pursuing him, leading to a final confrontation with the “villain” of the book. What separates ‘A Different Kingdom’ from other, similar stories is Paul Kearney’s writing.

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The Last Unicorn (1968) by Peter S. Beagle

Disclaimer: I don’t often gush in reviews. Any gushing is my own gush without any outside influence or pressure to gush. Those easily offended by excessive gushing should read no further.

A very brief, spoiler-free summary: This is the story of a unicorn who believes she may be the last of her kind. She sets out on a quest to discover what has become of the other unicorns. During her journey, she meets several characters who attempt to help or hinder her.

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The Last Unicorn is one of those books which I kept hearing great things about over the years, but never got around to reading. I’m not sure why. Maybe it was the title that didn’t quite appeal, or perhaps it was the various covers I’d seen which put me off. I don’t know. It just didn’t call out to me in a loud enough voice. It turns out this was my loss as The Last Unicorn is a fabulous story. Continue reading

Ironclads (2017) by Adrian Tchaikovsky

In the near future, giant corporations run the world. Britain is now part of America, and is at war with the Nords, (basically Scandanavia). The technology of war has advanced, enabling the sons of the rich to be equipped with ‘Ironclads’. These are giant Gundam-style battle suits which make the fortunate operators close to invincible. Lucky for the haves but what about the have-nots?

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For ordinary soldiers such as Sergeant Ted Regan, there is no such protection. They are the ground troops, the cannon fodder, the expendables. They are the ones who must take the biggest risks. Their chances of coming back in one piece are pretty slim. And if they are expecting thanks for their efforts, then they’re in the wrong job. Continue reading

The Overneath (2017) by Peter S. Beagle

The Overneath is a new collection of short stories by Peter S. Beagle, the writer of The Last Unicorn (1968). I enjoyed all thirteen of these stories, and found it difficult to single out favourites. They are all of the highest quality and cry out to be read. These gems cover genres including fantasy, science fiction, supernatural horror, and steampunk. For fans of The Last Unicorn, there are two stories which feature one of Beagle’s most beloved characters, Schmendrick the magician.

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The following stories impressed me the most: Continue reading

Retrospective for Year 2 – Nov. ’16 ~ Nov. ’17

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Daisen Temple, Mt. Daisen (near where I live).

Happy Autumn everyone! It’s the best time of the year for reading (according to Japanese people). What books or comics are you enjoying at the moment?…

I’m in the middle of reading Philip Pullman’s The Book of Dust. So far, it has been a very comfortable read and I’m nicely into it.

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Now that Hallowe’en is over for another year, I think it’s time for a retrospective post about my second year of blogging about books. Two years, eh? Where did the time go?… I spent some of it reading, but not enough really. I was too often tempted by some of the quality TV drama appearing on Netflix and Amazon Prime, notably Stranger Things, Mister Robot, Fargo, Jessica Jones, American Gods, Luke Cage, and Star Trek Discovery. How about you? Does TV still tempt you, or are you only in it for the books?! Continue reading

Austral (2017) by Paul McAuley

“If the planet had been run by a world government able to ruthlessly mobilize people and resources, global warming and climate change might have been reversed.” (Loc 3156)

 

In the very near future, global warming is a fact. Rising sea levels have changed the map of the world. Coastal cities have been lost to the water, but in some places new land has been uncovered. Much of Antarctica’s ice has melted revealing this untouched land, which quickly becomes both habitable and exploitable. The cold temperatures make it a challenging place to live for most people unless they are born a “husky”.

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Austral Morales Ferrado is a child of the new Antarctic nation. She is also a “husky,” an “edited person” whose genes have been “customized” to withstand the severe cold of Antarctica. She is working as a corrections officer in an Antarctic labour camp when we first meet her. But she’s looking for a way out. When an unexpected and dangerous opportunity presents itself, Austral must decide whether to risk everything to take it. Continue reading

The Ballad of Black Tom (2016) by Victor LaValle

“The more I read, the more I listened, the more sure I became that a great and secret show had been playing throughout my life, throughout all our lives, but the mass of us were too ignorant, or too frightened, to raise our eyes and watch.” (p.41)

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As a prelude to reading this novella, I sought out and read H.P. Lovecraft’s 1926 short story The Horror at Red Hook. It isn’t essential to read this story first, but it does add background to LaValle’s novella. It is also pretty shocking for the sentiments its author so blatantly reveals. Here’s what I wrote about it on Goodreads:

The Horror at Red Hook is infamous for being Lovecraft’s most racist tale. It’s a short story of black magic, human sacrifice, and a policeman chasing after his sanity. Dosed with some cringe-worthy xenophobia and the usual Lovecraftian purple-prose, it’s a forgettable story that doesn’t compare to his later, more famous tales.”

 

The Ballad of Black Tom is Victor LaValle’s re-imagining of the events depicted in Lovecraft’s short story. LaValle brings in some new characters, notably Tommy Tester, a young, black bluesman who shares an apartment in Red Hook with his father. When the story opens, Tommy is mixed up in the illegal ferrying of rare books, specifically books of an occult nature. His meeting with the mysterious Ma Att, a buyer of such books, foreshadows the strange and dangerous path Tommy’s life will follow from here.  Continue reading