Annabel's House of Books

Noli domo egredi, nisi librum habes – Never leave home without a book.

Tag: Fantasy (page 1 of 6)

A little more Shiny Linkiness

There are two books I reviewed for the latest issue of Shiny that I’ve yet to tell you about:

The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard

house-of-shattered-wingsThis was the first book I’ve read by the Franco-Vietnamese author – but won’t be the last. It’s an urban fantasy set in contemporary Paris during the aftermath of the Great Magician’s War. But you won’t recognise this version of Paris as a modern city – it’s pure Gothic, with a crumbling Paris ruled over by several powerful houses led by magicians. Politics meets a murder mystery with fallen angels, mythology and plenty of magic in a novel that has some brilliant world-building. Imagine a modern version of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell set in Paris with angels and you’d be halfway there… (8.5/10)

Read my full review here: My Shiny Review.

See also:  Sakura’s Q&A with the author and review here.

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Mythology by Christopher Dell

mythology-cover-285x300Subtitled ‘An Illustrated Journey Into Our Imagined Worlds’, this softback edition from art specialists Thames & Hudson is precisely that. It concentrates on images from all over the world grouped by theme. The juxtapositions of pictures, often from different continents, on the same spreads just shows how the central mythologic themes that preoccupy us are the same the whole world over. As you’d expect from a Thames & Hudson art book, the pictures are sublime and the book beautifully produced. They are accompanied by just enough text to put them into context and explain their origins. An ideal Christmas present! (

Read my full review here: My Shiny Review.

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The 1924 Club

I had every intention of joining in with this lovely project hosted by Simon and Karen.


There was a book on the Wikipedia Literature list for 1924 I had long been intending to read – The King of Elfland’s Daughter by Lord Dunsany. I duly ordered a copy – the Fantasy Masterworks edition which has an introduction by Neil Gaiman.  I have read many of the novels in this series over the years, so hopes were high…

King of Elfland's DaughterBut it’s been a severe case of wrong time for reading this book for me. I only got a couple of short chapters in, but the language is too florid and full of multi-claused sentences which start off passively for me at the moment. Here are a couple of examples:

And there with eyes that saw every minute more dimly, and fingers that grew accustomed to the thunderbolts’ curious surfaces, he found before darkness came down on him seventeen: and these he heaped into a silken kerchief and carried back to the witch. (p4)

To the long chamber, sparsely furnished, high in a tower, in which Alveric slept, there came a ray direct from the rising sun. He awoke, and remembered at once the magical sword, which made all his awaking joyous. It is natural to feel glad at the thought of a recent gift, but there was also a certain joy in the word itself, which perhaps could communicated with Alveric’s thoughts all the more easily just as they came from dreamland, which was pre-eminently the sword’s own country; but, however it be, all those that have come by a magical sword have always felt that joy while it still was new, clearly and unmistakably. (p9)

Compared with Star Trek, a Star Wars fan I am not, and I think this Yoda-speak with added clauses would irritate me intensely at the moment if I continued. So I am putting aside the book for another time!

I have, however, previously read and reviewed two titles published in 1924, so I will give them a plug here instead:


Shiny Linkiness

I reviewed loads of new fiction titles for Issue 7 of Shiny New Books, so I think it’s time to give some of them a plug. Do pop over to read the full reviews – we’d appreciate it, and love it when you leave comments too (same goes for here of course).

Two Years Eight Months & Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie

two_years_eight_month_and_twentyeight_nights_0I haven’t read any Rushdie for a while, so had my fingers crossed with this book. No need, I enjoyed it a lot, although it turned to be more a philosophical fantasy than I was expecting.  Entering the world of the jinn was fascinating, and Rushdie’s modern take on the 1001 nights was fun although the little digressions keep you on your toes to re-find the main story sometimes.

Rushdie at his most playful, and restrained in length too. Definitely a thinking person’s fairy tale.

Read the full review here: My Shiny Review

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Not on Fire, but Burning by Greg Hrbek

hrbekHrbek has written one other novel, The Hindenburg Crashes Nightly, which I had to order once I’d read this book.

Set around twenty years into the future, Not on Fire, but Burning starts with a stunning visual prologue in which the Golden Gate Bridge is destroyed, and San Francisco is irradiated – (we’re never sure by whom or what). It then settles into a disturbing story in which the USA is segregating Muslims and one brave old army veteran decides to adopt a Muslim kid from one of the camps – to do his bit for liberalism and making amends. He doesn’t realise that the twelve-year-old boy, Karim, who comes to live with him is already radicalised.  When a fight is engineered between white kid Dorian next door and Karim, it starts off a whole chain reaction of events.

This was a really thought-provoking novel that imagines possible futures that we hope will never happen.

Read the full review here: My Shiny Review

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Kauthar by Meike Ziervogel

kauthar-195x300 (1)Meike’s third novel Kauthar is another tale of radicalisation. It is about a white British girl who converts to Islam, marries and Iraqi doctor, following him out there after 9/11 only to find that life there has a different set of rules and expectations that will try her devoutness. In emotional turmoil, she turns to God, but the distorted answers she finds set her on an extreme path.

Full of strong imagery, we flip between Lydia as a child, who is desperate to be a gymnast and the devout Kauthar she becomes. Told in the present tense, it is very immediate and we are really taken into Kauthar’s mind. As in Meike’s first novel Magda we are helped to understand, without condoning her behaviour.

Read the full review here: My Shiny Review

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The Reflection by Hugo Wilcken

wilckenIt’s the late 1940s, or early 1950s. A psychiatrist takes a phone call to be told his ex-wife has died. A while later, he’s called on as a police surgeon to section a man in custody in a seedy apartment. Not thinking straight he does as asked, but later regrets this and sets out to find out more about the man.

The Reflection has all the hallmarks of a classic noir novel: a narrator in crisis, a psychological drama, a femme fatale (or two), a whole string of coincidences that are anything but and a sense that everything is being stage-managed to turn the protagonist into one of his patients, which he must resist, whatever the cost. The main character was a little boring but, The Reflection is an interesting exercise in which nothing is actually in black and white, less noir, more grey.

Read the full review here: My Shiny Review

More from the pre-blog archives…

For a wet bank holiday Monday, I’m revisiting my archives of the capsule book reviews I wrote for myself pre-blog. (For more of these see here.)

Having concentrated on 10/10 books in previous posts, I chose some books that I found more challenging this time. I picked the first because I spotted it reviewed on someone’s blog recently – but I can’t remember whose – sorry, I’d link if I could…

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From A to X by John Berger

a to xI loved this book, the writing was exquisite, but I needed so much more from it that ultimately it disappointed a little.

A’ida and Xavier are lovers, but X is imprisoned on terrorist charges. Their story is teased out through some of A’s letters to X in jail which were found in his cell when the new prison was built. He never replies, but sometimes writes on the back of the letters.

They live in an unnamed country where A’ida is a pharmacist. She writes about everyday life, her friends, neighbours and customers, and there are always hints of troubles and oppression in the background and it is implied that she is also an activist. She is desperate to be married to X, but the authorities won’t allow it so visiting X in prison is an unattainable goal for her – she eventually has to be content with fantasising about him. Xavier’s writing is not about A, but is often thoughts about the authorities in the outside world that he is prisoner in.

The reader is left to fill in the gaps which gives great poignancy to the texts, but I was left hungry to find out what happened to them, what X was imprisoned for, what A’s role was in their struggle and other questions. Just a few answers would have satisfied, but with the exception of a brief scene-setting introduction, the author is deliberate in his intention of letting these letters speak for themselves. (August 2008, 7/10)

NOW: I’ve not read any more of Berger’s work since, but am open to suggestion…

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Beowulf trans Seamus Heaney

beowulfThis was my first encounter with Beowulf – I haven’t seen the film either. I chose the bilingual edition to see what the Old English looked like and although I could barely recognise a word, it did help to see the shape, metre and style of the original. Heaney’s translation is easy to read, very straight-forward in language, and the accompanying essay helps you see how much work goes into preserving some of the form of the original in the modern translation.

With the original and Heaney’s version printed side by side, it affected the way I read it. I tended to read it aloud to myself (but in my head), trying to see the translation’s cadence resonating with the original’s two parts to each line. This was novel for me and enjoyable for one who doesn’t normally do poetry!

As a story, you can see why it survives, but there is too much pontificating on the glories of war, fighting and serving the king and not enough action; Beowulf’s dispatching of Grendel seemed to be little more than arm-wrestling and was over in a couple of pages.

I’m glad I read it and am sure I will refer to it again, but now I’m waiting for the DVD of the film. (Jan 2008, 7/10)

NOW: I’d probably score this differently now – with ratings for the story and a higher one for Heaney separately perhaps.  Still not seen the film in full. Instead, see below…

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Grendel by John Gardner

grendelHaving recently read Beowulf for the first time, I was looking forward to this slim novel, told from Grendel’s point of view.

Poor Grendel, although we never find out exactly how he was created, he does realise that he has a bit of man in him somewhere, and he agonises over this as he lurks around watching men and occasionally getting the urge to kill one – always to eat at this stage. It is his encounter with the arrogant Unferth, that starts to really turn him and this is sped on by the dragon’s wisdom until he becomes the killing machine we know from the original text.

The very dense and literary style with much philosophising will not suit all, but it has great insight and goes very well with Beowulf indeed. A difficult but rewarding read. (Feb 2008, 8/10)

NOW: I’d love to re-read this book.

The first Little bit of a Big novel…

Just to say I’m joining in the readalong  of the modern classic fantasy novel Little Big by John Crowley this May, hosted by Dolce Belezza, together with Helen of A Gallimaufry and Tom of Wuthering Expectations.

little big uk pbkI read this book back in the early 1980s when it first came out in paperback – I remember I was drawn to the cover (left) with those blues and violets like a magnet. It’s 25 years old this year, and it’s fair to say I’ve forgotten almost everything about the actual novel. I almost exclusively read fantasy and science fiction back in those days, devouring without remembering much of it.

little big pbk

The edition I currently own (rescued from a charity shop) has more of a Gothic feel to the cover with the sepia photograph and gives me the impression somehow of being an American version of Gormenghast (which wouldn’t be a bad thing?). We’ll see, but it begins thus:

On a certain day in June, 19–, a young man was making his way on foot northward from the great City to a town or place called Edgewood, that he had been told of but had never visited. His name was Smoky Barnable, and he was going to Edgewood to get married; the fact that he walked and didn’t ride was one of the conditions placed on his coming there at all.

Given Little, Big‘s reputation as one of the best fantasy novels of the later 20th century, I’m very much looking forward to getting stuck into the world of Smoky Barnable and Daily Alice Drinkwater once more.

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Source: Own copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below (affiliate link):
Little, Big (FANTASY MASTERWORKS) by John Crowley, 1981. Gollancz paperback, 560 pages.

More Shiny Linkiness

Time for some more links to reviews I wrote for the latest edition of Shiny New Books. Please do click through and read the full things if these teasers interest you. Feel free to comment here or there. Today’s choices are YA titles:

Half Wild by Sally Green

half wildHalf Wild is the middle book in a trilogy which started with Half Bad last year (my blog review here.)  The first volume was rather unfairly described by some as Harry Potter for teenagers, as the story is about witches – black and white, good and bad. The tricky bit is to identify which lot are the good ones and which are the bad – and it’s not always the way round that you’d think. Stuck in the middle is Nathan Byrne, a young lad of mixed parentage, having a black witch father and white mother. He ends up on the run searching for his father who has to give him his three gifts and blood on his seventeenth birthday to fully fledge him as a witch.

In Half Wild, Nathan is still on the run from the white witch hunters, and the novel becomes a thriller – a classic chase across Europe, not made better by the object of Nathan’s affections being a white witch, Annalise. It is pacy and definitely more grown up than the first novel and huge fun.

Read my full review here.

The Door That Led to Where by Sally Gardner

door that led to whereSally Gardner is one of my favourite YA authors – her light touch with magic and soaring imagination make all her books a treat.
This, her latest, is all about a teenaged boy discovering his ancestral heritage. AJ, a failure at school apart from an A* GCSE English, gets a job as a ‘baby clerk’ in the law firm that his mum used to clean for. There he discovers a key with his name on, and it opens a door – a time portal into Dickensian London. It turns out that lots of other people want control of the key and AJ and his friends will have some interesting adventures in both worlds before deciding ‘when’ they want to be…

This book is a well-plotted adventure that has a lot to say about friendship. It was surprisingly gritty too, so not for the youngest of teens perhaps.

Read my full review here.

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Source: Own copy and publisher respectively
To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:

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