Ocean travel without a boat

Journal of Peter Greenwell

Tag: reviews (page 1 of 8)

Victoria Holt – Mistress of Mellyn

Mistress of MellynMistress of Mellyn by Victoria Holt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Let’s see now…

Setting in a castle or large house — check
Said house or castle holds dread family secrets — check
Woman in distress — check
Woman is in awe of powerful, often tyrannical male — check
Male hero is of the Byronic variety, handsome, troubled — check
Strong, engaging emotions — check
Omens and portents — check
Strange events that appear as supernatural experiences — check

Yes, it all comes together. What we have here is a Gothic novel, by golly! And even though it wears its Rebecca and Jane Eyre influences proudly on its sleeves, this story holds it own quite well. The protagonist, governess Martha Leigh, isn’t the fainting, gasping maiden found in many other books of this kind. No, she’s more like Jane Eyre – a conscientious, somewhat knowing young lady who sees through flattery and devices for what they are. But like Miss Eyre of yore, Miss Leigh is still susceptible to being swept off her feet by the loving pronouncements of the towering Byronic hero.

There’s not a new idea anywhere to be found in this novel, but that’s really beside the point. It’s an enjoyable outing into the world of Gothic fiction and should please adherents of the genre, as well as those looking for a solid romance to bite into.

View all my reviews

Elaine Bergstrom – Baroness of Blood

Baroness of Blood (Ravenloft, #12)Baroness of Blood by Elaine Bergstrom
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My, what a nasty piece of work is Baroness Ilsabet Obour. But she’s a complex and well-rounded nasty piece of work, which elevates this novel above popcorn level. More than most Ravenloft novels I’ve read, this one ascribes to many classic Gothic traditions, yet Ilsabet is imperilled not by a man, but by herself and her own courses of action. She is haunted – internally and externally, and throughout the length of the novel she vacillates and questions if what she’s doing is the wisest way, and in the conclusion, things get resolved in the poetic justice sense of resolution.

The novel is dark, make no mistake. There’s no light, joy or laughter anywhere here. It’s only the dumb and clueless secondary characters in this novel which stop me from awarding this five stars. Ilsabet is surrounded by idiots when her character cries out for effective foils and counters.

Still, this is one of the better Ravenloft outings.

View all my reviews

Richard Awlinson – Tantras

Tantras (Forgotten Relalms: Avatar #2)Tantras by Scott Ciencin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Superior effort in nearly every way to its predecessor. It isn’t boring, which of course is a huge plus, and it’s almost a criminal offence for a D&D book to be tedious to read. Regardless of their value as literature, they should be popcorn page-turners.

Well, Tantras thankfully is. It’s competently written though it has all the faults of this particular niche of fantasy fiction – that’s to say minimal characterisation, few grey moral areas. overly tight plotting and character motivations that occasionally border on the nonsensical. Bad guys are bad guys because the plot says so, not from any logical reason or story progression.

But, as I keep saying in these D&D reviews: it’s all good fun. This time around, it actually was good fun. Here’s hoping the next instalment is just as fluid,.

View all my reviews

Ramsey Campbell – Nazareth Hill

Nazareth HillNazareth Hill by Ramsey Campbell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not one of Campbell’s better efforts. It starts out a bewildering mess, being introduced to a dozen or so characters who subsequently have zero or almost to do with the story. Halfway through the novel, it picks up and boy, does it ever. It’s page-turning stuff, but why did a reader have to wade through a bunch of inconsequential padding first?

Trimmed of about a third the volume, and the meaningless first few chapters excised, this book would’ve been a five star effort, like The Hungry Moon was – which didn’t tangle itself with pointless plot threads and insignificant characters.

Oh well. To quote a platitude, you take the good with the bad. You get lavish servings of both with this book.

View all my reviews

Hergé – Tintin and the Picaros

Tintin and the Picaros (Tintin, #23)Tintin and the Picaros by Hergé
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Like with all of the Tintin stories, I read them years ago, but am adding them to Goodreads for posterity.

Of all of the completed Tintin stories, this is among the weakest and it’s a shame in a way Hergé passed away before he could redeem himself with Alph-Art. It feels different from most other Tintin works – he changes Tintin’s clothes, adds peace symbols to his bike helmet, puts hippies on a plane, adds in clumsy political commentary…you could argue Hergé is updating his best-known character to the age this story was written in, but it doesn’t really work. Captain Haddock really does seem like an anachronism in this book and why, after all these years, must he be saddled with a first name?

It’s fun in its own way really, but it isn’t on par with the earlier Tintin works. Not a great way to go out.

View all my reviews

Edgar Allan Poe – Ligeia

LigeiaLigeia by Edgar Allan Poe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Tumultuous vultures of stern passion! With this short sentence, Poe continues the alliterative colour of Shakespeare, even if the subject matter is grimmer and darker than anything the Bard conjured up. This, probably more than any story written before or since, is testament to love transcending death – or a cautionary tale about taking opium. Your choice.

This story creaks but it’s lost little of its power over the years and is probably required reading for any serious student of the Gothic or the Dark Romantic.

View all my reviews

Jack Williamson – Darker Than You Think

Darker Than You ThinkDarker Than You Think by Jack Williamson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I got the nagging feeling while reading this that it should’ve been better than what it was. It started off so well, with its mysterious woman and promise of some great mystery – but that mystery largely evaporated a third of the way into the book. While it never turned into a stock monster/vampire tale, I felt it was lacking, and most of that lacking lay in the character of Will Barbee, who spent the entire book in denial.

There’s a certain misogyny about the whole thing too, even accounting for its 1948 vintage. Williamson refers to April Bell throughout as a “white bitch”, and while he means it as a matter-of-fact descriptor for her lycanthrope state, the term and its 21st century connotations can’t be easily put aside. He plays April as the great evil seducer, an amoral Whore of Babylon leering into the face of poor Will Barbee and teasing him.

But as I said, most of this novel’s problem is Barbee himself, drifting about in complete and abject denial of the reality that’s brutally in his face. His abnegation of reality becomes annoying quickly, and as a result the novel suffers.

Withal, I can see why this work is regarded as a classic of dark fantasy, but it’s difficult to read it without allowing 21st century sensibilities and mores to intrude.

View all my reviews

Matthew Hughes – The Other

The OtherThe Other by Matthew Hughes
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ah, judging books by their covers, what folly. You know, from the sly and self-serving smirk on Luff Imbry’s face, I expected this to be a tale about deception, intrigue, derring-do, skulduggery and the like. No, what we have here is an adventure tale cum quest fantasy where Mr Imbry is not really in much of a position to play scoundrel, rogue or rascal. In fact, he spends much of his time figuring out how to escape from the world of inbred religious loonies he’s been stranded upon.

In fact, I feel a little cheated, though I shouldn’t be. The novel’s blurb states quite unequivocally that Imbry is a rascal and a crook and I guess in the other stories he features in, he may well be precisely those things. In this book, his implied talent for cleverness and deception is put aside by a need for self-preservation and some mystery solving.

All that aside, the novel could be best described as pleasantly serviceable. From what little I know of this author, I believe he writes in the Jack Vance vein, which is something I’ve always thought to be fraught with deceptive danger. Vance had a style that is seductive to an author – you want to imbue your every sentence with whimsical poesy and colourful verbiage. He’s easy to imitate – I’ve done it too, but he’s extremely difficult (if not impossible) to master. Underneath the “big words” and the dash and the colour lies a scintillating internal logic that only Vance understood. I don’t think anyone will master his voice, only approximate it.

While there are echoes of Vance’s work in the beginning and end sections of this book, it’s too matter of factly constructed to be Vance. It’s also decidedly nastier than anything Vance ever wrote. Vance liked to throw the odd barb at religion and those who adhered to it like glue, but this book all but names religions the playground of the weak-minded and pliable. Doesn’t disguise itself in any way.

Also, I felt like I was reading one novel and portions of another. The beginning and the ending seem to come from outside the central narrative – there’s things going on before and after this story that are alluded to, but I’m not seeing anywhere in the book that this is part of a series. Goodreads isn’t listing it as one. And only about two thirds through the novel does Imbry actually list who may have led him to the forsaken planet he ended up on. Almost an afterthought.

A couple of quibbles that other reviewers have pointed out. Hughes overuses the word “ineffable” a lot. And why call Imbry a fat man throughout? Does Imbry being fat have any significance above and beyond the fact he likes his dinners? Is it part of some characteristic or notoriety he gained in another story? Without knowing this, I wasn’t sure what the point of it all was.

Anyhow, I like enough of what I saw in this book to seek out more of Hughes’ work.

View all my reviews

Jack Vance – Lurulu

LuruluLurulu by Jack Vance
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’m not mean enough to give Vance’s last published book one star though there are plenty of reasons to do so. As with Ports of Call, this book dispenses with any kind of plot and character development and instead we get a colourful travelogue, with a cohort of nameless ciphers who go traipsing about one planet after the other and not a whole lot happens, apart from an early episode of vengeance.

My pet peeve with Vance is all over this book too – everything and everyone is a miser. It’s all about the freaking money. One half of the universe is trying to rip off the other half who are trying to haggle their way out of paying retail. Seriously, Vance has been at this unwelcome shenanigan for much of his fantasy and SF writing career and it overstayed its welcome about thirty books ago.

Yes, I’m being captious. Vance was ninety or thereabouts when this book was released. Few people will live as long as he did let alone write legible fiction then. On its own merits, that aspect is to be commended. But also on its own aspects, this book is an ipso facto stinker. Not the most ideal way to bow out, Jack, but the sheer fact you even got this book out is something I’ll raise a glass to. Vale Jack.

View all my reviews

Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis – Dragons of Winter Night

Dragons of Winter Night (Dragonlance: Chronicles, #2)Dragons of Winter Night by Margaret Weis
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Not as good as the first one. It lacked a certain something, and the way the narrative jumped around wasn’t ideal either. I found it a little harder in this instalment to care about the characters too – the authors obviously want you to care – but for mine, there wasn’t enough given reasons to care. They’re not as cardboard-y or as stock as in some other D&D novels out there, but because of the frequently discursive narrative, there’s not enough time to build up a rapport.

And dare I say it, but of all the D&D worlds, I have a preference for the Forgotten Realms. Ed Greenwood may have his faults as a writer of fiction, but the world he created is a compellingly deep place. Krynn? Not so much – not yet, I suppose. Over the length of two books, it hasn’t really taken on more lustre than you’d expect from imaginary places on a drawn map.

In Krynn’s defence, I’m only two books in. With a few more tomes under my belt, maybe this initial shallow impression will deepen. I just hope there aren’t too many more blah instalments like this one.

View all my reviews

Older posts

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑