Joanne M. Harris The Gospel of Loki – Review

The Gospel of Loki (Paperback)

Laughter disarms the fiercest of men. – Lokabrenna

A child’s fascination with something can last a long time and spark great ideas; ideas that can be turned into books. As a little girl, Joanne Harris found Thunder of the Gods by Dorothy G. Hosford in her local library. She loved the book so much that her name kept appearing on the lending card inside it. She even got hold of it after so many years, but you’ll need to ask her yourself how she managed that – maybe she is a trickster too. This book triggered in her the fascination with mythology and I’m very happy she found it, because her books inspired by Norse mythology are brilliant. I love Runemarks and Runelight and I was very excited to hear that she wrote another book set in the Norse lands of myths and legends.

The Gospel of Loki is a story told by the Trickster himself. The story starts with Loki meeting Odin and ends with Ragnarók. Loki, who is a very mercurial creature in body and mind, tells us about his adventures on the way to becoming a god, as he was promised. His new ‘relatives’ do not warm up to him straight away – Aesir and Vanir are either careful or biased towards his shift(y)-ing personality. It is never easy for him and Loki keeps trying to win them in his naturally charming way. He tricks, lies, he fights or causes fights, he is a hero and a fool, a friend, lover and a foe all in one. He has his family too – yet Loki’s heart is imprisoned in barbed wire. There might be more to the story than he tells us.

The book is divided into four parts (Light, Shadow, Sunset and Twilight) – a giant loop, out of the Chaos throughout light, into the shadows until Ragnarók and back to the Chaos. Each of the parts contains tales spiked with Loki’s lessons for his readers. Being the Trickster extraordinaire, Loki easily can spot someone trying to deceive him, or so he likes to think. He gets too entwined in the web of conspiracies and his role in all that, yet he doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty. He might be the ultimate flawed character, because of his moral compass rapidly changing directions to suit his causes, but he proves to be a hero or anti-hero that has his own side of the story to tell. He might not become a god but he definitely is a luciferous light amongst the gods of Asgard – or it might be just his flame coloured hair. And it’s an astounding story of ups and downs of the Nine Worlds full of runic magic and incredible creatures.

The Gospel of Loki, besides such a great narrator, has lots of different characters. The gods as a pompous crowd – full of all they are known for but not as bright as the gold they would do anything for (maybe with some exceptions here and there). Odin knows how important is the art of PR or gossip and rumours which become true just because he says so. Bragi and his lute might be a part of this lyrical marketing campaign. Balder the “Goldie locks” is just as shiny as Heimdall, and Loki doesn’t seem to be a fan of the precious ones. Freya, the Machiavellian goddess, Thor the Thunderer, Frigg the Seeress and the rest of them fall for Loki’s tricks and they don’t like it, but they owe him on many occasions when his creative problem-solving saves the day.

There is also an undesirable crowd, a vibrant lot that makes the Trickster’s stories more fascinating. He has a soft spot for witches and his relationships with them bear a truly demonic fruit. I love Fenris, Hel and Jormungand – Loki’s misunderstood children. Throughout the whole book, Loki wonders why he was chosen by Odin to join him and the other gods. He knows his value but doesn’t clearly see how it all fits into the bigger picture. Eventually he gets lost a little bit and might end up being served his own trickery which doesn’t taste as nice as jam tarts baked by his wife, Sigyn. Is it possible that the Trickster was ultimately tricked or did the Oracle simply not like him?

The Gospel of Loki is a very faithful account of Norse myths, which are great the way they have been told and re-told, but I think that making Loki the narrator of them, with his goofy humour and the air of superior trickery mastermind, Joanne Harris re-wrote them in a brilliant way. Even though she is so close to the original material and she wrote it in more or less chronological order to enable Loki to tell his story, her quirky and marvellous storytelling is present on every page of this book.

I have known the myths since I was a child too and mythologies have always been fascinating. This book gives me a fresh glimpse into the story of one of the most incredible characters of Norse mythology. It’s not only a melancholic narration of the ever misunderstood Trickster, but also an entertaining story skilfully written as if it was simply told by Loki himself sitting right next to the reader.

 

Author: Joanne M. Harris

Title: The Gospel of Loki

Publisher: Gollancz (UK)

Format: Hardback

Published: February 13, 2014

 

Review originally published on Fantasy-Faction website.

Graham Joyce Some Kind of Fairy Tale – Review

Some Kind of Fairy Tale (Paperback)

‘No doubt we shall have to sit there all bloody evening listening to some awful drivel about fairies.’ – William Heaney

Thousands of people go missing every year in the world. Some of them might never come back, but those that do, after a long or short period of time, have different stories to tell about what happened to them. A lot of them are quite straightforward, but others will remain a mystery forever.

Christmas Day for the Martins was about to be pretty much the same as every other year since their children left the house. Until, that is, Mary and Dell Martin get an unexpected visitor who might as well be a ghost. It is their daughter, Tara, who vanished without a trace twenty years ago. It felt like an eternity of anguish and unanswered questions for her parents and her brother, Peter. For the Martins, it was a long twenty years, for Tara it was a mere six months, or so she believes. Regardless of the length of the time, she disappeared one day and left everyone in despair and in fear of what could have really happened to her. Now that Tara is back, it is difficult for her family to deal with it. On one hand they don’t want to know what happened as they are relieved to see her alive, on the other hand, they need answers.

Peter was always close to Tara and losing her turned his life upside-down, but in the process of growing up and having a family of his own, this sudden arrival makes him angry and resentful, rather than delighted to see his baby sister. However, it’s not only Tara’s appearance that causes concerns but also her story about what happened to her and why she left without a word.

A fifteen-year-old Tara walks in to the Outwoods, the local woods, and disappears. She claims she met a young handsome man on a white horse, who after talking to her, invited her to his place. After a dramatic argument with her boyfriend, Richie, she is keen on a new adventure – if only till she figures out what she really wants. The stranger leads her through the forest and its intoxicating sea of bluebells, where they ride until dusk and suddenly end up at a strange lake. Here the story really begins.

Some Kind of Fairy Tale is a beautifully told story of loss, uncertainty, love and the supernatural world just next door to where we live. This is not the first time I have read this book. I tend to come back to it, as it’s a book which haunts you and lures you back to flick through the pages filled with clashing worlds of folklore stories and a seemingly normal pragmatic life. Once Tara reveals what happened to her she is treated as a victim of some kind of trauma prior to her disappearance. Different characters in the book voice their opinions on Tara’s story – as different as they might be, their common denominator is that her story can’t be true. It cannot be true because no one believes in fairies, not even those nymphomaniac fairies that live all together in one loving and harmonious community.

Graham Joyce’s writing is intelligent, complex and imaginative. That’s what really makes this story so delightful and enthralling. He managed to make Tara’s story believable, with the supernatural world intricately woven into our world, and at the same time easily discredited by plausible psychiatric diagnoses. The characters are remarkable and full of quirky qualities which make all of them so vivid and distinctive. The descriptions in Some Kind of Fairy Tale are enchanting and captivating – reading the book, I really badly wanted to go out into the woods to experience the tranquillity, magic and the intoxicating smell of the bluebells.

Loss, or rather dealing with loss, is one of the main aspects in the book; and as much as they all try to come to terms with it, the dynamic of it affects the relationships in a major way. The friendship between Peter and Richie is one of them. Besides Tara, Richie is probably the most complex character in the book. Being Tara’s boyfriend at the time she went missing put him in a difficult situation and froze his life at that moment. Unable to have an adult life, he is a diluted version of his younger self-obsessed with his music and Tara. Love is another crucial aspect of the book; love, and its multiple layers and convoluted ties it creates between the people. This is one of the ideas in the book that really moved me – how one person loved in a different way by many people can either bring them together or divide them.

The plot is intriguing and superbly written. The world of Some Kind of Fairy Tale is built on a difficult ground of people’s believes and disbelieves in the supernatural. The characters smoothly drive the story in the directions which they trust are right. What I like about them is that they can easily make the reader change their mind as to what they are prepared to believe in. In the book, the idea of fairies inhibiting the world is dissected and analysed through people’s perceptions of what could be true or false, and the difficult aspect of trying to understand the intangible proofs that there might be a possibility that the supernatural might have a place in an almost surgically sterile world, where what is believed in has to be scientifically feasible. Graham Joyce prefaced each chapter with a quote about fairy tales, fairies and folklore which adds a little more insight as to why folklore and fantasy are a part of human perception of the supernatural. One of the quotes, which prefaces my review, is by William Heaney – a.k.a. Graham Joyce who published another great book, Memoirs of a Master Forger, under that name.

Graham Joyce in his unique way of writing, apart from creating the perfect story on its own, gives the reader enough thinking space to fill in the gaps between the lines. His storytelling is effortless and ingenious. He is one of my favourite writers and of course I can give lots of reasons why, but one of the main reasons is that his books make you think laterally about life and the things people face every day. His gift is that his writing sometimes removes and sometimes just obscures the boundaries between the world of reason and the supernatural. Some Kind of Fairy Tale is an extraordinary book which doesn’t let you stop for a break – the reader just feels compelled to read on and find out what happens next. To see if what initially was thought to be an illusion turns out to be true or the other way round.

If you love books which flawlessly erase visible lines between fantasy and reality then Some Kind of Fairy Tale, or any other of Graham Joyce’s books is what you are looking for.

Author: Graham Joyce

Title: Some Kind of Fairy Tale

Publisher: Gollancz (UK)

Format: Hardback

Published: March 14, 2013 (UK)

Review originally published on Fantasy-Faction website.

Stephen Deas The Adamantine Palace – Review

The Adamantine Palace (Paperback)

It’s hard to believe that dragons once ruled the world. Now they are used by humans as mounts, hunting and war machines, precious gifts to settle diplomatic disputes and as bargaining chips. Dragons have a unique place in the world of The Adamantine Palace, but they are far from their usual formidable selves. Their breeding and upkeep is strictly monitored by the alchemists whose Order knows the danger of letting these amazing and fiery creatures live freely.

The Adamantine Palace takes you right into the middle of the political strife amongst the rulers of Nine Realms. The realms struggle to understand how one of their queens died, with there being talk of carelessness and foul play. But this is not the only unknown that puzzles them. The health of King Tyan is deteriorating and there is rumour that his ambitious son Jehal is poisoning him. At the same time, the Speaker of the Realms seems to have similar symptoms and needs to find his successor. Prince Jehal is getting married to Lystra, daughter of Shezira, the powerful Queen of Sand and Stone and Salt. With her hand, he is about to receive Snow, a pure white dragon admired and coveted by many others.

As Snow suddenly disappears on the way to the Realm of the Endless Sea, the game of betrayal, domination and deceit takes a new turn. While humans are preoccupied with their power struggles and political strategies to gain more influence and wealth, one of the dragons gradually awakes and regains full awareness of power and purpose. The power and purpose repressed by the alchemical potions when they became slaves of the human race. Have humans forgotten about the superiority of dragons?

The world of The Adamantine Palace is divided and haunted by constant political intrigues. The characters have goals and hardly any of them are motivated by charitable intentions or the good of all the realms and their people. Or so it seems. Many of them are consumed by their want of power which makes them ultimately flawed. In a way it makes them even more interesting and likeable to me, because of their complexity and ability to stay ahead of the game – well, it doesn’t always work for all of them. I found all the back-stabbing plots, scheming characters – who change the course of the plot so often it is like a vortex of mind tricks and treachery – really enjoyable to read. It is the world dominated by rulers, and normal humans are either outsiders or servants, but they also play an important part in the story. Sell-swords and Scales are amongst my favourite characters. I really liked the constant change of the point of view – it works really well in the book where there is no single protagonist that is meant to stand out or have the story revolve around them.

Stephen Deas conjured this magnetic world of perpetual chicanery, lust and power where humans are too busy to realise that their authority is about to be burnt and reduced to a mere background by fiery, sophisticated and far more intelligent species. Dragons in The Adamantine Palace are daunting and majestic creatures full of fire as their nature requires, but only when they are either commanded by their riders or when they are free of the potions clouding their exceptional mental faculties. The shift in the story is so clever and it seems to show the mirror image between humans and dragons. Both species are selfish and ready to do everything to maintain the upper hand at all costs. But who is going to outsmart whom?

The Adamantine Palace is a fast paced book, written with great skill and intricacy. Stephen Deas knows how to lure readers into the world and keep them turning pages with astonishment of one conspiracy after another. The book might be difficult to get into at first for some readers, as there is a vast number of characters (the genealogical trees are provided), but Stephen Deas’ writing is great and he tells this multilayered story marvellously. The Adamantine Palace is book number one in the Memory of Flames trilogy which I highly recommend.

Author: Stephen Deas

Title: The Adamantine Palace

Publisher: Gollancz (UK)

Format: Paperback

Published: February 1, 2010 (UK)

Review originally published on Fantasy-Faction website.

The Fairy Tale Effect – Part II – Charm by Sarah Pinborough

Charm

Poison, the first book in Sarah Pinborough’s fairy tale trilogy was awesome. The story of Snow White was intriguing and had a brilliant and unpredictable ending (I wrote about Poison here). I loved it and I was looking forward to reading Charm – a re-written story of Cinderella.

The Cinderella we know from the original fairy tales is a quiet girl who is neglected by her step-mother and step-sisters. She is saved by a fairy godmother and goes to a ball where her beauty outshines every other girl. Consequently, she marries the prince and they live happily ever after in a big castle. As much as it sounds nice and all, it’s kind of too perfect, isn’t it?

Sarah Pinborough’s Cinderella is a natural beauty and works hard at home, whereas her step-mother is willing to do absolutely everything to be a part of the royal court. Does it all seem just as in the original story? Well, that’s about it, because Charm is much better. Cinderella is a compelling character. She has a dream and is so consumed by making it come true that she is ready to play dirty.

When she is thought to be just an inconvenience to her extended family and an unloved victim, she really seems to be a self-centred spoilt little girl. The story gets darker from then on. “Be careful what you wish for”, would be good advice for Cinderella who turns to tricky magic and murky deals with a witch, who has her own agenda, in order to get the prince.

Pinborough’s characters are always well written, interesting and very real – no matter what positive or negative qualities they might have. The whole family of the main character is incredibly engaging, but Cinderella is such a complex character. She is full of naive determination to reach her goal no matter what – it reminded me of my own hot-headed attitude when I was her age. It seems that everything is on the right track when all of a sudden the magic bubble bursts and Cinderella is faced with the consequences of her actions. It is amazing to see how it changes her – it’s probably one of most difficult aspects of writing a good character, but Pinborough rocks here. All the other characters, including an intriguing friend with benefits and a cursed footman, are vibrant and very realistic. I found Cinderella’s relationship with her sister, Rose, very fascinating. And I can’t forget about the prince – he’s a completely different person to the one you think you know. Yet again, the darkness around his secret is astonishing and perfectly caricatures his perfectness.

I have to confess I love winter and the snow it brings – the book is set in a kingdom covered with snow and, after reading just the opening two pages, I realised how much I miss it. The descriptions are stunning.

I simply love the book, though the best part of Charm is how it is flawlessly connected to Poison. The story of Snow White is not finished and it gets better and better. The ending is yet again unexpected and brilliant and makes you want to keep on reading – another example of Pinborough’s great writing. She keeps you captivated and dying to turn the pages faster. Charm is very well written, full of magic, great old fairy tale goodness and loads of surprises.

I’m going to say it again: the illustrations by Les Edwards (http://www.lesedwards.com/) are incredible and the cover is striking.

I can’t wait to read Beauty!

Author: Sarah Pinborough

Title: Charm

Publisher: Gollancz

Format: Hardback, 220 pages

Published: to be published on 18/07/2013

ISBN: 9780575093010 (Hardback)

 

Peter Higgins Wolfhound Century – Review

Wolfhound Century

Wolfhound Century is an unusual and superb book – Noir Sci-Fi thriller perhaps.

The book is set in Russia. Though it’s not the Russia you might know – it’s spellbinding and transfixing. Higgins tells a story of Investigator Vissarion Lom, who is summoned to carry out a special mission to find an enemy of peace within the core of totalitarian Vlast. Although the mission seems straightforward, yet somewhat bizarre, Inspector Lom struggles to find a substantial lead.

Vlast has been at war for a long time and the only way of survival for both sides is to end it. When time for negotiations approach, terrorist attacks wreak havoc and kill innocent citizens of Mirgorod. Lom finds help in his best friend – Raku Vishnik, a historian exiled from the academic institution – to seek an elusive and charismatic Josef Kantor.

The characters are extremely well written. They are strong – full of doomed weaknesses and extraordinary qualities, including endless perseverance to achieve their goals. Inspector Lom not only strives to be an outstanding citizen and police officer, he also knows he is not fully free. He has a piece of angel skin embedded in his head – it has a censoring quality of sorts. His life and mission get a bit complicated when he meets Marrousia Shaumian. Although, this might be the beginning towards his freedom.

The history of Vlast is mystical and points towards the existence of Pollandore. As more and more people try to find it, it seems more unreal. Mirgorod is haunted by visions and intangible proof of its existence. Lom’s mission takes him round Mirgorod and its underground – avant-garde art clubs; seemingly impenetrable secret police headquarters, Lodka; streets full of architecture of Soviet bleakness and raw beauty. It’s not only the astonishing places that draw us in, but also the supernatural creatures that inhabit the world of Wolfhound Century – fallen angels, whose dead bodies serve as timber for dark intentions; notorious and indestructible mudjhiks; giants, vyrdalaks and mysterious forest creatures.

The language of Wolfhound Century is captivating. Peter Higgins wrote a truly superb debut novel which captures Russian metaphysical folklore and harsh Soviet reality. This almost lyrical story seems more than just a fantasy. It touches the somewhat delicate history of Soviet power and its vast expanse – especially the relationship between Soviet Russia and Poland.

I’d recommend Wolfhound Century to those who love a challenge in the form of a book – when Sci-Fi intertwines with Noir thriller. I’m already looking forward to reading the sequel – not only because I am desperate to know what happens next, but also, because of sheer writing which is amazing.

Author: Peter Higgins

Title: Wolfhound Century

Publisher: Gollancz

Format: Hardback, 320 pages

Published: 21/03/2013

ISBN: 9780575130531

The Fairy Tale Effect – Part I – Poison by Sarah Pinborough

Poison

Before you open another door with a ‘Once upon a time…’ sign on it, try to remember all the stories read in childhood – Hans Christian Andersen, Brothers Grimm, Aesop, Charles Perrault etc.

I loved them all. The darker they were the more satisfied my young imagination was. Pages and pages full of princesses, witches, charming princes, kings, castles, knights, mysterious cottages, dwarves, fairies, talking animals, poor people, rich people, riddles, spells and so on and so forth. It wasn’t just the stories themselves, but the magical world they invited me into or just pulled me in with enticing adventures.

Even though they were informative and filled with the moral that we were to draw from them, I asked my school friend if she thought that there was supposed to be more to them. She was more of a Maths girl and didn’t see the point in perusing answers to subjects that kept her away from algebra. My school librarian was harassed many times with questions about possibly ‘abridged’ stories, because we were children and were not allowed to know the whole truth.  One day she gave up and told me when I was a bit older I could look for books by Angela Carter. But I had to swear I would tell no one that she told me.

I found them some time later – when I was a bit more grown up 😉 – and I was in an utterly different fairy tale world from the one I remembered. The covers contained more wicked evil, cannier characters who actually behaved more like adults in comparison to that ‘abridged’ material I was used to. Being a fan of Angela Carter I thought I read it all – as far as rewriting of fairy twists and tales goes.

Sarah Pinborough proved me wrong. She’s been one of my favourite authors – The Language of Dying, The Dog-Faced Gods Trilogy and Nowhere Chronicles are among my favourites – but what she did with the traditional story of Snow White amazed me.

Poison by Sarah Pinborough is everything you know about Snow White and, what’s more important, everything you don’t know about her. The characters are dark and extremely natural – the story could have happened anywhere. Even though it’s set in the original fairy tale type world, it is astounding what Sarah Pinborough did with the story. To explain it better, she knew when to use blood and when to use glitter.

The characters’ virtues and vices drive the story. Lilith aka the Evil Queen Step-Mother is not simply possessed by jealousy, but has much murkier intentions and reasons hidden behind that perfect fair beauty facade. The dwarves are truly brilliant and so, of course, is Snow White – my favourite character. She is the princess, but she won’t let the tight corset of court life restrict her in any way. Is this going to be something that Prince Charming loves about her? You need to read and see for yourself, how an intelligent and independent girl who also happens to be fun and kind of a tomboy is seen by her true love.

The story really spins at high velocity when the obvious happens – Snow White is poisoned. We all know how and why, but the what-happens-next part is so deliciously enthralling that you won’t want to put the book down.

The story of Snow White rewritten by Sarah Pinborough is truly compelling, and I can also tell you, believe it or not, it doesn’t end the way you would expect. You could try to guess, but well, you will be as taken aback as me. The end left me speechless, because I could not, would not come up with anything of the sort.

Fairy tales, at least Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, are getting a remake which is going to fill the covers (very nice and shiny) and your imagination with Poisonous magic, Charm and Beauty.

Stunning drawings by Les Edwards (http://www.lesedwards.com/) make Poison even more alluring.

I recommend them to everyone – it doesn’t matter if you have read fairy tales before or are about to start this adventure. Poison is truly brilliant, haunting and unputdownable.

Poison is published on 25 April 2013, followed by Charm in July 2013 and Beauty in October 2013.

I can’t wait to read Charm and Beauty and will definitely read Poison again.

If you want to read how Sarah Pinborough came up with the idea, you can find it here: http://www.gollancz.co.uk/2013/02/once-upon-a-time-a-valentines-day-post-from-sarah-pinborough/

Author: Sarah Pinborough

Title: Poison

Publisher: Gollancz

Format: Uncorrected Manuscript Proof, 200 pages

Published: 25/04/2013

ISBN: 9780575092976 (Hardback)

Poison 2

Joe Abercrombie The Blade Itself – Review

The Blade Itself will take you on an epic tour, hand in hand with the legendary warrior Ninefingers, temperamental Magi Bayaz, sarcastic Inquisitor Glokta and narcissistic Captain Luthar. They are all occupied with their own lives, which will gradually intertwine. Mundane things such as winning the fencing championship or hate of stairs get overshadowed by brewing conflict. Conflict which will be brutal, and which will test the loyalty of many people of different ranks. Professional and personal conflicts don’t mix well when social status is at stake.

Abercrombie has a great ability to write real characters that are intriguing and will keep you reading until you turn the last page. I really love his engaging style – you don’t get bored or lost even for a moment. I expected another epic fantasy novel with all typical features. Yes, you get it all – the full package and more. Wit and comic situations in the most pragmatic scenarios make The Blade Itself unputdownable.

I would recommend this book to anyone who loves a good old-fashioned epic story with a plot which will make you laugh and even shed a lone tear over lost friendship.

Author: Joe Abercrombie

Title: The Blade Itself

Publisher: Gollancz

Format: Paperback, 544 pages

Published: 08/03/2007

ISBN: 9780575079793