Monday, January 10, 2011

Booklist 2011 - The Stack and Beyond

Well, I believe in the past I've mentioned that I'm a voracious reader. If need be, I can plop myself into a chair or couch, and provided enough beverages, both caffeinated and non, I can blast through most standard fare in the span of a day with enough time. But that seems to be the key ingredient that I lack in the window of most days, time. It's not that I lead a fantastically exciting existence, but there is that pesky thing called "work", and the fact that I do have a few other hobbies that take up my time. My husband and I have a garden in the spring and summer, which is a surprising amount of work if you've never done it. We also brew our own beer, also surprisingly time consuming. I miss riding my baby, and as soon as this abominable weather clears, she's getting a well-deserved run somewhere. And I'm working on my own novels, don't laugh, it's true, and I'm up to Volume Three, the one for which I have the most ideas and the scenes set up, but the execution is always harder than the dream. Like every other schmuck, (or is it schmuckette?) I also have the need to get some exercise in a given day, if nothing else to, as my Granpa often said, "let the stink blow off".

So, here's a list of the books that I hope to read this following year that have yet to make it into my Stack (yes, it deserves a capital):

Ghost Story by Jim Butcher - Dresden Files nerds from across the globe have been greatly anticipating this one. I won't mention any spoils beyond the nail-biting anxiety that makes one wonder how Butcher is going to recharge this series and get some of his readers to recover from the shock of Changes. That was one of the true "WTF!!!!!????" moments that I've had within my reading history, and even though you knew something monumental was shifting within the series, it was still a heart-stopper. Well done on that front, Jim, but I still blame you for the following kniption. It's set for release on 4/05/11.

Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss - A follow up to The Name of The Wind following the tale of Kvothe, a notorious wizard of epic proportions as he is interviewed by a young scribe. The first novel encompasses his tumultuous youth and entrance into the University as a budding, gifted scholar, the second his equally exciting rise into royal politics and faerie realms as he seeks answers concerning his family honor and the deaths of his beloved parents. It's been a few years in the making for this one, and due to my nature, I have a hard time with patience when it comes to stories and finding out what happens next. Thankfully, this will be released on 3/01/11.

Mister Slaughter by Robert McCammon - I've been eagerly awaiting the paperback version of this, but because I have all the others in this particular series in paperback. Yes, I'm neurotic. The third installment of the legal clerk turned private investigator, Matthew Corbett, and his new assignment to transport a mass murderer, with a set of consequences based on a choice that the killer, Tyranthus Slaughter, gives his jailers. McCammon's done a fabulous job of painting his quirky hero with great vivacity and credibility, but also showing how a character can still grow and be just as fascinating, so I eagerly await this volume when it gets to paperback on 2/28/11.

New Spring: The Graphic Novel - I know I'm not the first to look at this with fangirly excitement and squeal "FINALLY!" Any dedicated WOT-er will probably be enthused and drooling over this one, and thank goodness I'll only have to wait until 1/18/11.

And the Stack includes a few good ones as well:

The Naming of the Beasts by Mike Carey - I hesitate to make a comparison that sooooo many reviewers have made between Mike Carey's Felix Castor and Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden. But, chances being what they are, if you like one, you probably would like the other. Castor, aka Fix, is an exorcist turned PI, and has a little bit more of an edge to him than Harry, I'd say, however, and the British slant changes the flavor of his equally cutting wit and wisdom. This is the fourth of the Felix Castor novels by Carey, and delves into the harsh choice that Castor has made between his loyalty to loved ones and clients and the consequences that he faces in the pre-apocalyptic battles that only he and the few of his remaining friends are ready to fight for the good of humanity. I'd suggest reading The Devil You Know, Carey's first Castor foray, a great introduction to the hero and his mounting struggle against the rising tide of evil in London.

The Poetic Edda - I managed to get through much of Snorri Sturluson's Prose Edda, so I think tackling this one in bits and pieces would be far easier than how I tried to blast through the other. Whereas much of the Prose had the newly-Christianized slant of the Vikings from Sturluson's time, the Poetic is just the collection of the written poetry, not the version to which Sturluson put a nostalgic twist in the Prose. We'll see how this pans out.

Also included in the Stack are a few other compilations of myths, such as collection of Celtic tales that I picked up, Tolkien's version of Sigurd and Gudrun, a brush up on my Roman history with The Spartacus War, and several other fantasy and fiction tomes.

All in all, hopefully the reading year will be productive, and I can make a dent, if my impulses at the bookstore can be squelched severely enough in the coming year.

But, I make no promises....

Friday, January 7, 2011

Book Review: "Twelve" by Jasper Kent

I'll be the first to say it, as of the past few years, the genre of "Dark Fantasy" has gotten soft, especially where vampires are concerned. Don't get me wrong, I even fall occasionally for the tale of the romantic, loner, dark lover vamp that plays the tortured...well...okay, sometimes not-so-tortured, soul. But let's get serious, there needs to be some mass injection of fear-instilling, bloody, brutal writing in the subgenre of these fantastic creatures that resurrects that dark, evil, primal nature for which they were so feared in literature and folk legend not so very long ago. A few exceptions have appeared, Robin McKinley's Sunshine, though it does bear that romantic twist, where the vamps are not the misunderstood outcasts, but frightening, alien creatures that strike terror instead of lust and longing into the hearts of the prey that they hunt.

Jasper Kent surely delivers on that count with his historical-cum-dark-fantasy romp Twelve. Set in Russia in 1812 at the onset of Napoleon's invasion and takeover of the protagonist's beloved Moskva, he gives the reader a reason to fear the dark, to dread the power of night once more. At the beginning, we are abruptly, but effectively, introduced to Aleksei Ivanovich, a hardened, yet still idealistic, Russian soldier turned spy that bears the horrendous scars of torture from a Turkish prison, but maintains his resolve and faith even in the face of extreme adversity. Aleksei is masterfully written, while trusting and naive enough to maintain the patriotism for his beloved Russia and the wonder of her cities, but savvy enough to know that even his nearest and dearest may yet betray him to the French, or worse yet, the frightening voordalaki which his compatriot, Dmitry, has employed for their cause against the French.

Aleksei and his three fellow agents, Vadim, Dmitry and Maksim are faced with the immediate issue of the French invasion from the very beginning and how to deal with the interlopers. It is Dmitry, who, while showing his vascillations early on, but maintaining the reader's respect at the end, suggests hiring twelve mercenaries, which whom he has already fought in Wallachia. The initial meeting of these hired killers, sought for their abilities to cause chaos and strife behind enemy lines, but with their origins cloaked by Dmitry, is shadowy and has a wonderful sense of foreboding. Anyone who is a fan of Bram Stoker's original or the history behind Vlad Dracula would be well pleased with the insinuations.

The reader is subsequently led into a tangled labyrinth that Aleksei explores. He is a married man, and while Kent makes the case for an adequate sense of detachment that Aleksei feels from his wife, Marfa, a society girl that Aleksei married in a matter of haste, Marfa is one part that still doesn't quite connect with the reader. While Aleksei feels estranged from Marfa both due to the nature of his assignment and his lack of attachment, he seems to form a bond rather quickly with Domnikiia, a prostitute with whom he first shares a distracted, escapist experience, which morphs into a relationship far more complicated than he has intended. The reader is also led to constantly question the loyalty of everyone Aleksei encounters, be they old friend who could be working as a French agent, or a sympathetic heart turned to the cause of the voordalak.

The ensuing tale is certainly not for the faint of heart in the sense of gore. Kent paints vivid yet economic scenes of devastation and destruction, both by the onslaught of war, the brutalisation of occupying forces, the voordalaki, and torture. Aleksei's flashback into the incident where he was mutilated in the Turkish cell is actually the most riveting, despite not being the most gruesome of the scenes that Kent describes. The vampires are shown in their full brutality as depraved, cunning murderers that will go to any extreme to satisfy their perverse desires. The sense of urgency and further excitement is amplified by the war being waged in the heart of Moscow and the invaders' hold on the city. Kent doesn't delve too far into the French motivations and methods, and they are far less demonized in Aleksei's mind than the monstrous vampires, once they are truly discovered.

Twelve is a novel I would recommend to most, especially those wanting a little history (thank fark Kent does his bit to explain Russian history and tidbits, not my strong suit, I'll tell you), a little fright, and a return to the darkness that once enraptured audiences of the fantasy world. Take a peek, and well, you might just conclude that yes, sometimes the dark is something to be wary of once in a while.