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Friday, 27 March 2015

Review: The Wise Man's Fear, Patrick Rothfuss

Day 2 of the spectacular Kingkiller chronicles, during which Kvothe reveals more of his past to Chronicler and Kvothe's friend, Bast.

We meet young Kvothe again at the University, and his long-running feud with Ambrose reaches a peak, resulting in Kvothe being firmly encouraged to take a term off away from the University. Despairing, since this has been his sole ambition, and with no idea what to do, he is rescued by his friend Threpe. Threpe has been in contact with the Maer of a place called Severen. This man happens to be very rich and powerful and Threpe and Kvothe think the same thing - a patron for Kvothe may finally be in sight.

 From his quest to help the Maer find a wife, to tracking bandits, encountering the Fae and lovely Felurian, to following one of his fellow mercenaries to Adem and learning the way of the Lethani, this novel opens up so much more of this world than we have previously seen. Kvothe, who relates this in first-person, is rich is detail and gives the reader as wide a view as is possible to see from a first-person narrative.

What I found more fascinating, though, is what the reader is not told. We have breadcrumbs - we know that Kvothe holds himself responsible for the war, the scrael, and other pieces of darkness we met in Book 1 and are followed up in Book 2. We know that he and Bast are extremely good friends, but why? And why does Bast keep calling Kvothe 'Reshi'? After meeting the Cthaeth in the Fae world, the reader is given another piece of the puzzle. However, it's one of those awkward middle pieces that you know will be important once you've found its place, but finding that place is terribly difficult.

When I first started to read these books, I remember the warning one of my friends had given me a couple of years previously - maybe hold off until the publication of the third book is announced, because it's so good and it will be really hard waiting for the third one. Sage advice. As it stands, I'll probably find myself reading the first two books again way before the third is announced just to try and fill in more blanks.

This is a compelling, rich, dazzling world, highly recommend for lovers of fantasy.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman

We meet our narrator on the day of a funeral. On his drive, he comes to a house that he remembers from his childhood and it stirs up old, dark memories from his childhood which he begins to explore by the pond that his friend, who he can't quite remember, called an ocean.

As he sits he remembers living in a house just up the lane, and meeting Lettie Hempstock and her family, who seem older than logically or physically possible - Granny Hempstock remembers the Big Bang.

They meet Ursula Monkton, a dark, ancient creature, in her huge, decaying tent form, and she uses the Narrator to leave her land and try to claim his family and the land for her own. Ursula seduces the family as a kindly, efficient housekeeper, while tormenting the young boy, though everyone else is unaware of it.

It's a dark, rich, tale that examines childhood memories and the dark fantasies that lurk at the edges of our imagination. It blurs the lines between what we know to be real and what could be real, especially as children, and we sympathise with the Narrator's frustration at how the family can't see who Ursula Monkton really is - a monster.

The story is gripping and never without a dull moment, and you can find yourself longing for the safety and comfort of a family home like the Hempstocks'. Highly recommended fantasy read.

Review: The Shock of the Fall, Nathan Filer

'I’ll tell you what happened because it will be a good way to introduce my brother. His name’s Simon. I think you’re going to like him. I really do. But in a couple of pages he’ll be dead. And he was never the same after that.’

This book is an extraordinary insight into a man's descent into mental illness. Matthew's brother's death has haunted him for years; the puzzle has to how it happened is assembled throughout the book, and even though we see dark, tragic glimpses the full story is still heartbreakingly shocking. We don't find out the exact nature of Matthew's illness until near enough the end of the book's close, either, and though it seemed somewhat of a mystery, the reveal makes complete sense.

It is a beautifully written book, disordered and muddled in places as we try to trace Matthew's inner monologue - he seems to go off on various tangents, filling in pieces of the backstory as he goes - but it wouldn't make sense to be otherwise. It's one of those books that can fill you with such deep sadness and compassion that you want to cry but just don't feel able to. A brilliant work from a debut author.