James Patterson - The Murder of King Tut
A graphic novel adaption of Patterson's 'non-fiction thriller' tells the stories of both Tutankhamen and Howard Carter. It was a light and pretty fast read that gives a very vague version of both stories with the Tut aspect of the book being simplified to the point of idiocy.
Tut's tale tells of his father - Akhenaten - and his (non-biological) mother - Nefertiti - who both preceded him as Pharaoh. Tut's rule is sort and it's not long before Patterson makes the claim that the royal scribe - Ay - was responsible for Tut's death, after he had fallen from his horse and broken his leg, by suffocating him. His evidence for this seems to be that Tut's broken leg and cracked skull were neither serious enough to cause his death and suffocation was undetectable. It all seems a bit to pat for my mind.
The Carter sections deal with his employment as an artist in Egypt before becoming a tomb-hunter himself. Everything else is glossed over and ignored so really you don't get to know anything about the man other than his obsession with finding tombs in the Valley of the Kings.
There are two artists involved. Christopher Mitten has a lovely unorthodox style which is used to great effect on the Tut sequences. The Carter section is by Ron Randall and is less pretty, certainly not bad but nothing to get you wet. The nicest surprise on the art front was the discovery on the back of several Darwyn Cooke pieces that look an awful lot like Samurai Jack.
Deeply flawed but it passed some time.
Robert Perry & Mike Tucker – Doctor Who Novellas: Companion Piece
A short – 100 pages – but entertaining little read pitting the Seventh Doctor and a unique companion called ‘Cat’ (Catherine) who to my knowledge has only ever been in this one story.
The pair appear on a small back-world looking for a new bag for the Doctor after Cat loses his after helping them escape from some nasty robot spiders. The planet is part of the new Catholic Church and the Doctor is soon arrested by the Inquisition as a witch. After recruiting some kindly help Cat is also captured and the pair are ferried off to Rome.
There are some real plot holes here and it could have really done with another 100 or so pages to run its course more satisfactorily. It was a fun Sunday evening read though.
Cherie Priest - Boneshaker
Having cut her teeth on a series of southern gothic ghost stories (the Eden Moore trilogy) Priest here turns her attention towards a steamier, or in this case gassier, genre with fine results.
Briar Wilkes is just about subsisting through punishing manual work on the outside of the high-walled death trap that used to be Seattle. Her life and reputation in tatters following the calamitous actions of her husband Leviticus Blue which had released the Blight Gas onto the city and doomed many of it's inhabitants to a life of poverty and hardship but many more to an unlife as the living dead.
It is from this existence that Briar's (and Blue's) son Zeke wishes to escape and the only way he knows how is by clearing his dead fathers name and that means going into the city.
Briar is a wonderful creation. Her reactions to her son's less than rational excursion and her subsequent travails as she attempts to recover him are so beautifully human and real that one cannot help falling for her. She is a woman remade in her own image, undiminished by the hand she has been dealt and meeting life head on. Zeke on the other hand is too much of a teenaged cliche full of undirected angst and naive bravado.
Life inside (and outside) the city is beautifully sketched and the book is peopled with a fabulous array of characters including dirigible flying sky pirates, sinister gangsters and all the different flavours of human flotsam and jetsam you'd ever be likely to find.
The story isn't perfect, there aren't enough zombies by a long chalk and the final confrontation (between whom I'll not say) is very rushed but it is, in spite of these points, still rather wonderful.
Cherie Priest - Clementine
I couldn't score myself a copy of the dead tree version of this as it was only published as a limited edition by some US micropublisher so had to settle for the audiobook.
This is the second of the Clockwork Century books that Priest has written. The third 'Dreadnought' (I love that word) is sitting on the shelf behind me waiting it's turn to be read. The first one, 'Boneshaker' was a cracking zombie(ish), gangster(ish), steampunk romp through a sealed Seattle filled with a poisonous fog that had turned most of the inhabitants into the living dead (yay!). It was good fun.
This time out Priest eschews such crowd pleasing concepts for a good old fashioned chase.
Maria 'Belle' Boyd (retired confederate spy) is hired to chase down escaped slave and sky-pirate Captain Croggon Beauregard Hainey who in turn is hot on the heels of his stolen airship.
Both principles are cracking characters brought to life beautifully by quality voice-acting from both (one for him, one for her) readers (don't forget I'm listening to an audiobook here). The story is just the right side of complex to make for a good romp and there's more than enough intrigue and shenanigans to make it a great little read / listen.
Cherie Priest - Dreadnought
Now that was tremendous! What a fabulous ride from beginning to end. This last year has put so many excellent books in front of me - Anno Dracula, the first Burton & Swineburne novel, to name just the first two that come to mind. This one carries on that winning streak.
This is my third visit to Priest's 'Clockwork Century' and whilst I very much enjoyed the other two this one was, for me, streets ahead. It's a romp of a book that never for a moment stands still. Mercy (a confederate nurse heading west to see her daddy in Seattle) leaves her job in a field hospital on her mammoth journey where via air, river and predominantly rail she experiences profound exposure to the politics, people and rigours of life on her continent.
She is an almost unlikely figure. A superheroine nurse unflappable and unstoppable yet as often being pulled along by the story she finds herself within as she is driving it. Her dynamism is nicely offset by the pragmatic cool of Texas Ranger Horatio Korman. A man made entirely out of glacial ice. Balancing these two is a supporting cast of well rounded and interesting individuals although the mad scientist was a little cartoony.
The action scenes are both enormous fun and delightfully understated. They never feel heroic only futile, dirty and dangerous and you are never allowed to forget that they all have consequences.
The story is of course key and it's simplicity of purpose belies the complexity that is teased out over the course of it's 400 pages. The world Priest has created in the earlier tales is alive and impacting on her newer ones. The narrative rolls along and gathers momentum in most delightfully unexpected and appreciated ways .
I have been besotted by this book for the last few days and I've just emerged from it to discover that London is on fire with rioters looting all they can get. I'm too spaced to really focus and I have a warm fuzzy feeling that is probably not altogether appropriate given the news but that was a hell of a good book.
Cherie Priest – Ganymede
This is the third of Priest’s Clockwork Century books and it’s another corker.
I’ve enjoyed all these books so far (especially the second) and I love that they truly feel like events unfolding rather than some sort of contrived arc of a trilogy.
It’s also beautifully human. You almost know these characters. They use believable logic to justify their behaviour and they react in understandable ways, albeit very noble ones.
The story this time out concerns a newly invented submarine that the (black) insurgents in New Orleans are trying to hide from and slip past the occupying forces of the Confederacy and the Republic of Texas.
Airship pirate Andan Cly is asked by his ex to come to New Orleans to pilot the sub. Along the way he is caught up in an Texan attack on the insurgent base, participates in the fight to recapture it and meets his first transvestite prostitute.
Truthfully it wasn’t as satisfyingly wonderful as the second book, Dreadnought, but as that was one of the best things I read all last year that’s probably not surprising. His one is still a fabulous read filled with pin sharp dialogue and great characters.
All these books (and the assorted shorts) feel like snapshots of a series of interconnected lives. It’s getting to be increasingly interesting how these lives are intertwining whilst behind everything the menace of the zombis is growing slowly.
As ever I almost cannot wait for the next volume.
Philip Pullman - The Ruby in the Smoke
I'd been fancying giving these books a go for a while now and so having a bit of walking time ahead of me I grabbed the audio versions. I started listening to this one whilst walking to the next town at lunchtime and just kept on listening through the rest of the day.
The story concerns the newly orphaned Sally Lockhart and the strange and dangerous events that surround her. .She is the subject of numerous plotlines all converging around a ruby once belonging to an Indian maharajah.
As it's a Pullman book you know it's going to be sublimely well crafted. He writes with such an amazing ability to construct characters and location that the wondrous storylines almost get forgotten until the next one comes along and bites you.
The audiobook was read superbly by one Anton Lesser. The range of voices is astonishing and the changes so fluid that at times you forget it's all the one fella.
I thoroughly enjoyed this one.
Philip Pullman - The Shadow in the North
An audiobook of the second Sally Lockhart novel that's set several years on from the first. This one finds Sally running her own financial consulting firm. Frederick & Jim are detectives and find themselves embroiled in a muddle of a case after helping out a stage magician by the name of McKinnon. Sally meanwhile is investigating the sinking of a boat and the subsequent collapse of the shipping company into which she had advised her client to invest her savings. The two investigations soon intertwine and the trio find themselves up against an unscrupulous business tycoon named Bellman.
The plot is detailed and the characters real. The dialogue is evocative and the backdrop vividly painted. All these though are to be expected with Pullman. It doesn't have the sparkle of the first and was a slightly less joyful and exhilarating read but that isn't to reduce it's appeal as it's a very good follow up to an excellent predecessor.