Review: Ink and Bone

 

Ink and Bone

 

Rachel Caine’s new book, Ink and Bone: The Great Library, is the first in a tril­o­gy set in an alter­nate world where the Great Library of Alexan­dria was nev­er sacked, and infor­ma­tion is tru­ly pow­er — in this case, the only pow­er worth men­tion­ing.  In a life where every­one across the globe has mag­i­cal access to every piece of writ­ing the great Alexan­dri­an Library deems worth read­ing, per­son­al own­er­ship of books is for­bid­den.  Young Jess Bright­well grows up part and par­cel of his father’s Lon­don-based black-mar­ket busi­ness, lit­er­al­ly run­ning pre­cious con­tra­band of real books–not mere copies–to buy­ers with the deep­est pock­et.  When his father sends him to train as librar­i­an at the great library itself–becoming an inside source for orig­i­nal vol­umes, the rarest of the rare–Jess’s pri­or­i­ties become tan­gled, and he ques­tions every­thing he’s ever known about knowl­edge and pow­er, right and wrong, cow­ardice and courage.

I loved this book from cov­er to cov­er.  It is con­sid­ered suit­able for grades 8 and up, but there is plen­ty there which skews old­er (char­ac­ters you like die bloody deaths galore).  The premise is fas­ci­nat­ing and per­ti­nent to our world of dig­i­tal media and ques­tions of own­er­ship vs license.  The alter­nate Earth is inter­est­ing, com­plex and well-devised and the char­ac­ters are as inter­est­ing as they are diverse, with the women as unapolo­get­i­cal­ly awe­some as their male coun­ter­parts (peo­ple who know me will under­stand this is huge in my enjoy­ment of a sto­ry).  Caine thor­ough­ly explores the ideas of infor­ma­tion, absolute pow­er, and the cor­rup­tion which fol­lows hard on its heels, and cun­ning­ly weaves them into a plot which will hurl you for­ward like a feath­er in a hur­ri­cane.

For those of us who are audio­book inclined, I give the audio ver­sion of Ink and Bone, nar­rat­ed by Jules Elfer, five gold stars all around.  The sto­ry was con­veyed so well, that I bought the hard­back for my hus­band (who read it in a weekend–and like­wise loved it), and imme­di­ate­ly pre-ordered the next book in the series.

July needs to arrive so I can find out what hap­pens next!

 

 

The House of Shattered Wings: Hark! The Fallen Angels Sing

Title: The House of Shat­tered Wings

Author: Aliette de Bodard

Ele­va­tor pitch: A mys­te­ri­ous young man of unknown mag­i­cal ori­gin, strand­ed in Paris and cap­tured by the most pow­er­ful fall­en angel fac­tion, is forced to hunt a super­nat­ur­al killer.

Why did I pick this book up? Typ­i­cal­ly, I don’t read angel books. But I was will­ing to give fall­en angels in an alter­nate real­i­ty 1930s Paris a chance.

Main Char­ac­ters: Philippe is for­eign­er strand­ed in Paris try­ing to sur­vive with­out call­ing too much atten­tion to him­self. Then he gets caught try­ing to main­line fall­en angel blood, a high­ly addic­tive a pow­er­ful mag­ic-induc­ing drug.

Isabelle has the most recent, but fad­ing, con­nec­tion to Heav­en. She is the newest fall­en angel who hits the pave­ment in the first chap­ter and near­ly becomes sav­aged for her potent blood.

Selene inher­it­ed a bro­ken fac­tion when their great leader went for a walk and nev­er came back. She is in over her head and is des­per­ate­ly try­ing to hold her fac­tion togeth­er.

Made­line is the most capa­ble alchemist in the city, but also a tor­ment­ed angel-drug addict try­ing to for­get the hor­ri­ble things that have hap­pened to her dur­ing her ser­vice to angels.

Thoughts and Mus­ings
Have you ever watched a movie where the two hours lead­ing up to the end­ing cred­its feel like pro­logue, and you think “This is where the movie should have start­ed. Right here. This would be real­ly inter­est­ing to see what hap­pens next.” This sto­ry begins after The End.

The House of Shat­tered Wings is an after­math sto­ry. It’s set in an alter­nate Paris dur­ing the 1930s where the fall­en angels of Heav­en have set up an empire, near­ly destroyed them­selves and every­one else in a civ­il war between fac­tions, and their great­est leader has dis­ap­peared. The main events lead­ing up to the sto­ry have already hap­pened, and now the char­ac­ters are deal­ing with the fall­out. It’s like read­ing about Rome in the imme­di­ate years after its col­lapse.

Start­ing here is a big risk for the author to take. What­ev­er comes next has to be at least as com­pelling as all the back­sto­ry. I think against the odds, it works.

At its core, The House of Shat­tered Wings is sim­ple who-done-it mys­tery. Someone/something is killing peo­ple and the char­ac­ters have to find and stop the killer. Com­pared to the back­sto­ry, this doesn’t sound near­ly as inter­est­ing. How­ev­er, Bodard sur­rounds the mys­tery with lay­ers on lay­ers of com­pli­cat­ed pol­i­tics, ques­tions of faith, con­flict­ing rela­tion­ships, and inter­sect­ing world mytholo­gies. And as the mys­tery begins to unrav­el, it inter­sects with sev­er­al pre-nov­el plot­lines. This inter­sec­tion helps keep the main sto­ry­line as com­pelling as the pre-book sto­ry­line.

House of Shat­tered wings is the first in a series, but it works as a solo nov­el. The end­ing has a sat­is­fac­to­ry con­clu­sion. When the next book comes out, I’ll pick it up.

Review: Gone, Baby, Gone

Gone, Baby, Gone
Gone, Baby, Gone by Den­nis Lehane

My rat­ing: 5 of 5 stars

Gone, Baby, Gone is the fourth of Den­nis Lehane’s series with PIs Patrick Ken­zie and Angela Gen­nero. Fourth, and so far, arguably, the best.

While the sto­ry took me a good 50 pages to get into, once Patrick and Ang­ie take the case, that of a miss­ing child, the emo­tion­al stakes sky­rock­et for both read­er and char­ac­ters. And it just nev­er stops. There are more twists and turns to this plot than an dirt road wind­ing through a treach­er­ous ravine, but always the twists were log­i­cal, and always com­plete­ly believ­able. At one point, I set the book down, think­ing, “I have no idea how they’re going to make it out of this one.”

In Gone, Baby, Gone, our cen­tral char­ac­ters’ strengths are giv­en a gen­er­ous hand, but so too are their flaws. Mis­takes are made, good peo­ple fal­ter, bad peo­ple tri­umph, and the read­er is left try­ing to decide if jus­tice was done; if the truth was worth hold­ing up to the light. In fact, while he’s busy break­ing his char­ac­ters’ hearts, he’s break­ing ours as well. The sub­ject mat­ter, the endem­ic neglect and abuse of chil­dren in Amer­i­ca, hits every­one with the weight of a freight train, and none are left unscathed even if some are left stand­ing. Lehane asks hard ques­tions, and expects his read­er to at least think of pos­si­bil­i­ties.

Yes, it’s a mys­tery. Yes, it’s a thriller. And yes, Gone, Baby, Gone is so much more. Read it. You’ll be glad you did.

Lehane just keeps get­ting bet­ter and bet­ter. I am in awe.

Review: A Drink Before the War

A Drink Before the War (Kenzie & Gennaro, #1)A Drink Before the War by Den­nis Lehane

My rat­ing: 4 of 5 stars

I think the Boston Sun­day Globe said it best, “Harsh and chill­ing … an absolute­ly ter­rif­ic sto­ry.”

This is the third Den­nis Lehane sto­ry I’ve tucked away and I have to say, the man can write. I only put the book down to get some sleep, and fin­ished it as soon as I could the next day. The sto­ry is sol­id, his char­ac­ters deep and nev­er dull, the loca­tions as defined as his char­ac­ters. And even if I was pret­ty sure how the end­ing would come out–and I was right–I still want­ed to know Ken­zie and Gen­naro would get there.

This was writ­ten 15 years ago, and yeah, I know, I’m behind the times.  Hap­pi­ly, for a read­er who doesn’t know much about the cur­rent Boston, the sto­ry has weath­ered very well.  I don’t know how much has changed local­ly in the bet­ter part of a gen­er­a­tion, but the top­ics Lehane hits go well beyond local, and well beyond our own neigh­bor­hoods, and they still seem as ram­pant today as they ever were.

I’m look­ing for­ward to Ken­zie and Gennaro’s next case, which I’m going to start … right about now.  Time for some more of Mr. Lehane’s excel­lent sto­ry­telling.

Has any­one else on my FL read much of Lehane?  If so, what did you think of him?  If you haven’t, what has stopped you from read­ing his work?

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Review: The Treatment

The TreatmentThe Treat­ment by Mo Hay­der

My rat­ing: 3 of 5 stars

Mo Hayder’s book, The Treat­ment is the sec­ond in her series with DI Jack Caf­fery, and shows Ms. Hayder’s grow­ing com­mand of the pro­ce­dur­al thriller. Tech­ni­cal­ly? This book is an incred­i­ble exam­ple of its genre. The sto­ry is tight, inter­wo­ven, com­plex and incred­i­bly com­pelling.

It’s also incred­i­bly bru­tal.

I only made it halfway through the book before I had to call it quits. I was so caught up in the sto­ry, even with tense­ly antic­i­pat­ing how much worse it could get for both present and past crimes–and yes, sit­u­a­tions COULD get worse, and often do in her books–that Hayder’s sto­ry­telling con­tin­u­al­ly sucked me back in. Even­tu­al­ly, though, I found the crimes depict­ed were so heinous and the suf­fer­ing of the vic­tims so drawn out, that I put the book down. Did I want to know if the vic­tims made it out? Yes, because in the world of DI Caf­fery, there’s no guar­an­tee that good, or even jus­tice, pre­vails or that any­one makes it out alive. Even so, I didn’t want to steep my brain in the tor­ment of the vic­tims for anoth­er 150 pages before some sort of res­o­lu­tion might occur. I con­sid­er myself fair­ly hard-core when it comes to mur­der in crime nov­els. With this one, though, my wal­low­ing in tor­ment reached its lim­it.

The three stars reflects me hav­ing to put it down, but for sheer effec­tive­ness in writ­ing, for the abil­i­ty to make you care for the victims–and even for the enor­mous­ly flawed Caf­fery himself–I wish I could have giv­en Mo Hayder’s The Treat­ment the full five stars. The female char­ac­ters are extra­or­di­nary strong and strongly-written–victims, cops, girlfriends–and that’s always a bonus for me in the male-dom­i­nat­ed cop-thriller genre (or any genre, for that mat­ter). Also, Hayder’s themes of fam­i­ly, indi­vid­ual brav­ery, and the stran­gle­hold of per­son­al his­to­ry are rich and com­pelling. They sim­ply weren’t enough to get me through the rest of the tor­ment-steeped pages.

The nov­el is phe­nom­e­nal­ly well done, and maybe some­day, when I don’t find my but­tons pushed, I’ll read the sec­ond half of The Treat­ment.  I’d love to find out what hap­pens, and how deep into the abyss Jack Caf­fery has to descend before he and the vic­tims find a way out.

… unless every­one ends up dead.

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Review: Gone

GoneGone by Mo Hay­der

My rat­ing: 5 of 5 stars

Gone, by Mo Hay­der, is the fifth book in a series fea­tur­ing Bris­tol DI Jack Caf­fer­ty, and the first of hers I read. Despite four books of back sto­ry, I felt no lack or loss for jump­ing in at the wrong end, as Hay­der gave just enough rel­e­vant infor­ma­tion to offer a bit of depth and con­text with­out flog­ging a read­er with past events.

This book is a har­row­ing jour­ney down a swift riv­er, and there were sev­er­al times I got off the ride only to jump back on as soon as I could. Hayder’s vil­lain is giv­en a slow reveal, craft­ed of skill­ful slight-of-hand and an accu­mu­la­tion of small tells. The dan­ger is real and ever-present, and she nev­er, ever gives you a guar­an­tee of who is going to make it home at the end of the day.

Gone hooked me so thor­ough­ly that I imme­di­ate­ly start­ed on Hayder’s first book in the series, Bird­man. Com­par­ing the two shows just how far Hay­der has come as a writer, and how effort­less her prose now seems to be. I plunged through Gone because I felt I must. Not know­ing  the end­ing was unthink­able.

If you like police pro­ce­du­rals and thrillers, British or oth­er­wise, read Gone. But make sure you have an open week­end to do so, because you won’t want to put it down.

Review: Birdman

Birdman

Bird­man by Mo Hay­der

My rat­ing: 4 of 5 stars

Mo Hay­der, as many review­ers point­ed out, is not one to shy away from a high body count, nor to make her char­ac­ters go through the wringer. AWESOME! This pro­ce­dur­al thriller is not for the fair or faint-heart­ed, but for those who want their crime grit­ty, their heroes flawed and their plots deep and inter­wo­ven, Ms. Hay­der is the writer for you.

The only rea­son I didn’t give this 55 stars is because I felt that one of the deaths was there for the shock val­ue rather than plot fur­ther­ing. Still, it’s close, and I gob­bled this thriller up with a spoon.

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Review: Mystic River

Mystic RiverMys­tic Riv­er by Den­nis Lehane

My rat­ing: 5 of 5 stars

What did I think of Mys­tic Riv­er? I won­der why it took me so long to read this sto­ry, or to dis­cov­er Den­nis Lehane.  That’s what I think.

Many of us have seen the movie based off the book direct­ed by Clint East­wood. I nev­er did. Hit too close to home, that fic­tion­al loss of a daugh­ter, Katie. Ten years lat­er, those buga­boos are gone, and the sto­ry found me again.

Set­ting aside 10 years of tech­ni­cal improve­ments that date the sto­ry some­what, the plot sweeps you along, dump­ing you in with the main char­ac­ter when they are 11 years old, and not spit­ting you back up on shore until it’s all said and done thir­ty years lat­er.  Lehane deft­ly weaves togeth­er the lives of the three men, their fam­i­lies and their neigh­bor­hood in Boston.  Their choic­es, old and new, become time bombs, nev­er quite for­got­ten, tick­ing away.

Lehane’s prose is descrip­tive, rich, and some­times sen­ti­men­tal with­out ever becom­ing maudlin or mawk­ish. He has an almost-gen­tle way of hold­ing up and expos­ing the char­ac­ters’ dark sides that is noth­ing less than bril­liant. It’s clear he knows his loca­tion, and his research was exten­sive. There were no mis­steps, no time when I grew bored with the sto­ry­line, no point where I put down the book to do some­thing more inter­est­ing. Mys­tic Riv­er is 448 pages of fab­u­lous­ly grip­ping sto­ry­telling.

Can­not wait to read some of his oth­er works. It’s been a long time since I’ve been this excit­ed about a new-to-me author. What took me so long??

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Review: Cop Hater: 87th Precinct #1

Cop Hater (87th Precinct #1)Cop Hater by Ed McBain

My rat­ing: 2 of 5 stars

Cop Hater was writ­ten close to fifty years ago, and it shows it’s age.  Pot-boil­er pro­ce­dur­al? Hard-boiled pro­ce­dur­al?  Some of both, I think.  It was one of the first cops-in-the-squad-room mys­tery books pub­lished, and it spawned a whole new sub­genre for mystery–one I enjoy great­ly.  Usu­al­ly.

For me? I think this first book need­ed a bet­ter edi­tor, and I found the lan­guage to be sur­pris­ing­ly florid for such a slim word count.    Beyond those points, the plot was tight and the char­ac­ters mem­o­rable.  I’d need to be in a spe­cif­ic kind of mood for this spe­cif­ic kind of sto­ry, and it’s not a mood I get into often.  I’d rather curl up with Den­nis Lehane or Lau­rie R. King.  Still, I have a much lat­er 87th Precinct sto­ry on my shelf–#16, to be exact.  I’m curi­ous to see if any­thing has changed in McBain’s style over the years.

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