Monday, April 26, 2021

Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong

Every year or so I feel I ought to try some new poet, and this year I decided to try the slim "first full-length collection" by Ocean Vuong, with the intriguing title Night Sky with Exit Wounds. It came out in 2016, and my copy is an undated fourth printing, so it's evidently been successful, as far as poetry goes. But sadly the book's best moment is the title itself. The rest is drivel, all moments and thoughts very personal to the author, but of little interest for anyone else. So, thirty-five poems spaciously spread over eighty-five pages in a slim book, and it really was a waste of time. A perfect exemplar of why the audience for modern poetry gets smaller and smaller.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Prosper's Demon by K.J. Parker

Prosper's Demon is a novella by K.J. Parker, a pseudonym of Tom Holt. It is the tale of a mortal exorcist fighting possessions by immortal demons, in a quasi-medieval setting. The exorcist discovers that the famous self-proclaimed scientific genius, Prosper of Schanz, is possessed by a demon, and the exorcist begins a forbidden collaboration with the demon, seeming to aid the demon's long-term plans because they will outlast the exorcist. The dual between the two is clever, but the story is only moderately successful, and the ending is rather rushed. Prosper's Demon is  darker in ways than the other books by Tom Holt that I've read.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Witchmark by C.L. Polk

Witchmark is the tale of Dr. Miles Singer, secretly a witch who uses his forbidden powers clandestinely to heal people. It is set in an other world modeled after Edwardian England, where there is a great war ongoing between Aeland and Laneer, and the otherworldly beings called Amaranthines have sent a representative to Aeland to figure out what is happening to all the souls of the dying. Dr. Miles Singer was originally Sir Christopher Miles Hensley, part of the (hidden) elite who manage Aeland, who turned his back upon his family (including his sister, to whom he was supposed to be attached as a secondary magical power) and his position in society in order to serve in the war and become a doctor. In Witchmark he develops a quick romance with the Amarathine Tristan Hunter. Witchmark was nominated for Nebula Award, and a Lambda Literary Award (for LGBTQ content), and won the World Fantasy Award for Novel. It's a pleasant read, with not very involved world-building and not very well-drawn characters, and it should not in my view have been a candidate for any major awards. There are two sequels (so far) that I do not feel in at all inspired to read.


Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Powers by Ursula K. Le Guin

Powers is the third and final volume of the series "Annals of the Western Shore." It is a longer and more substantial book than the previous two, telling the story of Gavir, a Marshland boy taken as a slave when very young, on to his adulthood. While a slave, he is privileged to learn to read, and his special gifts include a remarkable ability to recall what he has read, and a power to dream of the future. He escapes from slavery after his sister is murdered, and wanders the country, first among various bands of men, and later among his own people, leading him towards his own destiny. A powerful capstone to Le Guin's series. (Reading Le Guin directly after reading Maggie Stiefvater only makes Le Guin's stature as a writer seem more towering.) 

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater

This is the fourth volume of a quartet called The Raven Cycle. I read and wrote about the first three volumes a year ago, and nearly abandoned the series back then when I learn of the existence of further volumes beyond the four. The series has been on a devolving course since the first book, and it accelerates downwards even more in this final book of the quartet. The writing is not very good, the overall ideas of the story are poorly thought out, and many of the characters exist solely to advance the plot. Basically, the quartet is like a teen series on The CW network, where trite scenarios are played out against shifting contexts as plots move forward just for the sake of being plots. The hell with making any sense out of the whole, just move from one scene to the next with hand-waving or faux logic. Why this author sells at all seems to depend on a complete lack of standards amongst her readership. 


Sunday, February 14, 2021

Witch-Cult Abbey by Mark Samuels

In Witch-Cult Abbey (2020) by Mark Samuels, a former book cataloguer named Saul Prior is called during WWII to Thool Abbey in Hertfordshire to catalog a library of strange books. He is basically kept prisoner for years (his only sense of the passage of time being the arrival of Revd. Alfonsus Winters--a nod to Montague Summers in many ways--who tells him it is eight years since he arrived there), in this strangely funereal house of shifting sizes covered in endless darkness. And then the book gets stranger. I found it quite compelling and enjoyed it greatly. (I've similarly enjoyed a bunch of Samuels's previous books, and reviewed a couple of them at this blog.) The overly tall format is a bit cumbersome, but the design is otherwise nice. Too bad the limitation is so small (199 numbered and 24 lettered copies). A book like this one is infinitely better than most of the crap commercially published for a much larger readership, and that is a real shame.  



Sunday, February 7, 2021

The Last Cat Book, by Robert E. Howard


This is a rather different offering from Robert E. Howard, known for his Conan stories. It is a brief essay on cats from the early 1930s originally titled "The Beast from the Abyss." Here it is amplified with over fifty linoleum prints by Peter Kuper. It's a delightful match of text with illustrator.  The text gives many keen observations of the feline nature:

His manner is at once arrogant and debased.

He arches his back and rubs himself against humanity's leg, dirging a doleful plea, while his eyes glare threats and his claws slide convulsively in and out of their padded sheaths. 

And the illustrations follow through wonderfully. I reread this with pleasure every decade or so since it came out in 1984.