River of Ink
Cooper’s River of Ink is an exquisite offering whose words sing in the blood. This is a tale of ancient Sri Lanka, a tale of conquest, change and forbidden love.
It is the story of Asanka, royal poet to King Parakrama. When an invading army takes over the kingdom, Asanka is commissioned by the new ruler, Kalinga Magha, to translate the epic poem of Shishupal from the Sanskrit into the local Tamil language, so that it might be available to all. In an act of rebellion towards a capricious ruler, Asanka slips allusions into his crafting, hinting at Magha being like Shishupal, another ruthless ruler.
Now, ancient Sri Lanka is not my usual forte for historical fiction, but Cooper does seem to have done an admirable amount of research. The characters are well drawn out. I will admit, there were times when Asanka got on my nerves with his timidity. However, he is a poet, a writer, not a warrior; the type of person whose gentle and empathic nature would be singularly affected by brutality and violence.
River of Ink is Cooper’s debut novel, a marvelous offering from a brilliant young author. I look forward to future works from him.
January 26th 2016
Ghosts from Our Past: Both Literally and Figuratively: The Study of the Paranormal
Yates’ and Gilbert’s Ghosts from Our Past is a collaboration of love from two young physicists-in-training. The book is organized into three broad parts.
“Our Stories” focuses on the authors’ histories and how they became interested in the paranormal, their meeting and subsequent friendship, and how they came to write the book.
“Our Research” takes a look at ghost accounts through history, from the earliest known accounts from Mesopotamia and the biblical story of the Witch of Endor through to Greco-Roman accounts, medieval accounts, and early modern accounts. The spiritualist era is covered in greater detail, followed by a brief look at the present. Historical paranormal groups and investigators are looked at, along with the history of spirit classification and the classification system they use. My favorite part was the scientific section, which brought into play theoretical physics and quantum mechanics.
“Our Methods” covered practical aspects of ghost hunting, from the tools of the trade (with a new section on PKE meters, proton packs, and ghost traps) to choosing a location and carrying out the investigation, including debriefing and evaluating evidence. They make sure to stress the importance of researching the property first, so you have an idea of the history of both the land and the building, which may give clues as to any hauntings. Also looked at are things to rule out, such as animals or the possibility of a hoax. The history of several famous hauntings are recounted in brief for your reading pleasure. While their passion for ghost hunting and the paranormal is clear, they are scientists first and foremost and are not quick to believe until they rule out more mundane possibilities.
Okay, I loved this book. I loved the in-text banter between them and the overall cheekiness of it. There’s actually a good deal of pretty nifty historical information as well as practical information for the fledgling ghost hunter.
Highly recommended if you like ghosty stuff, or love Ghostbusters.
The Confessions of Young Nero
Margaret George’s Confessions of Young Nero humanizes an oft-demonized ghost from distant ages past, he who “fiddled” while Rome burned. We follow Nero’s musings about his childhood and see how known and suspected events likely shaped the real Nero’s life. This is the first of a pair of books, unusual for George, who specializes in rich historic-fiction memoirs, biographies, and autobiographies. It concludes with the burning of Rome.
George paints a picture of a Nero who is quite unlike the emperors before him. Where they enjoyed war, he enjoyed music. Where they enjoyed bloodshed in the gladiator arenas, he enjoyed the performing arts and feats of athletic prowess. These preferences made Nero a most atypical Roman ruler.
Effectively orphaned as a toddler, Nero grew up during Caligula’s reign. That alone would be enough to adversely affect the growth of a child. Following Caligula’s death, the new emperor, Claudius, recalled Nero’s mother from exile. In retrospect, perhaps it would have been better for the young Nero if his mother had remained in her enforced seclusion. As ruthless as the rest of her family, Agrippina’s machinations put her son at the head of the Roman empire. However, her plans of being de facto empress backfired when Nero asserted his rightful authority and eventually made one of the hardest decisions of his young life.
The Nero presented here is far from the idea of the “insane” man his name might at first conjure. He seems more introspective than his predecessors, a philosopher more than a warrior. Even with his love and appreciation of the performing arts and Greek athletics, Nero strikes me as an introvert. Without certain influences in his early life and the viciousness of his family, I think he would have been a gentle-tempered musician.
Progressive for the times, Nero was generous to a fault, with a bent toward protecting and aiding the common folk. A romantic at heart, he frequently overturned traditions, to the dismay and confusion of the nobility. George has done an astounding job of bringing the enigmatic, wrongly-vilified Nero to bright, vibrant life. I cannot wait til the second of this duology comes out!
Highly recommended if you love historical fiction and tales of ancient Rome.
Jenkins’ Curioddity is a wonderful romp on the flip side. It’s learning to see the world through a shaman’s eyes, a contrary-man looking at the world from different angles. It’s all about waking up to–or reawakening to–the magic that surrounds us on a daily basis.
Private investigator Wil Morgan lives a dreary life in a rundown apartment, working out of a rundown office. Every day at work, Wil is assaulted by the off-kilter clanging of the monstrous clock tower next door. Every day is trudging drudgery. Until the day it’s not.
Mr. Dinsdale, curator of the Museum of Curioddity, hires Wil to find a box gone missing from the museum. At first Wil plays along with what he thinks is naught more than a grand joke. Despite his skepticism, Wil begins to follow Dinsdale’s advice and un-looks at the world around him. What he finds in pursuit of the box is nothing short of amazing.
I loved the writing style of this book. It is the wry humor I’ve come to love from British writers. I really liked Wil. I could relate to his curmudgeonly grumbling. Yet it was amazing (to me) to see him rediscover the joys of magic that he had been forced to lock away when his mother passed. In Wil I see the journey of the fledgling shaman, the novice alchemist.
Lucy is a nice contrast to his brooding. Very little fazes the chipper young woman. I’d love to read more books set in this world, for sure. I loved the cover, too, by the way. The silhouette on the front actually reminds me of Mycroft from the BBC’s Sherlock.
Highly recommended if you like fantasy and/or tongue-in-cheek humor.
Hammers on Bone
What do you get if you toss hard-boiled detective fiction and lore of the Great Old Ones into a blender? The answer is Cassandra Khaw’s Lovecraftian noir Hammers on Bone. When John Persons is approached by a kid who wants to hire him to kill his stepfather, the PI is all set to turn him away. But when the kid says his stepdad is a monster and he and his little brother are dead if Persons doesn’t help, a little voice inside says Persons should take notice. Digging deeper reveals some nasty truths about McKinsey and a disease spreading inexorably through London. Can our hard-as-nails PI save these kids before it’s too late?
Persons is a quintessential anti-hero, if ever I saw one. Far from being altruistic, he’s in the game for the money. For, you see, Persons isn’t quite like us. He may look human, but there is more monster than man. He doesn’t think like a human, though he did a marvelous job of blending. He may be a monster, but there are worse things out there. Far worse.
Woven into this noir novella is a social commentary on domestic abuse and child abuse. It’s a lesson that there are plenty of monsters wearing human skin that we need to worry about in our own society as well as a subtle chastisement. There are several times violence is displayed outright and bystanders ignore it. Other times, Khaw shows just how cowed such abuse makes a person, making the abused reluctant or unable to ask for help. If you see this kind of abuse around you, don’t turn away and ignore it. Help as much as you can. You may just be responsible for saving a life.
Okay, so, truth time–I had a straight up “Gaaahhhh”-dancing-around-freaked-out moment. There was some eye-popping going on. Eye trauma freaks me the frick out! Perhaps a little too visceral with the description there. Missing one of my own eyes has heightened my sense of eye protectiveness.
I’m not usually a big noir fan. I prefer mysteries a la Sherlock Holmes. I was hooked by the Lovecraftian aspect, for that I do love, and I found myself liking Persons more and more. This story is well-written, a novella trimmed and lean, without sacrificing storyline. This was my first experience with Khaw’s work, and I enjoyed it so much that I snagged a few of her other works. I look forward to the next in the Persons Non Grata series, even if accounts of eye trauma did freak me out a bit.
Recommended for those who like sci-fi/fantasy, Lovecraftian lore, and hard-boiled detective fiction.
The After War
Zenner’s The After War is a fierce post-apocalyptic story of war and loss, of nature’s vengeance, of survival in the face of overwhelming odds. As humanity begins to wage World War III upon itself, the planet decides to wage its own war against the species that has become a global parasite. We are due another slate-wiper virus, a disease so virulent and so hardy that it decimates the majority of the population. In a time of fast global travel, what once may have been isolated to a region, or continent, can spread with ease across the entire planet. Zenner has woven a gritty narrative of a future all too terrifyingly possible for us.
The first part of the story follows Simon Kalispell and Winston, and Brian and Steven Driscoll, in turn. They have all been safely sequestered away by family — Simon in a remote cabin and the Driscolls in an underground bunker. We follow each as they begin to emerge from their havens some two years after war, and nature have torn civilization asunder. Each has a plan to reunite with family, and they set out on the long road to reach the meeting places.
What they find after emerging is beyond anything they might have imagined. Humanity has very little claim to that title any longer. Those pockets of humans still alive are few and far between. Either out of desperation or in the spirit of taking complete advantage of the conditions, many people have turned to indulging their darker sides. Slavery, murder of helpless captives, rape, cannibalism. All that, and more, has become commonplace. It’s under such conditions that our protagonists must navigate. We are also treated to reminisces of the past long before, and directly leading up to, the war. Not all who start this journey are destined to complete it.
The second half of the book shifts tone and focus. We still get perspective from Simon, Winston, and the Driscolls, but it becomes more sharply focused. No longer about surviving a journey, now it’s about surviving amidst the remaining humans. They’ve found places they can tentatively call home. Now they are being called upon to defend it against rot from the inside and the out. This section, more than even the last, shows the depths to which humanity can sink.
I couldn’t put this book down, even when I knew I reallllyyy needed to be getting to bed. Sleep is good, but books are better. It’s easy to become attached to these characters. I was biting my nails at points, hoping everyone was going to survive the scene or the chapter. Heck, sometimes just to the end of the paragraph. I really hope a sequel to The After War might be in the future at some point. I’d love to see how humanity — and Simon and Winston, in particular — recovers.
My favorite storyline is Simon’s throughout both the first and second parts. I liked the meditation and metta-meditation lessons woven throughout his narrative. Simon, and his past resonated with me. He’s a person I’d like to meet here, now, in this time.
Zenner did a great job of bringing the terror of a pandemic to full life. This virus, though unnamed, seems the nasty older brother to /Ebola Zaire/, and that’s saying something. /E. Zaire/ is one scary customer. I find stories like this, involving slate-wiper viruses. They’re like reset buttons, these virii, allowing a chance for the land to heal from humanity’s predations.
Highly recommended for those who enjoy post-apocalyptic stories akin to /The Postman, The Alpha Plague, The Darwin Collapse, Wayward Pines/, and others stories of a nature-born apocalypse.