Archive for Neil Gaiman

Shades of magic [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids with tags , , , , , , on February 20, 2021 by xi'an

After seeing the books in a Denver bookstore (in the summer of 2019), I eventually came to try one, then the others. Even though the setting is somewhat simplistic, or may intended for young adults, with ideas also found in earlier novels, it makes for a pleasant read. The underlying concept is having several Londons set in different universes and connected by magic for the happy few able to travel between them. One of them is “our” Victorian London. Labelled as Grey London. Then there are White, Red, and Black Londons… With some pivotal pubs existing in all (?) of them. This reminded me very much of Neverwhere, one of the few Gaimans I deeply appreciated. Or of Pullman’s Oxfords. The first volume sets the scene, with two main characters, (Grey) Lila and (Red) Kell, whose paths will come to cross, some villains in the least privileged London, and some sudden existential threat on Red London. The latest being the least convincing part of the plot as lacking subtlety. The second volume mostly takes place in Red London and the first part sounds a wee bit like the female part of Red seas under red skys. That is, a smart thief at sea. And a smarter captain. With on top of it a magic competition where all main characters cross path. Again a poor part of the plot as the competition feels like Harry Potter’s Goblet of Fire, while a new danger is building up to bring the fodder for the third volume. Not completely uninteresting (I read most of it over Xmas day, by a log fire), but somewhat two-dimensional (with a surprising lack of moral reticence to kill people, most surprising for a YA series). The third volume, A conjuring of light,  is a bit more predictable, including the deaths of some major characters (one or two more would have helped). And the ending could have been less all-inclusive and rosy!,  but this was an enjoyable conclusion nonetheless.

good omens and bad jokes

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , on July 7, 2019 by xi'an

Following the news that members of a religious sect had petitioned Netflix not to show Good Omens as they deemed the story blasphemous, mistaking Netflix for Amazon Prime!, I could not resist but engage into watching this show. While having skipped reading the original book. as I am fairly tone-deaf when it comes to Terry Pratchett’s novels. And sometimes to Neil Gaiman’s as well. The story itself reminded me very much of the later Tad Williams’ Bobby Dollar series. Which did not impress me either. While I found the concept amusing and the construction of both central characters rather tolerable, the whole story is far from funny as a whole, even though a few lines are hilarious. I find it rather hard to feel any sustained interest in the general story and any worry for the characters. Especially since, to quote the Guardian review, “every character apart from the main two is tissue-paper thin”. And it once again comes to my feeling that satire does not carry that well into fantasy…

the ocean at the end of the lane [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 24, 2018 by xi'an

While in Vancouver, waiting for a friend at the Waterfront ferry station, we entered the Simon Fraser University bookshop across the street. This was a most disconcerting experience in that the bookstore contained essentially no book! Just a tiny bookshelf with local authors and another one with a medley of genres. Including Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Which I bought against my better judgement as I had tried to read American Dogs years ago and failed. (But liked very much Neverwhere, again a chance occurrence on a bookstore shelf!) As I started reading the book on the ferry to Vancouver Island, hence on the Pacific Ocean!, I first thought this was about the author’s childhood in rural Sussex, with no other friends than his books, finding some ways to relate to the story of a modest household in the early 60’s, only to be interrupted by three whales swimming along the ferry route. The cheek of them! When I picked up the short novel later in Tofino (with Tonkin Beach above), reality started to unravel (in the book!) and horror to creep in (!). Without getting into spoilers, the  other world or old country starts appearing to the narrator, a seven year old, with about everything taking another and sinister meaning. And no-one else in his household paying any attention to his warnings. What I really enjoy in the book is the sheer ambiguity of the tale, where one cannot be sure this is pure fantasy made up by a lonely seven year old who strongly dislikes a new nanny and is impacted by his parents’ relationship, or an opening into that alternate reality and its dangers that he and only he is able to enter. The book never concludes and this is a strength of the story. Which works for both adult and children readers. It also reminded me of Miyazaki’s Chihiro Spirited Away (千と千尋の神隠し), in that the supernatural beings here and there are neither evil nor good but simply utterly alien. (This fantastic² movie is considered by my daughter as the most traumatic one she ever saw as a child!) Concluding about the book, this was a very good read, somewhat on the light side although full of forking paths.

Books I cannot finish…

Posted in Books with tags , , , on January 15, 2011 by xi'an

Over the past two months, I have been trying to read through both Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and Ian Banks’ Transition, but could not make myself read any further any of those two books! Not completing a book happens to me so rarely as, once I realise a book is terrible, I keep reading it with a vengeance! I had already read The Algebraist by Banks and enjoyed it very much, despite its complex plot, but Transition is simply uninteresting [at least up to page 100!] and it deservedly got mixed reviews… I am even more surprised at Gaiman’s American Gods falling from my lap as this is a Hugo and Nebula winning novel. It has been repeatedly praised as a major novel at the edge of fantasy, but I found the core idea of bringing old Norse gods into America rather predictable and unimaginative. The first half (that I read) of American Gods reminded me of an essay a friend gave me 15 years ago about the influence of Norse myths on modern fantasy (and U.S. serial killers),  although I cannot remember the title nor the name of the author… But I could not find any interest in the story or in the characters, no matter how well the book was written. (Incidentally, one character is called Wednesday, which links to the great The Man who was Thursday by Chesterton. A book I definitely finished reading!) As it happens, American Gods is about to make the top two in the list of the Best SFF Novels of the Decade, as just after Scalzi’s Old Man’s War and before (!) Patrick Rothfuss’s Name of the Wind….