Yes, it’s that time again! Time to discuss the books I just couldn’t be arsed to finish reading in the horrible, horrible year which was 2016.
Six-Gun Snow White by Catherynne M. Valente
This should be right up my alley: the weird west as interpreted by weird, lyrical writer Valente, with added fractured fairy tale! Yet somehow, (and I’ll be saying this a lot in this entry) it just failed to grab my attention. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it that I could see, but I kept putting it down and not picking it up again until finally, I gave up.
Magpies, Squirrels & Thieves: how the Victorians collected the world by Jacqueline Yallop
I’m not sure what I expected when I picked this up. Possibly something about how the Victorians got their hands on so many of the world’s treasures in their era, and why. What I got was a dissection of the almost hobby of collecting and presenting things to the public in those days. It may in fact be very interesting stuff . . . but not to me.
Second Street Station: a Mary Handley mystery by Lawrence H. Levy
A mystery series lives and dies on the quality of two things: the crimes it presents, and the personality of its detectives. The mystery here did not grip me, and our hero ditto. Given a historical setting (19th-century New York), the writer should also take into account that people are going to have their own opinions of historical figures and how you write them is also going to affect how the reader reacts. Finally, if you decide to give your hero a Chinese childhood friend and have the friend’s father teach her the ancient Chinese art of Jujitsu, well, be aware that the reader is going to laugh at you and throw the book away.
Half-Resurrection Blues: a Bone Street Rumba novel by Daniel Jose Older
Undead New York is a busy, dangerous place, and Carlos Delacruz has to negotiate it as an agent of the Council of the Dead. Carlos is an inbetweener, someone partially resurrected from death and I just kinda choked on that concept. I couldn’t get it and I still don’t know what partially resurrected means. Nor was I engaged by any of the characters, good or bad, nor by the situations. I don’t know if the problem is Older or me; that is, given how many people I respect seem to have enjoyed this book, I suspect the problem is that it just isn’t for me.
The Price of Valor: book three of the Shadow Campaigns by Django Wexler
After the rave reviews I gave to the first two volumes of this series, I was really looking forward to this one. But in the process of cataloguing a book (yes, of course I catalogue my books. What kind of library nerd do you think I am?) I check how many pages it has, which can sometimes lead to me seeing scenes from the end of the story (fortunately, I do not mind spoilers all that much. In fact, sometimes I prefer them, as in this case) and found myself reading a scene that distressed me and seemed to set me up to be squicked; reading further I decided that I didn’t want to know any more. So I’m done with the Shadow Campaigns; I’m not sure how personal this particular distress/squick combo is so I’m not going to spoil it for you. The writing seems to be of the usual high quality, so if you enjoyed the first two and you aren’t me, you might like this one and going forward. I won’t be reading any more.
Aleister Crowley: the biography: spiritual revolutionary, romantic explorer, occult master — and spy by Tobias Churton
I never really shared the popular fixation on Crowley, a rather unpleasant man notorious for his excess in the first half of the 20th century CE, but I thought this might make an interesting read. However, reading the forward (not by Churton but rather by one Christopher McIntosh) and its literary fellation of Crowley quite put me off reading any more. The man just ain’t that interesting.
1913: the Year Before The Storm by Florian Illes
The fact that these last few years have been the centennial of the First World War has been a matter of some discussion in Canada, given that WWI was when Canada sprang to prominence on the international scene as an Imperial lackey without peer, sending thousands of our young men to die under the command of in-bred incompetents so that
Britain could continue to rule the third world, instead of Germany we could remain free (I may have some issues). Anyway, I’ve come to realize that I’m not really well-educated on the prewar/war-period and am trying to make up for it. This book, which promises “a witty yet moving narrative that progresses month by month through the year” failed to provide the kind of information I was looking for. Or a witty yet moving narrative. I gave up in January.
A Discourse In Steel: a tale of Egil & Nix by Paul S. Kemp
Not the first Egil & Nix adventure, but that wasn’t why I gave up. The basic story promises that our two heroes (dubious term) are retired adventurers, described on the back cover as a dashing rogue and a warrior-priest (and, as warrior-priests are wont to do since D&D came along, he sticks to non-edged weapons), having set up as pimps and running their own brothel. This is as endearing as you might expect: the characters may be intended to come across as respectful of their charges, but they don’t (in particular, our “dashing rogue” is taken with one of the girls but bothered that she’s a whore). This particular volume has them falling afoul of the local thieves’ guild and having to go to war to protect themselves and their property.
It isn’t that there’s nothing good in this one; there is a fascinating look at a system of psychic magic, but it isn’t enough to make up for the characters, all of whom, good or evil, suck.
The House of Shattered Wings: a Dominion of the Fallen novel by Aliette de Bodard
I’m very fond of de Bodard’s writing, especially her earlier series of Aztec mysteries, and I was really looking forward to this book, which posits that Europe was conquered early on by fallen angels and the first world war was really fought between them, with magic et al. But, as with Discourse in Steel and as I might have expected with a book focused on the noble houses of Paris, houses founded by the beings that in our reality’s mythology went on to become Devils, the story is nothing but unpleasant people being unpleasant to each other and while things might have improved later in the book I just couldn’t bring myself to go on.
The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers
It had to happen sooner or later. There had to be a Tim Powers book somewhere that I just couldn’t finish. I’m just still in shock.
Brendan Doyle is an academic whose specialty is the life of the little-known poet William Ashbless, an American who ended up in London, England, in 1810 or thereabouts, but who antecedents are virtually unknown. When Doyle is himself brought to London by the Darrow Interdisciplinary Research Enterprises (DIRE) he thinks that whatever else is going on he will use the opportunity to do some research into Ashbless, but doesn’t realize what a research tool he’s about to be handed: DIRE has discovered a way to travel in time to a particular location on a particular date, to attend a reading by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and, since they’re selling the opportunity to take the trip to a bunch of rich dilettantes, having someone along who knows Coleridge and the era as an expert would be useful. Doyle can hardly refuse, but after the reading he is kidnapped and left in the past and at that point, one of the plotlines becomes quite clear (though I did read far enough ahead to see that things aren’t without the kind of twists that one would expect of Powers).
Anyway, it kinda stopped gripping me, but unlike most “Unfinisheds” I intend to hang on to it and try again in the future.