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The Third Pig Detective Agency (Bob Burke)

I saw this by chance on the Kindle store, bought it for 99p, and had it finished in less than an hour. I did think it a bit reminiscent of Jasper Fforde, and the humour was nothing new, and it reminded me of Malcolm Pryce a bit, too... But it was fun. It never quite raised a chuckle, but there was perhaps a knowing smile or two, and while I figured it out in advance, I thought it was a bit clever.

The basic idea is the same as Fforde's Nursery Crimes: a fairytale detective, in this case the third little pig. Knowing fairytales serves you well, in figuring out the plot and catching the jokes.

If you're looking for something fun, cheap and undemanding for your Kindle, you could do a lot worse. I have a four hour car journey ahead of me, as I type, and I think I'm going to get the sequel to keep me entertained without too much attention needed. It's only 50p, after all.

The Third Pig Detective Agency (Bob Burke)

Ho Ho Ho is much like the first book of this series: a quick read with its tongue in its cheek. Again, the idea, plot and tone is very reminiscent of Jasper Fforde's Nursery Crimes series. It was just the thing for a long car ride with music on and distractions aplenty (like that bloody sat nav).

Anyway, predictable and sometimes a little bit infantile, but I did enjoy it. Especially the references to Horatio Cane of the sunglasses and CSI Miami fame. (I don't watch CSI. I will confess to an addiction to NCIS though. Gibbs, you silver haired fox.)

Here Lies Arthur (Philip Reeve)

Philip Reeve's Here Lies Arthur is not my favourite retelling of the Arthurian story -- it's probably not even in the top ten -- but it is a fun version, and it's a quick and easy read. It's historical, rather than fantastical, and in the guts and gore school rather than any kind of romance. It references a lot of Arthurian legends, sometimes from several varying sources, with the spin that Arthur was a brute and Merlin his clever PR guy, with the help of some trickery. It feels a bit cursory at times -- e.g. the very brief references to 'Culhwch ac Olwen' -- but it is nice to see the range of sources, including the oldest ones, the Welsh ones.

I'm not sure how I feel about the narration. It changes tense a lot, obviously intentionally, but while the idea behind it makes sense, it wasn't seamless and invisible to me, so it wasn't always well executed. It was very jarring, a couple of times, though most of the time it didn't get too much in the way. The first person narrator is a little flat, at times, to me -- Myrddin's death got to me, yes, but the deaths of Gwenhwyfar and Bedwyr, who Gwyna was less ambivalent to than Myrddin, should have felt more raw, and they didn't. Actually, the parts with Myrddin were the best: I believed in him, and in his stories.

I like what Philip Reeve has done with the stories, and I will read more of his work, but I am picky about my Arthuriana. Cue a resounding silence where no one is surprised...

Hrolf Kraki's Saga (Poul Anderson)

Poul Anderson's retelling of Hrolf Kraki's Saga didn't fill me with an obsessive enthusiasm like Three Hearts and Three Lions did, or like The Broken Sword did. Part of that is my familiarity with the story, I think: Three Hearts and Three Lions and The Broken Sword surprised me. Hrolf Kraki's Saga is relatively faithful to its source material, even near-quoting it in places, though it puts more flesh on the rather spare saga-style of the original versions, and gets further into characters' feelings and motivations.

Poul Anderson's introduction is helpful, too, contextualising the story a little and explaining his decisions for the frame story of a tenth century female storyteller, etc.

The style he used in The Broken Sword would've been more appropriate here, in a sense, since this is a retelling of a Norse saga -- but it would have rendered it somewhat pointless, as the point was to put flesh on the bones. I think it worked very well: I was heart-broken for Yrsa and Helgi, and I loved Bjarki and Hrolf. It made the characters more comprehensible, and less ambiguous, and therefore probably more accessible for readers who're more modern in sensibility and not interested in the kind of narration typical in Norse sagas.

It didn't blow me away, like I said, but it's still well worth reading -- particularly if you're interested in Hrolf Kraki but deterred by saga-style and the difficulty of fitting the whole story together and understanding why everything happens as it does. As Poul Anderson says, Hrolf Kraki is a Norse King Arthur figure, or a Charlemagne, in a way. The Matter of the Norse? But I suppose in a way the Matter of the Norse would involve Sigurd, considering how that story has survived in comparison.

A Midsummer Tempest (Poul Anderson)

The idea of A Midsummer Tempest is intriguing: a world in which Shakespeare was not a storyteller, the Bard, but wrote about reality: the Historian. Oberon and Tatiana really existed, Prospero really broke a staff and hid a book in the deeps... The story is set in the time of Cromwell, though, and Oberon and Tatiana are minor though essential characters. The main characters are Prince Rupert and a young Puritan woman, Jennifer, who come together when Rupert is captured, along with Will, who serves under Rupert and later becomes close to him.

The idea is fascinating, and the implementation did keep me turning pages, but two things annoyed me. One was that I was for the most part more interested in the part kept on the fringes of the tale -- Shakespeare's characters -- and the other that Poul Anderson continues his obsession with rendering dialect, to the point where it's nigh on unreadable, and certainly isn't pleasant to read.

I liked the little pop-in part played by Holger, because I loved Three Hearts and Three Lions, but it seemed a little gratuitous.

Overall, it did turn out to be interesting -- and inspired me to want to know more about the setting and the real Prince Rupert -- but not as much of a pageturner as the others I've already read.

The Demon's Lexicon (Sarah Rees Brennan)

I didn't like this book nearly as much as I hoped to. I'm not sure whether to give it two or three stars, because once I got to the last hundred pages, it did pick up, and I loved the last few pages. But it took so much to get there, and I honestly nearly put the book down for good halfway through. All that kept me going was the knowledge that people whose taste I'd tend to trust did really love it -- but, on reflection, I'm not sure I would go back in time two hours to when I made the decision to finish it and say yes, go for it, you'll regret it if you don't. I've already decided, for example, that I won't read the sequel, based on the reviews of it. It just doesn't sound that interesting to me.

Part of the problem was that it felt like I'd read it already. The relationship between Nick and Alan reminded me of a certain other pair of brothers who get involved in deals with demons... In fact, it didn't remind me of Sam and Dean Winchester in themselves, as shown on TV, as much as it reminded me of fanfic of the series. I did believe in the bond between Nick and Alan -- I'm not saying that was badly done -- but I just felt like I'd been there before. That feeling did abate a bit in the last fifty pages or so, though.

I can't say I liked Nick as Nick. It's hard to relate to him -- throughout, I was thinking about the choice of him as the character the narration stuck to (it's third person limited). I couldn't fathom it, since surely Alan would be much easier to sympathise with, and through his love for Nick, we might understand Nick better... But having read the end, of course I understand that decision. It's just difficult to have to wait so long for payoff. In any case, I did find Nick fascinating, and I was sure that there was some plot reason for him being the way he is. A small part of me is a little disappointed it wasn't due to PTSD all along, though.

It's worth noting that Alan is a disabled character, but he's still capable in his own ways and there isn't massive dollops of angst and manpain about what he can't do.

Jamie and Mae... I just didn't really care about them, or the love triangle thing that was going on. Another reason why I will probably not go for the sequel.

The author endears herself to me by saying in the (rather skimpy) interview section that she loves Dar Williams' music (though I wouldn't call it country music). You know how people talk about how whatever music they listen to was life-changing? Dar Williams was that, for me, at the tender age of fourteen, and still is now. But that's neither here nor there.
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October 2013

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