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Silvertongue - Charlie Fletcher

The last of the Ironhand trilogy, and the one which says least to my particular interests in the books, but still pretty readable and entertaining. The barrier between spits and taints gets interrogated more (how do you know you're one or the other?), not one but two ultimate darknesses have to be conquered, Edie sorts out her whole identity/mother issue stuff, and generally it ends satisfyingly and convincingly. I'm strongly recommending this series to those with children of the right reading age, especially if you can get to London and see the statues in real life.

Augustus - John Buchan

Read at some speed for a work thing but deserves an observation. An odd piece, presented as if it were proper historical biography, but owing rather more to fiction than I think it lets on. Quite easy to read, with some really interesting emphases on aspects of Augustus' life, but I have to say that I don't think I'd have bothered if I hadn't needed to have special knowledge of it for professional reasons.

Ghana Must Go - Taiye Selasi

Oh, this book. So flawed. It starts off really strongly - an African couple who marry (one from Ghana, one from Nigeria) in the States and have four children, but the father loses his job as a surgeon and leaves his family rather than face the shame. He dies unexpectedly and the family have to a) pass this news on to each other and b) cope with what they must now do to mark and honour his death. It's an interesting story about people born in the US with this odd heritage, the 'model minority' stuff - some similar themes to Americanah, which is what I think tempted me to give it a go. But oh, in the last few dozen pages an otherwise really quite good book is, for me, utterly spoiled by the revelation of the Dreadful Thing that happened in one part of the family's background, and it's horrible, and excessive, and utterly out of kilter with the rest of the book, and handled in what feels like a really prurient, lingering, over-emphatic way. It's dreadful, spoils the end of the book and is totally gratuitous and unnecessary and nasty. As in, I really, really wish I hadn't read it nasty and gratuitous. Such a shame, as I was quite enjoying it up to that point and I feel really cheated and betrayed by the apparent need to have some kind of massive shocking abuse incident included in a way which, frankly, feels utterly out of place.

Burial Rites - Hannah Kent

This is a novelisation of the story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, the last woman (and indeed person) to be executed in Iceland, in the winter of 1829. Kent has clearly done her research and weaves her world well, creating a realistic feel to the farming life of the family to which Agnes is sent to wait out her sentence as the bureaucracy sort out the details for her execution and the local priest tries to prepare her soul for death. The crime for which she is condemned, along with another man and woman, is the murder of a homesteader and a friend of his who just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. Kent notes in the postscript that Agnes is normally demonised in explanations of how this murder came about; her writing is an attempt to create a more ambiguous, morally varied woman. I think she succeeds - you feel for Agnes, and for those around her, not least the wife of the farm on which she is quartered as she slowly begins to see a person in front of her rather than a faceless murderess. Powerful writing, a good concept, and a good read.

Kushiel's Dart - Jacqueline Carey

Recommended at LonCon 3 at a panel I was at on the academic track, would you believe. A political thriller set in an alternative-history medieval France, with a liberal dosing of kink and sex to season the occasionally intricate and easily-confused twists of the political machinations side. Surprisingly good value, actually - from the paper I heard I was expecting much more smut and much less politics. But it's actually a really interesting construction and exploration of how a country that had been blessed would cope with threats to its borders and internal dissent, particularly with a weak king and a young, untried Dauphine. Reasonable writing, good world-building and quite interesting characters on the page. I'm going to give the second book in the series a try and see if it manages to keep up the pace.

Slow River - Nicola Griffith

An SF Masterwork, apparently, and I have to say a rather good one that I enjoyed. The main SF focus is on the technology used to purify water in a world which is hyper-conscious of the effect pollutants have on death rates. The protagonist is a scion of a powerful family in charge of this sort of thing, but is kidnapped and then abandoned for dead with her ID chip ripped out. The book operates in three strands - her thoughts as a child in her decidedly dysfunctional family; her thoughts after she was rescued from abandonment by a woman called Spanner who makes her living through doing mainly illegal things; and her thoughts after she has left Spanner and is trying to live her life as someone with a Proper Job, albeit one she's hideously overqualified to do, at a water treatment plant. The three narratives eventually meet up and give you a full story, but the pacing is good. In a way, it's a pretty slow book because most of what happens is psychological or mental, working stuff out, problem solving and so on, but actually it's written in such a way that you enjoy living inside the protagonist's head and seeing how things click. Very much recommended.

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December 2016

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