Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Bone Clocks, by David Mitchell

The Bone Clocks is the next World Fantasy Award nominee I've read, and to say it's my favorite is at this point too faint praise.  David Mitchell is more famous at this point for Cloud Atlas,  so at some point I'd like to read that too--but for now, savoring this one is just fine.

Like Cloud Atlas, The Bone Clocks is an interconnected set of stories that spans many years.  This seems to be Mitchell's main claim to fame--that he can pull so many threads together.  I find it ambitious but not that unusual.  And the speculative element of the book--dueling secret societies of immortals, with the afterlife explained--is somewhat conventional.

What's special about the book is how strong each section of the story is.  They all develop interesting and complex characters.  Both heroes and villains are (mostly) three-dimensional characters with multiple motivations.  They are not easy on themselves.  The spacing in time gives the story-made-of-stories a natural depth.

I don't want to summarize the plot here because it's fairly simple and a summary would give too much away.  So I'll just highly recommend the book for the way the characters bring out the best in the plot.  Four stars from me.

Monday, September 7, 2015

City of Stairs, by Robert Jackson Bennett

Looks like the World Fantasy Award is going to have the really interesting books this year.  City of Stairs was my next read on this list, and it's a very good one.

City of Stairs' surface plot is a murder mystery, set in a world where the gods are very present.  They are pretty much high-powered versions of humans (the truth of this slowly unfolds throughout the book).  For a thousand years they played favorites with the Continent, leaving the rest of the world in their shadow.  Then the Saypuris, slaves to the Continent, received one last humiliation they could not tolerate.  Their Kaj found a way to kill the gods, and the ragtag Saypuris turned the tables on the Continentals.

Seventy-five years later the Saypuris are trying to maintain control of this firekeg.  The gods are gone, but their miracles and the damage from the struggles as they passed are still all over the Continent and its most prominent city, Bulikov.  The protagonist, Shara Komayd, comes in to investigate the mystery of the murder of a prominent Saypuri scholar.

Bennett has a lot of interesting things to say about the relationship between the human and the Divine.  They are not new things, at least not to me, but they are true and powerful nonetheless, and this is a pretty good introduction.  They aren't highbrow things, either--this is a novel of action, not a theology exposition.  Shara and her powerful secretary, Sigrud, make a good superhero team.  Much gets torn up and blown up along the way to the explanations. 

This is the first of a series, The Divine Cities, and I am finding it reminds me of N. K. Jemisin's Inheritance Trilogy (Example here) in that the gods are very present and accessible to at least some of the people, and have apparent limitations.  Maybe what we have here is an interest in how highly powerful beings discharge their responsibilities? Sounds reasonable to me.  Kings, gods, the fabulously wealthy, the once humble but suddenly empowered--in some way it's a central narrative, that burden, potentially terrifying, of being able to actually do something to save everything,

Highly entertaining, I give this one four stars.