Friday, 27 November 2015

Genghis: Birth of an Empire, by Conn Iggulden

5 stars

Everything I know about Genghis Khan, I learnt from Bill and Ted. He may not totally ravage any sporting goods stores in this, and I have nothing but the afterword to go by regarding its accuracy, but it's one hell of a compelling and already blood-soaked book, and we're only at the beginning of the story.

The sons of Yesugei, khan of the wolf tribe, have been brought up hard. The life of the tribe is a harsh one - constantly at war with other tribes (as well as the Tartars) and eking out their existence in an unforgiving land (where something you have to soften under your saddle for days is a culinary treat, while fast food means drinking straight from your mare's veins). Following Temujin - our Genghis - from birth through his father's death and his family's cruel abandonment by the tribe, through his getting a wife and beginning to gather the tribes to him as one, I loved every moment of this and have been sucked entirely into the world that Iggulden has built. 

Having already had a lifetime's worth of action as I've torn through this opener, I'm now kind of glad that Bill and Ted didn't burden me with too much knowledge as I can just sit back and let me eager fingers tear through the pages, blissfully unaware of what's to come. Bring it on!

Thursday, 26 November 2015

In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand & Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeanette

by Hampton Sides. 5 stars.

Since reading The Worst Journey in the World a few years ago I’ve been fascinated by explorers, particularly those venturing into the polar regions. Where Scott and his men were attempting to reach the South Pole, In The Kingdom of Ice is concerned with the other side of the world and takes place in the previous century, at a time when it was believed that once you broke through the ice around the Bering Strait you’d follow warm currents into a warm, open sea around a temperate Pole. 

Unfortunately for the USS Jeanette and her men, they were soon to discover that this was very far from the case.

A non-fiction book that reads like a thriller (which was no doubt helped by the fact that I hadn’t the first clue about this expedition or its outcome) I read this book in two sittings, huddled under a duvet and tearing through the pages long into the night as the ship became first trapped in ice (for over a bleeding year!) and then sank, leaving her men stranded in the Arctic with no hope of rescue. 

The sheer determination it must have taken for them not to have given up there and then is unimaginable to me – and that’s even before the attempts to try and cross the ocean, then Siberia, in the hopes of stumbling across salvation. That anyone made it back at all is astonishing. That someone then went back in the hopes of finding those still missing is truly astounding.

I take my hat off to all of the incredible people in our history who have taken on such incredible feats, and to the people who write about them and let me experience (albeit from the comfort and safety of my living room) even a little of their magnificence.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss

4.5 stars

Visitors to the Waystone Inn would be forgiven for thinking that the mild-mannered innkeeper is just that. But having just laid waste to some demons who made the mistake of attacking a regular, it seems there’s a little more to this innkeeper than meets the eye. Tracked down by a famous scribe, The Chronicler, the innkeeper starts telling the story of how an orphaned travelling player survived a feral childhood on the streets, joined a magical university, and became a legendary badass.

Instantly sucked into Kvothe’s world, I am now desperate for my very own Bast (Please, Santa?) and can’t wait to find out more about him and how he fits into Kvothe’s world. If I had any quibbles at all with the book, it’s that it ended. 

I’ve already ordered the next.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Johannes Cabal, The Necromancer - by Johnathan L Howard

4 stars

I’m more than a little behind with my reviews (for the usual reasons) as I actually read this one over Halloween weekend - and a very good Halloween read it was too.

Johannes Cabal, necromancer, sold his soul to the devil years ago and now he wants it back, leading to his current predicament. He’s made another wager with the devil, you see – if he can get him 100 new souls in the next year, he can have his back – which is how he’s become the head of the travelling Carnival of Discord, designed entirely to corrupt and tempt as it makes its way through small town after small town.

As well as being a supercilious ass, Johannes Cabal turned out to be immensely good fun, giving me plenty of genuinely laugh out loud moments while still starring characters that were really quite human (despite being, y’know, mostly not human).  Feeling like a slightly less nice Douglas Adams had written Something Wicked This Way Comes, it was rather pleasing to find out that this is only the beginning of a series. I can’t imagine it will be long before I pick up the next.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Urban Shaman, by C.E. Murphy

3.5 stars

If I’d read this book at any other time I probably wouldn’t have rated it quite so highly, but Urban Shaman gave me my reading mojo back (I inhaled it in a matter of hours at the start of a day off) and so it gets a thumbs up from me.

When police force mechanic Joanne Walker spots a damsel in distress from her aeroplane seat (yeah, I know, stay with me) she feels compelled to track her down and help. Enlisting the aid of an ageing cabbie on landing, she soon finds herself confronting her Celtic and Native American heritage (and real name of Siobhan Walkingstick) and newly awakened shaman powers (yeah, I know, shut up). Which is handy, as it turns out some Celtic deities have decided that they’re relocating to Seattle.

While the writing wasn’t always spectacular, I liked the sarcasm on display from most of our characters at the situations they were finding themselves in (Gary the elderly cabbie was a particular favourite) as well as the characterisation of the deities, even if I didn’t always enjoy the way some of the magic scenes – with vague metaphors of fixing cars – were handled (these were especially vague to me as I know nothing about cars and have no wish to rectify this). That said, I did appreciate that Joanne’s magic skills were all about healing, rather than the killing skills the heroines of these types of book usually develop, and found it a refreshing change that I hadn’t been aware I’d wanted from this genre.

I won’t be adding the rest of the series to the top of my to-read pile just yet, but they’re definitely in there somewhere, ready for the next time I need some brain candy.

The Time-Traveller's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century, by Ian Mortimer

2 stars

This book fell victim to the Great Brain Drain of October 2015 – a month in which I was so busy that I barely sat down to read at all and when I did, I’d find my brain skittering off the page and back to worrying, planning and fretting at whatever I’d been trying to take a break from. And so, a book that would normally be my kind of catnip – full of mostly interesting facts about medieval life, and this time including more ordinary people alongside the great and the good – gets just 2 measly stars from me.