Of Musings and Wonderings

smoke and mirrorsI have to admit, I do love a good collection. Whether it’s by the same author or stories from a variety, there’s something pleasurable in moving from one story to the next, in a vastly different way than diving into a good novel.

In Smoke and Mirrors, Gaiman presents to us a number of different stories and poems, with a couple of cross-overs, some nods to Lovecraft, and some very, very strange scenes and stories that leave the reader scratching their head. Gaiman’s fantastic style and voice come through in all the pieces, but they all remain different and strong in their own right.

Delights, wonders and horrors – seriously. Some really creepy horrors that make me wonder what must be going through Gaiman’s head. But all of the stories are enjoyable, and the majority are memorable; what happens when humans can no longer test on animals, what happens when a radical cancer treatment causes people’s sex to change, the melding of memories during sex, a disappearing grandmother and a mysterious fox. Among these there are also the stories of a small town plagued with cultists, a writer trying to work on a screenplay and a twist on the traditional troll under the bridge tale.

Each tale captures the reader in a different way, and Gaiman does a brilliant job of introducing characters and settings quickly, allowing the meat of the story to really flourish. There are no punches pulled here and nothing really held back. It is, essentially, Gaiman doing what he does best. The whole collection feels like fairy tales for adults, even with a couple of warnings sprinkled throughout. He draws you right in, exploring different worlds and ideas and making you really believe in the magic, even if it only is for a few moments.

Smoke and Mirrors is brilliant, a wonderful collection, each story tied together in some small way yet still standing strongly out from one another. Well worth a read for any fans of fantasy, magic and, of course, of Gaiman himself.


legends of windemereBeginning of a Hero tells the story of Luke Callindor, a young adventurer determined to prove his worth outside of his family name. His chance comes when he meets a royal messenger, and convinces him to hire Luke to protect the heir of Duke Solomon. Unfortunately, Luke has no information on what the heir looks like, no clues as to who they might be except that they are currently at the Hamilton Military Academy, a school run by former mercenary Selenia Hamilton. Luke has to avoid suspension, discovery and death at the hands of a demonic assassin, all while trying to work out who, exactly, the heir is, so he can protect them.

Admittedly, it took a while to really get into the book. Mainly because it’s a style that I (and I suspect most people) aren’t used to, the use of third person present tense. If not done well, it can be horrible. But luckily, Charles manages to pull it off, and after getting past the first few chapters it becomes much easier and enjoyable to read. I have read some third person present books that have been horrendous, and it’s great to see a writer who can actually do some good with it.

The characters themselves are nicely written, especially the characters that populate the academy around Luke. Some serious, like Selenia, others funny and comedic, adding a nice bit of humour into the plot. Luke forms his own group, made up of the people he trusts and likes, to help him in his quest. The characters balance each other out, and add something different to the action scenes later in the novel.

Possibly due to the use of present tense, some of the action scenes do get a little muddled. In places, it is a little dialogue heavy, and the dialogue is used for explanation purposes perhaps a little too much, detracting a bit from the story. But it’s definitely a novel where it feels like the author is getting better and better with each page, and it’s easy to enjoy reading it.

I’ve read a few self-published novels in the last few months. Some have been terrible. Others have been actually, pretty damn good. Maybe not as polished as traditionally published novels, but then again, these authors don’t have a whole team of editors behind them. And I’m very, very glad that Beginning of a Hero falls among them as one of the best self-published novels I’ve read, and it’s the strongest present tense one I’ve seen. If you like fantasy, and want to read something a little different, I strongly suggest picking this one up.

Oh! And what excellent timing! The novel’s free for the next three days, so go check it out and check out Charles’ blog while you’re at it, too.

night circusThe Night Circus starts off with a bet between two very unique men. In it, they agree that they will each put forward a protégé for a competition, testing which of their methods of teaching is the best. The protégés do not know of one another, and until the right time comes, they are unaware of the stage on which their competition will be set.

The Night Circus becomes that stage, a wonderful, magical place full of amazing displays and acts that leave the spectators spellbound. The circus is open from sunset to dawn. It arrives with no warning, and usually disappears just as fast. It attracts casual visitors and a group who follow it as much as they can.

And Cecile and Marco, the protégés, are the ones holding the circus together, their powers combining to make the circus what it is, though they do not know the power is held in the hand of the other. The game is played out like a game of chess, where the player cannot see the other make their moves but only the results. One creates a tent and the other responds with their own. And around them, the circus grows.

The one thing that struck me with this novel is how beautiful it is. Seriously. It’s mainly description, which is something I don’t usually like, but it’s description that is breath-taking and wonderful, drawing the reader in totally and completely. The circus itself, the scenery, even the weather, they all become characters in their own right, as Morgenstern lends them a weight rarely seen in other novels.

Of the two main characters, Cecile comes across the best. She feels stronger, more able, while Marco – due to circumstance – simply slips into the background and watches from the side-lines. As he does what he needs to do, Cecile keeps the circus going and faces up to her father, the man who set her out for the competition in the first place. Even when not quite there, he’s a constant presence in Cecile’s life, but one she is able to confront when she needs to.

Between the chapters of the story itself, there are sections dedicated to allowing the reader to almost explore the circus, as Morgenstern uses second person POV to walk us through parts of the circus, sometimes dragging us along to the next event that holds the key to what happens next in the plot itself. And the ending…well, it’s bittersweet and sad and joyful and manages to pump all these emotions out.

The Night Circus is, to put it simply, a wonderful, delightful and unique read. If you haven’t had the chance to read it yet, I’d strongly urge you to do so.

the limits of enchantmentThis was the first book I read that I got from Scardiff. It’s not horror (although I got it at a horror expo). It’s more a mix of realism and fantasy, the two blending together to make us, as readers, question what’s really going on.

The Limits of Enchantment tells the story of Fern, a young woman on the verge of discovering her place in the world. Fern was raised by Mammy, an old wise woman who has helped the people of the village more times than anyone could count. Fern’s world is turned upside down when one of Mammy’s patients, prescribed a potion to induce abortion, dies. The village turns against the old woman, and after a bad fall she is put in hospital, leaving Fern to fend for herself when the owner of the land threatens to kick her out of the only home she has ever known.

Joyce manages to convey what Fern is going through quite brilliantly. In some ways, she is very naïve, and there’s the impression that Mammy has, perhaps, shielded her away from the worst of the world. It really is a story of discovery, as Fern comes to terms with the world around her, the changing landscape of the 1960s and herself. She is left confused, for most parts, by the actions of others, but slowly comes to realise what they have done and why. Fern has a fascinating voice, and as a reader, I was totally drawn into what was going on with her and the way her mind works.

Joyce uses the idea of an unreliable narrator to its full extent, leaving us to piece together parts of the novel ourselves, sometimes coming to the right conclusion before Fern and sometimes, like her, heading down the totally wrong path altogether. We only get glimpses of what’s really going on, and even when things begin to become a little more clear, it’s never really explicit.

The Limits of Enchantment is a wonderfully written, beautiful novel that shows a young woman struggling in a changing world, dealing with things beyond her years and coming out of it just a little bit stronger. Pick it up and you will not be disappointed. 

imagesCASZ8RO8I love this series. Since I read the first book, I’ve fallen in love with Roland, the last gunslinger, and the world around him. The first book follows him as he tries to track down the man in black, meeting a young boy, Jake, on the way, who, it turns out, is from New York, but was killed by being pushed into the street. In the second book, Roland entices two people from very different times to join him on his quest. In the third book, The Waste Lands, they head towards a city that seems to have suffered from a nuclear war. But before that, Susannah and Eddie must take on board the lessons taught to them by Roland, and in New York, Jake struggles with conflicting identities, one which tells him he is alive and the other telling him he should be dead and in a totally different world.

The characters really come alive on the page, something I think King has always been good at. It’s clear that this is a world Roland knows a lot about, but doesn’t know everything. Then there’s Susannah and Eddie, both characters who are new to this world and trying to come to terms with how different it is from home. When Jake comes back, he slots in like he’s supposed to, and there’s the very real sense that they all belong to the world that Roland is from.

The settings, too, work brilliantly, with the contrast between nature and manmade robots that roam through the lands. King’s descriptions of everything, even the stuff that would be completely foreign to us, make it feel like we’re travelling through the world with the characters. And once they reach the city, we get drawn in even more, following them through mazes of booby-trapped trash and meeting a very strange, crazy train.

There are, of course, elements of horror too. It’s something King plays on very well, as he plunges the characters into situations they seemingly won’t be able to get out of. The ending leaves with the stakes high, and the possibility of all the characters heading towards their deaths. He uses it to mix in very well with the fantasy elements, letting us know that this isn’t a light and fluffy tale of people on a quest. There is a lot more at stake here, and it makes the book very engrossing.

So far, this is a brilliant series, and I would strongly recommend picking it up if you have any interest in King or quest type fantasies.

et cetera