On twitter you may have noticed that I have been posting short book reviews under the hashtag #booksreadin2015. To coincide with that, welcome to The Stories So Far. This is a two-monthly round up of all the books I’m reading this year and it’s where I will be placing more detailed reviews of each of those books. So without any further ado, let’s get down to business:
nb. These aren’t meant to be in-depth critiques or anything, just my general musings on what I’ve been reading. Hopefully you might be inspired to try some of these books yourself, if you haven’t already.
Revival – Stephen King
As we all know, when it comes to horror writing, there aren’t many in the business who can top Mr King for chills and thrills. After taking a break from horror to bring out his detective novel, Mr Mercedes (which is also brilliant, check it out), King has returned in fine form to bring about a fable like tale of a friendship takes some very dark twists and turns. It starts with a young boy who befriends his local pastor and family. As time progresses, tragedy strikes the pastor and he and the boy grow apart. In later years they meet again when the boy, now a drug addicted musician, meet again. What follows is an unsettling and unnerving look at what death and the afterlife hold for us.
This book is King at his best; taking everyday folk and their everyday lives and weaving them into something genuinely menacing, scary and (with the last few chapters of this book) shocking. The way King builds up to the events of the climax means that your constantly guessing what’s going on and what’s about to happen. By the time I made it to the end I was left shaken to my core. As any horror novel should do, Revival left me with a few sleepless nights but boy was it worth it. This book is emotional, nerve-racking, terrifying and beautifully written. I highly recommend it.
The Copper Promise – Jen Williams
The best way I can think to describe this book is to paraphrase the tagline for the film Stardust; It’s a fantasy novel that won’t behave.
What I mean is that this book takes some of the classic tropes of the fantasy genre and completely turns them on their head. And thank goodness it does. The big draw to this tale of Dragons, fledgling mages and tomb raiders is the three main characters: Wydrin, a wise cracking mercenary who is always looking out for her next big score; Sebastian, a disgraced knight of an ancient order and Lord Frith, a disposed ruler who is looking to take back his reign and will stop at nothing to get revenge on those who took it from him. The chemistry between the three is brilliant, cracking dialogue and some fun interaction, along with some surprising actions by some of the characters, this is most fun you’ll have with a fantasy novel for a very long time. Can’t wait to read the follow up, The Iron Ghost. Oh and if Wydrin doesn’t immediately become your new favourite female fantasy character, you haven’t read it properly.
Steelheart – Brandon Sanderson
A superhero novel with a difference. Instead of following someone learning to use their superpowers to fight evil and save the world, Steelheart takes us to a future where those with Superpowers are known as epics and they have used their powers to enslave humanity. The book follows a young resistant fighter who holds the key to bringing down one of the most powerful epics, Steelheart.
What’s great about this book, apart from the unique take on a well trodden genre, is its relentless pace. Nearly every chapter is filled with action but in such a way that it propels the narrative and builds the world and the characters. There is nothing that is surplus to the telling of the story and the exposition is scattered throughout, giving us clues to what Steelheart’s weakness as the story unfolds. If you’re looking for something a bit different that’s exciting but not shallow, Steelheart is the book for you.
The Name of the Wind – Patrick Rothfuss
Another fantasy novel and another original take on the genre. You see, what makes The Name of the Wind unique is its structure. Instead of one straightforward fantasy you get two fantasy stories!
Allow me to explain. It all kicks off with an Innkeeper with a mysterious past. At first he seems perfectly normal but as his village is attacked by giant spiderlike creatures he is revealed to be a living legend and the giant spiders maybe just be after him. Once this is revealed he starts to tell his life story from his days growing up with a troupe of travelling entertainers to his teenage years as a student of magic at the university. The two narratives tie into each both throwing up and answering various mysteries. And, while it is a great story and by the end of it you’re really eager to jump into its sequel, The Wise Man’s Fear, I did find myself struggling with this book slightly.
You see. It has one of the finest openings of a book I’ve ever read; the tension built is palpable and really raises the hairs on the back of the neck. After that when we get into the Innkeepers story, it rolls nicely through his childhood and the tragedy he has to endure and you really feel for him during his time as a homeless street urchin. When he arrives at the university things slow down a bit and sometimes get a bit repetitive. I found myself getting slightly bored with descriptions of the admissions process and the MC worrying about how he would pay his tuition, but once he sets out on a quest to find out what happened at a wedding that seemingly left no survivors, the story picks up pace again and I was once again enthralled in this world and the story unfolding.
Mayhem & Murder – Sarah Pinborough
These are two seperate books but I read them one after the other and I really feel that that is the best way to read them, to get the full chilling effect but here I do look at them separately.
Mayhem is set during the time of the Jack the Ripper murders and tells the story of a Dr working with the police to uncover the culprit behind another horrific set of murders that are happening at the same time. What Sarah Pinborough has so brilliantly done with this book is to combine a classical murder mystery, that could’ve come from Sherlock Holmes casebook and blended it with a supernatural horror story, so well that you can’t see the joins at all. By the time the killer is revealed you’re nerves are shot and then as the story heads towards our heroes confrontation with said killer, the thrills and terrors come at a relentless pace.
The books other huge draw is the characters. There isn’t any cut and dry, black and white good guys and bad guys in this one. The good Dr’s motives towards the end are sometimes questionable and through the killer’s diary entries we find ourselves sympathising with him somewhat and not sure if he got the fate he deserved. This is something that is expanded one and played with even more in its sequel:
Murder picks up some years after the first novel and once again follows the Dr from Mayhem. This time we join him after he is recovering from the events of the first book but soon fate finds him on the other side of the coin, will he be able to free himself and retain his sanity.
Murder is less of a mystery novel than Mayhem. Here the protagonist isn’t on the hunt for a killer. This time he is trying to bury his past and move on with his life but when the demon comes for him, there is no escape. This time around we get a flat out horror story. And man, what a horror story it is. As well as vividly drawing us into the Dr’s descent into madness, Murder deftly intertwines the themes of grief, fear and love. By making the hero of the tale do some truly questionable things you soon wonder if there is any goodness in the world at all. And the more the Dr succumbs to his ‘sometimes literal’ demons, the scarier things become until we come to a truly nail biting, nerve shredding climax. I defy anyone not to look wearily at the next river they come across and to also be cautious next time they look in a mirror. But most of all, I defy anyone not to read these two books and be utterly captivated. I strongly recommend reading them one after the other as it makes for one the best horror stories you’ll ever read.
Thanks for reading.