Catching up on book reviews

Quicksilver (The Baroque Cycle, Vol. 1) by Neal Stephenson [5/5]

If you read Cryptonomicon and thought it was good or great (like I did), then you may well like Quicksilver too, as it’s written in much the same style. As Jennifer said in her review, the novel follows three characters through 1600′s Europe, where they’re involved with some of the most famous people of the period and witness more than one momentous event. In someone else’s hands this could have ended up being some pretty dry stuff, but Stephenson does a masterful job of making it feel like a novel rather than a history text, while at the same time going into an extraordinary amount of interesting detail. It all bogs down a bit in the last third of the book, but not so much that it’ll stop me from highly recommending giving it a read. I’m very much looking forward to reading the next two books in the cycle.

Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey [2/5]

I had fairly high expectations for Kushiel’s Dart, based mainly on some good reviews, but I ended up being disappointed. Carey’s prose and the basic idea of the story are fine, but I thought the plot and characters were flawed, and the book was just too long.

Let’s start with the plot. I’ve read comparisons with the complex politics of George R.R. Martin’s The Song of Fire and Ice series, but Kushiel’s Dart falls well short of that. It could be that part of the problem comes from everything being told from the viewpoint of the main character, Phèdre, as it’s hard to pull off good political intrigue that way, but whatever the reason, it just doesn’t work.

As for the characters, I started off liking Phèdre well enough, but I got tired of her pretty quickly. She almost always seemed to react rather than act, which is something I find annoying in a novel’s main protagonist, and her emotional detachment during most of the sex scenes made them a lot more dull than the subject matter should have been. Some of the rest of the characters were well drawn, but since Phèdre is the viewpoint character, not liking her was a real problem.

Then there’s the issue of length. This is a book that could really have used a good edit that chopped out about a third of it’s 901 pages, while at the same time tightening up what was left so it was more focused.

As you’ve probably guessed, I really didn’t like this book.

Light by M. John Harrison [5/5]

I don’t even know where to begin with this one. It’s an utterly brilliant novel, and sometimes when you really, really, really like something it becomes amazingly difficult to talk about it without just gushing. The prose is wonderful, the characters are intensely interesting, and….oh yeah, there’s a plot too (and a good one at that), though I tended to find myself so floored by the writing that I sometimes forgot there was a plot at all.

See, I told you it was easy to gush about this book.

If you want to read a “genre” book that’s better than much of the so-called literary fiction being written these days, check out Light. It’s challenging, but very worth the effort.

Contact Imminent by Kristine Smith [3.5/5]

This is the fourth book in this series, and it follows the continuing adventures of Jani Killian, the first human-idomeni hybrid. I didn’t find this outing to be quite as strong as the other three books, but it’s still a fine book, and well worth a read. If you like strong female protagonists and well-drawn alien cultures I’d definitely recommend starting at the beginning of the series with the Campbell Award-winning Code of Conduct.

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