Saturday 7 December 2019

Fantasy Roundup

An assortment of fantasy novels I've read recently.

The House on the Borderland, by William Hope Hodgson

THotB was first published in 1908, and is regarded as an early classic of supernatural horror. It is not exactly my usual type of reading, but I'm trying to catch up with Books I Ought To Read, and this one kept popping up in recommendations concerning the history of SFF; it is regarded as highly influential. A check on Hodgson's Wiki page revealed an interesting character who published a range of stories, many of which are still available. He was killed in the First World War at the age of forty.

THotB is a story within a story. It is topped and tailed by an account of a fishing holiday undertaken in a very remote part of Ireland, in which the two fishermen do some exploring and discover the ruins of a great house, hidden in a huge overgrown garden which contains an enormous pit with a fast-flowing river at the bottom. In the ruins they find a book, hand-written by a former resident of the house to describe his strange experiences. The bulk of THotB consists of the resident's tale.

The resident lived in the house a long time ago, alone except for his sister and dog. He moved in because it was cheap, having already acquired a grim reputation for supernatural events. His strange experiences began with the sighting of hideous creatures, vaguely humanoid but with porcine faces, which instilled in humans a powerful sense of dread.  They came from the pit and laid seige to the house, during which the resident experienced his first out-of-body journey, arriving at a strange land. His spirit travelled to a place surrounded by mountains, in the centre of which was an exact replica of the house in Ireland, only much bigger and made of some glowing green material. In the surrounding mountains he observed vast beings, the old gods of the pagan religions, while a giant version of the porcine creatures was trying to get into the green house.

In subsequent out-of-body experiences he travelled in time at a gradually accelerating rate to the death of the sun (a sequence surely inspired by H.G. Wells's The Time Machine); a powerful and sustained piece of imaginative writing.

I found that finishing the book was no problem (assisted by the fact that it is a novella of only around 100 pages) even though it didn't really engage me. The plot lacks coherence, consisting of a series of loosely connected events, with the significance of the house never explained. Despite this, it is worth reading for the imaginative visions the resident described.


In Search of the Shining World, by Mary Beth Melton

This is another kind of story that I normally don't read. It is a fantasy, featuring an unhappy fifteen-year-old girl who passionately believes in fairies, treasuring the memory of once having seen some, and would like nothing more than to enter their world. This she does, and finds a strange culture with its own rules and practices. She is sent on a mission to prove her worth, and encounters dangers that she had never dreamed of before the unexpected conclusion.

I am not the best person to assess this book, as I suspect that it is mostly appreciated by young teenage, or pre-teen, girls, with whom I have so little in common that they might as well belong to an alien race. However, I not only finished it, I read it in only two sessions. Which is a tribute to the author's story-telling ability.


Limited Wish, by Mark Lawrence

Limited Wish is the second of the author's Impossible Times trilogy: the first volume, One Word Kill, I reviewed here on 24 August 2019, the final part, Dispel Illusion, being due out in a couple of months.

This continues the story of mathematical genius Nick Hayes and, as before, is written entirely from his viewpoint, in the first person. He is now a 16-year-old student at Cambridge University, working at the cutting edge of physics in order to develop the time machine which (he learned in the first volume from a time-traveller) he was due to achieve later on. Life is not simple, however; strange effects and manifestations keep occuring as the paradoxes of time-travel seem to be closing in on him. Two young women are to be involved, apparently in some kind of competition for his favour. To add to his problems, his leukemia has relapsed and he is pursued by a deadly relative of an old enemy. Fortunately, his Dungeons & Dragons-playing friends are there in support, along with more visitors from the future.

This book was just as much a pleasure to read as the first volume, and I am eagerly awaiting the third.


Fallen, by Benedict Jacka

Fallen is the tenth of the author's Alex Verus series, following the fortunes of the maverick diviner living in a present-day London in which magic very much works (albeit unsuspected by the general, non-magical, public). The other nine books have already been reviewed on this blog, so I won't repeat the background; I'll just point out that the books are effectively telling one long story, so it is essential to read them in the right order.

At the start of this volume, Verus has achieved a degree of acceptance, being appointed to the magical Light Council with his friend (and now girlfriend) Anne also accepted as his assistant. Needless to say, this does not last and Verus's world comes crashing down around his ears, with the support he has enjoyed from various others being brutally kicked away. Almost alone, he has to take drastic, life-changing measures to acquire the ability to defend himself against his powerful enemies. He succeeds – at a cost. The story ends abruptly, so we'll have to wait for the next (and last) two volumes to discover what happens. This whole series is highly recommended to anyone who enjoys this kind of contemporary urban fantasy,

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