London Falling

Monday, July 29, 2013

London Falling
Paul Cornell, 2013 (2012 in UK)

New Release! I received an egalley of this book from NetGalley for the purpose of review.

Premise: Undercover cops Costain and Sefton, along with their Detective boss Quill, have been working this case for a long time. When the bust goes abruptly south, they, along with analyst Lisa Ross, delve deeper. But what they find turns reality on its head and they soon realize that this may involve going after a villain like no-one they’ve ever seen.

Paul Cornell is mostly known for writing comics and well-loved episodes of Doctor Who. Here he proved he’s definitely got solid urban fantasy chops as well.

I liked this book a lot, although it has a really slow burn. You meet the characters gradually, and it’s a solid police drama for at least the first five chapters or so before anything explicitly supernatural starts happening. Once it does, the pace picks up in a hurry.

I eventually liked all the characters, although it took me awhile to come around on one or two of them. Also the narrative sometimes jumps a little awkwardly between points of view. Each character’s story is nicely unique, they each have neuroses and issues and strengths.

The story is gripping, and (be warned) often grotesque. This tends toward where the edge of urban fantasy blurs into horror. I thought the mechanics that were revealed on the supernatural stuff were mostly pretty great, although a lot was left mysterious in a way that risks seeming not-thought-out.

This is definitely written with the potential to expand into a series, which means that the very end is a little.... it’s fine, but it feels as though it should end with “see you next week for the further adventures of...” which doesn't match the tone of the rest of the novel. I would far prefer if this book stood alone. You can safely skip the epilogue to avoid that, if you like.

(Interesting side note, according to the afterword, the genesis of this idea was for a long-ago tv pitch involving DW showrunner and writer Steven Moffat. I wonder what that would have been like?)

I’m torn on the rating here, because despite several flaws, I did enjoy the read, and I actually might be interested in more about these characters. Just go in expecting Stephen King rather than Charles DeLint. And if you’re American, expect to occasionally flip to the British glossary in the back.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

Search For the Star Stones

Monday, July 22, 2013

Search For the Star Stones
Andre Norton, 2008 (Originally 1968, 1969)

Premise: Originally published as Uncharted Stars and The Zero Stone. When his father died, Murdoc Jern was left with very little. He had an apprenticeship to another gem trader and a ring of unknown material found in deep space. Circumstances and a new friend will cause him to undertake a desperate search for the zero stones; source of power and magnet for violence.

This was a re-read for me, I had these books when I was young and they were some of my favorite Andre Norton books I'd read. I still think they're good, although a character who's an alien space cat with psychic abilities is less of an instant draw for me than it once was.

Murdoc is a space trader; he's not in the business of cheating others but isn't any sort of paladin, he's just trying to survive. I like how underplayed the friendship between Murdoc and Eet is. Murdoc sometimes resents Eet's high-handed treatment, Eet sometimes comments that it's just a mutually beneficial partnership, but they're still quietly fond of each other.

The plot moves at a decent clip, and the description is pretty stripped down. Published separately these were both very short books, and as a close-knit duology, I'm not surprised that they've been packaged together.

I think the end is sort of anticlimactic, but it's still a lot of fun along the way.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

The Judas Contract

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Judas Contract
Marv Wolfman, George Perez, 1988
Original Issues released 1983-84

Premise: Collects The New Teen Titans #39, 40, Tales of the Teen Titans #41-44 and Annual #3. One of the most well-known story arcs in the history of the Teen Titans. Tara Markov, known as Terra, joined the team months ago, and has become one of their own. None of the Titans know she’s secretly a double agent.

There were aspects of this story that I liked, but overall this was a little too dated and melodramatic. I wish the collection had included more of Terra’s introduction. The book starts when she’s an established member of the team, but right before the reader is let in on her secret.

The good: Sketchy-scary-evil Terra is cool in much of the lead-up to the betrayal, and this volume includes the introduction of Dick Grayson’s Nightwing identity, which has some sweet moments. There’s a fun sparring scene between Donna Troy (Wonder Girl) and Koriand'r (Starfire). Raven gets to be badass now and again. My favorite issue in the collection is probably #42: The Judas Contract Part 1, The Eyes of Tara Markov. Tara collects intel on the Titans, quietly hating them, and ultimately loses her temper violently. I found it much more emotionally satisfying than the climax.

The bad: the dialogue and character of Garfield (Beast Boy, going by Changeling in these issues) is downright painful. No, it’s not cute to have the kid brother type constantly sexually harassing all the female team members. It’s really tiresome. That same issue that I like so much opens with some really unpleasant Starfire-doesn’t-understand-why-she-is-so-hot stuff. The introduction of Jericho. I hate him. I don’t know anything else about him and I HATE him. The issue that’s just backstory told by Jericho’s sketchy mean mom. Bleck. The super-obvious visual coding of "evil" Terra with cigarettes and low-cut outfits.

Erin read this as well, and he pointed out that the ending is very silly, and you’re likely to start rooting for Terra. She keeps screaming things like (paraphrased) “I hate you all! I’m going to kill you!” and the Titans keep saying, “Terra, why are you so upset? I’m sure we can work this out.” I did kinda want to smack them for being so obtuse.

In the end, Terra’s story has some pathos, although very little of it is openly in the pages of the book. This is a good example of a comic arc that was really important in its day, but it doesn’t really hold up.

This plotline was turned into a much more effective and emotional arc of the Teen Titans animated series, too.

2 Stars - An Okay Book