The Day of the Triffids

Monday, July 30, 2018

The Day of the Triffids
John Wyndham, 1951

Premise: Bill Masen wakes up, and something's wrong. He suspects that the plants have only been biding their time.

I didn't know anything about this book when I picked it up; I just had an idea that it was classic science fiction.

It turns out to be apocalyptic, vaguely sci-fi, and very British.

The situation is: after an amazing visual display in the night sky, everyone who watched is struck blind. Society immediately crumbles, with groups of desperate blind people enslaving the few people who can see and small groups either fighting or banding together to try to rebuild.

Our protagonist was undergoing a medical procedure, and so had his eyes covered. The most effective part of the book for me was the beginning when he's creeping around the half-deserted hospital, trying to figure out what happened.

The situation is complicated by the presence of the triffids. Triffids are mobile plants which have a dangerous sting. Our protagonist worked for a triffid farm, and he tries to warn other people that the triffids are more intelligent than people think and more dangerous.

The book isn't interested in where the triffids come from, and the only explanation is that they are probably some secret genetic engineering project that escaped. Likewise, although the main character suspects that the triffids planned the reaction that blinded humanity to remove humans' only advantage (sight), he has no proof and never finds any.

Instead, he spends the book joining or running from different groups of survivors, looking for a young woman that he rescued on the first day. They eventually are reunited and later still join a promising group on a nearby island.

It's very much a cross between man's inhumanity to man and an awkward love story set against the apocalypse. Both storylines have been done better elsewhere, although I guess this one was notable at the time.

2 Stars - An Okay Book

A Gentleman Never Keeps Score

Monday, July 23, 2018

A Gentleman Never Keeps Score
Cat Sebastian, 2018

Read Harder Challenge 2018 - A romance novel by or about a person of color

Premise: Hartley Sedgwick risked everything to give his brothers the hand up their feckless father couldn't give them, but it backfires badly. His much-wished-for life as a gentleman is slowly killing him until he meets the kind and handsome pub owner Sam Fox.

I've now read a few of Cat Sebastian's historical romances, but while I like them, I have not yet loved them. This one doesn't break the pattern.

Then I recently saw this:

The scale places Charles from "Medium Angst" to "So Tense I'm a Mess," and Sebastian from "Very Low Angst" to "Medium Low Angst." And that might explain everything. You see, I love KJ Charles. And I think my problem is that Sebastian's work, while lovely, just doesn't have enough excitement and/or angst for me. However, now that I know this, maybe I can choose to read these books when I'm really in the mood for fluffy lightness.

This is a good story, with engaging, charming characters. Hartley is broken after being openly accused of selling his body for advancement, and he's struggling with a fear of touch. Sam is a solid, good person who has to fear the judgment of authorities for his history as a boxer and his existence as a free black man in London. But none of their problems end up feeling that serious. I felt like any of these issues could have been delved into more deeply without risking the character's ultimate happiness.

This is a fun, frothy romp with just enough tension to keep it from being boring and enough emotional moments to tug the heartstrings.

It's fun, and it's enjoyable, but I don't know that I'll remember it a few weeks from now.

3 Stars - A Good Book


Monday, July 16, 2018

J. R. R. Tolkien, written between 1925 and 1937, published 1998

Read Harder Challenge 2018 - A book published posthumously

Premise: A little dog is rude to a wizard and ends up exploring far-off lands.

I didn’t know anything about this story heading into it, but the introduction gave me all the background I could want. Then said introduction kept going into much more exhaustive detail than I wanted about a story I hadn’t read yet, so I skipped half of it.

The important background is that once upon a time, Tolkien was at the seaside with his family, and one of his sons lost a toy at the beach. He made up a story to mollify the boy, then expanded it into a charming little piece. However, it was not picked up for publication and then fell by the wayside once he had made his name as the writer of more serious works.

The introduction frames it as a bridge between Tolkien’s other writing for his kids (like The Father Christmas Letters) and the Hobbit. I would actually say that it also can be seen as a bridge between early fantasy like The Gods of Pegana and modern fantasy’s roots in Lord of the Rings.

The story is delightful, but much more plotless and meandering, much more about playing with language and description, than we have the patience for nowadays. Rover is a dog who gets mixed up with a wizard and turned into a toy. He is bought for a child but escapes, with the help of another wizard, to the Moon. There he meets a moon-dog also named Rover, and so our protagonist goes by Roverandom. The story follows his adventures on the Moon, and then later at the bottom of the sea. He sees wonders everywhere and has several close escapes, but he eventually is turned back to normal and returns home, where he is reunited with the boy, who loves him just as much as a real dog as he did as a toy dog.

The richness and inventiveness in the description, the wordplay and clever asides all remind me of early fantasy, of Morris, Carroll, and Dunsany. You can see the seeds of the Hobbit in the hints of myth and the edges of a larger world beyond the worries of the characters. It doesn’t take itself seriously, it’s still very child-friendly, but you can see how you might give it one more turn and it would become something different. You can see some ideas and turns of phrase that crop up again in Middle Earth.

Also, it’s a lot of fun as just what it is.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

The Henchmen of Zenda

Monday, July 9, 2018

The Henchmen of Zenda
K.J. Charles, 2018

Premise: Romance and danger abound for hired blades when everyone has their own agenda and a throne is on the line. A retelling of The Prisoner of Zenda.

At this point, a new book from KJ Charles is an auto-buy for me, although I did pause before reading to quickly catch up on the source material.

The Prisoner of Zenda (1894) is a pulp adventure in grand old style, with a humorous if stuffy British protagonist who gets swept up in a scheme to save the king of a tiny fictional European country... by pretending to be him. Ironically, I had already read and enjoyed Double Star, which is a sci-fi retelling of the same. The language is fun and the characters largely enjoyable in their over-the-top melodramatics.

The Henchmen of Zenda is the same story as told by one of the villain's hired soldiers-of-fortune, and it alleges that said British protagonist was a liar in several respects. It makes the politics more complicated and bloodthirsty and gives more characters base and believable motivations.

Plus, there's sex.

Jasper and Rupert each come into the Duke's service for their own reasons and with their own secrets, and the ever-present threat of violent death if you trust the wrong person rather complicates their sexual tension. I loved their romance.

I could have used a tiny bit more struggle on the part of the characters by the end - a few things seemed a bit easy or too-good-to-be-true. Ironically, I've seen some comments from other readers that the romance wasn't quite romance-y or maybe eternal-happy-ever-after enough for them. However, the blend of action and romance was almost perfect for my taste as a romance dabbler.

Also, I love the little Easter eggs that the author sneaks in referencing characters from other contemporary works.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

Down Among the Sticks and Bones (Wayward Children)

Monday, July 2, 2018

Down Among the Sticks and Bones (Wayward Children)
Seanan McGuire, 2017

Premise: Prequel to Every Heart a Doorway. Jacqueline and Jillian had the kind of parents who shouldn't have children, so when they stumble into a place that offers them mentorship and protection, they take it...for better or worse.

It's been just long enough since I read Every Heart a Doorway that I didn't fully remember the roles that Jack and Jill played in that story. I'm not sure whether it's better to read this with the knowledge of their future fates or without it. I actually think the way I accidentally did it might be best, where I slowly remembered the original over the course of reading the prequel.

Either way, this is a novella about children whose parents try to force them into roles that don't fit, and how their relationships with themselves and others are screwed up because of it. Sure, their temperaments aren't helped by spending years of their childhoods in a dark and dangerous place home to gothic monsters, but that isn't what messes them up.

Like Every Heart, this is a novella, and it leans even further into the fairy-tale feel with stylized narration. It's both broad and subtle; exploring the rules of a horror-movie dimension alongside the tension between twins who never learned to be friends. Sad, poetic, and highly recommended.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book