Wednesday, October 31, 2018

C J Sansom – Revelation

Over the last decade Historical Fiction has rivalled Fantasy and Crime for my favourite genre. Bernard Cornwell has been the primary source of this love but Robert McCammon’s Matthew Corbett series has been the standout. C J Samson is fast joining those ranks however. This is the 4th book in his Matthew Shardlark series set in Tudor times, which has been excellent to date.

The Blurb:

It is spring, 1543 and King Henry VIII is wooing Lady Catherine Parr, whom he wants for his sixth wife — but this time the object of his affections is resisting. Archbishop Cranmer and the embattled Protestant faction at court are watching keenly, for Lady Catherine is known to have reformist sympathies.

Matthew Shardlake, meanwhile, is working on the case of a teenage boy, a religious maniac who has been placed by the King's council in the Bedlam hospital for the insane. Should he be released as his parents want, when his terrifying actions could lead to him being burned as a heretic?

Then, when an old friend is horrifically murdered, Shardlake promises his widow — for whom he has long had complicated feelings — to bring the killer to justice. His search leads him to connections not only with the boy in Bedlam, but with Archbishop Cranmer and Catherine Parr, and with the dark prophecies of the Book of Revelation.

As London's Bishop Bonner prepares a purge of Protestants, Shardlake, together with his assistant Jack Barak and his friend Guy Malton, follow the trail of a series of horrific murders that shake them to the core. Murders which are already bringing about frenzied talk of witchcraft and a demonic possession, for what else would the Tudor mind make of a serial killer?

Days to read: 58

Opening line: The high chandeliers in the Great Hall of Lincoln’s Inn were ablaze with candles, for it was late afternoon when the play began.

I’ve said it many times before and I never grow tired of saying it. No matter how exciting a book is, no matter how many twists and turns the plot takes, it is always the characters which elevate a novel to greatness. In Matthew Shardlake and his supporting cast, Sansom has created a set of characters which engage the reader and makes you care for them.
Revelation starts a little slowly if I am honest. That is not to say it is not enjoyable, it just takes a little while for the plot to establish itself and its direction. Matthew dallies a little with the Adam, a teenage boy placed in Bedlam for his obsession over praying but at the same time one of his good friends is murder. Neither plot seems to go anyway for a little while before all of a sudden another murder occurs and a connection is made hinting at serial killer.

From this moment the story never looks back and whisks you along in a battle of minds between Matthew and the mysterious killer. I say “whisks” at 623 pages this is a hefty novel but the pace and the enjoyment level of the story means it flies by (yes, I know it took me a long time to read but that is because I now have three kids, a dog and no commute to read on).

Matthew is as righteous as ever, but there is also a steel to him where he is not afraid to speak out against injustice. His authoritative voice when dealing with the guards at Bedlam make it clear he is a respected lawyer that carries some weight to his actions.  The best thing about Matthew is that his main weapon is his brain. Afflicted with a crookback he is severely limited to the more physical exertions of the job. Samson handles this disability expertly, he demonstrates the limitations Matthew has but never describes it as a hindrance.   

Aside from Matthew, the secondary characters all have interesting plots which are intriguing. Jack Barak struggles with his marriage to Tamasin as the pair attempt to overcome the loss of their baby, Barak also struggles with the nature of the killings which is refreshing as normally Matthew’s assistant is unflappable. 

Guy also has a new assistant who Matthew immediately does not trust. This adds a sense of conflict between Matthew and Guy which we haven’t seen before.  Both plots are great and serve to add pressure on Matthew as he is clearly affected by what is going on with both friendships.

It would be remiss not to mention the setting. Tudor London is brought to life complete with all it’s grime, disease and begging. The backdrop of King Henry’s proposal to Catherine Parr along with the conflict with the radicals serve as a fantastic backdrop whilst Bedlam is described as suitably horrific whilst at the same time possessing an element of light and goodness.

The killings are inventive and horrific and although I can’t say I was massively surprised by the reveal of the killer, I can’t say I was 100% confident in my suspicions. Add to that the comic element of Bealknap and the gravitas of Lord Hertford, this is one of the best entries into the series.

My rating: 9.2

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

I’ve read most of Joe Hill’s novels. Like the majority of people, I was intrigued by his full debut novel, Heart Shaped Box and liked it a lot. His follow-up novel Horns had a premise which sounded terrible but was actually really enjoyable. It was NOS4R2 which really made me sit up and take notice though. I thought that was an excellent book. The Fireman promised to be his magnus opus and whilst I enjoyed it, I was a little disappointed if truth be told. 

I have never read his short story collection 20th Century Ghosts but have heard a lot of good things about it. I have however read his collaboration with his father In the tall grass which I loved and I also really enjoyed his comic Locke and Key.

So it was with an open mind that I approached his new collection of novellas:

The Blurb:
One autumnal day in Boulder, Colorado, the clouds open up in a downpour of nails, splinters of bright crystal that tear apart anyone who isn't safely under cover. 'Rain' explores this escalating apocalyptic event, as clouds of nails spread out across the country and the world. Amidst the chaos, a girl studying law enforcement takes it upon herself to resolve a series of almost trivial mysteries . . . apparently harmless puzzles that turn out to have lethal answers.

In 'Loaded' a mall security guard heroically stops a mass shooting and becomes a hero to the modern gun movement. Under the hot glare of the spotlights, though, his story begins to unravel, taking his sanity with it...

'Snapshot, 1988' tells the story of an kid in Silicon Valley who finds himself threatened by The Phoenician, a tattooed thug who possesses a Polaroid that can steal memories...

And in 'Aloft' a young man takes to the skies to experience parachuting for the first time . . . and winds up a castaway on an impossibly solid cloud, a Prospero's island of roiling vapour that seems animated by a mind of its own.
Opening Sentence: N/A

Days to read: 8

The collection opens with Snapshot which is a terrific example of exploring the classic writing trope of “what if there was…” in this case it is a camera which steals people’s memories. I liked this story a lot. The Phoenician is a sinister antagonist who Hill quickly makes the reader hate, but at the same time demonstrates how dangerous he is. It takes place over the course of a single day and has an protagonist to root for in Michael. 8

Loaded is the longest novel and in my opinion by far the best. Hill does a fantastic job of exploring a man under pressure and the lengths he would go to protect his status and secret. It is the least fantastical of the four novels but the characters more than make up for it. 9

Aloft is my least favourite although I can appreciate the idea. It tells the story of a man who parachutes out of a plane and lands on a solid cloud, which appears to manifest objects as he thinks of them. This is not a bad story, but I found it a little boring, despite having a good ending. 6

Rain is a post-apocalyptic novel based on the premise of lethal rain suddenly falling from the sky. It is the most horrific of all the four novels, with gruesome scenes. It loses something in the middle as the protagonist travels about, but the beginning and ending is very strong. 8

Overall, the novels work well as a collection, offering a nice variety both from each other and from what you’d expect to see in a traditional novel. Only Aloft  is a novel I wouldn’t recommend to others.

My rating: 8.4

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

So the wait is finally over.

Only Stones Remain has been released!

Buy, buy, buy and enjoy the explosive conclusion to the Ballard of Frindoth!

Purchase by clicking the link below

Only Stones Remain - UK

Only Stones Remain - US