Posted by Sari
My goodness, the backlog of books is somewhere around sixty by now. I wonder if I will ever get it up do date...
Desmond Bagley: Snow Tiger
This was a quick comfort read. Bagley is remembered in if at all, from his thriller Tightrope Men (1973) which happens partly in Finland. I think this is a pity as I have a soft spot for Bagley’s thrillers, especially the ones which feature a natural disaster like Wyatt’s Hurricane, Landslide and this story of an avalanche in a small New Zealand town. The hero of the novel arrives to his childhood home town to run a mine and to face the past that still haunts him. He is soon made aware that the whole town is in danger of being wiped out by an avalanche. Luckily for him, his best friend is an expert on snow and ice, and can thus exposit on the behaviour of snow at length to the edification of the hero and the reader. The story unfolds nicely as flashbacks from an inquiry to the events preceeding the inevitable avalanche, and Bagley balances the events of the natural disaster and the rather venial finger-pointing during the inquiry quite well.
Snow Tiger is undeniably exposition heavy and somewhat dated thriller, but even so, it is very nice fluff when you want to turn your brain off.
Barbara Cleverly: Last Cashmiri Rose, Ragtime in Simla
Cleverley’s Sandilands novels have a premise I really, really like. The protagonist, Joe Sandilands, is a policeman and WW1 veteran who has been seconded for a time to India where he sets about solving crimes involving the Raj. In the first one, Last Cashmiri Rose, Sandilands is sent to a regiment town to look into a series of deaths of officers’ wives, and in the second (Ragtime in Simla) he has to ruffle the feathers of the British elite spending their hot summer months on cool edges of the Himalayas. Unfortunately Cleverly’s writing is not quite on par with her ideas and both the characters and the plots remain a bit bland and unmemorable. At the time of writing this, about three months have passed since I read these two, and I have to struggle to remember what happened. It is a pity, because the period and setting do provide a very nice frame for something more robust.
Ellen Kushner: Swordspoint, Priviledge of the Sword
I have been Ellen Kushner fangirl since I bought Swordspoint in 1994. It blew my mind by subverting and commenting on all sorts of romance and fantasy clichés, while at the same time being an extremely satisfying adventure and a love story in a well built world. Nowadays, when urban settings in fantasy are much more common, Swordspoint’s city isn’t such an anomaly as I felt it was then, but it remains – alongside Martha Wells’ Ile-de-Rien – one of my favourite fantasy cities. And as far as the rest of the novel goes, its intricate plot of political manouvering and its many interesting characters have lost none of their charm.
What I wasn’t aware when I read the book (or Fionavar Tapestry or Kate Ross’ Julian Kestrel novels) for the first time was the way Kushner echoes Dorothy Dunnett. Though the plot with its emphasis of games played with human lives owes quite a lot to de Laclos, the main characters, Alec and Richard, are like Dunnet’s Lymond split into two, and thus push all my buttons on fearsomely cold competence and tortured unbalanced brilliance.
The reason I reread Swordspoint once again was that I got my eager little paws on the sequel, The Priviledge of the Sword, which happens decade or two later in the same city. Alec is now the Mad Duke of Tremontaine and he summons his niece to the city to be trained as a swordsman. Again, what I liked about the novel were the ways in which Kushner blurs both the lines of desire and gender, and does that so, that it brings in focus how women negotiate their lives in the highly ritualised culture of political games which seem to be the norm in her world. Here she works, I think a little like Bujold. Priviledge of the Sword is a growing up story, conspiracy story and swashbuckling adventure with budding romance thrown in, but it still draws your eyes and your mind towards something more general and more interesting about the society and human condition without letting it overwhelm the reading experience.
Also, on a totally shallow note, my fellow dunnenites, you can’t tell me that Alec and Richard at Alec’s country place don’t remind you of Philippa and Francis at Sevigny in Checkmate…