Wednesday, 30 March 2011

News Flashing | The Shining 2: Who Knew?

This March, Stephen King made the news. Twice.

The first time, it was to announce his next annual novel. 11.22.63 will be along in early November, and it's another brick of a book; a tome like Under the Dome which seems to be King's spin on The Time Traveller's Wife, and The Lake House.

So the story goes, English teacher Jake Epping is transported "from a world of mobile phones and iPods to a new world of Elvis and JFK, of Plymouth Fury cars and Lindy Hopping, of a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald and a beautiful high school librarian named Sadie Dunhill, who becomes the love of Jake's life - a life that transgresses all the normal rules of time."

When news of 11.22.63 broke, you didn't even have to listen particularly closely to hear the arching of certain critics' eyebrows, which was, in and of itself, pretty sickening. Me? I'll reserve judgement till I've actually read the book. And you can be sure I'll read it; that's pretty much a given. Short a few years' time out from King's work when I foolishly let the aforementioned critical snobbery that seems to cling to this author like bad gas get the better of me, I've always read Stephen King. Probably I always will.

But here's hoping his next isn't all mouth and no trousers like Under the Dome.

I suppose if it is, there's always his next next novel. Because within the week, King had trumped himself, announcing The Dark Tower: The Wind Through the Keyhole on his official website [wiki]. Set between Wizard and Glass and Wolves of the Calla, the notion of this lost chapter in the life and times of Roland Deschain moves me perhaps less than by all rights it should, for I have read all seven volumes of The Dark Tower... though I fell increasingly out of love with the series as it approached its endgame.

I don't have particularly much to say about The Wind Through the Keyhole, either. So why the post? You must be wondering. Well, here's why.

In short, once King has polished off The Dark Tower 4.5, it's looking pretty bloody likely that Doctor Sleep will be his - wait for it - next next next project. And what is Doctor Sleep?

"Now aged 40, [Danny Torrance] works at a hospice for the terminally ill in upstate New York. He is... an orderly at the hospice, but his real work is to help make death a little easier for the dying patients with his psychic powers – while making a little money on the side by betting on the horses."

So The Shining 2: Shine Harder. Or maybe Son of The Shining - that'd be pretty apt.

What. The. Fuck.

Probably I've made my feelings as regards such a sequel clear as crystal already, but let's make doubly sure: I think it's a terrible idea.

Why? Well, because we're talking about a classic here. A veritable, contemporary genre classic. One of the most important novels King ever wrote. And his track record of late... you know, it hasn't been awful - sure enough he's had worse periods - but it certainly hasn't been great, either. And a sequel to The Shining needs to be truly great for it to stand a chance. For it to do anything other than denigrate our memories of the one and the only, Doctor Sleep needs to be better than anything King has written in decades.

And what are the chances?

Still and all, I can see a sequel to The Shining drawing back a fair few former Stephen King junkies back to the fold. If you're in that position, I wonder: would you welcome such a thing? Or would you prefer that the Grandpa Smurf of supernatural horror left our probably rather idealised imaginings of The Shining well enough alone?

Monday, 28 March 2011

Book Review | Monsieur Linh and His Child by Philippe Claudel

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Traumatized by memories of his war-ravaged country, and with his son and daughter-in-law dead, Monsieur Linh travels to a foreign land to bring the child in his arms to safety. The other refugees in the detention centre are unsure how to help the old man; his caseworkers are compassionate, but overworked. Monsieur Linh struggles beneath the weight of his sorrow, and becomes increasingly bewildered and isolated in this strange, fast-moving town. And then he encounters Monsieur Bark. Neither speaks the other's language, but Monsieur Bark is sympathetic to the foreigner's need to care for the child. Recently widowed and equally alone, he is eager to talk, and Monsieur Linh knows how to listen. The two men share their solitude, and find friendship in an unlikely dialogue between two very different cultures.


"An old man is standing on the after-deck of a ship. In his arms he clasps a flimsy suitcase and a newborn baby, even lighter than the suitcase. The old man's name is Monseiur Linh. He is the only person who knows this is his name because all those who once knew it are dead." (p.1)

So begins Monsieur Linh and His Child: bitter and sweet and wistful - the very notes on which the curtain closes, come the occasion - it is a Kafka-esque elegy of friendship which handily sustains the sense of uncomplicated beauty evidenced above over its abbreviated course. A 2005 novella, lately translated from the French by Euan Cameron, from Philippe Claudel, author of Brodeck's Report and erstwhile director of the sublime foreign-language film I've Loved You So Long, at 100 small-format pages of oversized font, Monseiur Linh and His Child is in stature hardly more than a short story, but it has all the emotional impact of a gut-punch to the soul.

There is an old man, and a fat man. A doddering refugee from a war-torn state whose only reason for living is the infant girl he clutches tight against his chest, rescued miraculously from the battlefield on which her entire family lay dead, and a cheery chain-smoker with a penchant for hot toddies who hasn't connected with anyone since his wife passed away. One day, they sit on the same bench. So begins a friendship that will come to mean much to Monsieur Linh and his bench-fellow, Bark.

"He recalls the touch of the old man's hand when he placed it on his shoulder. He then remembers that he is alone in the world, with his little girl. Alone together. That his country is far away. That his country is no longer there, so to speak. That it is nothing but fragments of memories and dreams that survive on in his weary old man's head." (p.42)

Both men have been certain of their identities, in their lives, only to have tragedy steal everything away. Bark and Linh have lost their selves, in a sense, and though they share neither a language common between them nor even their names - a miscommunication leaves each calling the other "good day" - what each of the men have lost, the simple truth and goodness of sharing a moment with another living soul helps them begin to come to terms with.

But as Monsieur Linh reflects, staring out at the "thousands of lights in the city that sparkle and seem to move about [...] as if they were stars that had fallen to earth and were trying to fly back into the sky once more," "you can never fly back to what you have lost." (p.87) There is thus an ineffable impression of sadness about Monsieur Linh and His Child, building and swelling like a lump in the throat even as the old man and the fat man find some measure of solace in unexpected company.

Canny readers will likely see a rug-from-under twist I hardly dare discuss coming, and while such premonition perhaps robs Monsieur Linh and His Child of some of the sense of revelation Claudel seems to be shooting for in the final scene, this isn't The Sixth Sense; there's more, much more, to Monsieur Linh and His Child than a tidy trick. It is a timeless testament to the enduring beauty of friendship, and in its powerful last moments, an ode to - of all things - better tomorrows for us all. For "miracles can sometimes happen, and there can be riches, and laughter, and hope once more just when you think that everything around you is nothing but destruction and silence." (p.119)


Monsieur Linh and His Child
by Philippe Claudel

UK Publication: April 2011, Maclehose Press

Buy this book from Book Depository

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Press Release Your Luck | Genre For Japan

I've had my differences with undisputed Queen of Twitter and erstwhile Floor-to-Ceiling Books blogger Amanda Rutter, here on TSS and elsewhere. No bones shall be made about those today, or ever again. I only mention them so that you understand, when I tell you I'm all the way with her on this, believe you me: I'm with her all the way on this.

Genre for Japan is... well, why I don't let Amanda tell you herself?

We’ve all heard the news and seen the horrific pictures coming from Japan in the aftermath of the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami – and no doubt we’ve all wondered how to help.
Following the example of Authors for Japan, where bids are now closed, we’d like to introduce Genre for Japan, a chance for the comics, science fiction, fantasy and horror communities to unite and show our generosity to those who need it right now.
We are planning to run auctions for genre-themed prizes and we need YOU to donate. We are looking for really fantastic prizes: examples might include signed first editions, coaching sessions with agents for that perfect submission letter or original artwork!
Some of the prizes already donated include a year's supply of books from Tor, signed artwork from Solaris Books and editing/critiques from professional authors and editors. 
The prizes will be auctioned on our website, through JustGiving, in aid of the British Red Cross Tsunami Appeal
If you have something really special to donate, please drop us a line at
including information such as a starting bid amount, a sentence or two about the item, and whether you wish to send the prize to a central collecting point or would be willing to post it to the winning bidder. Photos would also help us to list the item, if relevant. 
The deadline to receive offers of prizes is 25th March, with the auction set to begin on 28th March
Find out more information on our website: 
Follow us on twitter: @genreforjapan 
Or e-mail us at:

Of course there's rather a lot more to Genre for Japan than just our Amanda - respec' to each and every one of Jenni Hill, Louise Morgan, Ro Smith and Alasdair Stuart, not to mention all those who've donated - but I do believe Amanda spearheaded the initiative, and if I may be so bold, on behalf of the community haunting speculative fiction blogs like this very one:

Amanda Rutter, I salute you!

The auctions for Genre for Japan should begin here, in maybe ten minutes. Buy a few good books for a great cause; go on.

In fact, since I've missed the donation deadline, If it's alright with you and alright with Amanda, whoever spends the most between today and Sunday coming can have a few free books on me. Every little helps, I guess, and frankly I'm due a bit of a spring clean in any even. So drop me a line with your address, come the time, or demand Amanda do it, and we'll see what lovely proofs I can rustle up.

Now then. Go forth, my pretties, and bid!

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Books Received | The BoSS for 27/03/11

Met the old BoSS? Well, let me introduce you to the new BoSS - same as the old BoSS, more or less... except less is more. That's my story and I'm sticking to it!

All caught up? Good. Let's get on with it, then.

Could this week's lovelies make up the best bag of speculative swag ever? If you're asking me... I think they might just.


by China Mieville

Vital Statistics
Published in the UK
on 06/05/11
by Macmillan

Review Priority
5 (A Sure Thing)

The Blurb: Embassytown: a city of contradictions on the outskirts of the universe.

Avice is an immerser, a traveller on the immer, the sea of space and time below the everyday, now returned to her birth planet. Here on Arieka, humans are not the only intelligent life, and Avice has a rare bond with the natives, the enigmatic Hosts - who cannot lie.

Only a tiny cadre of unique human Ambassadors can speak Language, and connect the two communities. But an unimaginable new arrival has come to Embassytown. And when this Ambassador speaks, everything changes.

Catastrophe looms. Avice knows the only hope is for her to speak directly to the alien Hosts.

And that is impossible.

A Scotsman's Thoughts: Indeed. :)

This is the book I've been cagey about mentioning for the last little while. I've had my copy since the beginning of March, in fact, and though I was sworn to secrecy about it, under pain of quantum disintegration, we're only six weeks from release now, and no-one made me promise not to read Embassytown the second I got my grubby paws on it.

Long-time readers of TSS will know how much new China Mieville means to me. Me, and many, many others, of course. So I came to Embassytown with only my usual great expectations. Whether or not Mieville's first out-and-out sci-fi novel met them, or even exceeded them... why, we'll have a word as to that later this very week.

by Ian McDonald

Vital Statistics
Published in the UK
on 10/03/11
by Gollancz

Review Priority
4 (Pretty Bloody Likely)

The Blurb: In the Los Angeles ghetto of Necroville, the yearly celebration of the Night of the Dead - where the dead are resurrected through the miracle of nanotechnology and live their second lives as non-citizens - becomes a journey of discovery and revelation for five individuals on the run from their pasts. With his customary flair for making the bizarre both credible and fascinating, McDonald tosses aside the line of demarcation between living and dead in a story that confronts the central quandary of human existence: the essence of non-being.

A Scotsman's Thoughts: As if brand spanking new China Mieville wasn't enough to get my speculative panties in a bunch, along comes a novel by the great Ian McDonald... a novel I'd heard almost nothing about, oddly. Wondering why Necroville had met with so little fanfare, I asked the great Google, who pointed me towards the wondrous Wiki -- and it seems this isn't new Ian McDonald at all. Just a reissue of a 1994 novel.

Which isn't at all discouraging, in truth. I've been meaning to talk Ian McDonald since I started this blog, and though I was as stunned by The Dervish House as every other science-fiction fan, by the time I tried to set pen to paper (read: fingertips to wireless keyboard) to note down my thoughts, I was already too distant from the text to even approach the incredible reviews I'd seen elsewhere.

Not so with Necroville. About which I'll get a thing for TSS, hand to God.

The Death of Bunny Munroe
by Nick Cave

Vital Statistics
Published in the UK
on 03/09/09
by Canongate

Review Priority
3 (We'll See)

The Blurb: Following the suicide of his wife, Bunny, a door-to-door salesman and lothario, takes his son on a trip along the south coast of England. He is about to discover that his days are numbered.

With a daring hellride of a plot, The Death of Bunny Munro is also a modern morality tale of sorts, a stylish, furious, funny, truthful and tender account of one man's descent and judgement. Full of the linguistic verve that has made Cave one of the world's most respected lyricists, it is his first novel since the publication of his critically acclaimed debut And the Ass Saw the Angel twenty years ago.

A Scotsman's Thoughts: Now this has been an idle curiosity of mine for years. Apparently "Cave writes novels like he does lyrics, with strokes of blood and sulphur and lightning," and as a long-standing Nick Cave fan - of his music with The Bad Seeds, and equally the wonderful scripts he's written for film, which if The Death of Bunny Munro (to which critical reaction has been divisive to put it politely) even approaches, I'll be pleased.

Not a review copy, incidentally; a gift from my other half for my birthday earlier in March. I'd have told you guys at the time, but you'd only have gone and made a fuss, and the older I get, the more I feel like the less fuss, the better.

The Ritual
by Adam Nevill

Vital Statistics
Published in the UK
on 06/05/11
by Pan

Review Priority
5 (A Sure Thing)

The Blurb: And on the third day things did not get better. The rain fell hard and cold, the white sun never broke through the low grey cloud, and they were lost. But it was the dead thing they found hanging from a tree that changed the trip beyond recognition.

When four old University friends set off into the Scandinavian wilderness of the Arctic Circle, they aim to briefly escape the problems of their lives and reconnect with one another. But when Luke, the only man still single and living a precarious existence, finds he has little left in common with his well-heeled friends, tensions rise.

With limited fitness and experience between them, a shortcut meant to ease their hike turns into a nightmare scenario that could cost them their lives. Lost, hungry, and surrounded by forest untouched for millennia, Luke figures things couldn’t possibly get any worse.

But then they stumble across an old habitation. Ancient artefacts decorate the walls and there are bones scattered upon the dry floors. The residue of old rites and pagan sacrifice for something that still exists in the forest. Something responsible for the bestial presence that follows their every step. And as the four friends stagger in the direction of salvation, they learn that death doesn’t come easy among these ancient trees...

A Scotsman's Thoughts: Did someone mention the Arctic?

Well, I'm in then. From the author who showed us round Apartment 16, along comes The Ritual, which sounds right up my alley: Dark Matter meets The Blair Witch Project, which the haters can hate if it helps them sleep at night, somehow -- it's still among my very favourite films.

On the other hand, though I enjoyed Apartment 16 (see here) I did find some of it a touch distracted, and the end rather a dampener on things. Nonetheless, I'm really looking forward to finding some time for The Ritual in the not-too-distant.

by Veronica Roth

Vital Statistics
Published in the UK
on 28/04/11
by HarperCollins Children's

Review Priority
2 (It Could Happen)

The Blurb: In sixteen-year-old Beatrice Prior’s world, society is divided into five factions – Abnegation (the selfless), Candor (the honest), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent) – each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue, in the attempt to form a “perfect society.” At the age of sixteen, teens must choose the faction to which they will devote their lives.

On her Choosing Day, Beatrice renames herself Tris, rejects her family’s group, and chooses another faction. After surviving a brutal initiation, Tris finds romance with a super-hot boy, but also discovers unrest and growing conflict in their seemingly perfect society. To survive and save those they love, they must use their strengths to uncover the truths about their identities, their families, and the order of their society itself.

A Scotsman's Thoughts: And so, to the only one of this week's books I don't want to put everything down and read immediately.

It could happen, I guess - but if I'm honest, probably not. Because I'm afraid you don't get to mention a "super-hot boy" in your story synopsis and expect anyone to take you seriously. Ah well; otherwise, Divergent might have been a half-decent rip-off of The Hunger Games. Certainly I'd have been intrigued to hear where Veronica Roth takes the five factions from the blurb.

I wonder: do you think the amount of people put off by the mention of said "super-hot boy" is larger or smaller than the folks who'll read Divergent precisely because of it?


That's it for this week. But never fear: the nearly-new and probably only moderately improved BoSS will be back at the same bat-time next week, in the same bat-place. See you then!

What will I be reading next, then? Well, since I'm down with Embassytown already... Necroville or The Ritual, at a guess. I'll toss a coin. Not Divergent; that's a pinky-swear you can expect me to keep. :P

But what books do you have on your bedside table at the moment, if I might ask?

Saturday, 26 March 2011

A Death In The Family | Diana Wynne Jones (1934 - 2011)

More sad news today. The very worst.

Via Neil Gaiman's Twitter, it seems Diana Wynne Jones has died, after a long battle with lung cancer. A children's author held in high regard by anyone with a lick of sense about them, she had a good, long innings, publishing - what? 50-odd books? And every one a delight...

Bad enough Brian Jacques passed on a little while back. He and Diana Wynne Jones were two of the authors I held closest to my heart, both back when I was a sprog and far beyond. Howl's Moving Castle and Castle in the Air in particular were reading experiences I'll never forget.

Feels like my childhood is fading faster every day, damn it.


Diana Wynne Jones was a fantastic author and a lovely lady, by all accounts. She was 76 years old when the end came, and I'm sure she'll be sorely missed.

I'm going to celebrate her life the only way I know how. Every other book on the To Be Read tower can take a raincheck; having procrastinated about it for more than a year, I'm putting everything else on hold to read Enchanted Glass this week.

Please, do join in if you're able. You can buy a copy here if you haven't already.

Or else, if you've some fond reminiscence about Diana Wynne Jones, or her work, it'd do all our hearts good if you cared to share in the comments.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Quoth the Scotsman | Jon Courtenay Grimwood on Reinventing the Wheel

A couple of caveats to bear in mind before we start. Unless otherwise indicated, none of the quotes quoted in the following article are representative of the beliefs of the person in question quoted nor those the person quoting the person in question. Additionally, any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental... or so I'm saying.

In short, Quoth the Scotsman is just a space here on TSS for me to post neat quotes as and when I come across them. Simple. As. That.


It's not often I go from loathing to loving or loving to loathing, and in truth, though it did in the early going rather try my patience, I was never less than admiring of The Fallen Blade. There was, however, a moment in John Courtenay Grimwood's spectactularly dark first fantasy which served to turn my opinion completely on its head.

This isn't it.

What this is, in lieu of that, is an addendum of sorts to the glowing review I put up yesterday; a non-spoilery quote from the The Fallen Blade which speaks to so much of what I came to admire - indeed adore - about this inspired, and thickly political riff on Assassin's Creed.

For those of you who remain on the fence, then:

There were two tides a day. A low and a high. The first matter neither here nor there to those in the pit, who were removed from the festering mud banks of Venice's edges, and the stink of sour water, as backstreet canals revealed rubbish, puddles and the occasional corpse with every ebbing tide.

The second tide did concern them.

At high tide, lagoon water flowed along ditches, for a few minutes to as much as an hour, and splashed into the oubliette below. One day's tide left half the central island still exposed. Two days' drowned it, but left prisoners able to stand. Three days' killed those unable to swim. Only by constantly working the pump could everyone stay alive. Exquisite cruelty. Hard work for the sake of it. More than this, it stopped prisoners trying to escape. You worked the wheel; slept, woke and worked again. No one was allowed to slack. The oubliette was self-controlling, self-containing. 

In it, Tycho saw Serenissima. 

The varied councils, the courts within courts, the Arsenalotti at war with the Nicoletti, the cittadini jealous of the patricians, the patricians divided into old house and new, rich and poor. no one in Venice got off the wheel. 

Beyond the city, Serenissima's colonies fed the capital, the Venetian navy fought the Mamluk pirates; the Moors allied themselves with whoever the Mamluks opposed. The Germans offered support, claiming Byzantium was Serenissima's greatest threat. The Byzanties claimed the German emperor's ambition was a greater threat and offered support in turn. Timur's Mongols conquered ever larger slices of the world, threatening to recreate the sprawling empire of his hero Genghis Khan. 

And the wheel went round and round and round...

Oh, yes. Ye gods yes...

So who's going to give The Fallen Blade a shot? And who's read it already?

Marching Orders | Watch Fringe Tonight or Forever Hold Your Peace

I was halfway through writing a bit about Fringe when the news broke that it'd been renewed.

Here's the bit, as was:

"So I'm just a Scotsman with a thing for speculative fiction. In the grander scheme of things, however handy you guys might find the reviews I write, or any of the rest of it... I don't really matter a whole lot. My little opinion pony isn't going to change the world.

"Certainly American network television execs could give a happy hootenanny what I have to say. I could beg and I could plead, for all the difference it'd make. Perhaps I'd stand a better chance of convincing a few TSS readers to do, in turn, what they can. So.

"To those of you in a position to make even the tiniest bit of difference tonight, which is to say you lucky Americans: please. Watch Fringe tonight. If you're already watching, take +10 internet cred, and so much the better; instead, if you're able, make sure everyone you can shame into an hour of television they might otherwise take or leave is watching Fringe tonight.

"Because after bowing so strongly its first week back from hiatus, demoted though it had been to the Friday night network television death slot, Fringe has been on a downwards spiral since, sliding further and ever further down the ratings rabbit hole. Till last week, when fewer people than have ever watched Fringe before bothered to tune in..."

But just when I thought Fringe was out, or as near as dammit, they pulled it back in!

Good for them. Fox: I salute you.

However, I'm not so sure this is quite what Fringe needs, either. What Fringe needs is a renewal along the lines of that which Lost received when its mid-series ratings struggle threatened to shut the production down. Two seasons of 16 episodes, say. Just so we can be sure we'll hear this tale told right through to the bitter end.

But you know, Fox just bought another year of my favourite currently airing TV show; I should be over the effing moon. I am, a bit. I'd just as soon not feel all this all over again next year... same time, same place. You know?

Still and all. Three cheers! :D

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Book Review | The Fallen Blade by Jon Courtenay Grimwood

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Venice, 1407.

The city is at the height of its powers. In theory, Duke Marco commands, but Marco is a simpleton so his aunt and uncle rule in his stead. They seem all powerful, yet live in fear of assassins better than their own.

On the night their world changes, Marco's young cousin prays in the family chapel for deliverance from a forced marriage. It is her misfortune to be alone when Mamluk pirates break in to abduct her - an act that will ultimately trigger war.

Elsewhere Atilo, the Duke's chief assassin, cuts a man's throat. Hearing a noise, he turns back to find a boy drinking from the victim's wound. The speed with which the angel-faced boy dodges his dagger and scales a wall stuns Atilo. He knows then he must hunt him. Not to kill him, but because he's finally found what he thought was impossible - someone fit to be his apprentice.

There's enough going on in the first hundred pages of The Fallen Blade that I honestly had trouble keeping track; enough character, atmosphere and narrative in that short space to fit out a swathe of less ambitious fantasy sagas from top to tail. Overwhelming is what it is, initially, and for its density - for its complete and utter abundance from the word "go" - The Fallen Blade will very likely haemorrhage readers of a certain type. For myself, only rarely will I think to put a book down without sticking with it till the bitter end... and I nearly did this. Nearly... but not quite.

Imagine my astonishment, then, that having resolved to give Jon Courtenay Grimwood's dark fantasy debut a little longer to find its feet, and taken the opportunity to realign a few of my own key expectations, I found in The Fallen Blade the first act of a trilogy with such tremendous promise that at this point, its difficult beginning be damned, I wouldn't hesitate to proclaim it the finest new series of the year to date.

Perhaps the problem I found myself facing, starting in on book one of The Assassini, was a lack of familiarity with the author: an award-winner, at that. And here I hadn't read End of the World Blues, or The Arabesk Trilogy -- more fool me, from where I stand now.

But I don't think that was it.

I think the trouble was, I came to The Fallen Blade expecting a certain standard of fantasy -- which is to say, politely put, standard fantasy. We all know the like, no doubt. And what with the uninspiring blurb and cover art adorning Orbit's edition of The Fallen Bladeit's surely fair to say I had my reasons. Namely a city teetering on the brink of collapse, with a war in the offing, a history of horrors and a proliferation of political strife. Want to bet a pretty boy with incredible supernatural powers will somehow save the day?

Well, not so much.

Tycho - he of the aforementioned angel face (p.43) - is assuredly our protagonist for the macabre entertainments to come throughout the remainder of this stunning introduction to the world of The Assassini, but let's be clear here: he's no sweet cheeks, despite sharing a name (somewhat distractingly) with one half of renowned internet funmongers Penny Arcade. Either a fallen angel or a risen devil, Tycho is at the outset of The Fallen Blade as new to the filthy 15th century Venice of Grimwood's trilogy as you and I; and as new to himself, too, for he's an amnesiac when we meet, only lately freed from a voyage to the city spent in cruel and unusual captivity. Or so one gathers.

You might think his gradual awakening, both to who he is and to the festering wonders of the world around him, would work as an ideal means of introducing the reader to this "city of gilt, glass and assassinations," (p.28) and so it serves to... eventually. But in the early going this is assuredly not that sort of novel. Much in the mode of the hard SF this author cut his teeth on, Grimwood courageously refuses to pander; his priorities at the outset of The Assassini are of a grander order than the offering up of accessible worldbuilding and an array of relatable characters. Inevitably, readers used to the baby's-first-fantasy chaperoning of so many genre novels will find themselves floundering for a foothold through the first act of The Fallen Blade. For me, my own frustrations are evidence enough of that disheartening fact.

But I wouldn't change it if I could. Grimwood might make you work for it - for an understanding of this murderous, Machiavellian society wherein "the briefest glimpse of lovers, seen through the window of a candlelit room overlooking the Grand Canal, carried more interest than prices murdered on Venetian orders miles away," (p.145) check your undivided attention in at the entrance - but the end result of all your effort is a red-wine rich and resplendent sight; a measured assault on the senses which only a precious few fantasists are capable of accomplishing in fiction.

The Fallen Blade is many things, and if there's any justice in the publishing industry - and I dearly hope there is - it will be many things to many people. At first, it's hard work; I make no bones about that. Having come to fantasy only after sharpening his storytelling skills as a science fiction author, working in a field esteemed for its intelligence and density, Jon Courtenay Grimwood's prose in The Fallen Blade is so finely honed as to seem a point... a point which some readers will struggle to see past. But at the last, The Fallen Blade is a darkly remarkable first fantasy, featuring goodly amounts of sex, death and other assorted grimnesses, set in a squalorous city the equal of Styria - from fellow filth slash fine art purveyor Joe Abercrombie's Best Served Cold - and starring in Tycho a character handily up to the task of carrying a thickly political narrative with such boundless ambition as to recall no-one more than George R. R. Martin.

It really is quite good, shall we say.


The Fallen Blade
by Jon Courtenay Grimwood

UK Publication: February 2011, Orbit
US Publication: January 2011, Orbit

Buy this book from /
IndieBoundThe Book Depository

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