Book reviews - 2021

Another year, another list..





Book
Comments
Score (out of 10)
First book in the Dark Materials trilogy, re-reading it after some considerable time, and as a result of the (truly excellent) second series of the BBC television series having just finished. The re-read reminds me why I am in awe of Pullman's genius as a storyteller - he is right up there with Tolkien, Lewis and JK as far as I am concerned for his imaginative powers, and his ability to pull an entire alternative universe from his head...  so in this book we are first introduced to Lyra, the foundling child living with the scholars at Oxford university and we begin to discover her start in life, her parents (no spoilers for those that haven't read the books) and the alternative England that she lives in where people soul's are external to their body and in animal/bird form. This book deals almost solely with the search for "dust" a mystical substance that surrounds everyone and everything, but is not viewable under normal vision. It also introduces us to the Magisterium, a church like total authority that brings to mind the Catholic Church of the Inquisition period crossed with the 3rd Reich (!). Bring in armoured bears, witches, cliff ghasts, and an aeronaut with his own balloon facing off against gas engined airships and this is an awesome book..  my first 10+ of the year
10+
Straight into the second book - Lyra's battle against the Authority continues and she gains an ally in the form of Will, a troubled young man from our world, who discovers an opening into a city in another world - this city is haunted by spectres that feed off the souls of any adults so the sole remaining inhabitants are children. They then discover about the knife after Lyra's alethiometer is stolen while visiting Will's world. For its return they are told to steal the knife..  when they do that however they discover that the knife has phenomenal power and strength - not the least being the ability to cut windows between worlds..  no plot spoilers, but the book ends with Lyra and Will about to enter the world of the dead in search of Will's father, and Lyra's long lost friend. an ABSOLUTE page turner...
10
With Will and Lyra searching the world of the dead, at the same time Asriels war against the authority has kicked off with both sides gathering allies in all the thousands and millions of coexistent worlds. The Magisterium send an assassin after Lyra, but they survive to provide critical assistance to Asriel in the final battle. Meanwhile, a character we first met in the second book (Mary Malone - a researcher at the Oxford University of our world) also finds a window, and arrives in the world of the Mulefa (a kind of tapir/elephant cross that move around on wheels made from seed pods - and I can't wait to see how the BBC show that!) and there discovers the Amber spyglass which allows her to see dust for the first time, and an ecological disaster in the making. Stunning...
10
You know how it is when you get in to a groove with a series, be it book or box set, you just want to carry on with the thing until the end and so it was when I finished the Amber Spyglass I thought it might be time for a change and was all set to read the new Osprey Campaign on "Malpaquet" but have set it aside in favour of the next series of the Dark Materials project - albeit in this case chronologically the book deals with the difficult beginnings of Lyra the heroine of the Dark Materials series..  quite topical, as the book deals with the aftermaths of a huge flood, and how the newly born Lyra, no more than a baby, is rescued by Malcolm Polstead and his friend Alice from the floods, and from enemies who wish to see her killed or imprisoned..  we are introduced to Gerald Bonneville and his hideous three legged hyena daemon, the alethiometer, faeries, treachery, and a daring rescue..  brilliant..
9
Cut forward in time and this book deals with a Lyra in her early 20's..  but a much diminished Lyra, a quite sad Lyra though she wouldn't agree. She is now an undergraduate student at college, but slowly and surely she is losing her optimism and outlook - her imagination as her daemon Pan calls it. she is at odds with her daemon - they have been able to separate since the events of the Amber Spyglass, but now the guilt is beginning to corrode. Pan leaves her to travel and find her imagination so they can be as they were, and after moves by the Magisterium to hunt her down (the reappearance - in a way - of an old enemy from the Belle Sauvage) Lyra goes on the run, and in search of Pan.  I cannot wait for the third volume...  simply stunning...
10
Straight into the next Maigret then to banish the "end of a good book blues" and what a delight..  Maigret is asked by an old professional friend to help with the investigation into a murder affecting the friends family. They family lives in a small village in the Vendee, they are high in the local society, a squire, and the village as a whole closes down on the outsider, Maigret..  who wheedles out the truth in the end...  claustrophobic and wonderful...
8
A man with a wooden leg is found murdered, living in his brand new house on a new estate.. it is the dream retirement location, each house with it's own small garden, neatly laid out - but this one has Felicie as his housekeeper, and she is not talking, and when she does you never know whether it is the truth or not...  Maigret is alternatively enraged, puzzled, and enamoured of her, as he again wheedles out the truth of how peg leg was killed, and why, and who by..  reeks of French tobacco, wine, and coffee..  lovely
8
. .
A recent publication that caught my eye the moment it was announced.. I was hoping for something a little more than this book actually delivered...  it's not a bad book, far from it, as a campaign resource it is beyond compare good, but it is also exceedingly dull comprising as it does mostly just a long list of numbers and dates - casualty returns, muster returns, dates and transports...  bit disappointed really, some of it was good, but I had hoped to find a little bit more about the human side... even the uniform illustrations were a little "meh"..
6
After the Osprey on the Hessians, this was an order of magnitude different and better - brilliant book describing the background to the (re) formation of the light troops in the British army of the American War of Independence (after their successful use in the SYW and eventual decline/disbanding after the war completed) - their ideology, tactics, skills, weaponry, organisation and uniforms...  brilliant, and has made me reconsider a few elements of my AWI rules!
9
A valiant effort to try and explain what is a HUGELY complex subject, and no I'm still not clear! So from what I can tell - every region of the Ottoman Empire had it's own unique troop types, the functions of which were specific to the area in which they were located (would have been fairly useless to have a largely cavalry force in the mountains for example), and the names of which are very complicated and difficult to remember... the Janissaries (coming to the end of their period of control) and Mamelukes appear, along with a host of peasant militia types, and a much smaller number of regulars trained in both traditional and modern methods... you'd need a book five or ten times the size to get a clear idea.. so a good attempt..  9 (for effort)
I was late getting to this - stupidly. Bought it on the recommendation of one of the bloggerati (apologies, forget who) but it is fantastic and unashamedly recommended for people with an interest in the English Civil War(s) or indeed early black powder warfare...  aimed specifically at the Royalist army the book is in the form of a number of self contained chapters, almost essays, about various aspects of the army, so after a brief introduction to the background of the war there are chapters on infantry/cavalry/artillery/dragoons and logistics - in the second part he deals with some specific organisations and campaigns - I particularly enjoyed the chapter on the Cornish foot (for me almost as stirring as the Wild Geese in French service), the Northern horse (I'd like to have gone out for a beer with them), the Irish army, sieges, even Royalist women...  I need to do some research to see if he did a similar book on Parliament as it would be a must have...  very good..
10
. Sir Thomas Blackstone returns - still serving as Henry's (the Black Prince) "master of war" and in this episode trying to navigate the intricacies of Hundred Years War politics, the shifting allegiances, and the demands of his Prince. Blackstone is given the job of protecting King Pedro of Castille - a thoroughly unpleasant character - who is facing attacks from the Moors to his south in conjunction with a French financed mercenary force from the east...  tense stuff...
8
First in a new series by the author of the (excellent) Robin Hood series, and I was left feeling a little "meh" as the young people say. The basis is good, it's the story of a young guy who happens to be what the Norse would call a berserker - an honest to goodness shield biter..  the story is OK, but the characters are a little one dimensional, as are the historical and emotional events (mostly). I just felt it was all a bit "shallow"...  I finished it, but it wasn't one of those books you really look forward to picking up at the end of each day...
7
The same author as the Thomas Blackstone series but set in the modern period...   as expected the action is gritty and compelling and I was reminded more than once (in a good way) how this compares with Forsythe at his best..  The Englishman is the nom de guerre of Raglan, ex-Foreign Legion, special forces, and a freelance sometimes used by British security when they need to do something where there is no come back. When an old friend is kidnapped and then murdered, he is pulled back into an old operation that had seen him invalided out of the Legion - suffice to say that to get revenge he ends up breaking into a Russian gulag.. cracking stuff, real old style thriller, loved it..
9
Maigret has retired (I am not sure if Penguin published the books chronologically, or whether this is a feature of the way Simenon wrote) but is dragged back in to harness by the visit if a formidable old lady who wishes him to investigate the supposed suicide of her grand daughter..  Maigret returns to his Parisian haunts, and is assisted by his old detective team to uncover the secret of what was actually behind the death.. there are a couple of descriptive sections in the book where Simenon describes Maigret entering his favourite bar for beer and sandwiches, and you can almost smell it..  superb.. 8
. .
. . .
. . .
. . .
. . .
. . .
. . .
. . .

No comments:

Post a comment