Friday, 16 September 2011

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

So, I've read another Robin Hood book.  I'm rather fond of Robin Hood, and it's really interesting to look at all the different varieties of stories there are about him.  I love how he, and other central characters, can be subtly or significantly recast, depending on the author, and how the incidents chosen and the era used to set the story in all alter the books to make many of them quite distinct.

This one, by Simon Green, is definitely one of the better versions I've read.  I like the opening, with Robin in prison in the Holy Land, breaking out with the aid of a Saracen, only to return home and find his father executed for devil worship and his house burned down.  I'm not entirely sure whether there was still much paganism in England at this point, but it does make a good addition to the story, and unlike in Angus MacDonald's 'Outlaw', Robin isn't involved in it at all.

All the characters you'd expect are there, from the evil Sheriff to Robin, Friar Tuck, Little John (in this one married and with children, which I don't recall seeing in the others, or at least, not as a major plot point), and with the addition of Azeem the Saracen who's vowed to remain by Robin's side until he can save his life and thus redeem himself of that debt.  Azeem may be in one of the other versions I've read, but not as a major character like in this one.

It's a good read, there's plenty of action, stirring defences of liberty, and of course the romance between Robin Hood and Maid Marion, which isn't made a great deal of.  Also, Maid Marion is nice and competent, which is always good :)

My only criticism is that it felt a bit short, and the ending almost read as if the author had been ordered to keep it under a certain word count, and had to rapidly cram in the last few bits of action in order to meet the target.  Other than that, it was certainly an enjoyable version of the legend.

Dragon Haven

(Slight note, unrelated: I've just started using the new interface, not entirely convinced by it.  So if this post doesn't work/looks weird/does strange things, that's why...)

This is the second book in Robin Hobb's most recent trilogy, and it's really good.  Meant I did absolutely no work for an entire day as I just lay on my bed and read this book.  I blame the person who kindly leant it to me.  I was meant to be doing uni work.  Actually, I'm meant to be doing uni work now as well, but as you can see, that's not happening.

While I've read a lot of fantasy since I first started reading Robin Hobb, I think her novels remain my favourite fantasy.  They're just so rich and detailed, so intensely real and so magically other.

Dragon Haven continues the tale of the crippled dragons and their keepers as they hunt for the mythical city the dragons sort of remember.  Romance, intrigue and the struggle to survive all give the novel depth, coupled by the wonderful missives by carrier pigeon that appear at the start of each new section, giving you character by proxy.  I love those bits, it's a really intriguing idea, to show how much (and how little) you can discover about these two characters by the notes on the edges of official post.

The dragons go stronger as they travel, and the people, cast-offs for the most part, along with a silent liveship and his tough captain, a trader lady indulging her dream of learning about the dragons and her attendant who doesn't want to be there, also grow and develop.  It's a brilliant cast, and you find yourself caring intensely about the characters.  Loved it, from start to finish.

This is definitely a recommended read, though it's worth reading the first, Dragon Keeper, first (and preferably sooner before this than I did), and you'll need plenty of time to set aside because you won't be able to put it down.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

The Last Christian

When the daughter of a missionary couple emerges from the jungle, her entire village dead, it is to find a totally different world to that her parents told her about.  America has become completely secularised--preaching any sort of religion is seen as a hate crime, nobody seems to believe in God any more.  Not only that, but people have implants in their brain, and the first brain transfusions, replacing the human brain with an artificial one, apparently identical, are just beginning.  Abby receives a message from her grandparents: both of them dreamt that she would be the one to reintroduce Christianity to America.  But it seems an impossible task.

Invited to appear on a well-watched morning tv show, Abby speaks out about her faith, and then receives numerous threats, and will be prosecuted for inciting hatred unless she leaves the country.  But she's determined not to give up her mission, and a social historian, Deighton, decides that he'll help.  She is, after all, a fascinating cultural specimen, a survival from a past world.  Finding out what makes her tick could give him a huge insight into the 'religionists'.  Trouble is, there's a problem with brain transplants, and Abby has been given a clue to it.

Great characters, and an intriguing take on the future, this is a brilliant sci-fi/thriller novel.  I've passed it on to my mum to enjoy.  And even if you don't care about God, you have to admit that the potential to live forever would change everything.  If humans no longer die, there is no need for an afterlife.  But how would society adapt to an eternal population?


I was browsing through Fantastic Fiction, looking at new authors (as you do, when you really can't face doing any more uni work and it's the holiday so there's not a whole lot to do), and happened to spot this one.  The cover, I confess, grabbed my attention.  Let's face it, we all judge books by their covers, or you'd never be able to make a decision about what you wanted to read.  Anyway, clicking on it, I discovered that this was based on an old English legend I'd never heard of...  Well, as a great lover of Robin Hood (I'm up to six different interpretations of it at the moment, with another on the way from ebay), I thought it was well worth a go.

Ah, before I go any further, I should perhaps say this version is by James Wilde, and should be easy enough to distinguish from others as it seems to be the only recent one.

Anyway, this is a fascinating read.  I'm going to be doing the period in which it's set next year at uni (and I can't wait!), so it was interesting from that perspective.  The sources from that period are so scanty that you can basically make up what you will, but it did feel fairly solidly based.  I'm not an expert yet, probably never will be an expert expert, but I would hope I'll know a bit more this time next year.

Hereward is a brilliant hero, though not without his flaws and darker side, and I love the monk, Alric, who becomes his constant companion after a chance meeting.  Alric is also portrayed very sympathetically, which often isn't the case with churchmen in historical novels (you only have to look at Angus Donald's version of Robin Hood, called Outlaw, which has a horrendous priest).  Mind, the early church is not completely safe from attack.  A rich cast of characters, and a great 'feel' to the story keep it compelling, along with some great sword play and action scenes.  I'll definitely be keeping my eye out not just for anything else by James Wilde (this is a debut novel, but he's definitely left space for a sequel--perhaps a Hereward trilogy is in the making?) but also anything else about Hereward.  The story's brilliant, and I love the fact that Hereward isn't portrayed as perfect, and also the way the story manages to cover a fairly long time span without feeling contrived.

This is a fantastic book, I thoroughly recommend it.  Rescues a great hero from obscurity (or reinvents a great hero), and provides a brilliant adventure/historical novel too.