Monthly Archives: May 2016

Review: The Wheel of Osheim by Mark Lawrence

I think I made it pretty clear in my review of The Liar’s Key that I’m a fan of Mark Lawrence. That being the case, it’s difficult to remain objective. I’ve been excited to read The Wheel of Osheim ever since I turned the last page in The Liar’s Key, and I was fortunate enough to be given an Advanced Reader Copy – cutting short that wait by several weeks. There’s a danger with such anticipation that expectations might be raised to unattainable levels.

And yet Mark Lawrence’s writing manages to attain them anyway.

wheel of oshiem

Now thoroughly swept up in the great events of the empire, womaniser and coward Prince Jalan continues to find himself pulled this way and that by his friends, the manipulations of his royal grandmother, and his own desires. But as the boundaries between worlds decay, the Dead King has more power to send against Jalan to try to seize the Liar’s Key. Jalan’s keen sense of self-preservation and his desires drive him onwards, until there’s nowhere left to go but the titular Wheel – a mysterious force around which the barrier between worlds is thinnest and a man’s fears can take physical form.

The Wheel of Osheim is packed with danger and darkness, yet manages to alleviate it with Jalan’s witty self-aware narrative. There is a depth to the darkness in the world of the Broken Empire, where necromancers can make powerful weapons from murdered babies and raise fallen soldiers to fight against their own comrades. The humour is therefore much-needed, and well-judged.

In this final volume of the Red Queen’s War trilogy, Jalan’s personality is given more depth. For all his self-awareness about his cowardice and vices, he is slowly revealed to have a touching blind spot. His continued refusal to see this even through his own narration of the story shows Lawrence’s skill in portraying the human condition. And as the threat against the Empire becomes inescapable, Jalan comes to accept the duties he has spent most of his life avoiding. In The Liar’s Key, Jalan found selfish reasons to do the right thing; now, when self-preservation is reason enough, he finds himself acting out of duty. He’s grown, little by little.

One again Lawrence has triumphed in creating a compelling tale full of magic, danger and unpredictable twists and turns. He ends the trilogy with a fittingly spectacular conclusion – one which, in what is becoming a tradition with Mark Lawrence’s books, saw me reading far into the small hours of the morning on a work night. Again.

It is with no reservations whatsoever therefore that I rate The Wheel of Osheim 10/10.

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2016 reading update, May

I’m nearly half way through the year now – and it feels like it’s gone very quickly. But so has my reading, so I’m well ahead of target. I have read 17 books so far, which beats my total for the whole of 2015.

The list so far

In my previous updates I have discussed the following:

  1. Cadfael: Monk’s Hood, by Ellis Peters (Edith Parteger)
  2. Cadfael: St Peter’s Fair, by Ellis Peters (Edith Parteger)
  3. Key Under Blue Pot and Please Milk the Goat, by Marie Sever
  4. Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier
  5. Cadfael: The Leper of St Giles, by Ellis Peters (Edith Parteger)
  6. The Fire Mages’ Daughter by Pauline M Ross
  7. Cadfael: The Virgin in the Ice by Ellis Peters (Edith Parteger)
  8. The Mages of Bennamore by Pauline M Ross
  9. The A to Z of You and Me by James Hannah
  10. The Plains of Kallanash by Pauline M Ross
  11. The Magic Mines of Asharim by Pauline M Ross

Recent reads

12. The Morville Hours by Katherine Swift

This is a non-fiction book about the development of a garden from a field to the beautiful selection of settings it now is, all mixed in with local history and history of the house it is connected to, some history of British Christianity, and a little bit of autobiography too. It’s a well-written and fascinating book, and it was easy to follow even for someone like me, who can’t keep a basil plant alive in the kitchen window. Swift has really done her research. And when her garden was open as part of May Day celebrations two weeks ago, I went to visit it (it’s only a short drive away from me), got the book signed and bought the second one, The Morville Year.

13. The Wheel of Osheim by Mark Lawrence

How could I read in April that which isn’t to be released until June? I got an Advanced Review Copy. And Review it I shall, soon. But not here.

14. Echoes of the Great Song by David Gemmell

I read Gemmell a lot from when I was about 17 to about when I was 21, by which point there were very few of his books I hadn’t read. This was one of them. I found it in the library while looking for something else and of course had to read it. I found it a little difficult to get into at first – there are a lot of terms and concepts to get to grips with – but once it had got going I enjoyed the way the story developed, which Gemmell’s characterstic cast of moral greys fighting against the moral black standing against them.

15. The Dragon’s Egg by Pauline M Ross

I recieved an ARC of this book and reviewed it here. It’s one that has lingered in my mind, where I still think of the ending and the points earlier in the book that foreshadow it. Absolutely masterful.

16. The Reverse of the Medal by Patrick O’Brian

and

17. The Letter of Marque by Patrick O’Brian

Finally I have got back to this fantastic series. I love reading about Captain Jack Aubrey and Doctor Stephen Maturin and their various adventures and escapades on land and sea. They are written in quite a different style and with a different approach to most novels, which is refreshing. The voices of the characters come through wonderfully strongly, and it really feels like I’m reading about the lives of real people, with their marital concerns, financial troubles and all. The concept of a plot as charted and diagrammed on various writing forums seems rigid and ritualised compared to the more fluid, more life-like sequence of events of O’Brian’s books.

As happens surprisingly often, I finished one and bought the next immediately. They seem to come in pairs, one ending abruptly on a low or neutral point, with questions of how the protagonists might recover, the second ending on a high point that feels more natural an ending. I was, as I finished reading The Letter of Marque, laughing out loud at every second paragraph, as much because of the humour (the subtle humour that comes about as a result of knowing these characters well and recognising when they are fooling themselves) as because of the general sense of happiness on which the book ended.

Up next

I’ve got a library book that needs to go back soon: The Errant Hours by Kate Innes, an historical fiction novel set in nearby Much Wenlock, another one I sought as part of my “read local” aims, but which seems to be within my normal reading patterns too, with a setting not too dissimilar to the Cadfael books. So that’s next.

I shall shortly be posting my review of The Wheel of Osheim by Mark Lawrence, and I’d quite like to look back over the previous books of the trilogy to remind myself of them and perhaps have a few more things to say about the first two books without restricting myself to a spoiler-free review.

 

A response to Graeme Whiting, the fantasy-hating headteacher

A number of the national UK newspapers have reported on a particular blog post from Graeme Whiting, the head teacher of an independant school in Gloucestershire, called The Imagination of a Child. In this post, Whiting rails against the alleged tendency of modern parents to allow their children to read inappropriate fiction.

I will not go into detail on the irrelevance of his account of his own school life, which he mentions but fails to tie into his point. Nor will I explore the message he has about therapy and mental illness, being as I have no interest or expertise in it. I will only say that I very much doubt Whiting’s expertise on such subjects exceeds my own.

On what Whiting has to say about fantasy, however, I have a great deal to say in response.

Continue reading A response to Graeme Whiting, the fantasy-hating headteacher

Review: The Dragon’s Egg by Pauline M Ross

The Dragon’s Egg is the sixth book in the Brightmoon Annals by Pauline M Ross. Like its predecessors it stands alone, introducing a new cast of characters and bringing in a few from previous books to help the protagonists along. As with the previous books, this latest fantasy adventure explores the strange magics of the Brightmoon world, and how the civilisation from before a mysterious ancient Catastrophe sought to preserve magic as they faced down their own extinction.

Disclaimer: I recieved an ARC (Advanced Reader/Review Copy) of this book in exchange for an honest review.

dragons egg

Continue reading Review: The Dragon’s Egg by Pauline M Ross

Progress Report: One Million Words, April 2016

In spite of Camp NaNoWriMo, my wordcounts did not go up during April. I wrote a total of 19,060 words, for an average of 635.3 words per day – slightly below March’s average. Still, it was nice to have others to chat to about writing.

At the end of April my total stood at 194,218/1,000,000 – 19.4%. I’m not far now from my next hundred thousand words.

Horrible Monster

I have continued to work on Horrible Monster every single day in April. I am becoming more focused on this now, particularly in the last week. Although some days it feels a bit like I’m writing filler, stalling while I work out where I’m going, for the main part things are moving forward at a good pace. I’m getting more deeply into the various plot lines now.

A problem I am consistently coming across is rushing ahead where I know answers but where it does not fit the plot to get to that point just yet. A few times in April I wrote scenes in which I revealed more or advanced the plot further than I was happy with, so ended up striking out paragraphs or even pages at a time and starting from an earlier point. (Though the words are still counted, for the purposes of my challenge – after all I did write them.)

I think I’m getting better at that now, though. It happened more earlier in the month.

On looming peaks

The only other thing I have written this month is the poem I posted a little over a week ago, plus a couple of haiku. I’ve been sharing the poem widely, reading it out to my friends (in particular those who went with me to Builth Wells for the wool festival). I’ll definitely be looking out for other opportunities to write more poetry.

I found that imitating the meter and other aspects of an already published poem – On Wenlock Edge by A E Housman – was helpful in giving me a framework to then insert the words and story of my own poem, so in the near future I anticipate taking a similar approach. Learning to walk before I try to run.

May’s plans

Going forward into May, I will continue writing Horrible Monster. I intend to keep going until I finish it. I definitely feel like I have momentum on this novel right now, even if my daily wordcounts aren’t all that great. I don’t really want to interrupt it at this stage, in case a short interruption proves fatal to that momentum and I stop working on it. But that would mean, at the rate I’m going, it might be several months before I finish it. And that will mean it’ll be months before I write anything else in prose, since I’ve never done well working on two different stories on the same day. Still, there’s nothing stopping me from writing more poetry. And perhaps as I approach the end my daily wordcount output will increase.

There are a lot of other projects I’ve talked about on my blog which have made no further progress for a long time. The Mountain Story, for example, still largely exists only in a handwritten notebook; Kell’s Adventures have seen no further notes or planning. I am very much focused on Horrible Monster at the moment, but perhaps once I finish it I should take some time to work on other projects – and relax my rules a little to count editing, typing up and making notes as writing activity that doesn’t break my streak – even if it doesn’t add to my wordcount total.