Friday, 27 June 2014

Book Review: A Handful of Stardust by Jake Arnott




Yet another Doctor Who Time Trips novella, a series of short stories written by different authors featuring our favourite Time Lord. A Handful of Stardust features many people's least favourite, the Sixth Doctor with Peri, a companion who divided opinion. As a child I loved her but I know many people rank her among the worst companions. It's not then a story that starts from a place of overwhelming nostalgic warmth!
Mostly set in  England in 1572, the Doctor and Peri meet John Dee, "Doctor of divinity and of mathematics. Alchemist, astrologist, navigator, I am, sir, Her Majesty’s most noble intelligencer. And the greatest mind of our time." Dee is rather like the Doctor, a robust character with a thirst for knowledge. He is aided by Thomas Digges who develops quite the crush on Peri. The characters are the strongest part of the story for me, Arnott doesn't quite capture the Sixth Doctor, he has his ebullience but not his crotchetiness but it's a decent enough characterisation of such a polarising figure, Peri doesn't do much of note but the relationship between her as a Twentieth Century Botany student and the Sixteenth Century scientist Digges is a nice little subplot. Happily and without giving too much away there's a properly bad enemy this time. However, the story itself is just a bit dull and forgettable. I didn't really care what happened and it was also sorted out far too easily. Of the Time Trips I've read so far this has been my least favourite, it's worth a read if you're a Who fan but I don't know if I'd read it again.
Thanks to the publishers for my free copy received through NetGalley in return for my unbiased review.

A Handful of Startdust is published in the UK by Ebury Publishing

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Book Review: Salt of the Earth by Trudi Canavan




Another in the Doctor Who Time Trips series, this one features the Third Doctor and his companion Jo Grant. Jon Pertwee's tenure as the Doctor was a little before my time and whilst I've seen some of his performances I'm not familiar enough with them to say whether the Trudi Canavan accurately captured his portrayal of the character or his relationship with Jo. Therefore this was the first of the series I've read without any preconceptions and it was the plot more than the characterisation that would hook me.
So did it succeed? The answer is a hesitant yes. Set in Australia (the Third Doctor was of course exiled on Earth by the Time Lords for some time), we are first introduced to a local farmer who despite his dog's obvious fear tries to rescue some stranded sheep. Something is terribly wrong though and slowly but with no hope of escape he is turned to salt. Meanwhile the Doctor and Jo are intending to have a beach holiday but instead the Tardis lands them in the outback. Whilst blokarting they come across macabre salt statues of a man and some sheep. The Doctor quickly realises something is not right and after meeting local hobby farmer, Sunny learns about the "bad salt" responsible for turning people into statues before they're destroyed by the elements.
What follows is the Doctor's investigation into what is causing this phenomenon. I enjoyed the idea of the already harsh environment turning against its inhabitants and felt the emotion and stress of living in constant fear of the immediate surroundings suddenly becoming mortally dangerous was well handled. However, as is sometimes the case with short stories I just found the explanation and conclusion was dealt with too swiftly and easily meaning the narrative lost its sense of menace. I understand the constraints of these novella formats but still can't help wishing the denouement was a bit more complex. In the end I felt it was an enjoyable story that didn't quite live up to it's early potential.
Thanks to the publishers for my free copy through NetGalley in return for my honest review.

Salt of the Earth is published in the UK by Ebury Publishing



Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Book Review: Tigerman by Nick Harkaway




Lester Ferris is a burnt out British sergeant who after seeing too many horrors of war is sent to serve out his last days in the army on the island of Mancreu, a former British colony where he is to be Brevet-Consul until the island is destroyed, Mancreu is a toxic island with an underbelly of mutant bacteria living in its volcanic core. With the island in legal limbo the  Black Fleet lies just offshore, illicit ships where drug factories, dodgy hospitals, money laundering and torture chambers exist unchallenged. Now under the jurisdiction of the NATO and Allied Protection Force on Mancreu (NatProMan) many of the islanders have already left and with more poisonous clouds predicted to erupt soon full evacuation seems to be inevitable. Most of those remaining are law-abiding citizens but some have turned to dodgier dealings. The Sergeant though has orders to act only as village bobby, and do little more than "walk, take tea and say hello".
He strikes up a friendship with a mysterious comic-obsessed young boy, a protégé who talks the language of the internet (Zomg! Total win!), seems to know most of the secrets of the island but won't talk about his own home life. The Sergeant realises he wants to adopt the boy and to look after him when it's time to evacuate but tragic events mean that their lives are thrown into turmoil. Lester can't stand back any more, not when the boy is in danger. The boy decides what Mancreu needs is a superhero. Can Tigerman foil the villains? Are they who he thinks they are and can this condemned island be saved anyway?
Tigerman is a truly engaging and original book; for all the nail-biting tension, humour, superheroic deeds and a brilliant twist there is also a deep and honest heart to it. The secondary characters are a richly described group of disparate individuals but it's the relationship between the boy and the man, these flawed and damaged people who we fear and hope for and who are better together but may not be able to stay that way, that makes this book so very human.
This is easily one of the best books I've read this year, in short, and to quote the boy, Tigerman is "full of win".
Thank you to the author and publishers for my free copy of Tigerman from NetGalley in return for my honest review.

Tigerman is published in the UK by William Heinemann

Book Review: The Setting Sun by Bart Moore-Gilbert


Bart Moore-Gilbert's father died when he was a young boy and his memories are of a brave and honourable man who influenced his son both in life and in death  - the loss not only of his father but also his home and everything he knew meant he spent years feeling an exile in England and eventually gave up his childhood ambition to be a game ranger like his dad to become a professor of Postcolonial Studies at London University. When he receives a letter from a colleague asking for information about his father's time in the Indian police as a young man he is at once intrigued. He realises how little he knows about that time, especially after discovering his father may have written a secret memorandum about the Parallel Government (an armed underground movement formed after Gandhi's imprisonment in 1942). Moore-Gilbert decides to visit the country himself to find out more, particularly when his historian colleague's emails start to become more erratic and vague.
However, shortly after arriving in India he is shattered to learn his father may have been involved in the abuse of civilians. What follows is a captivating and compelling look at India, both the country as it is today and how it was in the last years of British rule. His journey is both physical and emotional as he travels across India gradually learning more about his father and the dying days of the British Empire. It's also a memoir about the author's childhood in Tanganyika (now Tanzania) and his relationship with his father as he is compelled to re-examine his memories of that time.
I really enjoyed The Setting Sun, Bart Moore-Gilbert writes movingly and honestly about his relationship with his father and his feelings as he realises he was a more flawed man than the hero of his memories. Both India and the Africa of his childhood are evocatively described and it's also rich and thoughtful look at the politics of the past and their effect on the present. Sometimes the most interesting, thought-provoking stories are those that are from real life and The Setting Sun is one such book; even if you don't usually read much nonfiction I thoroughly recommend it.
Thanks to the author and publishers for my free copy from NetGalley in return for my honest review.

The Setting Sun is published by Verso Books.