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Friday, November 27, 2015

What I'm Reading: Time and Time Again, Medusa's Web, and City of Blades

Here are three books which I recently read and reviewed for Booklist.

Time and Time Again by Ben Elton

Dec. 2015. 400p. St. Martin’s/Thomas Dunne, hardcover, $26.99(9781250077066); St. Martin’s/Thomas Dunne, e-book, $12.99 (9781466888906)
REVIEW.  First published December 1, 2015 (Booklist).

What if you had one chance to change one thing in history? Would you do it? What would you change? These are the central questions at the heart of Elton’s hybrid historical fiction-time travel adventure. Due to a mathematical calculation done by Sir Isaac Newton and passed down in secret for close to 300 years, not to be opened until Christmas Eve, 2024, time travel back to the early summer of 1914 is possible. Hugh Stanton, ex-military and overall adventurer, is recruited by the Chronations, a group of Trinity scholars who have confirmed Newton’s figures, to be the hero who will stop WWI from ever happening, thus saving millions of lives and more importantly, stopping the Twentieth Century from entering into a spiral of bloodshed. The set up is compelling, the historical aspects are well researched, and the time travel storyline is not well explained, but it also wraps around itself in a way sure to please even the most hardcore time travel purists. However, it is the complex, nuanced, and likable Stanton who will grab readers as they blindly follow and actively root for him with each turn of the page. He will do anything to set history right, even when he is what makes it wrong. Thought provoking and captivating, this is a novel for fans who love King’s 11/22/63, Atkinson’s Life After Life, and any of the award-winning historical fiction-time travel hybrids of Connie Willis. A must read with an awesomely unsettling ending that has very real implications to today’s readers.

Three Words That Describe This Book: genre-blend, thought provoking, captivating

 Readalikes: I am not exaggerating about this book. It really was awesome. Please, please, please, get this book in people's hands when it comes out. Fans of the very popular readalikes I listed are the first place you should start.

Another book I have read that reminded me bit of Time and Time Again is Man in the Empty Suit by Sean Ferrell.  To be fair, the Elton book is a better read for a wider audience, but there are some memorable scenes in Man in the Empty Suit involving the protagonist in a room with multiple versions of himself where he is desperately trying to fix things that popped into my head when I was reading Time and Time Again.

Medusa’s Web by Tim Powers
Jan. 2016. 368p. Morrow, hardcover, $26.99 (9780062262455); e-book, $12.99 (9780062262493)
REVIEW.  First published December 1, 2015 (Booklist).

In this interesting take on the haunted house troupe, Powers, [winner of the Philip K. Dick and World Fantasy Awards], begins with the return of the now adult Scott, and his sister Madeline, to the old mansion where they were raised by their Aunt Amity after their parents disappeared over two decades ago. Amity has just committed suicide. The home, Caveat, is creepy and isolated up in the Hollywood Hills, but when Scott and Madeline’s cousins, Ariel and Claimayne open the door to let them in, things seem even stranger than they had expected. This is a family and a home holding on to deep and dangerous secrets-- secrets that are contained in ancient symbols known as “spiders,” that when viewed, allow you to bend the space time continuum, possess another, and extend your life. When Madeline is overcome by the lingering spirit of Aunt Amity, Scott tries to save her by taking on the dangerous task of unraveling how the spiders work and navigating the very large web they have spun. But who can he trust? Set over the course of one week, this novel is an atmospheric and complex, supernatural thriller, with an old-time Hollywood frame, that steadily builds to a frenetic climax. Good for fans of Dan Simmons’ Flashback, Pessl’s Night Film, or King’s Doctor Sleep.

Three Words That Describe This Book: atmospheric, old Hollywood, complex

Readalikes: This is a great horror/thriller blend with pretty much equal parts of both. The creepy old Hollywood frame combined with the psychological horror of the spiders add enough chills while the hero/villain cat-and-mouse games keep the story moving. The three books I mention above capture the overall appeal of this novel best, but here are a few more options based on specific appeals:

  • The Darkling by R. B. Chesterton really captures the old house, old time Hollywood, and psychological aspects here.
  • Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger and Slade House by David Mitchell also contain a creepy "soul sucking" angle.

All links go to my reviews of each title for more details.

City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett

Jan. 2016. 496p. Broadway, paperback, $15 (9780553419719)
REVIEW.  First published December 1, 2015 (Booklist).

In a novel that is both a stand alone and a sequel, Bennett returns to the same post-apocalyptic fantasy world he created to much critical and reader acclaim in City of Stairs, but this time, we enter different ruined city where their ruling god is dead, and lawlessness abounds. General Mulaghesh had retired from military service when she is forced back into the fray in the city of Voortyashtan, so named for the defeated god of the dead, Voortya, who had promised her army of supporters a glorious afterlife before they were all destroyed. While Mulaghesh’s cover story is to assist the military commander, her real assignment is to investigate the disappearance of another officer who had uncovered a dangerous secret about Voortya and her defeated army. With appearances by characters from the first book, but a storyline that is independent, fans new and old will find much to enjoy here. Like the very best speculative fiction, City of Blades, immerses readers in a made-up world only to make us take a harder look at the real one in which we are currently living. Give this to fans of other strong world-building, high fantasy series with political/military intrigue like those by Brian Staveley, Kameron Hurley, or even George R.R. Martin.

Three Words That Describe This Book: strong world building, intrigue, epic scope

Readalikes: I am not as much of an expert in this are of epic urban fantasy, but I listed 2 other popular and similar authors above.  I also included Martin because this Bennett series shares much with Martin's wildly popular series.  While the settings [rural/historical vs urban] are miles apart, the political intrigue and military elements are strong in both.  I know many fans of the Martin series who  normally don't read epic fantasy but really enjoy him for those reasons.

There is much here for Gaiman fans too-- especially those who like American Gods, Neverwhere, or Anansi Boys.

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