MatthewSean Reviews

Book reviews, movie reviews, and other writing

Book Review – The Hanging Tree – Ben Aaronovitch — April 23, 2017

Book Review – The Hanging Tree – Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review – The Hanging Tree – Ben Aaronovitch

hanging_tree

Facts:

Book: The Hanging Tree
Author: Ben Aaronovitch
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Year of Release: 2016
Read 294-page paperback edition in April 2017.

Book Description:

In the sixth book of his Rivers of London series, author Ben Aaronovitch takes us back into the life of Constable Peter Grant, a man who is developing his magical skills as an apprentice under DCI Nightingale, in a special division of the London police.  Grant’s relationship with a river goddess, Beverley Brook, is developing nicely, and things are well in his life.

However, when a family member of Beverley’s is implicated in a murder that has magical properties all over it, Nightingale and Grant investigate. And their work takes a total turn to something even more intense when the Faceless Man and Leslie return to London, with a vengeance. They leave a wake of destruction as they search for a priceless magical artifact, and it is up to Grant and Nightingale of the Folly to stop them.

Book Review:

This was a fantastic book, and probably one of the best in the six-book series. Aaronovitch has really his his stride here, and has created a near-perfect novel in his creation. There has been much world-building in the previous novels, and he hits the ground running with this novel.

What works so well in this outing is that Aaronovitch chooses a perfect balance of action and excitement within a new detective story, plus the inclusion of earlier investigations with returning characters, like Leslie, The Faceless Man, and others.

Aaronovitch also balances the action and the detective work with information on the personal life of Peter, talking about his family life and his interesting relationship with a river goddess.

The one downside to the novel was less time devoted to Nightingale and especially Molly, intriguing characters who got less of the limelight in this outing. It’s true that there are now many characters to try and fit in with each outing, and as such we have to perhaps be prepared for that to happen. Molly is an interesting character though, and hopefully we see and learn more about her in book seven.

In any event, this novel was a fun, adventurous, funny urban fantasy, and Aaronovitch has done a great job continuing to develop this world and create engaging stories.

Overall: 4.5 stars out of 5 stars

Days Without End – Sebastian Barry — April 8, 2017

Days Without End – Sebastian Barry

Book Review – Days Without End – Sebastian Barry

days_without_end

Facts:

Book: Days Without End
Author: Sebastian Barry
Genre: Fiction
Year of Release: 2016
Read 259-page hardcover edition in March 2017.

Book Description:

Thomas McNulty is a teenager from Ireland when he is forced to escape across the ocean to America, due to famine. He searches for a better life, and finds himself involved in the Indian Wars and the American Civil War. Enlisting in the army gives him some purpose and a means to survive, however he must also cope with the notion of killing other young men, and deal with the racism others around him feel towards Indigenous Americans and African Americans.

At the same time, he befriends a unique individual with Indian blood named John Cole, and the two form a very close and special relationship, that evolves into mutual love as they both go through war together, and as they adopt a young Indigenous girl who had been orphaned during the Indian Wars. His atypical family allows Thomas to explore his internal identity, and get in touch with his emotions, all the while war and violence rages in the country around him.

Book Review:

This is a fantastic read, written by the Irish novelist Sebastian Barry, who has clearly done research for this book, but has also derived inspiration for the novel from his son who came out to him as gay several years before.

Barry does a great job narrating this in the voice of Tom McNulty, and the language and writing really is in the voice of a soldier from the 19th century, telling us his story

Barry has managed to create a novel which has intimacy, emotion, and closeness, within a very unusual family structure for the day. We get a real sense of Thomas McNulty’s feelings and even his own exploration of his identity as a cross dresser. It is fascinating to watch him (and John Cole) explore their relationship, as cross dressing entertainers, but with Thomas going the extra step of wearing his dresses in their shared home and calling himself Thomasina. The same-sex relationship that Thomas and John have, and the gender identity explorations that occur, are enjoyable and interesting to read about, particularly in the context of the time period.

Contrasting these emotional and thoughtful scenes of family and love, Barry also has brutal scenes of violence and racism. Thomas and John are not immune from this, and are involved in the slaughter of huge numbers of Indigenous peoples, many of which are unarmed women and children. Thomas comments more than once that this carnage seems pointless and confusing, but he follows orders, as all the young soldiers do. But is this right? Are they guilty of serious crimes, and what does this mean for them when they go home after the war? Why do they keep going, keep pushing on, listening to orders from senior officers to wipe out the Indians? These questions that the author brings to the forefront, all the while the violence continues, are excellent things to think about. Barry is successful at showcasing the violence of these wars in American history, and the implications to the Indigenous populations.

He also takes the opportunity to showcase the racism and horrific treatment towards African Americans, as his main characters then have to go through fighting in the Civil War. Barry looks at the north versus south philosophies through the eyes of common soldiers, keeping the viewpoints focused on bloody battles occurring at the front lines. This is a good approach, as it makes the reader realize how awful these historical truths are, and makes the reader wonder why they happened.

At times the novel does seem to get a little bit off topic from the real focus of examining the purpose of war, violence, and contrasting that mess with the love and admiration of Thomas and John for each other. However, for the most part the novel stays true to this laser focus, and when it is focused in this area, it succeeds.

Clearly Barry has succeeded in creating a novel that not only has a lot of violence and war in them, but creating a unique novel, where the manic characters have a queer identity, even if being gay or trans was not a possible label in this day and age. Seeing the unique family structure these characters put together, and seeing how they perceive what goes on around them, allows this novel to explore topics with a fresh perspective.

Overall: 4 stars out of 5 stars

Book Review – The Space Merchants – Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth — April 7, 2017

Book Review – The Space Merchants – Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth

Book Review – The Space Merchants – Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth

space_merchants

Facts:

Book: The Space Merchants
Author: Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth
Genre: Science Fiction
Year of Release: 1952
Read 154-page hardcover edition in March 2017.

Book Description:

In this classic dystopian science fiction novel, we are treated to a troubled world, where society’s masses are controlled by the whims of corporations and their sharp marketing plans. It has become easy to get the majority of the population to mindlessly think they need something, and buy it, without question.

Expert marketer Mitch Courtenary is asked by his company President to come up with an ultimate plan. Encourage flocks of humans to travel to Venus, to colonize the planet. The challenge is that Venus is a barren wasteland of a planet, and it will be an uncomfortable life there. For a skilled marketing executive of course, this is all in a day’s work.

However, when competition comes to Mitch from within and outside the company, he starts to see how humans really live, and he must decide what he will do, both for himself, and for others.

Book Review:

This novel is a classic piece of dystopian literature, and though it was written in the early 1950s, it mainly stands the test of time. The novel has some issues with sexism and gender roles that one wouldn’t expect today, and that felt clunky and out of place. However, other than that, this novel does a great job of predicting a world that feels very possible, in our age of consumerism and capitalism. In fact, in some ways one can see a reflection of 2017 society in this novel, at least on some level. The authors have done a good job of predicting what the future looks like now, and what it may look like in the future.

The novel has an interesting plot which takes us from the corporate world of skyscrapers to the dirty, filthy, mining world occupied by humans just trying to make it through life. Classism is showcased by the authors through the plot very successfully. The plot and the messages and warnings it tells are definitely the strengths of this novel. The scenes in urban America, Costa Rica, and the moon contrast nicely and keep the story moving. (Although the opening couple of chapters did feel a little bit slow.)

The characters are somewhat interesting, although the novel isn’t quite as strong in this area. Some of the characters feel undeveloped and there actions don’t always seem to make perfect sense to the reader. Although we have a strong sense of Mitch as the main character, the other characters often seem to be hanging in the background, yet they play various roles in the novel where it would be nice to have a little bit more understanding and substance to them.

Overall, the novel is a great dystopian read, even 65 years after its original publication. It has timely and valuable lessons for humanity, which makes the reading a valuable experience.

Overall: 3.5 stars out of 5 stars