Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Reviews and Things - The Queen's Necklace, The Elfin Ship, and The Croning

My review of Teresa Edgerton's The Queen's Necklace went up at Black Gate last week this week. It's a terrific book that takes the swashbuckling elan of writers like Sabatini and Dumas, and mixes in bits of Gothics, romances, and fantasy. It's a more serious (and much longer) book than Goblin Moon and The Gnome's Engine.  It's not a better book than those, but she scales up to the longer form quite nicely. It's just been reprinted with (I think) an e-book just around the corner.
 I will be buying the e-book. I've really come to hate reading physical books for review. Being able to make my notes on the Kindle as opposed to post-its and scraps of paper is a joy.

To keep things light for a little longer, I read and reviewed James P. Blaylock's The Elfin Ship. Unlike his contemporary fantasies, this one, his first published book, has elfs, dwarves, cheesemakers, and goblins. Good stuff. The sequel, The Disappearing Dwarf, and prequel, The Stone Giant, are equally good.

For those not familiar with him, Laird Barron is one of the best horror writers to come along in years. I've only started reading him over the past year, thanks to James McGlothlin's reviews of his work over at Black Gate. From the very first collection of his stories I read, The Imago Sequence, I was caught like a fish with a hook in its gills. 

The Croning is his first novel. He's a master of short stories and the book reads a little like a interwoven series of stories but that's alright by me. Each one, particularly a nightmarish encounter in Mexico and the telling of a ghost story, is a gem of a spook story.

Don Miller is an aged geologist suffering from a faltering memory. The novel weaves back and forth through time, from the fifties to the present, and the reader slowly learns how he's arrived at his final state. With each tale, Don falls in to deeper danger and closer to the blackness that underlies reality.

His stories are wonderfully bleak excursions into existential dread and worthy successors to HPL's work. Here, though, I feel like he's taking a bit of the piss out of those sorts of stories. There's a wonderful confrontation with a representative of the forces of darkness that calls them out for being nothing more than sadists who want to torture and eat humanity. After all the creepy events and character preceding it, the encounter's pretty funny. Until the end, and then Barron smacks you across the head with the two-by-four of despair.

I won't write more as much of the pleasure I find in The Croning comes from the skillful ways Barron tells it. Like with most such stories, you know where it's headed before you crack the cover: despair, and quite likely death, upon encountering the terrors inhabiting the meaningless heart of the universe. It's how it's all put together and told that matters, and at that, the author's a master.

On other fronts, I'm continuing my way through the Captain Blood books. Cleaning out my late aunt's house ate up some valuable reading time but I'm back at it and loving it. As to the house cleaning, let me just say, the answer to that problem is: estate sale! Woo hoo!

I'm also reading a few pages of Miami Blues every couple of days. I hope to reread the rest of the series before the year's out. 

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