Andi M's books

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Re: Andi M's books

Postby AndiM » 26 Mar 2010, 08:39

#11
Speaks the Nightbird, by Robert McCammon (2002; Pocket Books, 2007)

I saw a book lying on my sister's dining room table last week called Mister Slaughter, and I picked it up and started looking through it and my sister alerted me to the fact that it was the 3rd in a trilogy, and I should consider reading the author's first in that trilogy, Speaks the Nightbird. And what do you know, she had it on her shelves, and wow, what a page turner!

It's 1699 and Magistrate Isaac Woodward and his clerk, Matthew Corbett, journey from Charles Town (South Carolina) to "Fount Royal," a newish village that a man named Bidwell is trying to get off the ground. However, the town is in the grip of a witch scare, and it's Woodward's job to determine whether Rachel Howarth, currently held in the town gaol, is indeed a witch who murdered both the town minister and her husband. If so, he must sentence her to die.

However, within a few days of arrival, it becomes apparent to Corbett that all is not as it seems in Fount Royal, and the more he delves, the more he suspects that someone is attempting to force Fount Royal into the mud, to drive everyone out--and to help with that, this mysterious person (or persons) has set Howarth up as a witch and sown fear throughout the town's streets. But why would someone do that? Is it Bidwell's assistant, Winston? Or perhaps the strange blacksmith, who hides secrets in his barn? Perhaps Mrs. Vaughan, who wants souvenirs from the witch-burning to sell? Or Alan Johnstone, the lame schoolmaster? Or is it the strange ratcatcher, sowing fear in people's minds and visions of horrible depravity in which Howarth is accused of engaging?

Corbett doesn't have much time to find answers, and he's working against the ignorance wrought by religious fundamentalism and illiteracy, often a deadly combination.

This is a gripping, tense read. McCammon offers superb characterization and descriptions and exquisite dialogue, though he does take a few liberties with history. For example, a comment Corbett makes with regard to a man's claims he was married is inaccurate. Corbett calls the claim a "cardboard wife." Cardboard didn't make its debut until 1817. And his portrayal of the few Africans who dwell in the town (as servants) seems more akin to later 18th and 19th-century than the eve of the 18th.

Also, the references to time are a bit suspect. For example, "Oh, it happened around 4." Time was something that not many people could measure in 1699 in the New World. Watches (pocket) and clocks were a luxury, so for people (many illiterate) to use specific references like that out in a frontier town is a little odd, especially since the nationwide standardization of time measurement didn't occur until the 19th century with the railroad.

And in another instance, Corbett notices the "flare of a match." Most likely, that refers to a friction match--the kind you strike, as in modern matches. Friction matches were not invented until 1826, so if a man were to light a pipe in Fount Royal, most likely, he used a stick from a fire or an early type of match--a stick impregnated with sulphur that burst into flame when put in contact with fire.

Regardless--and these should not dissuade you from reading this fine book--the author successfully evokes an era filled with fear about everything from the weather to women to demons creeping about in dark New World forests. This is a finely nuanced and deeply layered historical mystery, in which we see the beginnings of investigative inquiry in the mind and methods of Matthew Corbett. I'm definitely reading the rest of the trilogy.

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"I've always wanted to be somebody, but I see now I should have been more specific."--Lily Tomlin

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Re: Andi M's books

Postby AndiM » 26 Mar 2010, 09:12

#12
Boneshaker, by Cherie Priest (Tor Books, 2009)

My friends, THIS is why there's a Nebula Prize.

Priest's rollicking, stomping, gritty, Blight-ridden, airship-zoomin', gas mask-wearin', underground passageway runnin', zombiefied, steampunk romp through alt-Victorian Seattle kicks spec fic butt, all while grinning crazily and yelling and screaming at the front of an undead horde in a search of a safety hatch to the underground.

It's about 1880. The Civil War has been raging for years (remember, this is steampunk and alt-history can happen). Fifteen years earlier, a man named Leviticus Blue, inventor extraordinaire, built the Boneshaker--a sort of big bulldozer/driller/armored tank under the auspices of a Russian-sponsored contest to develop the best contraption to better mine the goldfields of frozen Alaska. So Blue built the Boneshaker, and one day he tested it out and lo and behold, dug right up underneath the banking district of Seattle, where he managed to acquire a bunch of money. However, he also managed to tear into a geological anomaly he perhaps should not have. As a result, a most heinous poisonous gas began leaking into the city, something the locals called "Blight." Those who are subjected to Blight toxicity die and become ravenous, hunting zombies, or "rotters," in the local parlance. So thousands of people fled and managed to build a big ol' wall around the city, but a few people stayed and have managed to eke out a culture beneath the city proper, using big long air tubes and filter systems to at least make the air breathable for the living beneath the surface. But if you're not in a safe zone, you HAVE to wear a gas mask and cover as much of your skin as you can, because the Blight causes nasty rashes and reactions on your epidermis. And if you breathe it, you're headed to rotter-ville.

Enter 15-year-old Zeke Wilkes. He never knew his father, Leviticus, but he aims to find out if his dad really did betray the public trust by Boneshaking the banks and releasing the Blight. Meanwhile, Briar Wilkes, Zeke's mom, is a hard-working, stoic kind of woman who's done the best she can scratching a living for the two of them outside the Seattle walls, in the area called the Outskirts. She told him that yes, his father was kind of a bastard but she didn't tell him everything. So Zeke, in an adolescent search for his roots, takes the underground runoff tunnel into the city (with a gas mask and proper supplies) to go to the house Briar and Leviticus occupied before the Blight. He aims to find out for sure whether his father was a hero, as some say, or a bastard, as others say. He's got some good social currency, though, on the inside. His grandfather, Maynard, was indeed a hero, and is still revered among those who remain inside the walls. Well, when Briar discovers that Zeke's gone, she goes after him, but she has to hitch a ride with one of the shady airship captains because an earthquake blocked the runoff tunnel.

And from here on out, it's a veritable adventure extravaganza, populated by superb characters, excellent gadgets, full-on social hierarchies that echo actual Victorian history, lots of alt-history references, an evil overlord type of guy who just might be claiming to be Leviticus Blue (is he? Or is he not?), scary confrontations with rotters, a brewing within-the-walls war, great dialogue, women kicking ass all over the place, a family secret that reaches within the city walls, and a most excellent macabre setting. If that's your thing, this is your book.

Boneshaker is a nominee for the Nebula and if you read it and it wins, you'll understand why.

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"I've always wanted to be somebody, but I see now I should have been more specific."--Lily Tomlin

find me here: www.andimarquette.com
twitter: andimarquette
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AndiM
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