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Posts Tagged ‘Dr. Who’

invisibleSometimes you just need to get away. Could be that out-of-town isn’t enough, or even out-of- the-country. Let’s try out-of-this world.

First stop is Genevieve Cogman’s The Invisible Library (Roc/Penguin, digital galley), where the shelves of books stretch in all directions across time and space and where hidden portals lead to alternate realities. Born and raised in the Library, Irene now works as a spy to retrieve rare volumes to add to the Library’s immense collection. On a mission to pick up a singular copy of Grimm’s fairy tales, she and her new assistant Kai arrive in a London infected by magic known as chaos, resulting in a steampunk Dickensian city whose inhabitants include demons, vampires and the Fair Folk. The rules are different here, as Irene and Kai’s pursuit of the stolen book is threatened by competing factions willing to kill for the prize. In the course of their adventures, they meet up with a Sherlockian detective, Irene’s former mentor and the evil Albion, the Library’s greatest traitor. Fans of Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series and/or Dr. Who will appreciate the imaginative worldbuilding, literary references and galloping pace. Sequels The Masked City and The Burning Page arrive in September and December.

onedamnedSpeaking of timey-wimey stuff, Jodi Taylor’s Just One Damned Thing After Another (Night Shade/Skyhorse, digital galley) is also a British import, the first in the series known as the Chronicles of St. Mary’s. Time-traveling historians aren’t new — American Connie Willis has been dispatching them with elan for years — but Taylor takes the concept and runs with it. Narrator Madeleine Maxwell is a new recruit to the mysterious St. Mary’s Institute of Historical Research, where trained historians like herself “investigate historical events in contemporary time” — yep, time travel. Max soon discovers that hurtling back centuries can be downright dangerous, as when she and her colleagues work in a World War I battlefield hospital. But that’s nothing to the Cretaceous Period, where slathering dinosaur jaws await the unwary, as well as time-traveling terrorists determined to sabotage St. Mary’s research. Really, it’s one disaster after another for Max and company, but it’s often hilarious. Good thing, because the pace is uneven, the secondary characters underdeveloped and the laws of logic don’t apply. The whole could use an editor. Still,  A Symphony of Echoes arrives next week, and I understand there will be Dodos.

paperfireAction and adventure, knowledge and power. They’re intertwined in Rachel Caine’s Great Library series, which began last year with the thrilling Ink and Bone. In that book, London book smuggler Jess Brightwell was sent off to study at the Great Library of Alexandria, which has survived through the ages as librarians rule the world by limiting access to all original books. In the second book, Paper and Fire (NAL/Penguin, review copy), Jess and his fellow students who made it through the perilous final exams are ready to enter the ranks as soldiers or scholars. But the dark side of the Library is revealing itself: Jess’ best friend Thomas has been accused of treason and reportedly executed, his girlfriend Morgan’s alchemical talents have landed her in the Iron Tower, and their teacher, Scholar Christopher Wolfe, is barely recovering from torture and imprisonment at the hands of the evil Archivist. Still, when Jess and his friends figure out that Thomas is being held captive in Rome, they set out to rescue him, braving the fearful automata of the Library and the deadly explosives of the heretical Burners. Yes, you really need to read the first book, although Caine tries to fill in gaps for newcomers. This makes for some slow going at the beginning of Paper and Fire, but the action picks up in Rome, and then it’s off full speed ahead to London and presumed safety.  Ha! I’m booking passage now for a third book.

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atkinsonMy friend Dean recently banned the use of  the old Yogi Berra saying “deja vu all over again” because it is  misused and overused, cliched and redundant.  But when I first started reading Kate Atkinson’s kaleidoscopic new novel Life After Life (Little, Brown, digital galley via NetGalley), I kept thinking of it, especially when Ursula Todd’s mother says of her daughter “she has a kind of deja vu all the time.”

Not surprising when Ursula lives and dies multiple times over the course of the novel, which is so much more than a narrative parlor trick, a literary Groundhog Day, or an episode of Dr. Who. (Come to think of it, though, Ursula appears to be a kindred spirit of the Doctor’s enigmatic new companion, Clara Oswin Oswald, who has died at least twice already that viewers know of.)

Ursula first is stillborn on a snowy February night in 1910. A few pages later, the umbilical cord is cut from her neck and she breathes. But her seemingly idyllic Yorkshire childhood is filled with perils: crashing waves, slippery roofs, Spanish flu. “Darkness falls” is Atkinson’s signature cue for Ursula’s demise so another scenario can be played out, events slightly altered and leading down different roads. Not to spoil things, but in one life Ursula marries an abusive schoolteacher; in another, she marries a German lawyer and has a child. In that life, she also knows Eva Braun and is caught in the bombing of Berlin. But in other lives, she both dies and survives the London Blitz several times as “darkness falls” over England and Europe. Eventually, the book circles back to its 1930 prologue when an English woman points a gun at Hitler because, of course, if you could go back and “get things right,” you’d want to kill him, too.

The Blitz, as Atkinson says, is the “dark beating heart” of the novel and her set pieces are accordingly horrific as to the damage inflicted on people, animals, birds and buildings. Again and again, the story returns to a subterranean cellar of a house on Argyll Road, where residents shelter during air raids. “It was a maze, a moldy, unpleasant space, full of spiders and beetles, and felt horribly crowded if they were all in there, especially once the Millers’ dog, a shapeless rug of fur called Billy, was dragged reluctantly down the stairs to join them.”

Atkinson surrounds Ursula with a fully realized family: banker father Hugh and faceted mother Sylvie,  obnoxious brother Maurice, bohemian aunt Izzie, beloved brother Teddy, reliable sister Pamela. Their fates, too, change, depending on which of Ursula’s lives you’re following at the time. Then there’s the memorable supporting cast, including heroic air raid warden Miss Woolf, married naval officer Crighton, childhood friends Millie,  Nancy, Fred, Ben. Like some details — a piece of costume jewelry, or a small white dog, or gold cigarette case — they keep showing up in different plotlines. 

You might wonder as to the point of all these pluralities, other than Atkinson stretching the storytelling envelope. Those familiar with her Jackson Brodie crime novels such as Case History or the semi-time-travel tale Human Croquet know she’s already a deft and inventive writer. I’ll read anything she has written. But Life After Life, both playful and poignant, strikes me as her best book yet, “bearing witness” to lives gone before, yet reimagining life’s possibilities. I can’t wait to read it again.

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My list of heroines-I-wanna-be grows ever longer — Nancy Drew, Scout Finch, Elizabeth Bennet, Harriet Vane, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Hermione Granger, Thursday Next. And now Mwfanwy  Thomas.

Who is Myfanwy (rhymes with Tiffany) Thomas? Myfanwy herself would like to know. At the beginning of Daniel O’Malley’s clever genre-bender, The Rook, “On Her Majesty’s Supernatural Secret Service,” a young woman wakes up in a London park with no memory of herself. A letter in her pocket, which begins “Dear You” and is signed “Sincerely, Me” tells her that she now inhabits the body of Myfanwy Alice Thomas. A second letter offers her a choice — leave London immediately and assume a new, moneyed identity far, far away, or become Myfanwy Thomas and track down the killers of the real Myfanwy’s memories. The second choice is more dangerous given that the new Myfanwy is surrounded by motionless bodies wearing latex gloves and that unknown enemies are hot on her trail. Move, Myfanwy!

More letters from “Me” provide explanations and instructions as Myfanwy pretends to be her former self, a high-level operative in the Chequy, the secret government agency that guards Britain against supernatural threats. There are more of these than you might imagine, and Myfanwy gets on-the-job training almost immediately when she’s called on to fight a mysterious, enveloping purple fungus. Thank goodness she has some special powers. She’s going to need them as she not only contends with ghosts, ghoulies and grafters, but also a conspiracy within the shadow world of the Chequy.

This might sound a tad complicated, but O’Malley’s narrative is fast-paced and funny, a la Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next novels and the BBC’s Dr. Who-spinoff, Torchwood. There’s some similar deft world-building as well, the villains are dastardly indeed, and there’s more to appealing Mywfany than meets the eye. Fun, fun, fun. Sign me up for the sequel.

Open Book: I read a digital edition of The Rook by Daniel O’Malley (Little, Brown) provided by the publisher through NetGalley. Since it is about to expire, I’ll be buying a copy to keep and reread.

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