Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “Wizards”

ElCicco#CBR4 Review #33: Whispers Under Ground by Ben Aaronovitch


This book is the third (after Midnight Riot and Moon Over Soho) in Aaronovitch’s delightful series featuring London Constable Peter Grant, the son of West African parents and a newly minted police officer of seemingly average ability. In the first book of the series, Peter discovers that he can communicate with ghosts and sense other unusual phenomena. He is soon linked up with a secret section of the British police force led by Detective Inspector Thomas Nightingale, a master wizard. Nightingale is a man of murky past and indeterminate age, although he looks younger than his years, and he takes on Peter as a protege at his HQ, the Folly.

Each of the books deals with a specific murder but there is a running story of “the faceless man” — an anonymous character who possesses terrible power — and the slowly unfolding backstory of Nightingale and the tragedy that befell the magical community in WW2 at Ettersberg. Whispers is about the murder of an American art student who also happens to be the son of a senator. He was done in with a piece of magical pottery (Peter can feel the magic on the shards) in a subway tunnel, and the magic team must work with the regular force and the FBI to find the murderer.

Aaronovitch has a terrific sense of humor and creates a fabulous array of characters who become part of Peter’s magical and mundane worlds, such as Father Thames and the various river goddesses; Molly, the housekeeper at the Folly who has some strange appetites and obsessions; Lesley May, Peter’s smarter partner who has a life altering experience in book 1; and Peter’s superiors on the police force, Stephanopoulos and Seawoll, who find working with the wizards trying due to all of the embarrassing and difficult-to-explain events that occur as a result of their actions (mostly Peter’s, since he tends to get involved in unusual situations and is still very much a novice when it comes to exercising his magical skills).

The dialog is snarky and funny, and the pop culture references come fast and furious, particularly those related to British fantasy literature. One of my favorite excerpts is a scene involving Lesley and Peter after a night of heavy drinking on Lesley’s part. She accuses Peter of being boring and says:

“‘You’d think a copper who was a wizard would be more interesting. Harry Potter wasn’t this boring. I bet Gandalf could drink you under the table.’

“Probably true, but I don’t remember the bit where Hermione gets so wicked drunk that Harry has to pull the broomstick over on Buckingham Palace Road just so she can be sick in the gutter.” Afterward, Lesley picks up where she left off, “pointing out that Merlin probably had something to teach me about the raising of the wrist.”

I would read all of the books as opposed to picking just one. They are fun, easy, enjoyable reads. My only gripe is that I’ll probably have to wait a year for the next one and I’ll forget details from previous stories by then.

Quorren’s #CBR4 Review #38 The Amulet of Samarkand (The Bartimaeus Trilogy, Book 1) by Jonathan Stroud

I think this is the first young adult series since Harry Potter that I’ve felt so sad that this book is fiction.  And that I’m not a wizard.  I’m already waiting on pins and needles for the next book to come in the mail.

The story beings with Nathaniel, an apprentice wizard, summoning Bartimaeus, a djinni of some renown.  Nathaniel is a bit of a child wizarding prodigy, but his mediocre and paranoid master has ever taken enough of an interest in him to notice.  His master, Underwood, plays politics more than he plays with magic and when one of the most influential wizards in London, Simon Lovelace, embarrasses and violently harms Nathaniel, he doesn’t lift a finger.  Nathaniel summons Bartimaeus to exact his revenge, but things don’t go as planned.

The book switches off from Nathaniel’s and Bartimaeus’ points of view.  Bartimaeus’ chapters are the best, though.  He’s pretty sarcastic and snide, and bit arrogant.  Maybe it’s a British thing, but Stroud almost rivals Pratchett in terms of humorous footnotes.  Nathaniel does dismiss Bartimaeus at the end of the book, but since the trilogy is named after him, it’s pretty safe to assume he’ll be returning.

Even though the book is a triology, it can stand alone.  The main plot involving Lovelace gets tidied up and finished off nicely.  There is a small subplot, which I imagine will play a bigger role in the next books, regarding the politics of England and the wizards vs. commoners.  Wizards run the show, having all the major seats in government and they are very disdainful of the commoners.  This will undoubtedly come to a head at one point and Nathaniel will have some part in it, I’m sure.  Even though a lot of the later story is telegraphed by Stroud, I’m still gleefully looking forward to the next book in the series.

Bothari’s #CBR4 Review #22: The Mislaid Magician or Ten Years After by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer

This was the third and apparently last book about cousins Cecelia and Kate, and while it was good, it was a bit of a letdown after the second book. I think I enjoyed the adventures more when they were together, and this book is back to being epistolary. Cecilia and James leave their numerous children with Kate and Thomas while they go off on a mission from the Duke of Wellington. In this book, the husbands get letters/chapters too, and that definitely adds to the story. All four of them write back and forth as they stumble onto shady characters, magical mysteries, create new spells, and talk endlessly about the children, nannies, and servants.

All the elements of the previous two books are there, but they seem a little less-than somehow. The mystery (a missing wizard and some concern over a newfangled steam train) is fine, but doesn’t come together as gloriously as book two. The letters are great fun to read, but they don’t glow like book one. The characters are still grand, but now they seem weirdly class-conscious, as if having herds of children had made them more aware of their station and their money. All that said, if there was a book four, I would happily read it. The writing and the characters are still great fun, even if this book didn’t wrap itself around my brain like the others did.

A snippet from a letter to James from Thomas:
“I have every confidence in your skill at interrogation and in Daniel’s complacency. The man’s sublime interest in himself is only matched by his serene assumption that the rest of the world shares it. With luck, Daniel will never even notice he’s been questioned.”

The four heroes are smart, resourceful, loyal, and funny. Even a slightly less-than adventure is still a fun ride.

Bothari’s #CBR4 Review #18: Sorcery and Cecilia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer

This was my favorite so far in the Cannonball Read. It was delightful, and it gives me a warm glow to know that there are two more books to enjoy.

Patricia C. Wrede (whose books I have loved since middle school) and Caroline Stevermer (new to me but will be exploring) played the Letter Game to create Cecilia and Kate, a pair of spunky and fearless cousins in the ‘regency romance’ era of a slightly alternate universe, where magic is real, but not often practiced by Young Ladies of Quality. Patricia and Caroline wrote the letters to each other in character as Cecy and Kate as a writing exercise (they describe it in the afterword), then discovered when they reached the end of the game that they’d written a book.

Kate has gone to London for her first Season, while Cecy is left behind in the countryside. Their letters start out fairly typically – who’s wearing what to which party, how overbearing their chaperoning aunts are, and oh, by the way, did you hear our own Sir Hilary got accepted to the Royal College of Wizards. Kate stumbles onto some magical weirdness in London, and Cecilia uses her budding magician tendencies to help in any way she can, sending protective charm bags or theories with nearly every post. Both girls meet infuriating but irresistible boys, worry about siblings falling under nefarious spells, find themselves entangled with evil wizards, and desperately wish they were not separated from each other.

The characters are wonderful, the writing is terrific, the magic is fun, and I may start annoying my friends and family by calling my car a curricle and my purse a reticule. This is one of those books that, upon finishing it, causes a happy sigh and good mood the rest of the day.

Quorren’s #CBR4 Review #6 Reaper Man by Terry Prachett

Reaper Man is Prachett’s eleventh Discworld book.  Discworld rides the universe on top of four elephants, which stand on the back of the the great turtle, A’Tuin.  In many ways Discworld is an analogue of Earth.  Except for, you know, that being flat and riding on the back of a giant turtle thing.

Discworld novels have several reoccurring characters.  Reaper Man, unsurprisingly, follows Death as the Powers That Be relieve him of his duties.  Death make the mistake of developing a personality, you see.  As a consolation prize, Death was giving a few months of retirement before a new Death could be hired and reap the old one.  However, Discworld wasn’t prepared for a respite from Death.

Windle Poons, the oldest wizard at Unseen University (another group of reoccurring characters) and a stereotypical crotchety old man, is celebrating his death when Death takes a holiday.  For the wizards of Discworld, one of the perks is being personally collected by the big man himself when it’s their time.  Unfortunately, Windle chooses to go as Death leaves office.  After waiting to be collected, Windle decides to hell with this and settles back into his old body.  Windle enters the ranks of the undead, much to the chagrin of the  university staff.  They try several methods of re-deading Windle to no avail.

While Death is my second favorite Discworld character (Luggage is first, with Granny Weatherwax in third), I prefer his cameos over whole novels dedicated to him.  A little bit of Death goes a long way, you know?  Regardless, there can never be a bad Prachett book, just some that are less good than others.

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