35. Walking on Glass 

Hello there! Today I am having a day of mischief on the internet as it has been a while since I’ve been able to sit and get stuck in some eternal scroll. It has also been a while since I’ve crossed off one of those books from my reading challenge list, so finally I have stopped procrastinating and gotten around to reading Walking on Glass by Iain Banks.

Iain Banks is one of those authors I always feel like I should read more of and often when I walk into a charity shop he is one of those authors I am always delighted to find. I want to pay attention to him. He is a masterful storyteller, his writing style is easy, but in my case I feel as if I need patience for him. If I lack patience for a slow burning book that twists suddenly just before end I will go and find myself something else to read. You want to give Banks time, not because he is boring, but because he enjoys messing with how long he can keep your curiosity.

Walking on Glass by Iain Banks

Walking on Glass is no exception. It is quite an odd novel actually that plays with how closely or far apart characters can be from one another to impact one another’s story. It’s an enjoyable comment actually on how little we know about other people we come into contact with. It is a novel that does require you to pay attention, even if it’s little details such as rubbish left on the canal side path, however if it is an important detail Banks makes sure it is interesting enough for you to remember it. Banks almost litters his novel with clues actually, trying to encourage you to work out how these characters fit in around each other. It’s not a murder mystery but it is almost a game of can you guess the ending.

Firstly there is Graham Park. Graham is in love with a girl and on his way to tell the odd Sara ffitch how he feels. On his walk to her apartment he relives in detail how he meets Sara, the relationship he has with his best friend Slater, and his general daily life as an Art Student. He is a character who is surprisingly in control of the outward appearance of his emotion while being hopelessly besotted with the aloof Sara. However this is a very different boy meets girl story than the one you are expecting and I promise you, you will not see it.

Secondly there is Steven Grout. Grout is a very odd character who is very paranoid. He is convinced the Tormentors, are watching him most of the time and using their microwave ray on him in regular intervals in his day to day. This is the day that Grout resigns from his job and decides to get drunk as it is also his Birthday. Grout is also a character who fits out of socially accepted ideas of behaviour, he wears a hardhat everywhere, and enjoys pouring sugar into the fuel tanks of cars and motorbikes. The irony of this character is that the one moment his hardhat is gone he has an accident.

Thirdly, there is Quiss. Quiss is stuck in what appears to be a Castle Aquarium in a frozen wasteland. He is tormented by a talking, cigar smoking, red crow who frequently tells him to kill himself. Time is warped depending on where he and the woman, Ajayi, sit in the room, both remember being somewhere else and being the cause of terrible accidents. They have worked out why they are there though, they must play boardgames until they are given a chance to give an answer to a riddle. However they continually arrive at incorrect answers and Quiss has a rather bad temper and is prone to fits of violence. Quiss works out that they are part of an examination of a planet called ‘dirt’ and that there are some very unusual rooms in the lower levels.

They are very different characters and in some sense almost belong to different genres until the big twist – which I’m not going to spoil. It’s a really good twist. It’s one of those ‘OHHHHHHHHH’ moments. It’s a bright and vibrant book, it didn’t make me fall in love or want to shout about it to everyone I meet, but I enjoyed it. As usual, it was wonderful story telling from Banks.

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34. The Eye of the World 

“The Wheel of Time series is a lifestyle choice.” – A friend of mine.

I have wanted to dive into the Wheel of Time for a long time, it is one of those iconic series that a lot of my friends have read and loved. It is a 14 novel length series that looks me dead in the eye with come hither seduction, because let’s face it, that’s a challenge. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while you’ve probably already gathered that I don’t really stick to a specific genre, but instead see all of literature as this giant buffet that I cant keep my hands off of. But for me Fantasy is a genre a lot like hummus. I love hummus. But too much too often and starts to bore me.

So enough of seduction and food. The Eye of the World is one of those epic fantasy novels, it is easily likened to Tolkien’s, Fellowship of the Ring. Narrative structure is similar, they share similar quest themes, except Eye isn’t about destroying the one ring. A few names echo one another, there is a firey enemy who keeps plaguing dreams, theres magic, theres a guy who is awesome with a sword with a mysterious past, a woman who does the magic like a boss, an unsuspecting set of heroes from a sleepy village and there is the overarching theme of the natural world being spoilt by corruption.

But…

The Eye of the World – Robert Jordan

… the Eye of the World what I really wanted from Tolkien. There. I said it. I so desperately wanted to like the Lord of the Rings (because I love the films) when I read it, but I just hated the entire trilogy from beginning to end. I can see the influence Tolkien has had on Jordan, but no more than Tolkien has had an influence on any epic fantasy writer. Fantasy is like hummus. The ‘hero’s journey’ narrative structure will always be punctuated by wizened sages revealing significant story material at the fire side. They will always have the unwitting hero swinging an axe into the big bad’s minion’s face by accident and surviving when they shouldn’t.

And let’s just not talk about the significant lack of significant central female characters in the Lord of the Rings. Or the dense writing that will put you to sleep. Or the HUNDRED PAGES AFTER THE RING IS DEST- okay. This is going to be a rant. Let’s move on. The point is I desperately wanted to love the Lord of the Rings, and I didn’t.

The Eye of the World takes on similar ideas and runs with them in a much easier writing style. The pace is slow. But it’s gripping. The novel unfolds and unspools information to you at just the right time. It builds a world that hums with life and vibrates between the covers. In 800 pages you travel an immense distance, you are thrown in to a world with fractions under conflict, headfirst into learning about the One Power, the Pattern, the Web, the Wheel of Time, a little of the history of the ages and generally you are knocked over by a tsunami of information, but it doesn’t bog you down. It doesn’t overwhelm you as a reader or tire you out. (Unlike some fantasy series that will remained unnamed to avoid starting that rant again.) If anything it just carries you off further into the novel and down the preverbal rabbit hole.

The story follows a group of young people from an unremarkable village called Emond Field. So quiet and small is life there that they have forgotten that they are part of the Queen’s realm. After a Myrddraal (an eyeless dark creature) and a host of Trollocs (orc-like creatures) attack the village it seems as if three boys were the likely targets. To protect them and the village, a mysterious Aes Sedai named Moiraine and her Warder Lan agree to spirit Rand, Mat and Perrin away, in secret from Emond Field. Egwene sees through their plan and she gatecrashes just before they leave, and also Thom a passing Gleeman joins them for the ride.

Of course they are hotly pursued by the village Wisdom, Nynaeve, who is convinced that these strangers have kidnapped the boys, and Egwene. All four refuse to turn back and Nynaeve refuses to leave them so joins them on their journey. Dark foes come after them at every turn, they get split up,they struggle to eat and stay out of harms way. As its not just Myrddraal they have to worry about but also the Children of the Light who’s righteous quest for the Light and to uncover Darkfriends makes them dangerous in city streets.

I was not expecting a novel that has such a rich conflict between fractions. There is a lot going on in this novel. It’s not perfect, but it’s certainly enjoyable high fantasy. The only thing that niggles with me a little is character development is a little lacking, but I suppose this can be forgiven as there is a massive cast in this novel. The lore and history of this world is also pretty incredible. It’s a pretty great read and because of this I would absolutely read it again and recommend it.

33. Your Brother’s Blood

Oh hey! I bet you’d thought I’d vanished for good right? Wrong. Here I am, it’s been a really busy month finishing off my dissertation and I had very little energy for anything else. But while battling through my month the book I chose to see me through was incredibly well written and a very good choice. Your Brother’s Blood is something I’ve been meaning to read for a very long time, I am a little biased because I know the author, but I am so glad I finally got around to this novel.

Your Brother’s Blood – David Towsey

Your Brother’s Blood is an exceptionally vivid novel. Through my busy month it was a very easy novel to dip in and out of and remember where I was. It’s elegantly written and a little playful at times. But Towsey has a masterful grasp on his writing style, it grips you, it is Bradbury-like in how vivid and surprising it can be, and it never feels overwritten or long winded. Images are exciting, engaging and generally this is an economic book that achieves an enormous amount in a short space.

When I say this is a zombie novel, do not mistake me – this is no ordinary zombie novel. This is an exciting read because it is far from ordinary. It is not your typical ‘we’ve sodded up the earth and now a virus is making people eat people’ narrative. No no, this novel is set a hundred years from now in a western, cowboy style America and is a little different.

Technology has vanished almost all together and humanity has continued on in a revived Old West where the relics of the Automated Age have no place. As such the small town of Barkley is like something out of a John Wayne movie, if that John Wayne movie was subjected to a severe religious doctrine. Yes! There are spitting gunslingers who you will love every inch of. Yes! There are some characters who will make your skin crawl. But the religious frame work was really something I did not expect at all from this novel and it is utterly brilliant. I feel this is something very difficult to do well and Towsey absolutely achieves it with flying psychedelic colours.

So what’s going on then? Okay, where do I start?

Sarah McDermott is living the nightmare of loosing her husband to a Civil War. Her and her daughter Mary, are surviving grief and the day to day of running their shop. But little do they know that Thomas was indeed one of many casualties in his particular battle but the bodies haven’t been disposed of correctly in his mass grave. So Thomas wakes as a Walkin’ (zombie), he is slight burnt, confused, and very different from your typical brains eating guy.

Thomas can feel no pain, he cannot dream, he doesn’t need to eat or sleep and he won’t die again unless he is burnt or beheaded. But he has all of his memories, he remembers being alive, he remembers his family and everything up until the moment he dies. This significant change into his second life, is also wracked with choices. (Very much like being a graduate.)

Does he try to take his own life now he has become what his small religious town has taught him is evil and wrong? Does he even try to go back to his family? Does he take a new direction with his new found second life and bumble around looking for purpose? (Honestly, so so much like being a graduate… wait… am I a Walkin’?) His choices mount up while he explores the damage to his body which have to be some of my favourite descriptions of a zombie corpse ever. I haven’t found more satisfying descriptions of a bayonet wound.

When he does eventually limp back to town he risks dragging his entire family into a battle of ambitions, religious ideas, and world views. Thomas of course has to go on the run and is pursued by a posse that couldn’t highlight this conflict better, a religious acolyte ready for blood, his own brother Samuel, the reluctant Grave Keeper, and the Law-Man. There is a lot going on in this novel and it is great!

He spins a wonderful yarn. Rich characters that are well thought out and as believable as his world. There is also a very well balanced view of humanity the good, the bad and the ugly (No I couldn’t resist. Not apologising). But also there is real success within Your Brother’s Blood to give dignity to the Walkin’ and in encouraging questions as to who the monsters really are in this novel.

If you can’t tell, I really enjoyed it, and I’d read it again. I’ve been telling everyone I can about it. I’ve also bought the second in the trilogy so prepare yourself there is so much more to come.