Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Book #70

The Sandman by E.T.A. Hoffman

The disturbing tale of a young man's obsession with the Sandman, stealer of eyes, which has inspired writers from Sigmund Freud to Neil Gaiman.

I felt sick to my stomach throughout most of this. There’s nothing overly supernatural, creepy, or terrifying - just a horribly unsettling undercurrent of tension and dread running underneath each word. It’s a marvel.

Hoffman’s skill here isn’t in depicting ghouls or demons, but in showing us the effects an encounter with such (whether perceived or otherwise) can have on the human psyche. Our protagonist is plagued by a situation from his childhood, and subconsciously seems to seek this out in his later years, leading to his descent into madness.

I enjoyed that Hoffman left everything open to interpretation - were these ghastly villains really what our protagonist thought they were, or did he merely conjure it all in his imagination, having nested there for years as a repressed fear? Either way, it’s a heart-stopping thought. 

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Book #69

The Crowfield Curse by Pat Walsh

An angel is buried behind the abbey! It's 1347, and Will, an orphan boy, lives and works as an apprentice of the Crowfield monks. Sent into the forest to gather firewood, he stumbles across a trapped, wounded creature no bigger than a cat.The little goblin shares a terrible secret: Buried deep in the snow behind the monastery is an angel. But, Will wonders, how can an angel die? And what does this angel have to do with the history of Crowfield? When two cloaked strangers show up and start asking questions, Will is drawn into a dangerous world of Old Magic. 

Medieval monks, angels, magic, hobgoblins, faerie folks, and a frightened little boy trying to make sense of it all - sign me up.

Walsh weaves a gorgeous tale here, introducing a young adult audience to the hardships of medieval times, whilst also peppering the story with something magical. She speaks subtly about the power of conquering our fears, the stupidity of making assumptions based on appearances, and most wonderfully of all, the utter importance of being a good person.

Although I felt the plot took some time to kick off, once the mysteries began to emerge, I was gripped. Walsh has an engaging way of pacing her plot, and creating the most spine-chilling tension. Things begin to warp and twist in ways you wouldn’t expect; it’s enthralling.

Despite my love for the characters and plot, Walsh’s skill in describing setting was my favourite thing here. The cold abbey, the snow-covered whistling woods, the warm and woody hut - everything was depicted so vividly, and so beautifully that I felt my senses completely overwhelmed.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this. Walsh is incredibly skilled in her craft, and I look forward to reading The Crowfield Demon. 

Saturday, 7 September 2019

Book #68

The Pre-Programming by Anonymous

Vulcan’s ancient Automata find their purpose rebooted in the second installment of the CIRCO DEL HERRERO/THE BLACKSMITH’S CIRCUS series. Their immortal human Masters will drop like flies—superfluous in the next round as the gods shuffle in a new deck of fateful cards. The Masters can choose how and when, but they will all die to free the Automata of their earthly chains. Odys and his Automaton, Maud, struggle to protect his twin sister from the plotting of his dual-bodied adversaries. But his sister, Odissa, finds herself a willing participant in The Blacksmith’s latest exhibition—could she be the missing cog to the god’s tightly wound machine all along?

This sequel to The Automaton presents us with the same quirky narrative style, the same subhuman and/or godlike characters, and the same nothing really happens but it all happens through dialogue plot.

Our narrator is relentless here. It seems nothing is off the table as he creates and dissolves toxic relationships, characters, and plot twists as though his life depends on it. Everyone and everything we trusted or relied on (or even liked) in The Automaton is warped and ultimately discarded in this total massacre of the comfort zone.

I was, in a similar fashion to The Automaton, confused and disoriented throughout the whole novel. This was in part due to the strange style and constantly shifting aspects of the plot, but I also felt at times as though I’d missed something; I wasn’t understanding the reasons behind certain situations and circumstances, and I’m unsure whether I was supposed to.

There are interesting explorations of freedom, and what this means - do we have choice at all, or are we all pre-programmed robots destined to live out what the gods decide for us?

I continue to feel quite baffled at all this, but still eager to find out what’s next. That’s the power of the uniqueness this series has - you need to find out what the fuck is going on.

Friday, 30 August 2019

Book #67

Trivia: or, the Art of Walking the Streets of London by John Gay

O! may thy Virtue guard thee through the Roads
Of Drury's mazy Courts, and dark Abodes,
The Harlots guileful Paths, who nightly stand,
Where Katherine-street descends into the Strand.

This was a very long poem.
Years of experience 
With very long poems 
Have taught me 
That very long poems are, 
In fact, 
My arch nemesis.

Thursday, 29 August 2019

Book #66

Mirror Mirror by Anthony M. Strong

Jaime thought he'd hit the jackpot when he found the antique mirror out by the curb, just waiting for a new home. Hours later the old mirror with the ornate gold frame was taking up pride of place in his apartment. 
But there's something wrong.
The mirror harbors a dark secret, and before long Jaime and his girlfriend Cassie find themselves up against a terrifying supernatural force that has its sights set on them.

Mirrors are terrifying. Are they entry points into another world? Is our reflection trying to keep us out of that world? Why are they infinitely more frightening in the dark? Or are they merely just reflective pieces of glass, condemned to be something to fear simply by our imagination? I was a bit nervous to begin reading this one, as stories about things in mirrors are deeply unsettling to me for unknown reasons. There’s just something so very disturbing about them. 

There’s nothing very unsettling about Strong’s novella, however. The premise is excellent, and frightened me before I’d even begun to read, but there is a real lack of suspense. I did read some fairly weird and creepy sections, but these weren’t reinforced by an overly scary and tense plotline.

Strong’s characters also leave a lot to be desired. They are simply used as plot devices, objects to sustain and propel the supernatural happenings along to their conclusion. I’d have liked far more character development here, at least some backstory, and just a little bit of a hint that these two were actually human, rather than paper dolls.

I like finding truly grotesque novels to read, even though they scare me silly - if you can’t evoke fear in me, you’re gonna have a bad time.