Posts Tagged With: urban fantasy

“The Dirty Streets of Heaven” by Tad Williams

I received a review copy of Tad Williams’ “The Dirty Streets of Heaven” while I was at BEA in exchange for an honest review.  I’m also reading it as part of the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril VII event.

“The Dirty Streets of Heaven” is the first book  in a new urban fantasy series that combines elements of gritty noir with the supernatural.  Bobby Dollar is an angel known as an Advocate, which is the heavenly version of a lawyer.  When people die, an angel and a demon present arguments before a judge as to whether that soul should go to Heaven or to Hell.  Bobby argues for souls in the general region of San Judas, California.  However, one day souls begin disappearing before the process can take place, and when Bobby Dollar begins to investigate, he finds himself caught up in a plot that’s way over his head.

Bobby Dollar’s character makes this novel work.  He’s funny, he’s sarcastic, he’s sometimes an ass, and above all, he seems entirely human.  He likes to drink, he hangs out at the pub with his friends, and he sometimes sleeps with somebody and regrets it in the morning.  It’s not what you’d expect from an angel, but Tad Williams pulls it off incredibly well and uses it to reinforce the atmosphere that the book creates.

The minor characters are equally as vibrant.  There’s Casimira, the Countess of Cold Hands, a goth demon chick that Bobby Dollar finds irresistible, despite (or perhaps even because of) the fact that they’re working for different sides in a struggle that’s remarkably similar to the Cold War.  There’s Clarence, the rookie, who is a new Advocate who’s been sent down from the records department despite having no formal training.  Then there’s Sam, Bobby’s old war buddy turned drinking buddy, and Monica, Bobby’s ex, and the unresolved feelings between the two of them.  I appreciated the way that Tad Williams was able to give his characters believable and realistic social circles, and the characters remind you of somebody that you’d know and that you’d like to hang out with.

Despite Tad William’s excellent writing and vibrant characters, the story still lacks a certain spark of originality.  The characterization and the details are wonderful, but the whole angels and demons arguing over souls thing sounds a bit like a made for TV movie.  Mind you, I still enjoyed it, but I did wish that there would have been a bit more of a twist or a departure from tradition.

If the idea of Law & Order with angels and demons sounds interesting to you, then you’ll probably enjoy this one.

Categories: Fantasy, Fiction, Urban Fantasy | Tags: , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

“Neverwhere” by Neil Gaiman

During the past month I’ve been participating in a groupread of “Neverwhere” by Neil Gaiman.  This is a brief spoiler-free review for those of you who are curious about the book and haven’t read it.  For a more in-depth discussion, see:

“Neverwhere” is an urban fantasy novel by Neil Gaiman.  It tells the story of Richard, an average man in a dysfunctional relationship with his overbearing girlfriend.  One day, Richard stumbles upon a bleeding girl lying upon a sidewalk.  His decision to help her is life changing, as he finds himself sucked into the nightmarish wonderland of London Below.  London Below is inhabited by those individuals who fell through the cracks of society (and reality itself), and once Richard begins to see its denizens, he becomes invisible to people in the world above.  He follows the girl whom he rescued, whose name is Door, in the hopes of finding his way home, only to discover that Door’s life is threatened by the same people who murdered her family.

…and the villains!  Croup and Vandemar are a pair of bumbling but humorous mercenary bad guys who enjoy their job far too much.  You can’t hate them, because it’s very hard to take one’s villains seriously when they’re trying to talk with a mouth full of toads.

The atmosphere of London Below is one of the biggest strengths of this book.  Gaiman draws on both the mundane and the absurd to create a world that is simultaneously beautiful and menacing.

One of the weaknesses of “Neverwhere” is the general lack of character development throughout the novel.  Most of the characters don’t change, but Richard’s perspective on them does, so I’ll forgive it.  Most of the characters in London Below are unabashedly themselves.  Characters represent different archetypes and seem to have come out of a fairy tale, but one of the overreaching themes of the novel is that life isn’t always what it seems and that there is more to people than meets the eye.  The minor characters are extremely memorable, such as the Amazonian woman named Hunter who is searching for a fabled Beast or the Old Bailey who talks to birds and trades in favors.

Overall, I’d highly recommend this book.  It reminds me of a darker version of Alice in Wonderland, but in a more modern setting complete with subway rats, floating markets, and plenty of hidden dangers.  Even though the book has some flaws, the story is enjoyable and imaginative.

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I read this book as part of the Once Upon a Time Challenge.

Categories: Fantasy, Fiction, Urban Fantasy | Tags: , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Neverwhere Readalong, Part I

I’ve been wanting to read one of Neil Gaiman’s novels ever since last year’s groupread of “Fragile Things.”  I had enjoyed the collection of short stories and looked forward to reading one of his longer books.  When Carl mentioned that he was hosting a groupread of “Neverwhere,” I immediately signed up.

This week’s reading covers chapters 1-5 of the book.  From this point onward, there may be spoilers.  After we’ve finished the book I’ll post a spoiler-free review for anyone who hasn’t read the book and isn’t following along.

1.  What do you think of our two villains thus far, Messrs. Croup and Vandemar?

They’re creepy and not-quite-human.  The scene with the darts and the random mice-eating makes me think that there’s more to them than meets the eye.  At the same time, I don’t have any real reason to dislike them, and it’s interesting to see them interact with each other.

2.  Thus far we’ve had a small taste of London Below and of the people who inhabit it.  What do you think of this world, this space that lies within or somewhat overlaps the space the “real world” occupies?

It’s delightful.  It’s got this whole Tim Burton style aura to it, and it seems so much more vibrant than the “real world” above.  I’m enjoying watching Richard keep underestimating it, beginning with the rats and pigeons and ending with Anasthesia’s demise.  This isn’t a happy-go-lucky Disney world, and there’s something very serious going on that Richard has inadvertently gotten caught up in.

3.  What ideas or themes are you seeing in these first 5 chapters of Neverwhere?  Are there any that you are particularly drawn to?

The recurring motif of doors stands out to me a lot.  I wonder if there are doors back into London Above that we don’t know about yet.  If there’s a way to get Below, then mightn’t there be a way back up?  I’m also curious about the political structure of London Below.  We’ve heard a bit about it, but we haven’t seen it in action yet.

4.  We’ve met a number of secondary characters in the novel, who has grabbed your attention and why?

Definitely Hunter.  She’s awesome.  I picture her almost like a female superhero; she may look a bit like a whore on first glance, but when trouble arises she can kick some serious bad guy butt.  I liked how she foiled Croup and Vandemar’s plans without anyone even knowing it.

5.  As you consider the Floating Market, what kind of things does your imagination conjure up? What would you hope to find, or what would you be looking for, at the Market?

Well, Gaiman did mention that they had books.  I’d imagine that the books in London Below contain all of the stories and ideas that authors thought up but never got the chance to write down.

6.  If you haven’t already answered it in the questions above, what are your overall impressions of the book to this point?

I’m loving it thus far.  At first I was a bit annoyed by Richard’s interactions with Jessica.  Seeing the two of them together made the book seem so serious.  I felt bad for Jessica at first, because it seemed like Richard didn’t really care about the reservations and wasn’t making any real effort to help her out.  As we saw a bit more of their interaction, I realized that she’s got a Type A personality and needs someone who can handle that.  Richard’s too laid back and has completely different priorities.  It’s one of those cases where the two of them just aren’t right for each other, and if Door hadn’t showed up then Richard and Jessica would have made each other miserable for the rest of their lives.  Once we stepped out of the relationship drama, I immediately was hooked.

When authors follow multiple characters’ point of view, I have a tendency to get attached to one character above all of the others.  In this book for me it’s Doors.  I want to learn more about who killed her family and about her place in the London Underground in general.

I can’t wait to see what happens next!

Categories: Fantasy, Fiction, Urban Fantasy | Tags: , , , , , | 40 Comments

“Someplace to Be Flying” by Charles de Lint

This is my second book for the Once Upon a Time V challenge.  The novel, like most of Charles de Lint’s, is urban fantasy set in the fictional city of Newford.

In de Lint’s world, the animal people are shapeshifting spirits who have been on the earth since creation.  When Lily, a photographer, is attacked in an alleyway, she finds herself drawn into a conflict between the shapeshifters that has the potential to end the world.

De Lint is spectacular, as always, but I enjoyed Forests of the Heart a lot more.  This book had a lot of characters that didn’t really come together until almost the end of the book.  In fact, I found it hard to even decide whose story to focus on when I summarized the book, because there isn’t really a distinctive main character.  I really did enjoy it a lot; just not as much as other Charles de Lint novels.  If you’re new to Charles de Lint, you probably want to start out with a different novel and then progress to this one later.

However, I really loved how much of the Crow Girls that we see in this book.  Maida and Zia are two punky mischievous tomboys who live in a tree, like eating sugar, and happen to be Crow spirits who helped to create the world.  They kind of remind me a bit of my little sisters.  Seeing so much of the Crow Girls alone makes the book worth reading.

Categories: Fantasy, Fiction, Urban Fantasy | Tags: , , , , , | 6 Comments

“Forests of the Heart” by Charles de Lint

Today I have another Charles de Lint review.  Forests of the Heart is quite possibly my favorite de Lint novel thus far.

The story’s central character is Bettina, a half-Mexican half-Native American woman who is a curandera, or healer.  Bettina’s magic tells her to move from the desert that is her home to Newford.

In de Lint’s world, every place has its own spirits.  Bettina and other characters discover that some Celtic place-spirits emigrated with the Irish to the new world.  Known as the Gentry, they were content to rule the city while the spirits around Newford ruled the country.  However, when an ancient legend proves to be true, the Gentry plot to kill the native spirits and claim the land as their own.  Obviously, this must be stopped.

I had thought Muse and Reverie had a lot of artists and musicians.  I was wrong, as Forests of the Heart features far more.  However, de Lint does a better job of contextualizing them in this book to the point that one almost can forget that there are so many of them.

Overall, this book was spectacular and was full of memorable characters.  My favorite were the cadejos, spirits which appear as rainbow dogs with hooves (they look sort of like pinatas) that are prone to dancing and revelry.  Excellent job, Charles de Lint.

Categories: Fantasy, Fiction, Urban Fantasy | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“The Onion Girl” by Charles de Lint

I stumbled upon Charles de Lint in my quest to find fantasy that doesn’t suck, and first read his collection of short stories entitled Muse and Reverie.  After enjoying it, I decided to read another of his books.  No, not “decided.”  It was more like I was addicted to his first book and started going through withdrawal symptoms when I ran out of short stories.

The Onion Girl is a full length novel that focuses on the character of Jilly Coppercorn, an artist in the fictitious city of Newford.  The book describes Jilly’s abuse as a child, paralleling her own experience with that of her sister.  Both girls experienced similar abuse, but their lives went in very different directions.

Meanwhile, Jilly is hit by a car, and her body is left mostly paralyzed.  During her recovery, she takes trips to the spirit world in order to heal her childhood trauma.  While the subject matter itself is somewhat depressing, the central message is one of hope and of rising above circumstances.

I really enjoy the way that de Lint merges day-to-day reality with legend and mythology.  He does so in such a way that his world is believable (or it would be, if every other character wasn’t an artist) but still full of wonder.  Some characters don’t touch magic; others, like Jilly, can’t seem to get away from it.  Overall, this was a great read, although I felt quite bad for Jilly and her sister.

Categories: Fantasy, Fiction, Urban Fantasy | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Muse and Reverie” by Charles de Lint

This book is a collection of thirteen of Charles de Lint’s short stories.  The stories in this collection are set in the American city of Newford, which could just as easily be Pittsburgh, Boston, or even DC.  Newford is a rather ordinary city, but one where fantasy blends into reality.  There are elves, fairies, Native American spirits, and other whimsical creatures that mingle with everyday people when they are least expecting it.

I thought that this collection was charming and quite beautiful.  The author writes like a creative writing prof (not surprising, considering that he is one).  That being said, my one critique is that he possibly uses too many artsy characters to be entirely believable.  I love artists, but every other character is either an artist or a musician.  Overall, I would highly recommend this book to anyone looking for fantasy that reads more like fairy tales than Tolkien.

Categories: Fantasy, Fiction, Urban Fantasy | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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