Just a quick update, because time is a bit squeezed at present and I’ve got important things (like, well, marking) to do. A couple of novels and a curiously moving issue of Howard the Duck this time round.
A couple of weeks ago, I finished Daniel Silva’s The Kill Artist, a library loan that took me about three months to finish – which is about average for me. A colleague of mine, it turns out, once had to read this novel for his reading group and found it rather unappealing. I actually quite enjoyed it – enough to be tempted to pick up another Silva book in the future. This novel is about Silva’s Israeli art restorer-turned-spy Gabriel Allon who is, as is usually the case with these things, dragged out of retirement by the opportunity to settle old scores with a Palestinian terrorist who killed his family several years ago. So far, so predictable, I suppose, and it’s true that Silva’s plotting, with one or two exceptions, is not exactly ground-breaking. What is compelling, though, is his decision to portray the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with a great degree of sympathy for both sides; he also displays a distinct coolness when it comes to describing action and a somewhat refined, at times lyrical, prose style that elevates this above your typical spy thriller. At times the novel seems to be straining against the boundaries of the genre, but it never quite manages to test them sufficiently to be particularly memorable. That said, it was enjoyable enough and, if you’re looking for a spy thriller, you could do a lot worse than pick this up.
The Witcher series of novels continues to impress; Andrezj Sapkowski’s second full novel The Time of Contempt sees Geralt of Rivia trying to protect his protege Ciri and prevent her from being used as a pawn in the increasingly murderous machinations of a variety of kings, a coterie of wizards and one particularly cunning emperor. If you’ve played the rather impressive games based on these novels, you’ll be aware of how rich and gritty the world of the novels is, but that doesn’t quite prepare you for Sapkowski’s storytelling which manages to plumb the depths of human baseness and take in the rarefied air of abstract philosophy sometimes in the same scene. In a genre swollen with bloated multi-volume Tolkien derivatives, Sapkowski offers something rather special – a fantasy world based fairly clearly on medieval Eastern Europe and a plot that is as much driven by the petty and short-sighted desires of men than it is by ancient prophecy. In short, this is good stuff, although, if you’re tempted to dip into his work, you might be better starting with his collection The Last Wish, which is so good I’ve read it twice and will doubtless do so again.
Howard the Duck. Alright, then. I like Zdarsky and Quinones’ run on the character, although it doesn’t really have much of the satirical madness of the Gerber run from the 70s. That’s not to say that there isn’t madness, mind you. There’s a lot of fun to be had in the current creative team’s gentle send-up of some of the more prevalent tropes of the Marvel Universe. Issue 2 of volume 2 (yes, Secret Wars is responsible for spawning yet more number 1s!), though, offers something rather unexpected – a touching tale dealing with female versions of Howard and Rocket Raccoon, cloned by the Collector when he captured Howard and Rocket during the first run. Expected to… ahem… keep our favourite duck and raccoon company during their long captivity, the two female clones strike up a close friendship and escape with the help of a Gatherer who should be keeping them prisoner but has formed a close surrogate parent bond with them. I won’t spoil the issue any further but I will say that it’s been a while since a comic book had quite the emotional impact that this one had on me. It’s nice to see that comic books still have the capacity to catch you unawares.
Well, that’s it for now. Be cool and awesome and wonderful.