Book Review – Looking for Alaska by John Green


This novel was recommended by one of my students, who knew my love of heartbreak and well-told stories, and I wasn’t disappointed.

The tale is simple, telling the story of a friendless boy who heads for private school  in search of something more. He meets a small, but perfectly formed, group of people who become, surely but steadily, his friends. He also falls in love with the wrong person, a girl named Alaska. She is the sort of girl everyone wishes they met at school, but are glad, in hindsight, that they didn’t. Complex, awkward, and hard to love, Alaska provides the real heart to the story, both for our hero, and for everyone else.

Everything that happens is in some way caused by her, and every thought our hero has, brings him back to her.

I loved this book. I loved the language, simple, yet evocative. I loved the characters, believable, yet with that wonderful touch of magic that makes books like this worth reading. I loved the set-up, hated the twist, but wouldn’t have it any other way. And I loved the little details, the last words the hero is fixated on, the life library that fills Alaska’s shelves, the smoking den down by the river.

Well written, compelling and heart-rending, a great introduction (for me) to an exceptional writer.


Book Review – Neuromancer by William Gibson

Neuromancer Cover

I’d heard nothing about this book until it suddenly cropped up in lots of different places, all within a few weeks. I found a copy and read, having no idea really of what I was stepping into.

The story follows the adventures of a hacker, for want of a better word, one of the new tech kids, capable of interacting with computers on another level from the rest of the world. The downside for him is that he’s crashing, bad, out of hope and bored. Until someone decides to implant him with something very unpleasant in order to get him to carry out a task.

The set-up is simple, and the plot not particularly deep, but the writing is glorious and the concepts fantastic. I had to check a number of times when the book was published, just to make sure. Anyone who thought the Matrix was original, think again. In fact, anyone who thought pretty much any sci-fi based around the internet was original needs to read this.

Having said that, you can have the greatest idea in the world, and if the characters and writing aren’t up to it, it doesn’t matter in the least. I’m happy to say that both stand up to the test. The characterisation is brief, and a little stereotyped, but works within the context of the novel, and I cared enough about both the main character and his girlfriend to need to know the ending.

The writing style I enjoyed very much; colloquial, fast-paced, rule-bending, and perfect for the book. It jumps around, and never lets you settle and creates an atmosphere of uncertainty and dis-ease that, again, suits the novel down to the ground.

Were I to level a criticism at it, I would suggest that the final third of the book, the Straylight run, is perhaps a little overlong, and the final payoff a touch simplistic, but then the ending is always the hardest part.

If you enjoyed Snow Crash (a book I loved) then this is the natural precursor to it, and well worth a read.


Book Review – Forge of Darkness by Steven Erikson

Forge of Darkness Cover

I’ve been a huge fan of Steven Erikson since discovering the Malazan series a few years ago, but there’s always been something missing for me. The one thing needed to take his books from being amazing to being the greatest things I’ve ever read, though to be honest, it’s a pretty close thing already.

With the Kharkanas series, he’s cracked it. All the standards are still there. Epic, dynamic world building, a massive host of characters, all with their own motivations and intrigues and horrible vices, inventive riffs on the fantasy tropes, and of course, the nastiest ideas found in the fantasy universe. But beyond and above all of them, he breathed true and heartrending life into his characters.

I care about the people in the malazan universe, but never so much as I do now about those from the Kharkanas series. For more than one of them, the story is a tragedy, and their tales are built slowly, from sketches into fully formed people for whom I cried and loved and despaired, and very occasionally, celebrated.

If you like fantasy, and are still curious as to what can be done with it, read this book. If you like to be challenged, to hold a world inside your head and track the many comings and goings of its many denizens, read this book. If you enjoy a writer who puts words together like few have done before him, read this book. And above all, if you like your writing to be character-driven, emotive and powerful, read this book.