Review: ‘Piranesi’ by Susanna Clarke

PiranesiPiranesi by Susanna Clarke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Imagine this: You live in a huge, seemingly infinite house filled with statuary and ocean tides; you have never been outside the house because the house is all you know and all you can know; your life’s mission, as you see it, is exploring this house to length and breadth of possibility and, as you walk and climb and stay away from the highest of those tides, you catalogue everything you see in a series of journals that may potentially become infinite in number and detail.

The protagonist is called Piranesi–perhaps in deference to the great printmaker of the 1700s, though Piranesi doesn’t know this–by the other living human being in the house. Piranesi doesn’t believe “Piranesi” is his real name, nor does he know the real name of the other man in the house, so he calls him “The Other.” Their researches into the ways and means of the house are, at first, beneficial. However, their co-operation begins to wear thing when Piranesi discovers that The Other is seeking advanced and secret knowledge he believes to be hidden inside the house. Piranesi thinks nothing can be more important that the beauties and scope of the house itself.

There are some dead in the house, not many, and where and when they died is unclear. Piranesi has taken care to arrange them in an orderly fashion and to keep them out of reach of the tides. The Other says there’s somebody else in the house, a person who hides, perhaps, in unknown rooms, and he suggests that that person wishes to harm Piranesi. They refer to him or her as “16,” since–when you include the dead–that’s the number of people in the house.

There’s deep and quiet magic in this masterpiece, and it becomes more evident as Clarke’s novel unfolds. There are hints that there may be a past Piranesi has forgotten or misconstrued. He becomes unsure of some of the entries in meticulously kept journals. There’s a growing worry about The Other’s truthfulness in some manners. Is anything what it seems? Piranesi can only wonder and proceed from room to room and tide to tide with due care.

For those who don’t require fire-breathing dragons or the snap of lethal energies flung from the hands of protagonists and antagonists in epic battles, this book is a treasure to be savoured like fine wine.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of magical realism, including the novels “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” “Eulalie and Washerwoman,” “Lena,” and (NEW) “Fate’s Arrows.”

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Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell author to return after 16-year gap

Sixteen years after readers were introduced to the magical world of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, Susanna Clarke is to publish her second novel.

Source: Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell author to return after 16-year gap | Books | The Guardian

Her first novel seemingly came out of nowhere, sold four million copies, and then she was silent except for a short piece linked to Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.

I can absolve 2020 for some of its crimes because of the upcoming publication of Piranesi.

Publisher’s Description

Piranesi’s house is no ordinary building: its rooms are infinite, its corridors endless, its walls are lined with thousands upon thousands of statues, each one different from all the others. Within the labyrinth of halls an ocean is imprisoned; waves thunder up staircases, rooms are flooded in an instant. But Piranesi is not afraid; he understands the tides as he understands the pattern of the labyrinth itself. He lives to explore the house.

There is one other person in the house-a man called The Other, who visits Piranesi twice a week and asks for help with research into A Great and Secret Knowledge. But as Piranesi explores, evidence emerges of another person, and a terrible truth begins to unravel, revealing a world beyond the one Piranesi has always known.

For readers of Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane and fans of Madeline Miller’s Circe, Piranesi introduces an astonishing new world, an infinite labyrinth, full of startling images and surreal beauty, haunted by the tides and the clouds.

Personally, I classify this book for lovers if magic and fantasy as a book not to be missed.

–Malcolm

BigAl’s Books and Pals Review: ‘The Sun Singer’ by Malcolm R Campbell

This is one of Campbell’s earlier books (first published 2010) and already his gifts for drawing warm characters and laying out a story so it flows towards and immerses the reader are well developed.

Source: BigAl’s Books and Pals: Review: The Sun Singer (Mountain Journeys Book 1) by Malcolm R Campbell

First Edition

Seeing this unexpected review appear on my Facebook news feed this morning makes my week (much more than yesterday’s after-supper lawn mowing), brings back a ton of nostalgia, and makes me wonder once again whether I made a very bad decision pulling it away from the agent who had my typewritten manuscript for the book in the 1980s.

The reviewer mentions that the book was inspired by the mountains of Glacier National Park Montana where I worked two summers as a hotel bellman. Those of you who have read my blogs for years also know that it was also inspired by a famous statue called “The Sun Singer” which I saw at Allerton Park, Illinois when I was (I think) in junior high school.

The novel is a bit earlier than the reviewer knows. I wrote it in the 1980s, got it accepted by a small but influential agent, and then waited for almost a year with no word. She liked the novel, but her small agency had also taken on a novel that turned out to be as huge then as The Game of Thrones is now. (I refuse to mention the title of the book or its sequels.) She said my wait would be an even longer one, so I took the manuscript back.

Was that a mistake? I guess I’ll never know. She might have found a publisher when she finally got around to actively shopping it, or she might not. The fact that an agent liked it led me to believe I could find a publisher who liked it. That took 24 years. I was gratified by the fact the book’s 2004 first edition was a “Foreword Reviews” book-of-the-year finalist but less than pleased that my publisher was iUniverse, a vanity press. But I would always wonder if the book might have received a wider audience in less time if I’d left it with that agent.

Current Edition

Later, several small traditional publishers wanted it, and this led to the 2010 edition. That publisher and I ultimately had a contractual disagreement, and that led to the current (2015) Kindle edition.

It’s interesting to me that several passages in the novel that happened more or less simultaneously were typeset by iUniverse in side-by-side columns. Nobody else has been able to do that since, including several other prospective publishers. I grew up in a letterpress-evolving-to-offset printing world where those columns wouldn’t have been a problem. “Progress” into a print-on-demand/Kindle world has taken away an option for small-press authors.

Nonetheless, this weird history of the novel doesn’t take away my gratitude that a reviewer found and liked the book after all these years. With a bit of luck, maybe my first novel will find a few more readers.

Malcolm

 

 

Kylie Chan is creating Fiction | Patreon

Hi there! I’m Kylie Chan, an Australian writer of Fantasy and Science Fiction based on the Gold Coast.

My books are successful in my home country of Australia, and I’ve been shortlisted many times for awards in my country. Not so much overseas. This means that although I’m popular and well-known here, I don’t have the same sort of profile (and success) elsewhere. Australia has a small population (and book-buying market) so this dramatically affects my earnings.

I’m making enough to live on as a full-time writer: I’m not rich but I’m getting by. (I make much less than most people think I do. If I worked nine-to-five I’d be bringing in minimum wage. This isn’t really relevant, though, because 1. It’s a fourteen-hour-day and 2. I don’t really consider it work.)

Source: Kylie Chan is creating Fiction | Patreon

Students of literature and other arts know that in years gone by, many writers, composers, and artists had patrons. From time to time, I read of modern-day authors setting up subscription services and crowdfunding plans to help them raise money for their work. In addition to that, grants and awards help many authors complete work they’d otherwise be unable to do.

So, I support the concept and hope that Kylie Chan’s multi-tiered benefits for various levels of monthly subscriptions will help her travel for research and go to conventions for her promotional efforts.

I am currently on my second reading through her nine-volume Xuan Wu epic fantasy series (three linked trilogies) set in Hong Kong and its traditional celestial realms. It’s an enjoyable and ambitious work.

Many authors are not widely enough known to apply for grants and/or set up patron-style crowdfunding plans. Chan’s readers will note, of course, that she is published by Harper (not an easy thing to accomplish) so she is starting from a higher platform than small-press authors who find it next to impossible to even get their work reviewed by mainstream media outlets, much less have it considered by major competitions or best-of-the-year lists. Whether one goes Chan’s route with a major publisher or goes the self-published or small-press route, the odds of success for authors are more discouraging than going to Vegas and making a profit at the casinos.

I wish Chan well and I wish the media would expand its book coverage and actively consider saying something about authors who don’t have huge conglomerate publishers behind their work.

Malcolm

There is nothing that’s not God

“In philosophy, panpsychism is the view that consciousness, mind, or soul (psyche) is a universal and primordial feature of all things. Panpsychists see themselves as minds in a world of mind.” – Wikipedia

Yes, I believe everything has consciousness from the tree behind my house, to the hummingbird sitting in the tree, to the rocks lying at the base of the tree. Nothing else makes sense to me. Long before I heard the Huna phrase “there is nothing that is not God,” I saw the view outside my window as “God’s thoughts.”

Rather than focus here on a philosophical discussion for which nobody that I know of can prove one way or the other, I’ll just say that my view of the world has played hell (figuratively speaking) with the placement of my books and stories into one genre or another.

So, I tend to say that I write magical realism because that covers just about everything I want to do without having to argue about whether or not a thinking rock is a fantasy or realism. I consider thinking rocks to be real, but the publisher usually doesn’t. But magical realism, well, that’s another kettle of fish, isn’t it? I believe the landscape is, in fact, magical. So, if I place my books in the magical realism genre, I can say what realism won’t allow me to say.

Someday down the road, all of us will probably have to re-define what’s real and what isn’t real. As of now, in spite of what Quantum physics is telling us, we’re still trapped in a nuts and bolts version of reality insofar as publishers, governments, and news organizations are concerned. Basically, saying that I write magical realism has kept me out of the asylum because people who think trees are conscious are usually placed on the shortlist for shock treatments and straight jackets.

Since I think we create our own reality, it’s natural for my characters to have the same belief. My beliefs about this are quite literal. Most people see the matter as figurative, having more to do with attitudes about what’s happening rather than causing what’s happening. Here’s the good news. If I say all this in a story, I’m not picked up by the Feds and put in a home. Call it my artistic license.

I say what I’m writing is true. Publishers and most of my readers think it’s fantasy or magic. I’m okay with that because I know that once a reader reads it, s/he can’t unread it (so to speak). There will always be that nagging idea in readers’ minds that just maybe the stuff is real. Yes, it is. But there’s no rush to believe it. One day you will.

Malcolm

 

 

Bestselling Fantasy Writer Christopher Paolini Kicks of New B&N Residency Program

Book Bits Special

from Barnes and Noble

New York, NY – February 4, 2019 – Barnes & Noble, Inc. (NYSE: BKS), the world’s largest retail bookseller, today announced that it will host fantasy writer Christopher Paolini for a 10-month author residency to celebrate his internationally bestselling Inheritance Cycle series, as well as his new collection of three stories set in the world of Alagaësia: The Fork, the Witch and the Worm. As part of this national tour, Paolini will appear at 11 Barnes & Noble locations from March through December 2019 with an enhanced customer experience that includes a presentation by Paolini, a booksigning, exclusive trivia, social media photo opportunities with an exclusive backdrop, and an exclusive giveaway, while supplies last.

“We are so excited to be working with Random House Children’s Books to host author Christopher Paolini on this exciting author residency tour,” said Stephanie Fryling, Vice President of Merchandising, Children’s Books at Barnes & Noble. “Fans will have the chance to have an exclusive experience with Paolini and enter the world of Eragon in a way like never before at Barnes & Noble stores across the country.”

Wikipedia Photo

Christopher Paolini is best known as the author of the Inheritance Cycle, a bestselling series comprised of four books including Eragon, Eldest, Brisingr and Inheritance. Paolini wrote Eragon shortly after graduating high school at age 15. The Fork, the Witch and the Worm is Paolini’s newest book in the fantasy series, which debuted at #1 on The New York Times Young Adult Bestseller list.

“It has been such a blast meeting so many Eragon fans while on tour for The Fork, the Witch, and the Worm. I look forward to meeting even more of them on my national Barnes & Noble 2019 Residency Tour,” Paolini said.

The tour will kick off in Paolini’s hometown of Bozeman, MT, on March 4. The full list of tour dates are below.

Barnes & Noble Christopher Paolini 2019 Residency Tour Dates:

Bozeman, MT, Monday, March 4, 5 PM
Boise, ID, Saturday, April 13, 6 PM
Albuquerque, NM, Friday, May 10, 7 PM
Edina, MN, Sunday, June 9, 1 PM
Briargate, Colorado Springs, CO, Friday, June 14, 2 PM
Exton, PA, Saturday, July 13, 1 PM
Akron, OH, Friday, August 9, 7 PM
Springfield, MO, Saturday, September 14, 3 PM
Grand Rapids, MI, Friday, October 11, 6:30 PM
Orem, UT, Saturday, November 9, 2 PM
Stonebriar Mall, Frisco, TX, Sunday, December 8, 2 PM

Briefly Noted: ‘Children’s Fantasy Literature: An Introduction’

Children’s Fantasy Literature: An Introduction by Farah Mendlesohn and Michael Levy won the 2018 Mythopoeic Award for Myth and Fantasy Studies. When Sandra Lindow, Levy’s widow, accepted the award for her late husband (who died last year), she said, “He would be particularly pleased to receive this recognition because historically children’s fantasy has been undervalued. A good part of his career was dedicated to reading and researching those books that provide both high-quality entertainment and emotional education for children and young adults.”

With the exception of R. J. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, which also captured the attention of adult readers, children’s fantasy is often written off as “just kids’ stuff” while fairy tales have received a great deal of scholarly analysis. I hope this award will help draw attention to this book as well as its subject.

Publisher’s Description

“Fantasy has been an important and much-loved part of children’s literature for hundreds of years, yet relatively little has been written about it. Children’s Fantasy Literature traces the development of the tradition of the children’s fantastic – fictions specifically written for children and fictions appropriated by them – from the sixteenth to the twenty-first century, examining the work of Lewis Carroll, L. Frank Baum, C. S. Lewis, Roald Dahl, J. K. Rowling and others from across the English-speaking world. The volume considers changing views on both the nature of the child and on the appropriateness of fantasy for the child reader, the role of children’s fantasy literature in helping to develop the imagination, and its complex interactions with issues of class, politics, and gender. The text analyses hundreds of works of fiction, placing each in its appropriate context within the tradition of fantasy literature.”

Children’s Literature Association Quarterly Review

“Children’s Fantasy Literature: An Introduction is an immense work in scope and scholarship. As befits its authors, Michael Levy and Farah Mendlesohn – two prominent figures in the world of children’s literature criticism – this latest work is a far-reaching feat that grasps the tenuous strings of the inception of both fantasy and children’s literature and weaves them from the sixteenth through the twenty-first centuries into a tremendous narrative tapestry.” – Joli Barham McClelland

From the Introduction

“The aim of this book is to bring together two traditions of criticism, that of the literature of the fantasic, and that of children’s literature. In addition, the book aims ti situate children’s fantasy in the context of changing ideas of childhood across three centuries; and perhaps most crucially, to consider the effect which the extension of childhood has had upon the writing and publishing of children’s fiction.”

The research and writing of this book comprise an ambitious project that will lead to greater understanding of the genre and–with luck–more respect.

Malcolm

 

Review: ‘European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman’ by Theodora Goss

European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman (The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club, #2)European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman by Theodora Goss
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter” was my favorite novel of 2017. I don’t yet know what this year’s favorite book will be, but I’m happy to see that book two in the Athena Club series, “European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman” is a well-written and wondrous sequel. It does not disappoint.

Like book one, it is highly literate, carefully written, and intensely readable. As with the first book in the series, we find a smorgasbord of of myths and literary characters here, including Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and Doctor Moreau.

I know from Goss’ Facebook page and blog that she Hungarian-born author knows her locations well, and enhances her knowledge of them through yearly travels. This adds a great amount of depth to her books and does the fact that she teaches and researches fairy tales at the college level.

The members of the Athena Club leave London in this story and travel far afield to uncover the nasty projects coming from the rogue members of the alchemist society. One might quibble here that alchemists don’t normally engage in the Frankenstein horrors portrayed in the books, but that’s a small matter. The prospective mix-ups and horrors of travel add to the fun.

Since the novel itself is being written by one of the members of the Athena Club, we see frequent conversations outside the narrative by members of the club as they more or less discuss how they are being portrayed. This is a clever device and provides interesting depth to the story. I do think that it’s used overly much and represents a distraction after a while.

Goss definitely knows what she’s doing here and, when all is said and done, that makes for an exciting story with a lot of overlap with other genres that many of her readers know well. Highly recommended!

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Malcolm

Review: Alice Hoffman’s ‘The Rules of Magic’

The Rules of MagicThe Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“The Rules of Magic,” the prequel to Alice Hoffman’s 1995 bestseller “Practical Magic,” sparkles with the same wisdom and magical realism as the witching story of Sally and Gillian Owens did twenty two years ago. The characters, stories and writing style of this stunning prequel fit hand-in-glove with the characters, stories and writing style of “Practical Magic,” not an easy bit of conjuring for an author to face when going back to a story she told before she truly knew the magical rules when she first wrote about them.

This backstory about Sally and Gillian’s aunts Franny and Bridget (AKA “Jet”) focuses on a theme about life’s curses and blessings and what individuals wish to make of the fate and destiny they are given. Early on, Franny and Jet’s mother asks the sisters whether they’re opting for courage or caution in their unfolding lives. Their answers make for a cohesive story. Clearly, Alice Hoffman opted for courage when she traveled back to 1995 to continue the story of the Owens family.

The book contains wonderful surprises, making it much deeper than a family tree tacked on to the front of a famous novel many years later. The book offers its own multiple levels of depth and angst and joy while changing in positive ways the way many of us who read it will view the characters and themes of the original novel. (Emerging writers considering magical realism as a potential genre for their work will find both novels to be a demonstration of how an author can utilize magic and realism seamlessly in novels set in today’s world.”

While the ending of “The Rules of Magic” represents the best of all possible worlds for the two novels and their characters, turning the last page might be depressing for some readers. The reason is simply this: nobody wants the story to end because when it comes down to it, we need these characters, their joys and sorrows, and their magic in our lives.

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–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the magical realism novels “Conjure Woman’s Cat” and “Eulalie and Washerwoman.