Top Ten Bookish Things I’d Like To Own

  1. A Jay Johnstone Tolkien oil painting. I mentioned this particular life goal here about two weeks ago. I just love these paintings: they strip away the modern realism that characterises the high fantasy aesthetic at the moment in favour of a more thematically appropriate medieval feel. For instance, isn’t this treatment of Isildur fascinating?
  2. A time turner necklace. I am still operating under a fairly significant play hangover (like a book hangover but for plays) after going to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child last week, so it may be that this particular wish has dissipated by next week.
  3. Ankh-Morpork board game. I played this at a geek meetup a month or so ago, and it is fantastic (unlike the wretched The Witches game). Everyone gets a different role and you FIGHT for control of Ankh-Morpork! And there are special-effects cards with, like, Susan Sto Helit and the Librarian and it’s AWESOME.
  4. This Josh Kirby Librarian print. This list is going to have a lot of prints in it. Josh Kirby’s work is so detailed and animated and I would definitely not object to looking at this every day.
  5. A Charter Mark necklace. This exists! It kind of took my breath away when I saw it – not because it looks particularly complicated to make, but, oh my, the nostalgia. I love these books so much I almost don’t notice.
  6. Beszel/Ul Qoma “Unity” badge. Yes, I know it’s horrifically ironic to buy merchandise based on socialist novels, and also I didn’t like The City and the City very much, but this is quite cool.
  7. This Gormenghast print. I just found this on Etsy and wow, I love that really intricate artwork – very like Chris Riddell’s work. In fact, I might buy this right now.
  8. This Midsummer Night’s Dream t-shirt. Isn’t it pretty? It reminds me of that unspeakably lovely Russell T. Davies adaptation of the play on the BBC last year.
  9. This Reading is Radical print. It may not be entirely true. But look at it, godsdammit.
  10. This Little Women bookmark. Because, oh, yes. What a perfect quote.

(The prompt for this post was suggested by the Broke and the Bookish’s weekly meme Top Ten Tuesday.)


Top Ten Subversive Female Characters

In honour of International Women’s Day.

Also, the Tournament of Books has started! Unfortunately I cannot honour both at once, but you should definitely go read the Tournament – it is wonderful and thoughtful and, yes, subversive.

  1. Alana – Saga, Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples. Alana’s a fighter and a mother and a lover. She’s determined not to give up her own identity and her own right to defend herself; and her right, too, to fall in love with whomever the hell she likes. She’s sassy and sexy and vulnerable and real.
  2. Nyx – God’s War, Kameron Hurley. Honestly, Nyx is not really a nice person. In fact, she’s utterly ruthless, ready to kill and betray to protect herself. But she’s bisexual and forthright and defiantly, unapologetically female.
  3. Adora Belle Dearheart – Going Postal, Terry Pratchett. Ignore the film version: book Adora is not going to be shoehorned into the sentimentalities of traditional romance. If she’s going to date someone, it will be on her terms.
  4. Lyra Belacqua – Northern Lights, Philip Pullman. Lyra is not good. She is not pretty, or honest, or nice. She is loyal, though, and fierce, and clever. And she knows what’s right and wrong.
  5. Mosca Mye – Fly By Night, Frances Hardinge. Mosca’s very much in the mould of Lyra. She’s a liar. She runs away from her family. She has a pet goose. She’s nothing that a girl is expected to be: but she thinks for herself, and she works to make things better for others.
  6. Hermione Granger – Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling. Again: Hermione’s not pretty. Nor is she, particularly, a fighter. But she’s clever, and brave in her own way, and she works almost behind the scenes to bring Voldemort down.
  7. Emily Roland – the Temeraire series, Naomi Novik. She’s a female aviator, and not particularly showy about it: matter-of-factly in love with a dragon captain she can’t marry, and straightforward about having sex with him; quietly convinced, in defiance of society’s surprise, of her being just as competent as her male counterparts.
  8. Sonmi-451 – Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell. Sonmi is quietly, cold-bloodedly defiant and brave. She knows that she has been lied to and manipulated, and she knows what her future is. And still, she goes on, because she also knows that she’s sowing the seeds of rebellion.
  9. Katniss Everdeen – The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins. Katniss may not be a subtle revolutionary, but I think that the fact that she has no good choices and no real good ending makes her important in YA.
  10. Yalda – The Clockwork Rocket, Greg Egan. What makes Yalda so interesting is that her rebellion is about doing science: creating space for her and her friends to have a meaningful intellectual life, while fighting their biology to give themselves a future.

2016 Roundup

Lord. It’s the beginning of a new year again.

2016 was a better reading year for me than 2015. It had to be, really, given everything else that went on around the world.

And so, without too much further reflection: let’s begin.

The English Student’s Favourite Things of 2016

As always, these are things I first read or watched in 2016, not necessarily things published or released in that year. How organised do you think I am?

TV: Class: For Tonight We Might Die. Class just edges it over the last episode of Firefly because it was such a surprise to see a Doctor Who spinoff that actually cared about its characters and that treated its SFnal premise with something like respect. I’m hideously behind on the series, but I’ve every intention of catching up. Eventually.

Film: A Midsummer Night’s DreamRussell T Davies’ luminous and magical version of Shakespeare’s play gave me an emotional hangover for days: joyful, hopeful and inclusive.

Book: Railsea – China Mieville. A story of deserts and giant moles and people who live on trains and salvage and stories, all woven up with Mieville’s militant socialism and vibrant intellect. And that ending

Misc.: Nine Worlds 2016. Three days of pure and unadulterated geekery. What else is there to say?

2016 Reading Stats

  • I read 72 books in 2016 – the same as I read last year, and one fewer than I was hoping to read, thanks to a miscalculation last week. So close
  • The longest book I read was J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, which needs, oh, less than half of its 766 pages, I’d say. Tied for shortest were Saga‘s second, third and fourth volumes, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples, which in contrast deserved every page they had. Overall, I read 26,492 pages in 2016 – down from 27,390 last year.
  • The oldest book I read was Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, first published in 1911. The average age of the books I read in 2016 was 16 – lower than last year’s 25.
  • Genre: I read 30 fantasy novels (42%), 17 SF novels (24%) and 6 “literary fiction” novels (8%) – although, obviously, take that latter category with a pinch of salt. Also: four thrillers, three humour novels, two historical, one horror (House of Leaves) and one “classic” (The Secret Garden). So I obviously slid back towards genre this year.
  • I read 19 YA novels (26%) – an increase on last year.
  • 21% of the books I read were re-reads – a slight increase on last year’s 19%, but not a disastrous one.
  • And, finally, my favourite statistic: 58% of the books I read in 2016 were by women – an improvement on my goal of 50%!

Film Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

I admit, I was sceptical about Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. The Harry Potter franchise seems to have turned into a bit of a cash cow recently, with both Fantastic Beasts and the West End play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child released in book form as well as theatrically, which just seems a bit crass, frankly.

But for someone of my generation actually seeing the film at some point seemed, well, compulsory. Plus, the delightful Eddie Redmayne (who, by the way, is worth the price of admission all by himself, even if we did go on Saver Night) was very much a temptation.

Fantastic Beasts, then, set in the Harry Potter universe in 1926 (forty-odd years before the events of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone), sees twenty-something wizard Newt Scamander (played by the lovely Eddie) arriving in New York with a suitcase full of various magical creatures, all of which, incidentally, are outlawed by the American wizarding community. Inevitably, some of the creatures escape.

The plot is rather loose: it sees Eddie lurching Britishly and oddly Doctor Who-ishly across New York, rounding up – or, at least, attempting to round up – his creatures, which are causing various forms of chaos in various ways, and in the process entangling with the American equivalent of the Ministry of Magic, MACUSA. In particular, he’s trailed and occasionally aided by Porpentina Goldstein, an ex-Auror demoted for being a little too dedicated to her duty, her sister Queenie – a Manic Pixie Dream Girl if ever I saw one – and genial Muggle Jacob Kowalski whom Newt accidentally draws into the magical world. (By the way, the American word for “Muggle”, “No-Maj”, may be the most ridiculous name I have heard in a long time. And I’ve read a lot of high fantasy.)

Fantastic Beasts is Rowling’s first outing as a screenwriter, and it seems to mark something of a return to what’s good about her writing. In particular, like the early Harry Potter books, the film’s whimsical surface overlies something much darker: for beneath New York’s lushly rendered 1920s glamour (ooh, flapper dresses and diamond necklaces and beautiful long peacoats) roils a melting pot of tension and mistrust. Particularly, the shadow of Gellert Grindelwald, who will be familiar to readers of the later Harry Potter books as essentially the wizarding world’s Hitler analogue, lies long across David Yates’ frames. A sub-plot sees the rise of a Muggle movement called the New Salem Philanthropic Society, which holds that Witches Are Among Us and should be burned at the stake, and which is led by a nasty, puritanical woman, Mary Lou Barebone, an abusive mother whose intolerance of magic proves disastrous. A few bare scenes take us into the political upper echelons of Muggle New York society: a dinner hosted by a senator running for President is imagistically very reminiscent of Nazism (the senator speaks in front of a blown-up banner depicting himself, in a hall of classical marble and high ceilings), while a scene with the senator’s media tycoon father feels disturbingly Trumpian. Not even MACUSA escapes: its president (unfortunately the only person of colour in the film) is ruthless and contemptuous towards her staff, towards poor Eddie, and towards the film’s most tragic character, Mary Lou’s adopted son Credence. There is a lot going on here, politically, and it makes what could have been a frivolous cash cow actually a rather grounded look at the poison and unrest that intolerance and ungentleness can generate. It’s a credit to Rowling’s writing, too, that this simmering tension, although it does give a tone of bittersweetness to the film, doesn’t drag it down into “depressing” territory: the tragedy and the terror are leavened and anchored by Newt’s goodheartedness and the frequently adorable antics of his animals, as well as some lovely production design.

I didn’t think I’d say this, but I’m actually very interested to see what Rowling comes up with for the inevitable sequel. Fantastic Beasts is, like Harry Potter was when it was first published, an unexpected surprise.

Top Ten Dystopias; Or, True and Accurate Representations of Post-Trump America

  1. The Gunslinger – Stephen King. A lone gunfighter wanders across a desert wasteland, killing as he goes. There are mutants under the mountains and sex demons in stone circles. The one town he passes through tries to murder him.
  2. Perdido Street Station – China Mieville. A vast and corrupt ruling class keep the city in line with an iron fist. They research horrors without appropriate safeguards. Criminals are horribly and disproportionately punished.
  3. God’s War – Kameron Hurley. An endless religious war rages across an entire planet, but no-one can remember what it’s about or where it started. The government hires assassins to take out draft dodgers. Racial and gender intolerance abounds.
  4. Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell. Corporations and institutions perpetuate endless injustice. Tiny steps forwards are met with enormous leaps back. Evil is easier and more common than good.
  5. Jack Glass – Adam Roberts. Poor people live crowded together in unstable and irradiated plastic bubbles in space. The only kind of revolutionary activity that works is the ultra-violent kind.
  6. Six-Gun Snow White – Catherynne Valente. Everybody gets the raw end of the deal. Abuse perpetuates abuse. You submit or you die.
  7. Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel. Everyone dies of flu. Religious intolerance is a thing.
  8. Catching Fire – Suzanne Collins. Children are sent to kill each other to keep the population in line. The working classes starve while the rich eat so much they vomit it up to make more room. The only kind of revolutionary activity that works is the ultra-violent kind.
  9. Wool – Hugh Howey. The people in power keep pulling the wool over your eyes (see what I did there?). What’s worse, they make you pull the wool over your own eyes, to keep you all safe and alive. Also, you live underground in a giant silo and have never seen the outside world.
  10. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – J.K. Rowling. Hogwarts is taken over by an increasingly paranoid megalomaniac with a face like a toad. (Sound familiar?) Student clubs are banned. Magazines are banned. The aforesaid megalomaniac tortures her students and drives out all the sensible people.

Review: The End of Mr. Y

the-end-of-mr-yThe heroine of The End of Mr. Y is a reclusive, cynical and slightly precocious female PhD student whose idea of a good time is curling up for the day with a good book.

In other words, the chances of my not enjoying this novel were very small indeed.

Ariel Manto, the aforesaid recluse, stops in at a second-hand bookshop one wintry afternoon, and finds an extremely rare copy (as in, only-one-copy-exists-in-a-sealed-German-bank-vault rare) of an obscure novel by an almost-forgotten Victorian author: The End of Mr. Y, by Thomas E. Lumas. She buys it for a fraction of its worth, and on reading it discovers that it contains a homeopathic formula which allows the drinker to access a psychic realm called the Troposphere: a realm of metaphors representing humanity’s collective unconscious, from where, Ariel finds, you can slip into people’s minds and read their memories. The Troposphere is addictive: once you’ve visited, you have to keep going back. But it’s also dangerous: because distance equals time there; travel too far, and your body might have starved to death by the time you return. And there are those who would weaponise the Troposphere, making all of humanity potentially vulnerable. Can Ariel stop them before it’s too late?

If you’re wondering: yes, it does occasionally read like an unholy mashup of The Matrix and The Da Vinci Code.

But it’s also doing some pretty hefty theoretical thinking of its own. Key to Ariel’s, and the novel’s, worldview is that old gaping void between signifier and signified: the theory, invoked by the dread names of Heidegger and Derrida, that in our haunted postmodern times the layer of symbol and story and language that makes up our cultural experience has become only self-referential; that there is no “real” referent at all, only an endless cycle of metaphor, of simulacra.

I mean, all vomited out like that it sounds pretty indigestible, but Thomas provides us with a number of variations on the theme throughout the novel. Such as:

  • Ariel’s PhD is in the language and form of thought experiments – which are, of course, stories to illustrate untestable hypotheses. Unlike scientific experiments, thought experiments never manage to reach any kind of objective “truth” – they are there to render mathematical calculations (which are themselves only symbols – but of what?) comprehensible.

  • Ariel herself is a profoundly unreliable narrator. She tells us – and herself – stories about her life that narrate away what is obviously a profound loneliness – but we never have real, direct access to her true experience, partly because it doesn’t exist. Ariel is no more than a collection of words on tree pulp. Trying to work out her “true” experience is a pointless task.

  • Sex is important to the fabric of this novel: Ariel engages in a series of destructive sexual relationships with older men; and finds, as I read it, that contra Lacan, no matter how much violence is visited upon her, she cannot break through the Symbolic to the Real, because for her there is no Real.

(A note, briefly, on Thomas’ use of kink: though I think it’s reasonably clear here that the self-destructive nature of Ariel’s relationships stems not from the fact of transgressive sex itself but from the lack of connection she finds in them, the novel does steer dangerously close to using kink as a shorthand for “unhealthy”.)

In other words, The End of Mr. Y is a Postmodern Novel.

It’s funny: though I love a good Postmodern Novel, when I write about them I often find myself reduced to writing lists of features like the one above, spottings of things that are mildly interesting in themselves but don’t really amount to a properly solid reading of the novel. Partly, I’m sure, this is a failure of my own critical method: I’m a year out of university now and it’s fairly hard to keep those skills fresh outside of an academic environment. But, partly, I wonder if postmodernism hasn’t run out of things to say.

I can’t help but think of Richard Cooper’s recent review in Strange Horizons of the Netflix show Stranger Things. In it, Cooper argues that cultural production in the twenty-first century has been entirely dominated by reboots and reworkings, with very little in the way of creating new icons for our age; reading between the lines (and also alongside an Adam Roberts review of Aurororama in his review collection Sibilant Fricative), he seems to be suggesting that we’ve reached a kind of post-historic era, in which we’re no longer capable of creating heroes or heroines who can adequately represent our experience. The general thrust of Cooper’s argument feels too pessimistic to me, and I certainly think he gives J.K. Rowling short shrift (as well as ignoring the works of Terry Pratchett – most of which are, admittedly, not really of the twenty-first century), but it’s hard, in the face of BBC schedules which are entirely made up of Agatha Christie remakes and new series of Poldark, of the onslaught of Marvel movies and fairy-tale retellings from the film studios, not to concede that he has a point. The postmodern tools of irony and metatext (what does a remake do but return us, endlessly, to a receding series of “originals”, simulacrum upon simulacrum?) have become, not only mainstream, but the mainstream techniques for telling stories; we seem as a (Western) culture to have lost our faith in story’s ability to describe lived experience in ways that are new and fresh, and have fallen back on deconstruction, on pointing out hipsterishly that, like, stories are not like life.

But we are Homo narrativus, the storytelling ape: and though deconstructing familiar narratives, revealing the biases that lie behind them, can be valuable and necessary work, it needs to be accompanied by reconstruction: the creation of new stories, the making of new meanings.

Back, then, to The End of Mr. Y. To me, the saving grace of this novel is this: it allows us to read the absence of an ultimate referent in two ways. First, the nihilistic reading, the ironic reading: everything is, finally, meaningless, and there is no way adequately to represent anything, and no reason to try. The end of art. Secondly, however, a reading that the novel suggests without quite confirming: if all that we can access is story and symbol, does that not give us, as the storytelling ape, enormous power? We only need to tell a new story, and the world is changed. We tell a story, and suddenly a cat can be alive and dead at one and the same time. We tell a story, and suddenly connection is possible, where once it seemed as far away as the end of the universe. We tell a story, and we find our Eden.

Top Ten Books I Read Before I Was a Blogger

  1. The Silmarillion – J.R.R. Tolkien. I’m currently re-reading this, and I think one of the things I love about it is how autumnal it is: that gentle, gorgeous sadness.
  2. Going Postal – Terry Pratchett. Or, all the Discworld books. Going Postal is one of my favourites, though: I’m fascinated by showmen, and if Moist is anything he’s a showman.
  3. The Gunslinger – Stephen King. Apocalyptic and vast, a story of truths half-told, of men in black and way stations and mutants under mountains: in many ways this is just perfect fantasy. I’ve never read anything like it since.
  4. Sabriel – Garth Nix. I read and re-read this, and its sequels Lirael and Abhorsen, endlessly. It’s got an awesome heroine, a sarcastic cat, a vast and wonderful library (in Lirael), and an invented world with a lot of depth.
  5. Our Mutual Friend – Charles Dickens. This was my first Dickens, which I read when I was in school: I fell in love with its sprawling sentimentality.
  6. The Historian – Elizabeth Kostova. Another novel that features libraries: its main characters track down Dracula through a paper trail of pamphlets and books from across time. It made me want to go to university; not that I hadn’t wanted to go before, but this made me want it concretely.
  7. Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency – Douglas Adams. Dirk Gently is one of the great comic creations of English literature: irreverent, off-beat and ironical.
  8. Persuasion – Jane Austen. Another wonderfully autumnal novel: I read it for my A-level course, and it was just so rewarding to study.
  9. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – J.K. Rowling. This was the first Harry Potter book I read (don’t ask) and I’ve had a soft spot for it ever since. I think it strikes a great balance between worldbuilding and plot, a balance that the later books don’t ever really achieve.
  10. Northern Lights – Philip Pullman. I just really, really loved the idea of daemons, and the fact that it was a huge, dense book to get stuck into. Reading it back now, it’s also full of quite complex ideas about science and metaphysics and philosophy.

(The theme for this post was suggested by the Broke and the Bookish’s weekly meme Top Ten Tuesday.)

Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

This review contains spoilers.

Harry-Potter-and-the-Deathly-HallowsI have now procrastinated writing this review literally to the last possible moment, which gives you some idea of just how enthusiastic I am about the whole idea.

Deathly Hallows is, of course, the last of the Harry Potter Main Series (that was almost an astrophysics joke, but I misremembered the chart on the wall of my school Physics classroom, godsdammit), and it sees Our Heroes tramping through various bits of the English countryside, occasionally going on random and often pointless side quests and sniping at each other because of the baleful influence of the One Ring Horcrux they are carrying around with them.

Then, without any visible ramping up of tension, there is an Exciting Battle! with Shocking Revelations!

Then it is The End.

This is almost frighteningly similar to the structure of Twilight, as it happens (500 pages of Edward Cullen’s face, plus random excursions that achieve precisely nothing, followed by Exciting Vampire Battle with Exciting Vampire Revelations and Egregious Self-Sacrifice!). There is probably an essay of sorts to be written here, but I do not, alas, have the intellectual energy to write it now.

I think there is scope for an extremely charitable reading of the Harry Potter series which says that the books are effectively a work of successive deconstruction: moving from the traditional plot of Philosopher’s Stone, full of the formal conceits of (childish) fairy tales, seeing the world in fairly simple shades of black and white and maybe a very little grey, through to the non-plot of Deathly Hallows, confusing and pointless and aimless as life can seem when you are eighteen and about to start adulting. Growing with its readers, the series breaks down the certainties of childhood, the institutions that are supposed to protect you (Hogwarts under Ministry control becomes a dictatorship in Order of the Phoenix; the goblins of Gringotts bank try to kill Our Heroes in Deathly Hallows), the people who you idolise (James tortures Snape, Lupin is a flake, Sirius has overweening pride).

I think some version of this progression is almost certainly what Rowling is going for. I’ve outlined some of my problems with this approach in my reviews of some of the other books; in shortish form, they are:

  1. Generic. A lot of Western fantasy works by repurposing traditional plots and tropes to talk about new concerns: it’s something that fantasy as a genre is particularly good at. I’m not saying that it’s impossible to write good, immersive, interesting fantasy without using or subverting those traditional plots; I am saying that stripping away those plot structures, deliberately or otherwise, can leave a text feeling self-interested, introverted, bloated on its own backstory – irrelevant because uninterested in its literary parentage. As this text does.

  2. Character. Rowling’s strength is not in writing character. Despite her frequent protestations to the contrary, Harry is not a wonderful perfect saviour possessed of unusual capacity for love; he is a quite ordinary teenage douchebag whose pimply face I would quite like to punch. Ron is irrelevant, Ginny a Mary Sue, and Hermione, although the best of the bunch, is still fairly one-note. You need good characters if you aren’t going to have a decent plot, or what’s the point?

  3. Commitment to the motion. The series just doesn’t carry through on its deconstructive project. The much-reviled epilogue to Deathly Hallows fails to show us the long and difficult labour of destroying old structures of oppression to ensure that the likes of Voldemort can’t rise again; it skips over all that uncertainty, those shades of grey, to a conventional and consolatory ending in which everyone gets married and “all was well”. Even Tolkien, the king of the traditional plot, did it better with his Grey Havens scene. And the denouement of the book, of course, reverts to the oldest and most consolatory Christian myth of all: the story of the Resurrection, in which the sinless dies for everyone and rises again – “and all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well”. (That’s Julian of Norwich.) Some deconstruction. Rowling never managed to convince me as to why Harry was so special; why his sacrifice meant so much more than the sacrifices of those countless unnamed people who died for their families and friends both when Voldemort was at the height of his powers and at the Battle of Hogwarts. It’s a thoroughly conventional, and thoroughly black-and-white, ending for a series that has spent much of its energies over the past four books trying to break things down into shades of grey.

This has been, then, my Harry Potter re-read.

I am not doing it again.

Top Ten Most Frustrating Characters

“His purpose was rigid within him. He felt he could not bend to gentleness without breaking.”

Stephen Donaldson

  1. Thomas Covenant – The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever, Stephen Donaldson. I do love the Covenant series, for reasons, but gods the main character is frustrating, seesawing between inaction and action, deciding to do one thing and then the next moment something completely different, and his hesitation, his privileging of his own needs above others’, constantly puts lives at risk.
  2. Hugo Lamb – The Bone Clocks, David Mitchell. Hugo and Holly are my OTP, and I will never, ever forgive Hugo for swapping True Love for Eternal Life. Did he never read Harry Potter?
  3. Pamela Andrews – Pamela, Samuel Richardson. This is the first book on my list that I actually genuinely despise. Pamela Andrews is an intensely irritating, sanctimonious milksop who is defeated in her escape attempt by a brick wall and some scary-looking cows. I AM NOT KIDDING. Yes, she is a 17th-century heroine, but so was Sophia Western in Tom Jones, and she left her father’s house with a pistol in her bra.
  4. Wade Watts – Ready Player One, Ernest Cline. I hated Wade, and the book he appears in, with a passion: he is the ultimate in “…but my best friend is [insert minority here]” internet trolldom.
  5. Feanor – The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien. Back to books I actually enjoy. Every time I re-read The Silmarillion the plight of Middle-earth seems more and more Feanor’s fault. (Because it actually, um, is his fault.) IF ONLY YOU WERE NOT SUCH A DOUCHEBAG FOR FIVE MINUTES, Feanor. If only.
  6. Mrs de Winter – Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier. The unnamed heroine of Rebecca is such a weed. I always wish she would just stand up to Mrs Danvers and Frith and not feel judged by them. Like, I know everyone has had those moments of social awkwardness, but they are so frustrating to read about.
  7. Harry Potter – Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix onwards, J.K. Rowling. Rowling is constantly telling us how Amazing and Noble Harry is. All I see is a fairly ordinary, very moody teenager making questionable decisions. The fact that he has the fate of the wizarding world in his hands is not A Good Thing.
  8. Evelina Anville – Evelina, Fanny Burney. Evelina is gloriously clueless, and I think the frustration of this book is actually part of the fun, as we watch her get into so many easily-avoidable sticky situations.
  9. Susannah Dean – The Dark Tower, Stephen King. That bit in the last book where she goes through the door? I know it’s supposed to be redemptive and shiny and wonderful, but it always seems a bit…flaky to me.
  10. Esther Summerson – Bleak House, Charles Dickens. “Look, I am perfect and angelic and I love everyone.” *retches*

(The theme for this post was suggested by the Broke and the Bookish’s weekly meme Top Ten Tuesday.)

Top Ten Bookish Settings I’d Like to See More Of

“All roads lead away from Ankh-Morpork, but sometimes people just walk along them the wrong way.”

Terry Pratchett

  1. Magical schools. Harry Potter admittedly pretty much cornered the magical-school market, but I do think there’s a lot of subversive potential in that setting that Rowling never managed to fulfil. (Basically, I want a Potter series that doesn’t go downhill after book 4.)
  2. Gothic houses. You know, those impossibly rambling Gothic houses that you always suspect break the laws of physics but you never quite manage to catch them doing it? They are like my catnip.
  3. Neo-Victorian fantastic cities. Ankh-Morpork. New Crobuzon. Cities at the tipping edge of industrialisation, not quite modern enough to be mundane but still roiling with new technology and social tension; cities that are almost characters in their own right.
  4. A Galactic Federation. Or a union. Or, indeed, a Galactic Commons. I want to see more stories that stress the value of unity, rather than emphasising our differences.
  5. Magical London. I’m looking at you, A Madness of Angels, with your vitality and your deep understanding of what makes London London.
  6. Fairyland. But, like, an English Fairyland, which is to say wild and dangerous and wondrous and full of the deep magic of folklore. None of your twee Disney idylls, thank you.
  7. Libraries. I mean, obviously. I have several childhood favourites that I read over and over simply because they featured awesome libraries.
  8. The desert. Any desert. I may be strongly influenced by Stephen King’s Dark Tower series here, but I think there’s something…essential about fictional deserts; you have to be strong and clever to survive them, the loneliness, the heat, the thirst. (I’m also thinking of Kameron Hurley’s God’s War.)
  9. Magical Regency England. Take the social intrigue, the complex identity politics, of Jane Austen and Frances Burney, and add DRAGONS. Or MAGIC. Or whatever. Perfection.
  10. Theatres/film sets. Isn’t there something fascinating about seeing backstage at a theatre, or looking at a film set from the wrong angle so you can see the wires and the green screen? Looking behind the glitz and the glamour? I haven’t come across many books set backstage, but I’d really like to find some.

(The theme for this post was suggested by the Broke and the Bookish’s weekly meme Top Ten Tuesday.)