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So, New job, new commute.  Advantage over the old commutes is that instead of taking the bus to a station and getting on a train, I now just take a bus. It takes as long as it ever did (40-50 minutes), but is a longer block of time.

New job is at Skimbit, incidentally. Forgot to mention that here.

My girlfriend has introduced me to the series of alternative history books that begin with 1632. I’m enjoying them – mostly in ebook format from webscriptions. The basic premise is that a southern US town is sliced out of the late 90s and dumped into Germany in – drumroll – 1632, bringing modern diplomacy, weaponry and government to a world in the grip of kings and churches having petty squabbles. It has a kind of Tom Clancyesque obsession with the details of weaponry at times, but not enough to make me hate it. The gung-ho, overtly smug “America, Fuck yeah!” bits where they prove how much better Europe would have done had it been ruled by 21st century American ideals are slightly more irritating, but the number of books I’ve thrown out of a window count remains at precisely one, and this hasn’t even graced the doormat of the thousand foot tower representing reasons I threw “Mirror of her Dreams” across a room. The series is fun, and well written, and worth reading if being occasionally preached at doesn’t really irritate you.

It’s been a couple of years since I went to Amsterdam for Xalior’s stag party, and it was slightly before that that I stood in Waterstones in Tunbridge Wells casting around for books to take on the plane. There was nothing new from any series that I was remotely involved in, but I was drawn in by the cover of a book. It said:

“Magic. It can get a guy killed”.

It was styled like a notebook with coffee stains on it, and the blurb on the back introduced Harry Dresden, a wizard in Chicago. It looked interesting, and so I picked it up, bought it, put it in my luggage, and forgot about it until the trip home from Amsterdam. I failed to read it until I discovered I would have to wait an hour at Gatwick for the next train to London. A while later, I nearly missed the train out of Gatwick, and shortly after that I nearly failed to get off the train in Bedford where I was living.  It wasn’t long after I got home that I finished it, which saved me accidentally nearly missing anything else. Over the next few days I bought the next four books – wondering how Jim Butcher had managed to write so many without my finding out about them.

The basic premise is as described above, to start with. Dresden’s a wizard, he works in a world where that’s a real career choice, although the general public don’t know.  For the first few books it’s pretty much a thriller-mystery formula with more vampires and werewolves. As Dresden gets more and more involved in the cases he fights, and increases in power, and gains experience, contacts, scars and lasting status from being so involved in the other side, the crazy ramps up into war and chaos and a grand overarching plotline. It does this very well indeed, and as the series progresses the slightly 4-colour-comic original cast get depth and reason.

There has been a pattern over the last couple of years, starting with my parents, of my recommending or lending people the first couple of books of the Dresden Files, and then getting them back shortly afterwards with either a demand for the next four or the news that they’ve just bought the entire series. The books are good, and I’d recommend them. The first book is called Storm Front.

I’m rereading Pratchett, Gaiman and Neal Stephenson (pre-Quicksilver, anyway). You probably don’t need me to recommend those.

Last month sucked.

It didn’t appear here, mostly it was on other places or my ranting at people in the pub, but over the course of one extended fortnight  last month my bag was stolen – containing my brand new laptop, as well as passport, keys, wallet, phone etc – I left my job, I had a legal threat over something I had no idea about, and – to cap it all – had to go to an Industrial Estate in Barking at 8pm on a Friday.

After my bag was stolen, me and Clare wandered off to her parents’ house for food and mutual raging at the youth of today (Her bag was also stolen), and I looked for a book to read. I found one. It was called “The Devil You Know“, and it’s by Mike Carey. If you read comics (or graphic novels) then Carey is the man behind the Lucifer and also wrote for the Hellblazer series. Otherwise, he wrote (bits of) the books that the Keanu Reeves film “Constantine” was based on, and the movie isn’t a patch on the original.

Devil You Know is the first of the Felix Castor books, of which there are now four (The fourth came out in paperback this moth, the fifth will come out in September). If you’ve read the Dresden Files, then just go and buy them, you will like them a lot. They’re similar to Dresden, but start off as dark as the later ones and then get blacker faster. They’re all based around the post-death form of the supernatural, with Castor as an exocist in London after the dead have started to rise again. The London Carey presents is pretty much spot on, the characters are – where they are human – human, deep and empathic with a lot of the rough edges of the early Dresden books already shorn off Carey’s s style. I picked up the latest book on Friday at lunch time, started it on the bus home, and pretty much didn’t stop until I’d finished it in a way that only Pratchett’s books usually grab me. Highly recommended.

Continuing my advance into urban magic books, Kate Griffin’s “A Madness of Angels” is interesting. A book about urban sourcery set around a(nother) whodunnit plot based around Matthew Swift, a sourcer summoned back into this world by things he doesn’t understand yet. A mythical London based around small gods and a magic system based around the natural flow of power around the city, the concept is very interesting. I am patently not going to get to the end of this review without a comparison to the central pillar of mythic-London fantasy, Neverwhere, which is a little unfair. The works stand part, though the whimsical flow of language occasionally throws the comparison together again. For all that I haven’t finished it yet – it got broken up by my buying the latest Felix Castor – it is a well-written, well realised work that is a pleasure to read. For faults, it has the occasional opaqueness of major characters, the mistrusting of most of the cast for each other coupled with the confusion of the main character occasionally means it’s more difficult to get a grip of the story as it flows, but it’s not a major flaw. So get this too.

I’ll do one of these for Podcasts at some point.

  1. “Grave Peril” isn’t the first of the Dresden Files books – it’s third. The first one is “Storm Front”. I’ve just finised reading the eleventh one, “Turn Coat” and I really enjoyed it. It’s possibly also the first one where I’ve mostly worked out whodunnit before it was revealed, but I’m not sure whether that’s because I’m getting better at it or it was more obvious (I expect the latter). You can borrow it at some point if you like.

    I’ll probably look into the Felix Castor books from what you’ve said.

  2. If you haven’t already I’d recommend checking out Jim Butcher’s other series, Codex Alera. It is a more traditional fantasy series. He wrote the first one “Furies of Calderon” after having an argument with another author. The other author said that no matter how good the writer some ideas were just so terrible that no good book could come of them, Jim argued that if the writer was good even a bad idea could result in something worth reading.

    A challenge was issued, Jim was given two bad ideas and had to combine them to make a book. The ideas were:
    1) A lost Roman legion.
    2) Pokemon.

    After reading the book, I can say that Jim won the argument and then some.

    First two chapters of the first book can be read for free on his website http://www.jim-butcher.com/books/alera/1/

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