A Darker Archive of Viciousness

Victor readjusted the shovels on his shoulder and stepped gingerly over an old, half-sunken grave. His trench billowed faintly, brushing the tops of tombstones as he made his way through Merit Cemetery, humming as he went. The sounds carried like wind through the dark. It made Sydney shiver…

He stopped humming, rested his shoe lightly on a tombstone, and scanned the dark. Not with his eyes so much as with his skin, or rather with the thing that crept beneath it, tangled in his pulse.

That’s from the first page of Vicious, a novel by V. E. Schwab. Perhaps I should just let the writing speak for itself, but I’ll add a couple of things. First, while the quote suggests that Vicious falls within the horror genre, it actually draws more from the superhero genre. Second, the most horrifying (to me) revelation comes a few pages in to the novel, when we find out what Victor’s parents do.

I have so far read three of Schwab’s novels, and been impressed by each of them. I just finished Vicious. I previously read A Darker Shade of Magic, also “by V. E. Schwab”–and hence also “for adults”.

I started with The Archived, “by Victoria Schwab”, the name under which the author publishes her Young Adult (YA) fiction (and the name on her main Goodreads account). Strange though it may seem, I’d say that The Archived is the most likely of the three books I’ve read to give the reader nightmares.

I’m glad to say that each of the three is the first of a series. I am sometimes wary of prolific writers who write series, rather than standalones, but Schwab writes well and distinctively, while being able to find the right tone for each particular book/series.

Summary: I recommend the fiction of Victoria E. Schwab, whatever the book cover calls her.

The Ask and the Answer, and Other Goodreads

The Ask and the Answer is the second book of Patrick Ness‘s Chaos Walking trilogy. The first book, The Knife of Never Letting Go, impressed me.

The distinctive feature of the Chaos Walking world is telepathy, with the interesting twist that women don’t broadcast. Crucial to the second book is the further twist that some men don’t broadcast either. One such is the evil and manipulative President Prentiss.

That word manipulative is particularly important, because it brings me to the main way in which Ask didn’t work as well for me as did Knife. The main characters Todd and Viola are manipulated by Prentiss and by his arch-enemy, Mistress Coyle. That would be fine, had the author’s manipulation of these and other characters not seemed intrusive.

That said, I found Ask engrossing, and Ness does move the pieces into place for a cliffhanger even more dramatic than the one on which Knife ended. So I’m looking forward to Monsters of Men, the third book, which is due out next year.

I gave Ask a four-star rating, while I gave Knife the maximum five. I refer to ratings at Goodreads. I’ve just resumed activity there thanks to prompting from uberbibliophile Nicholas Whyte.

The Knife of Never Letting Go

The full title of the book is The Knife of Never Letting Go: Chaos Walking: Book One. It already has many glowing reviews and several awards, and I’m not doing much here but adding my praise to the heap.

The narrator, Todd, is a boy in a town of men. There are no females, and no other boys. He can hear the thoughts of others, and they can hear his. He is told by the men raising him that he must leave, and that there is no time to explain.

The text poses question after question about what’s going on. Author Patrick Ness serves up answers a little at a time. That’s the main reason I found The Knife very hard to put down.

I suggest that you don’t start reading it late at night; in doing so, I follow and quote Rachel Brown’s excellent review. One of the things I mean by excellent is that it makes most of the points I would have, and makes them well. The points includes some caveats.

One caveat is that the cliffhanger is “truly impressive,” to the extent that this is Book One of a series, rather than a book in its own right. Book One stops with three limbs hanging over the cliff: there is suspense with respect to one of the main characters, to the science in this science fiction story, and to the politics of the planet on which it’s set.

But the (full) title of the book tells us that it’s Book One. A Q&A with the author attached to another favorable review indicates that Chaos Walking is a trilogy. Since Book Two (The Ask and the Answer) is already written, there is hope that it may be one of those good old-fashioned trilogies comprising only three books.

I’m certainly glad I joined Todd on the journey described in Book One, and look forward to rejoining him on the edge of the cliff next May, when Book Two is due out.

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union

I’ve just finished reading The Yiddish Policemen’s Union. It is my favorite of the Michael Chabon novels I’ve read, which is saying something (I’ve yet to read Wonder Boys, by the way). The opening paragraph sets the tone wonderfully.

Nine months Landsman’s been flopping at the Hotel Zamenhof without any of his fellow residents managing to get themselves murdered. Now somebody has put a bullet in the brain of the occupant of 208, a yid who was calling himself Emanuel Lasker.

That Landsman is a detective establishes one genre for the novel. That it is set in an alternate universe establishes another; indeed, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union captured both of the major science fiction awards.

I found myself torn between lingering to enjoy the writing, and racing on to find out what happens – and what happened, since this is a fine example of suspense looking back as well as forwards in time. I don’t just mean that we want to know who killed the dead yid.

We want to know how detective Landsman got into the state he’s in: living in a crummy hotel is not the worst of it. We are also interested in the part of the state of Alaska he and many other Jews are in, and the alternate universe of which it’s a part. That said, I still found the writing itself, both narrative and dialog, the most interesting thing of all.

I recommend, not just the novel, but also the book. I like the trade paperback for the cover by Will Staehle, the included NYT article on Chabon and YPU and piece by Chabon on writing YPU, and for other things as well as the text itself. You can find the NYT article online, and may well be able to find everything else online, but a good book is a great thing, and this may well be a great book.