Temujin loses his beloved father at the age of eleven and is cast out from his tribe to die with the other remaining members of his family. This does not crush the second born son of the old Khan; instead it becomes the making of the man and so we see the rise of a legend. Gathering close to him other people of the plains who know no master or tribal protection, Temujin through battle and wits becomes a leader to the dispossessed.
WOLF OF THE PLAINS is the first novel in a series covering the life of the mighty Genghis Khan. Author Conn Iggulden deftly demonstrates his knack of producing stirring oratories for Khan without pontification, perfectly timing their inclusion into some truly thrilling battle scenes. Iggulden acknowledges in the back of his book that some facts had to be trimmed in order to make this work fit into the mold of popular fiction. Yes, this is an epic work covering the early years of a well-known historical figure but don't expect to find it pedantically correct on dates of invasions and major campaigns etc.
Slow in the first third or so, there's a lot of scenes of early childhood that were perhaps crafted to "humanize" a man historically referred to as a bloody warrior who killed thousands in his wake in the battle for possession of the Mongolian territories. The words are given just as much importance as the actions though this is in demonstration of Temujin's leadership and not his personal relationships - these are skimmed over and relegated to the background once he is established as a leader of men. There is a little time to draw breath and grieve with the horror of what happened to such a young boy, but not much.
The success of this book owes much to Iggulden stripping down an enormous tale for the masses. We can call it "dumbing of down" or we can call it making it a more marketable product, but it has been done so for the ease of its readership. WOLF OF THE PLAINS is a cracker of tale, told in such a manner that we readers are only given pause for thought on the conclusion. One can imagine this book being a worthwhile inclusion on the syllabus of high school students, making history more accessible and appealing to learn.
Conn Iggulden, along with his brother Hal, wrote the runaway UK best-seller THE DANGEROUS BOOK FOR DOYS in 2007. Iggulden is also author to a number of books on Julius Cesar (the "Emperor" series) and other historical works. The second book in the "Conqueror" series was released as THE LORDS OF THE BOW and the author is currently working on the third book.
A TALE ETCHED IN BLOOD AND HARD BLACK PENCIL - Christopher Brookmyre
DS Gillespie suspects they are not dealing with the sharpest pencils in the box when she's called to the discovery of two partially disfigured, roughly hidden bodies in the forest. The reputation of the killers is not enhanced greatly when they leave the receipts for all the gear they bought for disposing of the bodies behind, but the whole thing moves further into the surreal for Gillespie when she can identify both the victims as locals and people she knows all too well from her own school days.
A TALE ETCHED moves between school days in the 1970's and the current events and investigation as more and more of Gillespie's old school pals are pulled in. The switching of perspective between the two timeframes slowly reveals the development of the core characters from who they became at school, to what they are in their adult lives.
In typical Brookmyre fashion this is at times absolutely hilarious and at times very painful. These stories bring back so many of the trials and tribulations of childhood - the desperate need to "fit in", the bullying, the cliques, the rises and falls from grace, sadistic teachers, ineffectual teachers, family dysfunction, deeply felt-friendship and always remembered embarrassments.
In the end, there is a mystery about who killed these two victims and why - the why having more twists and turns that are revealed as more and more of the growing years of the central characters are revealed.
Whilst it's typical of Brookmyre to mix utter side splitting hilarity with a serious message and undertone, there's something in A TALE ETCHED IN BLOOD AND HARD BLACK PENCIL that made it compelling. Maybe you needed to go to a primary school for it to grab you, but boy did this grab.
FABULOUS NOBODIES - Lee Tulloch
Not a formal review, more a bit of a comment. I read this because I've been trying to make sure I plug some gaps in my Australian author reading.
Fabulous Nobodies isn't crime fiction, I think if I was trying to find a "category" it would be cringe fiction :)
Reality Nirvana Tuttle, known to her friends and fans as Really is a tad obsessed with fashion. Actually tad's probably not the word: utterly, completely, obsessively, dangerously, weirdly obsessive is probably better.
This is a book about one girls life in New York, working as a door bitch at a very "it" club, naming her dresses, obsessed with her clothes and the way that she and everyone around her looks. Fabulous Nobodies reads like absolute fluff, but under the fluff there's a biting critique of the narrow minded self-obsessed of our world. Sure the joke goes on just a bit too long and gets mind-boggling tedious in places, but maybe that's part of the joke - why are we still reading about such mindless people, why oh why.
ORPHEUS LOST - Janette Turner Hospital
ORPHEUS LOST is latest novel from Janette Turner Hospital, her last crime fiction novel being DUE PREPARATIONS FOR THE PLAGUE, which won the Davitt Award for the "Best Crime Novel by an Australian Woman in 2003".
ORPHEUS LOST is the story of 3 people. Leela is a mathematical genius from a small town American Southern state, studying in Boston. Cobb is her childhood friend, mathematically gifted as well, but he took a different path in life - into the Armed Services and ultimately Iraq. Mishka is a young Australian musician, grandson of refugee Jewish Hungarians, unknowingly the son of a Lebanese Muslim terrorism leader.
Leela and Mishka meet in Boston where they are both studying, the attraction between them is instantaneous. Cobb is drawn into the circle when Mishka is implicated in a terrorist attack on the Boston train network. Mishka has been seen meeting with the suicide bomber responsible for the attack and he's hanging around a notorious Mosque. That and the links to his father make Mishka instantly suspicious to American authorities. When Mishka suddenly disappears Leela is no more aware of Mishka's background than his current activities and it seems that Cobb, who she did not even know was watching them, knows more about Mishka than Leela ever did.
ORPHEUS LOST is categorised as Fiction - not Crime Fiction or a Thriller and the author is quoted as saying that she's "always been interested in examining ordinary human beings, people without political agendas, who are suddenly caught up in the fist of history and crisis." Certainly ORPHEUS LOST explores the accidental acts of history - familial and current affairs - that place people in extraordinary circumstances. Each of the 3 main characters in this book have their own backstory which has elements of sadness, eccentricity, secrets, extreme stress and loving care. Leela and Cobb experienced childhoods in the same town, with fathers with different but equally damaging behaviour for their children. Mishka's family background is disconnected, private, intensely damaged by the Second World War - his unknown father only becoming somebody when he's an adult, seeking his own identity. When these 3 people come back together again, the results are quite complicated and very intricate.
Where ORPHEUS LOST becomes less of an interesting book is in a device that the author uses a lot - where characters move rapidly from real life events into dreams / dream sequences / imaginings of events. There is certainly a lyrical flavour to these sequences but they also jar within the pace of the general book - driving the reader out of the story. This is likely to make the book less appealing for many readers, and it's a pity because the basic premise is very clever and extremely well executed, the 3 main characters very sympathetic and interesting and the supporting cast well drawn and involving.
MANIC STREETS OF PERTH - Dave Franklin
Dave Franklin's anthology follows the darkly comic fortunes of three journalists.
Manic Streets of Perth is an anthology made up of 3 distinct novellas - Manic Streets of Perth, Looking for Sarah Jane Smith and To Dare A Future.
Each novella is a separate story in its own right, so I've commented on all 3 individually.
Manic Streets of Perth features intrepid, and idiot reporter Paul Lewis, but more importantly, Kim Jones, animal activist, some-time petrol station attendant, daughter, fighter and survivor. When a snake wielding bandit robs her father's petrol station, when Kim is working the till, her life starts to spiral just a little bit more out of control than it already was. It's not helped by reporter Paul Lewis who, even when he thinks he is helping, just digs a bigger and deeper hole for both of them. Fortunately Kim is equipped with her own personal rock climbing gear (figuratively not literally) and she triumphs, leaving Paul wallowing around in his own self-pity in Perth.
I loved Manic Streets - there was a great story underlying a slightly madcap series of events and characters that really pulled the reader through the novella. There are some great characters in this story - the self-pitying, slightly idiotic journalist Paul, Kim's father (sans both legs), the support group for people with very unfortunate names, and Kim herself. Kim's just fabulous - real - strong - vivid.
Looking for Sarah Jane Smith (From the book blurb): Marty's living in a Welsh town that he hates, doing a job he's lost interest in and so bored he can't be bothered with sex. But a new life beckons in Australia.
This is probably my least favourite of the 3 novellas, simply because it has a tendency to ramble a lot without a lot necessarily happening. That or a lot of machinations to meet the girl of his dreams (Sarah Jane Smith from Doctor Who like) is probably carrying's on that I don't quite get :> Despite that, Looking for Sarah Jane Smith again shows a great depth of characterisation and these blokes really stand out.
To Dare a Future (From the book blurb): A van driver with abduction and murder on his mind. An eleven year old girl snatched on her way home from ballet. A tortured reporter, happy to use her death and the terrifying reign of a child killer to help make his name.
I'm not too sure I agree with the idea that this reporter - Eddie is all that happy using this girls death. This is one bloke that doesn't seem to like himself all that much. This novella is not really about any investigation into the girls death - that's almost a sidebar, but it is a ramble through Eddie's mind, his life and his thoughts. Why he is what he is, why he does what he does. There's some fascinating insights into the male, repressed, unhappy mind in this novella and whilst it again, is much slower and more rambling than the first novella, it was interesting.
Manic Streets of Perth is probably not strictly Crime Fiction, although there is a strong element of that in it. Each novella is really only barely connected to the other because of the sorts of people that are characterised - there's no cutesy theme (thank goodness) that connects them. What it seems to be, more than anything else, is a bit of an insight into blokes of a certain type, behaving like blokes do.
The author calls this his ramblings. If he rambles on like this, then buy him a beer or three and read his book.