While I normally try to finish novels once I’ve started them, there are occasional books that, for one reason or another, I just can’t get through. I don’t like to give up on books, but if I’m really not feeling a book I’ll occasionally decide that it’s not worth finishing.
Pavane / Keith Roberts. Originally published 1968.
Pavane had two strikes against it, really. First, it’s a fix-up, which is not a format that I typically enjoy. I prefer my short stories to be short stories and my novels to be novels. With a few exceptions (see my review of The right mistake) it’s not something that appeals to me. Secondly, it’s an alternative history novel which, despite my love of both historical fiction and sf/fantasy, is not a genre I typically enjoy.
I gave up on Pavane fairly early on, partway through the first section. I just didn’t find the story compelling, and it wasn’t sufficiently character-focused for me. I’d certainly recommend it to fans of the alternative history or steampunk genres, but it just wasn’t for me.
The difference engine / William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. Originally published 1990.
Can you sense a theme here? The difference engine is another alternate history novel that didn’t really appeal to me. I made it about 2/3 of the way through before giving up on this one. I lasted longer than I did in Pavane because it did have more of a character-driven plot. I gave up after the first major conflict was resolved, the revolt by Captain Swing. The prototypical steampunk novel, the setting is a world where Babbage successfully built his analytical engine, resulting in a society controlled by steam-driven “difference engines
. It follows a set of mysterious punch-cards from owner to owner as various factions compete over them. Most of my criticisms of Pavane apply here. It just wasn’t my thing, but I’d recommend it to cyberpunk fans looking for something a bit different, alternate history aficionados, and steampunk-types.
The conqueror’s shadow / Ari Marmell. Originally published 2010.
I was given this book by a friend who read it and enjoyed it. It certainly wasn’t terrible, but it was incredibly stupid. The conqueror’s shadow is a dark fantasy novel that takes more than a little inspiration from both the Clint Eastwood film Unforgiven and the Warhammer Fantasy universe. The hero is essentially a fantasy warlord version of Clint Eastwood’s character in Unforgiven, who comes out of retirement after his daughter is attacked. I actually nearly finished this book before being distracted by more interesting fare. I was reading it at night before bed and it was certainly effective at putting me to sleep.
I have no opposition to “dark” stories, but this was so obnoxiously dark it came out the other side and ended up being silly instead. The reviews on Amazon are fairly positive, so it’s possible I’m missing something, but it really wasn’t for me. It is a book I’m likely to recommend to others though. Fans of Brent Weeks and Joe Abercrombie will probably find plenty to like here, although Marmell’s writing lacks the style of Weeks and the philosophical depth of Abercrombie. It’s a good book for fans of dark fantasy in general who are looking for something unchallenging and “fun”. It might be worth checking out for horror fans who are looking for something different as well.