#10: Skin Game (Jim Butcher)

(There’s a reason this is out of order — I’m going to review the three Black Company books all as one.)

So, a new Harry Dresden, one of the only long-running supernatural series I’m still into, especially after 15 books.

My only problem with this one is this: it has the shape of a heist movie, and the story beats of a heist movie, but the pacing is all weird. It moves in fits and starts near the middle instead of just steadily rolling along. Well, and not enough Bob, but that’s been a problem in the last, what, seven or eight of them?

#6: The Barrow (Mark Smylie)

So I find myself a bit conflicted and at a loss for what to write. I think my status updates on Goodreads for The Barrow are a bit misleading; after all, I didn’t say the Seven Deadly Words or anything. There was more than enough there to keep me going, even if a bit slowly. It did take a long time to finish, even for a 600-page novel.

I think my main problem with the book was pacing, when all is said and done. The book opens with a heist movie prologue — you know what I mean, right? Introduce the characters and what they do while they do a different job than the one they’ll do in the main story. I was quite happy when I figured out what the gimmick to this section was. It’s exciting, and sets up the characters and stakes well, and firmly grounds the novel as a long-form version of an RPG campaign. (In fact, the type of story told here is pretty much what I was planning to run in an Artesia game that never really got off the ground.)

Then, the book floundered a bit with a long, dry city-based bit, introducing new characters, setting things up. Very detailed, and maybe not to its overall benefit. This ends with a good action sequence and then finally the party is on the road, and travelling, and I thought, yes, here we go, only to have the travelling move in fits and starts, through some well-detailed and moderately overexplained fantastic scenery.

Once we get to the eponymous barrow (I’ve tried very hard to avoid spoilers in this review — hope nobody’s upset to find out that they go to a barrow in the book called The Barrow) things tumble forward and, after it’s all said and done, the story quite adeptly opens outward and becomes much wider than it originally appeared.

One more thing. My status updates seemed focused on ridiculous sexual content, so I think I need to talk about this a bit. With a novel based in the same world as the Artesia comics, I knew there would be some sex. I understand why it is there. I’m not a prude, or incapable of enjoying a good sex scene when one comes along. I just think that some of that type of stuff in The Barrow — with the worst being a certain character’s introduction — wasn’t handled as well as it could been, or not well enough to justify its inclusion.

So there we go. A bit disjoint, and I apologize for that. I ended up liking The Barrow — not a lot, but well enough — and I’ll read another if Smylie writes one. It made me pull my copy of the Artesia RPG off the shelf, and until I went looking, I had no idea that there was a new version being worked on…

#4: Twenty Palaces (Harry Connolly)

An indirect recommendation from zarf’s list of books he purchased in the last year. I hadn’t looked at eblong.com for a long time, and was happy to see that he was still doing that list — and happy to see that I could follow him over here as well.

Twenty Palaces is a pretty good gritty urban fantasy. It is a prequel, written after the other three novels were published traditionally; I can’t help but wonder if some of the ambivalence I felt about it might have been different had I read those first. If I had to guess, I’d say that this is the backstory that was set up in the series to slowly come out over time, only not given the chance.

After taking a look at Connolly’s blog, I am wondering if I should start up with the main trilogy or not, seeing as the third ends on a cliffhanger of some sort and there probably won’t be another soon if ever, so… Hrm.

I have some time to make up my mind, I guess.

#3: The Apocalypse Codex (Charles Stross)

Another Laundry novel brings with it the startling realization that I’ve kind of lost track of the Laundry. Somewhere along the way I seem to have stopped storing the ongoing storyline. This book was full of references to things that’d happened before that I only remember dimly.

I enjoy these books a lot, though, so this really just means that once I’m done with my Banks re-read, these are next up. The rating for this one may definitely go up on a more fully-informed re-read.