Update!

So… As you’ve no doubt figured out by now, I have long since abandoned my goal of blogging half a Cannonball worth of books. Why? Well, let’s just say that my motivation waned. Also, life happened and other things took priority! Like my having a beautiful baby daughter seven weeks ago today 🙂

Therefore I won’t be using this blog for Cannonball purposes again. However, I may use it for other purposes, some book-related, and some not. Stay tuned!

PS! As I’m currently brushing up on Norwegian nursery rhymes, children’s songs, etc. some of the content of this blog may be in Norwegian going forward!

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17. “Steel’s edge” by Ilona Andrews

Publisher: Ace, 27 November 2012
Page count: 400 pages

This is the fourth and last part of the Edge series which I’ve been reading this autumn, and what a great book it is! This time around we meet Richard Mar, Kaldar’s brother and Cerise’s cousin. Richard is in many ways Kaldar’s total opposite: he is tactful, galant and quietly intelligent where Kaldar is a charming, conning rascal and womanizer. However, both are lethal sword men with a true mission in life: following the events in Bayou Moon, Kaldar became a spy for Adrianglia to revenge his family while Richard is going after the slave traders who ruined his niece Lark’s life.

Charlotte de Ney is an Adrianglian whose extraordinary magical talent for healing ensured that she was adopted into one of the premier families and given the very best medical training available. Rather than living the rest of her life rich and comfortably, however, Charlotte gives it all up when her husband annuls their marriage because she is barren. Charlotte is so devastated she almost murders her husband using her magical skills, but instead she flees into the Edge. Here she is taken in by Eleonore, Rose’s grand mother, and builds a new life for herself – simple, anonymous, but content.

Her happiness doesn’t last long, however: when we first meet Richard, he is mortally wounded and being chased through the Edge by a group of slave traders. After escaping he passes out from the blood loss and injuries but is found and brought to Charlotte who manages to save him. No sooner has Charlotte left to buy more blood for Richard, though, than the slavers reappear and kill Eleonore and kidnap Richard. Charlotte is consumed with guilt and sets out to kill the slavers and rescue Richard so no more people need suffer their terror. Soon, the two of them join forces, but can they survive long enough to unravel the slavers’ hierarchy from within before they are discovered?

I said it before, and I’ll repeat it here: this is the best book yet by Ilona Andrews, and I loved every page of it. It has an even more sinister and heartwrenching plot than Kaldar’s book but without the halfassed romance that dampened my opinion of that book; the romance is at least as satisfying as the relationship between Rose and Declan but with far more nuanced characters; and we meet again Jack and George in their most interesting roles to date. An awesome read!

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16. “Death comes to Pemberley” by P. D. James

Publisher: faber and faber, 2011
Page count: 330 pages

“Death comes to Pemberley” is exactly what it sounds like: Jane Austen meets P.D.James, the queen of English crime novels. The book is set half a dozen years after Pride and prejudice with Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy blissfully married and the proud parents of two young sons, and the story opens on the eve of Lady Anne’s ball, when all of Pemberley is busy preparing for the annual ball originally instituted by Darcy’s mother. Elizabeth’s sister Lydia falls out of a coach in the courtyard of Pemberley screaming at the top of her lungs that her beloved Wickham (long since disowned by Darcy, as you’ll recall from Pride and Prejudice) has been shot.

Darcy immediately organises a search party into the forest and soon they come across Wickham, bloody and in a drunken stupor, standing over the lifeless body of his best friend, Captain Denny, crying “He’s dead! Oh God, Denny’s dead! He was my friend, my only friend, and I’ve killed him! I’ve killed him! It’s my fault!” And indeed, Capt. Denny is irrevocably dead, killed by a blow to the back of his head. In light of the evidence, Darcy and the search party have no choice but to bring Wickham and the body back to Pemberley, and call the local magistrate and doctor/coroner. Lady Anne’s ball is obviously cancelled, and instead gloom is cast over Pemberley as Wickham faces death by hanging if found guilty by the azises court. But is the case as clear-cut as it seems?

Being a fan of both Jane Austen and P.D.James, this book is like the ultimate fan fic to me, and I eagerly ditched whatever I was reading at the time in order to revisit some of my all time favourite characters in a story construed by a seasoned crime novellist. Unfortunately, the result is only halfway successful. Don’t get me wrong, P.D.James clearly knows the original work inside out and does an outstanding job in matching Jane Austen’s style and language. The period features are just right and, no doubt, historically correct in terms of how criminal proceedings transpired back then.

However, this books lacks a certain… oomph. For one thing, Elizabeth and Darcy are so blissfully married, they have largely lost the caustic wit and awkward stiffness, respectively, that made them so charming in the original work. For another, they are merely passive bystanders to a mystery solved by other people and by events outside their control. As a result, as a reader I never got properly engaged in the book – neither did I care about Wickham’s fate (let’s face it, he was always a good for nothing, conniving bastard) nor, more surprisingly, about Elizabeth and Darcy since it was always clear they would come out of the whole affair unscathed regardless of what happened to Wickham and Lydia. Consequently, the sad truth is that this book simply isn’t all that it could or indeed ought to be, and if Elizabeth and Darcy were your reason for reading it, then you may be more satisfied by fan fic online than by this book despite its obvious literary qualities…

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15. “Fate’s edge” by Ilona Andrews

Publisher: Ace, 2011
Page count: 384 pages

“Fate’s edge” is the third installment in the urban fantasy series known as the Edge. The main characters are Audrey Callahan and Kaldar Mar. Audrey lives in the Edge, the halfmagical strip of land squeezed in-between the Broken and the Weird, and like most Edgers she has certain magical talents, in Audrey’s case the ability to open any lock no matter how complex. This comes in handy as she hails from a family of con artists. However, Audrey has lost all faith in her family after they sided with her drug addict of a brother when he sold her to his dealer in return for drugs. Audrey is therefore determined to start a new life on her own as a PI working in the Broken. Only one thing stands between her and her well deserved independence: She must assist her father and brother in one last heist for an unknown buyer in exchange for severing all ties with her family.

Kaldar is the sexy, slick, smooth-talking cousin of Cerise Mar who we met in Bayou Moon, the previous book. Kaldar is also, quite literally, a lucky bastard whose special talents include the ability to tweak the odds in his favour if he can find someone stupid enough to take his bet: Kaldar alwayswins. Rather than use this incredible magic for the greater good, though, Kaldar is a womanizing con man who pickpockets people simply for the fun of it – making him exactly the kind of guy Audrey is determined to avoid in her new life on the straight and narrow.

Following the events in Bayou Moon, however, Kaldar became a secret agent for the Adrianglian spymaster known as The Mirror. He is sent after Audrey to retrieve the magical items she helped steal. When evil agents sent by the Hand also starts chasing her, Kaldar and Audrey must combine their unique talents to find and recover the magical device, which could trigger a war if it were to fall in the wrong hands. Tagging along are also Jack and George, Rose’s brothers from On the Edge, after they stow away on Kaldar’s flying creature, and William’s ward, Gaston, whom we met in Bayou Moon.

I liked this book a lot, in fact I think it’s the best in the series so far. Jack and George, in particular, are great characters whose personalities and perspectives made the story really lively and entertaining. And where I started out sympathising but not really caring about Audrey and actively distrusting Kaldar, they both grew on me to the extent that I now think their joint con/spy activities have great potential, and I hope we get to see more of them in future books.

If I were to make one small, negative observation, though, it would be that for me the romance between Audrey and Kaldar is the book’s weakest point: it’s bleedingly obvious from the start that these two characters are so much alike as to be virtual soul mates, and while Audrey’s background in theory justifies her refusal to date a con man, her protestrations seem contrived and half-hearted. Thus, in my view this is a book that should be read for its excellent urban fantasy adventure (the plot is easily the most coherent and interesting so far in the series), not the romantic entanglements of the protagonists.

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14. “Artemis Fowl and the last guardian” by Eoin Colfer

Publisher: Puffin Books, 2012
Page count: 304 pages

This is the eight book in the series about the teenage genius and criminal mastermind Artemis Fowl. In this latest instalment, Artemis has finished a longer stay in the Lower Elements in order to be cured of the Atlantis complex (a fairy version of obsessive compulsive disorder by the sounds of it). Just as Artemis and Butler, his bodyguard, are about to return to the Fowl manor in Ireland an astonishing message is picked up by Foaly, the centaur techie: a younger version of Opal Koboi, the megalomaniac pixie whose sinister plans were thwarted in the nick of time by Artemis and Holly Shield in the prevous book, has now been taken hostage while the older Opal Koboi remains in prison.

The hostagetakers demand that the older Opal be released, or they will shoot the younger Opal, causing a time paradox that will trigger a self-destruct of all Koboi Technologies products in the Lower Elements as well as on earth. This is no idle threat as Koboi elements are incorporated into nigh-on all infrastructure, communications and weapons technology of the last five years or more. Moreover, the fairies have moral quealms about letting another creature be killed when it is in their power to stop it. Consequently, the Lower Elements Police (LEP) give in to the demands and release the older Opal into a shaft believed to minimise collateral damage if a time paradox does indeed take place. Unfortunately, this backfires when the older Opal escapes custody and the younger Opal is shot, triggering destruction of cataclysmic proportions both below and above ground.

Meanwhile, Artemis, Butler and Holly Short travel to Fowl manor because Artemis has recognised the background behind the hostagetakers as his own backyard. This means that when all hell breaks loose, the three of them are cut off from LEP support and fairy technology. Now they are the only thing standing between Opal Koboi and her evil plan to use black magic to open an ancient fairy lock that will wipe out all of humanity… This is made all the more difficult when Opal opens the first level of the lock, releasing dozens of ancient warriors whose spirits take over the bodies of among others Artemis’s twin brothers and Butler’s sister Juliet. How can Artemis and the others shoot to kill when the targets are their own family members?! For once, Artemis may have met a conundrum that even he is incapable of solving…

While I generally enjoy the Artemis Fowl series a lot, I feel that the concept of the superevil, megalomaniac pixie Opal Koboi has been used once too many already, and so the prospect of yet another story centred on her was hardly apt to inspire me to read this book. I was therefore almost halfway through the book before I genuinely got interested in the story and wanted to know how it ended. For a young adult book, this is a serious drawback as I think most teenagers would have ditched the book long before they reached the halfway point where the story begins to pick up. That said, “Artemis Fowl and the last guardian” is a story worth sticking with, because the second half is fastpaced and entertaining, just like the Artemis books of old. Thus, in summary, if you are a fan of Artemis and a patient soul, then you may just find yourself in for a treat reading this book. For the rest of you, stick to the earlier books in the series.

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13. “Slash and burn” by Colin Cotterill

Publisher: Quercus, 2011
Page count: 374 pages

“Slash and burn” is the eight and, to date, last instalment in the Dr Siri series. The novel starts with Dr Siri counting down the days until his retirement – his resignation has finally been accepted and he now has only two more months to go before he can spend his days reading the works of dead French philosophers and indulging himself in Mme Daeng’s noodles. So when Dr Siri is called in for a meeting by Judge Haeng, he seriously considers just ignoring the invite. In the end, though, he attends the meeting and is astounded as a group of Americans show up, too. They claim to be looking for Boyd Bowry, a US airforce helicopter pilot who went missing in action in Laos ten years ago. His father, a well connected and powerful US senator, has now wrangled a deal in which Laos will receive humanitarian aid in return for allowing a joint mission into discovering Boyd’s fate.

Dr Siri thinks the mission is a waste of time as the pilot presumably blew up along with his helicopter when it crashed. Nevertheless, he agrees to represent Lao interests provided his colleagues and friends can accompany him on the trip. And so it is that Dr Siri, his wife Mme Daeng, ex-politburo comrade Civilai, Mr Geung the morgue assistant, nurse Dtui, police officer Phosy and military officer Lit all find themselves in the northeastern Lao jungle two weeks later on what they expect to be an all expenses paid vacation alongside a mottled group of American soldiers, politicians and embassy personnel. Soon, though, it becomes clear that there is more to this mission than meets the eye as Boyd’s crewmen are murdered one by one. When death also comes to Dr Siri’s jungle camp, he realises that they are caught up in a far more sinister affair than anticipated…

I am a huge fan of the Dr Siri series, and this latest novel has all the astute cultural and political observations that I have come to know and love from the previous books. The highlight in this respect is the intercultural exchange between the Lao and the Americans – the lack of a common language, unfamiliarity with each others customs, and old grudges from the Vietnam war make for hilarious yet insight-inducing reading. Added to this, the storyline is as quixotic as ever, and Dr Siri and co as entertaining as always.

That said, I couldn’t help but feel that this book would have benefited greatly from some serious editing. Where the first books in the series barely passed the 200 pages mark, this novel is almost twice that in length. The result is unfortunately a story that is unnecessarily drawn out and a plot that slows down to a crawl. This is a real shame because one of the qualities I have most admired in previous Dr Siri books was the author’s ability to write rich yet succinct stories. This naturally begs the question whether Mr Cotterill was right to switch to his new publisher? Only time will tell – I will certainly give Dr Siri the benefit of a doubt if another book is published, but that is likely to be my last if Mr Cotterill doesn’t start delivering the goods again very soon!

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12. “Bayou moon” by Ilona Andrews

Publisher: Ace Books
Page count: 480 pages

“Bayou moon” features William Sandine, the changeling wolf and former Adrianglian special ops soldier who first appeared in “On the edge”. Like the first book, “Bayou moon” is set in the Edge, a strip of land located next to Adrianglia and Louisiana, two countries in the Weird that have fought a cold war for years. At the beginning of the story, William is recruited by an Adrianglian spymaster to retrieve a magical item that should give Adrianglia the upper hand in the war against Louisiana. William accepts the mission because it will pit him against a Louisianian spy called Spider, a twisted, evil man with magic abilities. William hates Spider because of his repeated murders of changeling children, and so William has made it his personal vendetta to kill Spider. The mission takes William into the Mire, a swamp in the Edge infiltrated by Spider and his crew.

Meanwhile, a girl named Cerise Mar living in the Mire discovers that the Sherilees, the neighbours with whom the Mars have been feuding for decades, have teamed up with Spider to kidnap Cerise’s parents in return for the Sherilees getting a property belonging to the Mar clan. To prove the Mars’ rightful ownership of the property, Cerise (who is head of the clan in her parents’ absence) must travel into the Broken to retrieve the deed. On the way back, Cerise, disguised as a hobo, travels on the same boat as William. When the captain of the boat is killed, Cerise becomes William’s guide to the Mire. While they do not trust each other initially, William soon realises that Spider is after Cerise and hence she is his best way of tracking down Spider. He therefore latches on to her (it doesn’t hurt that she’s also uncommonly pretty once the hobo disguise has been washed off…) Cerise, for her part, also takes to William once she gets past his Blueblood snooty facade and discovers his warrior skills and wolfish good looks. With her parents’ lives and her clan’s future at stake, though, this is hardly the ideal time for Cerise to fall in love with a dangerous stranger…

I was initially disappointed that this second instalment in the “On the edge” series didn’t feature Rose and Declan from the first book since I liked them so much. That said, “Bayou moon” is a good book in its own way, but for different reasons than “On the edge”. For one thing, “Bayou moon” has a far darker, more sinister setting and tone to it than the first novel – this adds to the murky atmosphere of the swamp where twisted monsters appear when you least expect it. For another, William’s tortured childhood and conflicted feelings around his home country of Adrianglia make him a far more nuanced and interesting character than Declan’s sunny disposition and loving family background, even if I felt William’s grief and longing for a family of his own was smeared on a little too heavily sometimes. And lastly, I thought the authors did a really good job in creating the supporting characters of the Mar family; while the sheer number of them could be bewildering, each person in the Mar family had enough of a distinct personality to allow you develop a rapport to them, too, not just to the protagonists. Overall, therefore, I think this is a decent sequel and well worth reading even if William and Cerise’s relationship is no match to that of Rose and Declan in the first book.

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