Tuesday, 21 January 2014

The Ambassador's Mission - Trudi Canavan

For Christmas I was given the Traitor Spy trilogy books, which 'follow on' from the Black Magician trilogy (albeit about twenty years later).  My original plan was to look online for plot summaries of the original three books so that I would be fully up-to-date ready for the newer trilogy.  Only then I realised that I wouldn't get round to doing this and so dived straight in.

The Ambassador's Mission starts in the city of Imardin in Kyralia, where the Magician's Guild is based.  Care is taken to catch up the gist of what has happened since the previous books, which in some ways helps to reference key events but at the same time made me realise quite how long my reading gap had been.  This was compounded by me getting confused with other books.  Partly the Age of the Five, which kind of made sense given they have the same author, but also the Mistborn series.  I think it was the reference to houses that did it.  Or perhaps the flashbacks to a young girl from a poor background hiding magic powers and being held by criminals... (are all fantasy books just the same plot?)

Anyway, the plot itself is built up around two main strands, the happenings in Imardin and those in Sachaka - a foreign land seen as both exotic and dangerous.  Sonea is contacted by an old friend to try to flush out a murderer, at the same time as the Guild are deciding whether to clamp down on contact with the criminal world.  Meanwhile her son, Lorkin, has found that life is a little too safe and predictable and that he would rather go to work in a country where people may want to kill him.  As you do.

This was a very enjoyable reading experience.  I find Trudi Canavan's style of writing very accessible, without seeming patronising or like something is missing.  My initial confusion with other books made it difficult to get to grips with the characters at first, however once settled in I found them to be generally believable and understandable.  Little sub-themes were appreciated as much as the main plot.  One of my favourite concepts was the Kyralians amusing other races with their over-politeness, a fate understood by any Brit that's been abroad.

In terms of the plots, there was only one element that I 'guessed' ahead of time, and this was because the clues had been laid there.  Presumably if I could work it out with my current scatterbrain then you're supposed to do so.  The balance as the first book of a trilogy was worked perfectly.  It feels like the plotlines have been sufficiently wound up for this to constitute a story in its own right, and yet they are sufficiently open that you feel more needs to be known.

And more will be known soon, I'm sure.  Although I'll make sure to read something else in between I doubt I'll be able to wait too long to continue on to find out more about the Traitors.. and the Rogue.

Friday, 10 January 2014

The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown

For my first book of 2014 I used a tried and tested method of selection - I stared at the bookshelves until something looked ok.  I wanted something fairly modern that wouldn't prove too much of a challenge, and so a book that I seemed to be in the minority for not having read it fitted the bill.

The Da Vinci Code is, for the most part, set in Paris and is effectively one big cryptic treasure hunt.  Only the stakes are a bit higher than in most treasure hunts, what with it starting with a murder and the 'hunters' being wanted by the police.

As I'd expected with such a popular book, the writing style was very easy reading (if a bit boring in places during extended 'technical' explanations).  What I hadn't expected was to be so amused by the chapters.  It was almost like the concept of sections within chapters didn't exist, with many chapters just 3 or 4 pages long.  And when I found the chapter that was less than a page long I actually audibly laughed.

The best theme for me was the cryptology as I find codes and wordplay absolutely fascinating.  Although it was a worry on occasions how slow the characters were to pick up on certain clues given their professions, most notably the very obvious mirror writing.  In general the characters were alright - not strong enough that I grew particularly attached to them but they were deep enough to carry the storyline (the main ones at least).

Overall I'd say that the story was a good escape from everyday life, which is always a good point in a book.  While I enjoyed reading it the chances of me re-reading are slim, but I might add another of Dan Brown's books to my huge 'To Read' list.  At some point.  In the future.