Monday, 31 March 2014

The Big Four - Agatha Christie

After the excitement of a decent length trilogy I wanted to read something a bit shorter and more sedate.  Returning to the world's favourite Belgian detective for the first time in almost two years seemed to fit the bill.  And, luckily for me, my local library happened to have one of the series in that I hadn't read before.

The Big Four differs in style to other Poirot books that I've read.  Rather than revolving round one key mystery it revolves around a key group of villains (no prizes for guessing how many bad guys are in the group).  This means there are many distinct events spread over several months - definitely fitting my criteria of being more sedate.  The resulting feel is of a series of short stories glued together, and since finishing the book I've found that it pretty much was that.

One major change since I last read a Poirot book is that I've fallen into the world of Sherlock Holmes.  As Agatha Christie based her detective on Conan Doyle's it is easy to see how I kept falling into confused comparisons.  Unfortunately the comparisons didn't reflect that well on the little Belgian.  I suspect that it is this particular book that this is the case for though, as the style didn't really suit me.

The 'serial short stories' format meant that each mystery was on a smaller scale.  The clues and observations in each distinct case were less meaningful than they would be in a larger case.  This wasn't really helped by the fact that it's obvious each time that the Big Four will be behind it, which somewhat takes away the mystery element.

I feel somewhat as I did when I'd read The Final Problem - slightly cheated out of a puzzle and like I'd read about a detective's trip instead.  But that particular Holmes short story did not stop me reading more, and I'm sure that this won't be the last Poirot book I try.  Perhaps it's just the case that I didn't want a sedate read after all.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

The Traitor Queen - Trudi Canavan

Addiction can be a controversial topic, but its nature is both interesting and debatable.  There are certain substances which are known to cause a physical reliance, with well documented withdrawal symptoms.  Some things are a bit more wishy-washy though.  Is it really possible to be addicted to reading, for example?  I'm not sure scientists would say so, but at times it really does feel like it.

Failing miserably to consume a varied diet of books I plunged straight into the third book of the Traitor Spy trilogy.  As you would expect, this continued the plotlines laid out previously and brought them together into wider conclusions.  Broadly speaking this boiled down into one outcome in each country, but naturally each of the sub-threads had its own result.  Some aspects are those you know will appear in a book of this kind, but I wasn't actually certain how the main elements would play out.

It was less than 48 hours from the time I started this book to the time I finished it.  I'm not sure it would actually have been possible to read it any quicker without completely neglecting my baby.  Part of it will have been the back-to-back reading, but I was drawn in straight away and wanted to stay drawn in.  I cared about so many of the characters and sat hoping to see the best for them, as well as worrying which main character would be the inevitable end-of-trilogy sacrifice.

The Traitor Queen covers a range of themes, reaching far beyond the fantasy genre (as is so often the case).  Social issues are raised in different ways, from dealing with drug addiction to equality in society.  Issues such as whether it is right, or even possible, to judge another society by your own rules are at the forefront.  It's always nice to read something that manages to make you think without being too preachy.

And of course there are the relationships between characters, which I really can't leave out.  While fairly transparent, the attachments formed were one of the elements that kept me wanting to read on.  You're left waiting until the last chapter before the Epilogue to confirm something that has been building up since the first book.  But waiting is no bad thing.  It just meant that it was in the section I had to re-read - speed reading the last few chapters of a book is a really bad habit of mine.

All in all I thoroughly enjoyed these books and really didn't want to leave the world behind.  I know that there are many other good books out there (hopefully many of them are on my to-read pile), it's just that sometimes the right book crosses your path at the right time and really makes its mark.  Oh, and I confirmed a suspicion that I've had for some time now.  I'm definitely the sort of person that benefits from waiting for all three books of a trilogy to be out before starting to read.  I dread to think how bad the withdrawal symptoms would have been.

Friday, 7 March 2014

The Rogue - Trudi Canavan

I have come to the conclusion that the second book in a trilogy is the most difficult one to review.  For the first book you're starting from scratch, and so can mention characters without ruining any precarious moments.  For the last book you know everything that has happened and so have less risk of making a fool of yourself with ideas and judgements.  The second book just seems the worst of both worlds.  Of course, that's just for reviewing and not for reading.

The Rogue is the second book in the Traitor Spy trilogy and continues all the storylines a few months from where they left off, as well as adding in a new strand.  I must admit, to start with I wasn't that keen on the new plotline, as it took away from those I was already invested in.  But, as with all enjoyable books, this one sucked me in as well.  It must be a good sign that each time I experienced the 'argh they swapped locations' I was quickly excited to read more about the replacement thread.

Much of the book is character-based, with the writing perspective allowing you to develop a strong attachment to the main 'cast'.  As someone who loves character development, I find this a good thing.  Occasionally it seems that the touchy-feely stuff gets more importance than the 'main' plot, but the carefully separate, and yet still linked, strands move at a comfortable pace, with the usual acceleration to the finish.

Speaking of touchy-feely, it doesn't seem unfair to say that the storylines all have a strong lusting element, and that at times this does rather take over.  Although if there were bonus points available for covering different scenarios then this should definitely score highly.  There are straight, gay and lesbian tendencies.  There is old love, first love, forbidden love, unrequited love and lust.  Not the first book I've read this year that could fit the 'sex-obsessed' description, but the book doesn't suffer for it.

As a general rule, when reading a trilogy I try to read other books in between.  This helps to ensure I read a variety of books, and often helps me to fully process what I've read before continuing.  As another general rule, I'm much better at sticking to this after the first book in a trilogy than after the second.  Because there's only so much investment I can put into a world before I get impatient.  So I'd better stop writing, as there's a book upstairs calling my name.