William is from Sussex, UK.
He has a passion for literature and enjoys reading all sorts of books. His hobbies are numerous and consist of medieval/viking reenactment, writing, karate and of course reading.
“That was in the year 867, and it was the first time I ever went to war.
And I have never ceased.”
I finally began my journey into The Saxon Stories. I cannot fathom what has taken me so long to delve into The Last Kingdom. I love Bernard Cornwell’s writing, and I love the concept for this tale.
This is one of those rare occasions where I have watched the adaptation before reading the book. But, no worries, this did not take away from the experience. The disparity been book and program is large, with a significantly larger period of time spent with Uhtred’s childhood than in the singular episode round-up in the series. It was something that I actually longed for in the program, and I was glad that the growth of Uhtred into an adult was treated more slowly and effectively.
This is a retrospective tale from the perspective of Uhtred, who recollects in this first instalment his early days, and the beginning of his forging of a reputation as a great warrior and leader. He is an unreliable narrator who, as the Goodreads summary states, is a dispossessed nobleman who was born a Saxon but raised a Dane This conflict of interests and loyalties becomes a key part of the story, and I believe will continue to do so throughout this series. It is a very interesting, rarely explored dynamic, in which Bernard Cornwell shows the reality that there is no 'right' side.
“The preachers tell us that pride is a great sin, but the preachers are wrong. Pride makes a man, it drives him, it is the shield wall around his reputation... Men die, they said, but reputation does not die.”
Bernard Cornwell is known as one of the greatest writers of action sequences. It is a reputation that is of course, well earned. Bernard Cornwell immerses you into each and every battle, for the most part. By that slight detraction I mean that sometimes he suddenly changes from an adrenaline pumping sequence, to suddenly changing to a summary of the rest of the battle. I found this to be slightly jarring. But that is about the only criticism I have of this story.
Bernard Cornwell maintains strengths in all arenas of writing, but I would say his most impressive strength is his characterisation, and the ability to forge a cast of wide variety. Many authors are amazing at creating a certain type of figure, and they stick to their comfort zone. Any character is Bernard Cornwell’s comfort zone. From a pacifist priest, to an amoral raider, he has each one nailed down, without being stereotypical.
“Destiny is all”
Overall, I of course thoroughly enjoyed this tale. I love Uhtred’s character. I love the historical period. I love Bernard Cornwell’s prose and battle sequences. He successfully formed a gritty tone and atmosphere of 9th century, war-torn England, with an engaging plot and compelling characters.
“For the world seems never to offer anything worthwhile without also providing a dreadful opposite.”
Mythos is the first of Stephen Fry’s retellings of Greek Mythology, with this initial instalment focusing on the origins of the world, the gods, of mankind, and the early tales of these creations. It varies from the epic scale of Zeus and his siblings launching global warfare against the Titans, all the way to individual tales of clever interactions been mortal and immortal.
So, as you may know, I am a huge fan of mythology, of history and of folk tales, from Norse, to Celtic, to Greek. Surprisingly though, I have not delved much into Greek/Roman mythology, and it was time to rectify that. Mythos did a great job at filling the gap, and I really look forward to continuing this journey through Greek Mythology in Heroes, and then Troy, which complete Stephen Fry’s triad of Greek retellings.
Starting with characters, as I said, in Mythos we meet mortals and immortals, animals and monsters, and everything in-between. We are introduced to a huge cast of characters, many of whom are only present for a few pages. But, do not let this daunt you! As I will discuss later in this review, it is not intended for you to remember everyone. The very nature of most mythologies is for many temporary figures to rise and fall, and therefore for the large amount of stories to amalgamate into hundreds of figures with as much variety as you can imagine.
“Kronos was not quite the pained and vulnerable emo-like youth”
Now about prose. Unsurprisingly, given his personality, Stephen Fry has a very distinctive voice. He exudes what he is famed for. His charisma, his humour, and his intellect. In Mythos, he gives an elementary perspective to very confusing concepts, and manages to write in a manner that is simultaneously easy to read, yet also thought-provoking and then hilarious.
What I would say as a criticism is that the beginning feels a bit like the opening of Tolkien’s The Silmarillion. Whilst Fry injects his enthusiasm, the crafting of the world vital introduction of so many important characters significantly slows down the pace, and provides a bit of a slog early on. But again. Do not led this dissuade you, fore beyond this initial twenty/thirty pages, it was fresh, unique and a joy to read.
One of the aspects that really draws me to Greek Mythology is the presentation of the gods. I find it fascinating that those of Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome had religions that contrast so strongly with the modern conception of religion. I would say the main disparity is that Mythos shows that the Gods were designed to be inherently feared and worshipped, with love acting as a secondary factor. Very Machiavellian.
“It is their refusal to see any divine beings as perfect, whole and complete of themselves, whether Zeus, Moros or Prometheus, that makes the Greeks so satisfying.”
Continuing from this, I loved that the Gods were shown in their full. Stephen Fry crafted many tales that I found surprisingly compelling, as the virtues and vices, sacrifices and betrayals of the Gods and other characters were told and revealed. The reader is shown the abuse of power, the thirst for power, but also a willingness to sacrifice oneself for a greater purpose, as we see in the tale of Prometheus.
To talk a bit more about the pacing and structure. As with most mythological retellings, Mythos is essentially a large amount of short stories loosely tied together, with probably 50-60 tales told in this solitary instalment. This structure allows short bursts of reading, and satisfactory moments to be dotted throughout the book. Whilst there are bonuses to this structure, there are also shortcomings. Due to the sheer amount of story’s, and central focus on the exploits of the Gods, it is inevitable that many of these tales became repetitive in the final quarter. We see many variations of a God experiencing lust for a mortal, surprisingly falling in love, and then another God tricking their lover to cause a tragedy. This is evocative and engaging at first, but over time became a bit draining.
“What Pandora did not know was that, when she shut the lid of the jar so hastily, she for ever imprisoned inside one last daughter of Nyx. One last little creature was left behind to beat its wings hopelessly in the jar for ever. Its name was ELPIS, Hope.”
So, overall, Mythos is a great retelling of Greek Mythology. It supplied me with an enjoyable, funny read that managed to be simultaneously educational and light, with Fry avoiding dense sequences where he could. The only criticisms I have do not regard the mastery of Stephen Fry himself, but more the nature of mythological retellings. So, if you enjoy this type of story, I highly recommend! It is certainly one of, if not the best, mythologically books I have read.
“Typically, a constable only sits in the commissioner’s anti-room when he’s been very brave, or very stupid, and I really couldn’t tell which one applied to me.”
Rivers of London is an urban fantasy story set in modern London. After constant recommendations from my dad, and then my brother recently, I decided to finally dive into this popular series. Thank you to them for pushing me into this read.
Rivers of London is a unique story that is full of dry humour, engaging plots, unique characters, and a wonderful setting. Listening to this on Audible, I was often laughing out loud, earning some strange looks from my family in the process. The narration by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, who has won an Olivier Award for Best Actor, was absolutely fantastic and really elevated the story, which by its own was already great.
“On the plus side, there were no rioters in sight but on the minus side this was probably because everywhere I looked was on fire.”
Ben Aaronovitch has a prose that just seems to click with me. It is engaging, and perfectly crafts the tone that he appears to be seeking. Regarding prose, I thoroughly enjoyed the slight shift in syntax that was implemented in different situations to mirror our protagonist’s thoughts. From the more clinical, efficient, tentative process when working, to the more decisive and more tangential shift when approaching other spheres of the story. This is something that is not incorporated enough. Our thought processes adapt to our situations, and that is mirrored here. It makes the story more engaging, and also subtly tells us so much about the central character. Loved it! Alongside this is his dry humour, which I said earlier I found hilarious. I loved the historical and pop references, such as the quote below. It is so funny you could put a tail on it and call it a weasel…
“I have an idea," I said.
"This better not be a cunning plan," said Leslie.
Nightingale looked blank, but at least it got a chuckle from Dr Walid.”
Much of what I had heard before reading was that the portrayal of London and Ben Aaronovitch’s world-building was a strong point. This is so true. He obviously knows London inside out, and it is made evident by the easy description and laying out of the setting and tone of urban life. His passion for London is just infectious, and it was really enjoyable to be caught in that as a reader.
Alongside the depiction of London, Aaronovitch adds an underbelly to the setting that is a fantastical world. This reminded me strongly, in a good way, of the vibes of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. The coexistence of the magical world and the ‘normal’ world with the ignorance of the latter is something that we have seen many times, such as in Harry Potter. But it never gets old. Aaronovitch introduces his own spin and gives his own concept that is fresh and new.
"So magic is real," I said. "Which makes you a...what?"
"Like Harry Potter?"
Nightingale sighed. "No," he said. "Not like Harry Potter."
"In what way?"
"I'm not a fictional character," said Nightingale.”
The characters were great as well. Our protagonist and perspective throughout the story is from constable Peter Grant, a given up scientist who begins in total ignorance regarding the magical world, until he talks to a ghost at a crime scene. He is wonderfully flawed and one of the best central characters I have read in a long time. Nightingale was an interesting character, and one that I hope to see more off. His role as guardian and teacher I feel was somewhat limited due to often serving as exposition. It was required for the plot, but I feel like it slowed down the pace and made Nightingale less engaging than his character appeared to initially appear. But, I am sure that he will be developed further on into the series.
Rivers of London introduces us to all manner of weird and wonderful scenarios and monsters. With a chance to view the development of London from the Dark Ages, to meeting the embodiments of the London rivers, to revenants, ghosts seeking vengeance, and troublesome spirits. They were all really unique and I look forward to encountering many more in the rest of the series.
“Keep breathing,’ I said. ‘It’s a habit you don’t want to break.”
Rivers of London is a well crafted story, with fantastic characters, a wonderful world, great prose and wonderful narration on Audible. My only small critique other than Nightingale’s exposition would be that I felt the middle third of the story lost some of its momentum, but that is me being picky, and certainly does not mean that I found it to be a slog at any part. It is just that drop from brilliance that makes me give this a 4.25 star rating. As I have now read the sequel, Moon Over Soho, I can confirm that all the great storytelling aspects of Rivers of London are built and improved on, and this definitely seems like a series that anyone would enjoy, and one I will be recommending even to those who do not read fantasy.