Out Now: Jade Man’s Skin by Daniel Fox (aka Chaz Brenchley)

Remember that Chinese-inspired fantasy series I’ve been so taken with? The name on the cover is Daniel Fox, but the man behind the pen name is Chaz Brenchley, noted fantasy and crime writer, and the middle volume, “Jade Man’s Skin”, is now on sale. If you’ve read the first volume, “Dragon in Chains”, you’ll already know why I’m so taken with it, but if you haven’t, that’s still available and you should start with that one first.

buy ebooks or trade paperbacks direct from Del Ray

Jade Man’s Skin
ISBN: 978-0-345-50304-6 (trade paperback)
ISBN: 978-0-345-51911-5 (ebook)
My review of Jade Man’s Skin (volume 2)
LibraryThing entry
at The Book Depository
Jade Man’s Skin at Amazon UK
Jade Man’s Skin at Amazon US
DRM-locked ebook at Fictionwise

Dragon in Chains
ISBN: 978-0-345-50305-3 (trade paperback)
ISBN: 978-0-345-51346-5 (ebook)
My review of Dragon in Chains (volume 1)
LibraryThing entry
at The Book Depository
Dragon in Chains at Amazon UK
Dragon in Chains at Amazon US
DRM-locked ebook at Fictionwise

(n.b. — yes, those are Amazon links you see before you. In general, Amazon links are Going Away. However, I received ARCs of these books, and I feel that if I asked for an ARC, I have some obligation to make it as easy as possible for people to buy the book.)

Book log: Agatha Christie — Murder in Mesopotamia

A nurse is hired by the leader of an archaeological expedition to look after his wife, who has been suffering from nervous fears. The fears are considered by most if not all of the expedition members to be the result of imagination and boredom, but are proven all too justified when she is murdered. The local police decide to call in Poirot, who happens to be conveniently in the neighbourhood. The nurse plays the role of Hastings in this novel, including writing up the case afterwards as an independent witness to the murder and its investigation.

Much of the novel is an acidly funny observation of the different personalities of the characters and the way they deceive themselves and others. The mystery itself has plenty of red herrings, and although I knew from an unfortunate spoiler on LibraryThing who the killer was, I didn’t realise until the last minute how it was done. I enjoyed this, and I think it would stand re-reading.

LibraryThing entry
Books and DVDs at Play
DRM-locked ebook at Fictionwise

Book log: Reginald Hill — Matlock’s System

Science fiction novel originally published in 1973 under the title Heart Clock, and by the pseudonym Dick Morland. I finished it a couple of days ago and am still mulling it over; but I think the conclusion is that it’s readable, but I’d have liked it a lot more had I read it in the 1980s, the time at which it clearly diverges wildly from our own history rather than being an at least semi-plausible future. It’s dated in odd little ways (e.g. “it’s set in the 2030s and they don’t have mobile phones?”) that pulled me out of the story in places, and Hill’s writing wasn’t as good then as it is now.

Matlock’s System is a means of balancing the national budget by controlling population to keep it within the country’s means. Each annual Budget Day statement sets the national Expectation of Life — in other words, the age at which an individual will be euthanised. The novel uses similar concepts to the earlier Logan’s Run, but here the system uses a variable age, and is enforced by a surgically implanted device that will stop the heart at the set time without outside intervention (and the device is physically re-set after Budget Day if the EoL changes. Tough luck if the EoL drops below your current age…).

Matlock proposed the system many years ago as a humane means of dealing with a severe budgetary crisis, and was the first recipient of a heart clock device. He has since come to see the system as wrong, and not just because his own age is approaching the current EoL. He has campaigned for many years to overturn the system, and been largely ignored, despised for his apostasy by the ruling party he once led. But now he’s suddenly important to more than one major political faction, and is left running for his life, trying to sift lies from truth and discover the reason for this sudden interest in him. Matlock wants to live — a little for selfish reasons, but mostly because he has the best chance he’s ever had of destroying his own system.

If you like Hill’s work, this book’s worth trying, but bear in mind that it’s both written early in his career and in a somewhat different style to the Dalziel&Pascoe or Joe Sixsmith series.

LibraryThing entry

Book log: Agatha Christie — Lord Edgware Dies

Enjoyable but not outstanding Poirot novel, narrated by Hastings. American actress Jane Wilkinson is desperate to be free of her husband, Lord Edgware, so that she can marry a different and more desirable English lord. Lord Mark One conveniently dies of a knife wound to the base of the skull, but the ungrieving widow by chance has an impeccable alibi, and there are other people with a motive for murder, and perhaps for framing Lady Edgware. Poirot does eventually untangle the truth, but not before there are more deaths, and a lot of false paths followed.

LibraryThing entry
Books, audiobooks and DVDs at Play
DRM-locked ebook at Fictionwise

Book Review: Andre Norton and Lyn McConchie — Beast Master’s Circus

This is the fourth title in Andre Norton’s Beast Master series. The first two (The Beast Master and Lord of Thunder) were written by Norton in 1959 and 1962. Three sequels were published as collaborations in the 2000s. The cover says by two authors, but it was obvious within a couple of chapters of this one that the only input by Norton herself was a story outline, if that. It got only more obvious as the book went on, because McConchie a) has not written a convincing pastiche of Norton’s writing style, b) is not as good a writer. McConchie’s own website states that all three of the “collaborations” were written solely by McConchie from brief collaboratively written outlines.

I don’t have a problem with high quality sharecropped novels — after all, I like good fanfic, and I’m perfectly happy to pay for pro-published fanfic if it’s good enough. However, for me this example isn’t good enough to buy, although it’s worth checking out from the library if you want to read more about the beast masters. A particular irritation for me was that McConchie is addicted to head-hopping, and is not good enough to make it transparent. This is not just using an omniscient point of view — this is dropping into a different character’s head for a paragraph or two, sometimes in mid-paragraph, in order to provide information that the main character for that chapter can’t know. By contrast, Norton had very tightly controlled point of view — and as a result was the author who got me thinking at a young age about how different POVs work, and how it can be used to give different effects. Thus the head-hopping had a fingernails-down-blackboard effect on me, although other readers might not be irritated by it.

The primary focus of this book is Laris, a young woman who accepted bonded servant status to a circus owner to escape a refugee camp. Laris has a valuable talent with animals, and is used both in the ring acts, and behind the scenes to look after the animals. In her time with the circus, she’s realised that it has ties to the Thieves’ Guild — and the latest scheme is the abduction of beast master’s animals. When the circus heads to Arzor, she’s used in a plot to acquire Hosteen Storm’s animals. Laris’s sympathy is with Storm and his family, but Laris has a beast companion of her own to protect… There’s enough backstory dropped in that you could read this as a standalone, although I’d really have to suggest you go and get the original pair of books instead.

The story’s enjoyable and fits in well with Norton’s world, even if I didn’t like some of the writing. Would I read the other two novels McConchie wrote using Norton’s setting and characters? Yes, but going by this one I wouldn’t go to any great trouble or expense to acquire them, and I probably wouldn’t keep them once I’d read them.

LibraryThing entry