Sam Downing Reviews: Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

I picked up a copy of Leviathan when I was in the States last week; I started reading it on Sunday night and had polished it off by Wednesday morning, however, in that time I crossed the international date line so it actually took me even less time to finish than that. The reason I got through it so fast? It’s ace.

The only other book I’ve read by Scott Westerfeld is Uglies, and I liked Leviathan a lot more. It’s loaded with all kinds of rad things: steampunk! Huge mechanical warships and equally huge genetically engineered warships! World War I alternate history! Girls disguised as boys! Heirs to the throne on the run from malevolent political forces!

So. Much. Awesome.

But if you’re awesome-greedy and demand yet more awesome, here it is: Keith Thompson’s illustrations are gawjus. The endpapers of the book alone are worth the cover price – they make me go all Homer Simpson drooly.

The only bad thing about Leviathan is that it’s the first part of a trilogy. This means that a lot of the plot is left hanging for the second instalment, which is released in 2010… but I want to find out what happens nooooow. I’m nerdishly excited about this series and where it’s headed! Now if you’ll excuse me I’m going to go and stamp my feet for a bit in the hope that it’ll somehow make time go by faster.

This month’s guest reviewer, Sam Downing, is a twenty-something blogger, young-adult writer and hack journalist from Sydney. Follow him on Twitter and visit his blog here.

Sam Downing Reviews: Boneshaker by Cherie Priest

I bought Boneshaker at the same time as Leviathan, because they were next to one another on the tables at Barnes & Noble, and I vaguely remembered reading good things about it. (I also liked the cover. Goggles! Airships! Neat typography!) It was a good purchase. This is a great book.

Cherie Priest’s story starts off slow: it’s not immediately apparent how the plot will turn out, unless you cheated and read the blurb, and even then it’s not obvious. Early chapters introduce us to Briar Wilkes and her teenage son Zeke, and the grim 19th century version of Seattle they inhabit. By around page 50, the plot has stuck them both in a walled-up part of the city that’s crawling with zombies (dubbed “rotters” in Priest’s universe) and pirates and mad scientists. (Boing Boing has a longer, better synopsis.)

No-so-coincidentally, around page 50 is where Boneshaker hooked me.

This is an epic, page-turning, wonderful read: deftly plotted, switching between Briar and Zeke as they individually explore the horrifying, steampunk-inspired place they’ve stumbled into; written in a beautifully verbose style that matches its historical era; and just a whole lot of fun. Priest is writing at least two more books set in the same world, and while they won’t be direct sequels to Boneshaker (which is a shame – I want more of Briar and Zeke and zombie-Seattle!), I can’t wait to read them.

This month’s guest reviewer, Sam Downing, is a twenty-something blogger, young-adult writer and hack journalist from Sydney. Follow him on Twitter and visit his blog here.

Sam Downing Reviews: Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett

The other week I had a work-related Christmas dinner (great food, great company), and my team played one of those corporate-style getting-to-know-you games wherein we each had to name a person we’d love to have dinner with.

I nominated Terry Pratchett.

I read a lot as a kid and a teenager, but Pterry’s Discworld books were the first novels I was super-invested in. Between the ages of 13 and 16 I reckon I devoured each entry in the series at least five times – there were more than 20 Discworld novels in those days (there’s now 37), so that’s a lot of reading.

Pratchett probably had more influence on my writing and my worldview than any other writer. So it’s through this lens of adoration that I read the newest entry in the Discworld series, Unseen Academicals.

First up: even a bad Discworld book would still be a good book.  Unseen Academicals (synopsis here) is not a bad Discworld book. But nor is it the greatest. The development-of-football plot didn’t feel as fleshed out as other Discworld spoofs (particularly coming so soon after Going Postal and Making Money), the plot lacked a clear drive towards something, and the new characters often felt like retreads of characters that Pterry has done better in the past – while I liked Glenda, Nutt, Trev and Juliet, I don’t really care about any of them.

That said, there are some great moments: pretty much anything about the Librarian, Ponder Stibbons and Ridcully, whose rivalry with former Dean provided some of  Unseen Academicals high points. Pratchett introduces fun new supporting characters (Pepe, Dr Hix) in amongst the old faces (Rincewind), though other Discworld fixtures seemed way off (Vetinari, who seemed oddly un-Vetinari in many of his scenes).

Perhaps this sounds harsh. But I really did enjoy  Unseen Academicals(what can I say? I’m a Pterry fanboy). I wouldn’t recommend it to a Discworld newbie, but it’s nevertheless a solid entry in this fantastic (in every sense of the word) series. And it also has a touch of finality: because of Pratchett’s Alzheimer’s disease,  Unseen Academicals could be one of the last adult Discworld novels. Which is a very sad prospect.

This month’s guest reviewer, Sam Downing, is a twenty-something blogger, young-adult writer and hack journalist from Sydney. Follow him on Twitter and visit his blog here.

Sam Downing Reviews: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

I was chatting with a friend not long ago about Neil Gaiman’s writing style, and we agreed that his is an authorial voice you either like or you don’t: my friend doesn’t like it, but I do. A lot. Gaiman has a knack of adapting to whatever genre he’s writing in, but his work always has a sense of the very old, the very deep, and the very strange.

I started The Graveyard Book with high expectations, and wasn’t disappointed: Like all the best children’s literature, it’s wildly imaginative, seductively scary, and a sophisticated read for both kids and adults.

Loosely inspired by The Jungle BookThe Graveyard Book  is the story of a baby who escapes from the ruthless killer who’s murdered his parents, and escapes to a very old graveyard. Rechristened Nobody “Bod” Owens, he’s raised by the graveyard’s ghostly  inhabitants and encounters vampires, werewolves, witches and other beasties as he grows up. (The Guardian has a more detailed, though mildly spoilery, synopsis; I recommend going into it without knowing about the plot’s direction.)

It kind of reminded me of Harry Potter, if Harry Potter’s sprawling story was condensed into a single book: The Graveyard Book  has the same magical, captivating and adventurous tone. I felt really sad when I turned the last page, both because of the way the plot wrapped up, and because I’d finished a really great book.

Each chapter advances Bod’s age by around two years and stands alone as a story (more or less), making this a breezy read. If you never read anything of Gaiman’s before, this is a fine entry point.1

Gaiman has proposed writing more books exploring the backstory of the Graveyard universe, but with a darker, more adult tone – a sort of “The Lord Of The Rings, to which The Graveyard Book would have been The Hobbit, in his words. I want to read that book so bad. Right now.

This month’s guest reviewer, Sam Downing, is a twenty-something blogger, young-adult writer and hack journalist from Sydney. Follow him on Twitter and visit his blog here.