[By Nic Lindh on Friday, 19 October 2018]
Not that many titles in this roundup, and no non-fiction, as I’ve been spending most of my reading hours plowing through Glen Cook’s brilliant Black Company series once again. This was prompted by the sudden release of Port of Shadows, a novel set between the first and second novels in the original saga. There’s a full review of Port of Shadows below.
Apart from that, this roundup has the return of Sandman Slim, two brilliant Swedish art sci-fi books, and some velvety, twisted grimdark fantasy.
Sandman Slim is back from the dead! Kind of. He is, as the title says, Hollywood Dead. And is forced once again to perform another task for Bad People.
Hollywood Dead is the weakest novel in the series so far, mostly because it, like Slim himself, lacks energy. The series is at its best when it’s a huge motorcycle roaring through Hell blasting The Misfits on a ghetto blaster, but this installment is more of a whimper, with a subdued, self-doubting Slim.
It’s understandable for Kadrey to have some trouble with where to take the series after having literally conquered Hell and stormed Heaven, but the brashness and hell-bent-for-leather rock’n’roll energy of the earliest novels were what made them so fun and special, so Hollywood Dead feels like an interstitial.
Still, I’m not giving up on the Sandman and am looking forward to the next one.
Simon Stålenhag’s Tales from the Loop is like it was designed specifically for me: Nostalgia for a Sweden of the past and sci-fi dystopia mixed into one with gorgeous artwork. But it’s not just about the artwork, which mixes mundane, usually overcast, Swedish landscapes and objects of the ’80s with fantastic sci-fi objects, but also a series of vignettes from the perspective of a boy growing up in this alternate reality.
The Loop of the title is a particle accelerator that enables the creation of wonderful but poorly understood technologies.
I read this one slowly, basking in the artwork and letting the emotions in the vignettes seep in.
Things from the Flood continues the story begun in Tales from the Loop, with the boy narrator from the first book moving into adolescence and something going horribly wrong with the Loop.
Not quite the experience of Tales from the Loop, perhaps because the premise has already been unfolded, but still strong and deeply emotional.
Smith Spark uses language like a dagger in this odd and twisted grimdark fantasy. It features some of the usual fantasy tropes like dragons, prophecy and magic, but treats them in fresh, new ways.
The Court of Broken Knives is grimdark wrapped in velvet and compulsively readable, though a bit difficult to get through as several of the characters are such terrible, terrible people. But hey, that’s grimdark for you.
This is novel one and a half in the amazing Black Company series, dropping in uninvited but welcome long after the series conclusion and covers events that take place after the end of the first novel, The Black Company. This is kind of weird, yes, but very welcome for fans of the series.
One often underrated part of the mythos is how much it plays with unreliable narration. Different annalists—Black Company chroniclers—cover events differently with different focuses and takes on characters, sometimes even disagreeing on pure facts. It adds to the depth of the series.
Port of Shadows takes this to a whole new level, with Croaker—the current annalist—admitting to having his memories tampered with and being kept out of the loop for operational security reasons.
It’s also different in tone than the other installments, with more interpersonal relationships, including Croaker’s with a brand new Taken called Mischievous Rain. Or is she a new Taken? DUN-DUN-dun.
Whatever or whoever Mischievous Rain is, she certainly is interesting and brings out new sides of our old hero Croaker.
Port of Shadows also provides glimpses back into the early days of the Domination, just enough to whet your appetite for more.
It’s an unfulfilling novel in many ways, with Cook doing a lot more playing with the form than he usually does, but it’s a brand new novel of the Black Company! So let’s rejoice.
Note: The links are Amazon affiliate links. If you purchase through them I get a tiny kickback, which motivates me to keep writing these reviews. If you deign to purchase one of the books through them, it’s appreciated.