I heard that Sara Douglass passed away from cancer. I first noticed her book ‘BattleAxe’ with a highly garish cover, at the old Angus & Robertson at the top of the Queen Street Mall. (Last time I went there, that entire bookshop was gone.) Flipping through, I saw that Sara was Australian. Someone who’d written a thick, chunky fantasy novel. BattleAxe was good stuff – a strong action-line, vivid battles, and story that kept me enthralled. I haven’t re-read them since I was a teenager, but I still remember the imagery of the Icarii, the Star Dance, WolfStar’s machinations, Gorgrael’s threats and lonely rule over the icepack and the wonderful themes of magic returning to a land.
I quite enjoyed the last Kazuo Ishiguro book I read – ‘Remains of the Day’. The portrait of the repressed Stevens stayed with me for some time. Unfortunately, I can’t really say the same about ‘When We Were Orphans’. It’s well-written, but a combination of factors torpedoed the book for me.
‘The City & The City’ by China Mievelle is set in an invented place somewhere, I think, in Eastern Europe. Because the city is the star of the novel, I’ll go into its worldbuilding in a bit of detail. There’s a city divided into two distinct areas, Beszel and Ul Qoma. But rather than this division taking place through half of the city, like East and West Berlin, the division of this city is scattered all over the place. A bit of park might belong to Beszel here, a building over there might be in Ul Qoma over there. ‘Crosshatched’ streets are where the two cities overlap, although they might have different names. The two cities have different languages with the same root, and citizens are trained from a young age not to ‘see’ the inhabitants of the other city, essentially pretending not to see the other people or buildings. Culture is defined by different ways of dress. To acknowledge the other city, even though it might be right there, or to cross over is to be ‘in breach’, which is enforced by the mysterious Breach organisation.