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Q&A | February 27, 2014

Rene Denfeld: IMG Powell’s Q&A: Rene Denfeld



Describe your latest book. The Enchanted is a story narrated by a man on death row. The novel was inspired by my work as a death penalty... Continue »
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    The Enchanted

    Rene Denfeld 9780062285508

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JulesJones has commented on (17) products.

The Circle Cast: The Lost Years of Morgan Le Fey by Jonathan I. Epstein
The Circle Cast: The Lost Years of Morgan Le Fey

JulesJones, May 29, 2011

Note: I received a review copy of this book as part of the LibraryThing Early Reviewers programme.

Young adult novel about what happened to the sorceress Morgan le Fay between the point in her childhood when her father was murdered by Uther Pendragon, and her return as an adult to trouble her half-brother King Arthur. The book opens at the council of war amongst the Romano-British leaders where Uter (as it's given in the book) first sets eyes on Ygraine, wife of Gorlois. Uter wants Ygraine enough to make war on Gorlois, enough to seek the aid of the magician Merlin -- and with the death of her beloved father, the child Anna finds herself sent to exile by her mother for her own safety. An exile so complete that she must change her name and tell almost no-one who she is when she arrives in Ireland. A safe place with a distant relative proves less than safe when the tribe loses a battle with its neighbours, and Morgan spends years in slavery, learning a little magic openly from the village wisewoman who owns her, and a great deal more magic in secret. Then there is escape, and a few months of peace and study with a new Christian settlement, and then a chance of love with a chieftain's son who can appreciate the knowledge of Roman battle tactics she brings. By the time she is eighteen, Morgan has learnt a great many things, but the one thing she has not learnt is how to let go of the need for vengeance. It has, after all, kept her alive through the dark times...

I found the book a bit hard to get into at first, but once I got into the rhythm of the writing I was hooked. Epstein has taken the historical period of 500AD as the basis for his story, a time when the Roman legions had long withdrawn from Britain but many of the British still thought of themselves as Roman. He's drawn on Irish mythology and blended it with modern Wiccan practice to create a believably consistent picture of magic, in a time when both Druid priests and Christian missionaries can draw on the power of the earth, and a young exile can learn to use it to protect herself and the people she loves. The result is a solid addition to the Arthurian legend, covering an area not much touched on, and giving a plausible reason for the adult Morgan le Fay to be who she is. Here she is a strong and sympathetic character, and it's only too easy to understand why she makes the choices she does.

The book's been written in such a way that it can be enjoyed both as a free-standing novel suitable for someone not familiar with any of the mythology and literature that has accreted around Arthur, and as a fascinating new contribution to that ongoing literary conversation. An excellent YA fantasy novel that should appeal to adults as well.
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Glide Path by Arthur Charles Clarke
Glide Path

JulesJones, June 27, 2010

This is often described as Clarke's non-sf novel, but it has a very similar feel to some of his hard sf. There is the same world building and sense of wonder inspired by science -- but the world he brings to life here was real and recent history. For this novel is a fictionalised account of the development of Ground Control Approach radar during the second world war, and Clarke draws upon his own experience of working on the project to safely talk down aircraft by radar.

It might sound dry, but it isn't. Clarke does a fine job on showing both the the technology, and the people who created the technology, with the interplay between different personalities, and the little and large incidents that make up life in a developmental project. The main character's not always that likeable a person, but in a way that makes him a believable viewpoint character rather than a stock hero. There's plenty of dramatic tension, and lighter moments as well, with both clearly being drawn at least in part from Clarke's own experiences. Glide Path is well worth a read for both sf readers and WW2 History buffs.
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Inspector Singh Investigates: a Bali Conspiracy Most Foul by Shamini Flint
Inspector Singh Investigates: a Bali Conspiracy Most Foul

JulesJones, June 27, 2010

I was recently offered review copies of the second and third books in the Inspector Singh Investigates series by Shamini Flint, about a Sikh detective in the Singapore police force. I was pleased to accept, as I thought that the first book was very enjoyable, if flawed. I'm very happy to say that the second book, A Bali Conspiracy Most Foul, makes good on the promise shown by the first. The story's just as good, but the writing's much smoother in this episode of the Inspector's adventures, without the choppy pacing and info-dumping of the first in the series. The character of Inspector Singh is a wonderful concept, and this book offers a plot to do him justice.

Singh's a good detective, with a track record in catching killers, but he doesn't fit into the current force culture. So once again inspector Singh's senior officers are only too glad to get him out of their hair by volunteering him as their contribution to a major police investigation in a neighbouring country. In this book the country is Bali, and the crime is once again murder, but this time on a large scale. As the book opens, he's feeling frustrated because for all his skill at catching killers he has no experience relevant to the investigation of a terrorist attack. But soon there is work for him, for Flint has taken the real life tragedy of the Bali bombings, and added a separate murder mystery. One of the skull fragments recovered from the bomb site has a bullet hole through it. One of the dead was already dead at another's hand *before* the bomb went off.

Singh might be a fifth wheel on the bomb investigation, but murder on the individual scale is a completely different matter. He takes on the task of finding justice for the one victim out of dozens he can help in death. His temporary assistant this time out is an Australian policewoman from the bomb investigation team. Bronwyn Taylor has also been sidelined by her superiors for perceived insubordination, and her expert area is Indonesian language and culture, not murder. Her personality is far from a perfect match for Singh's and he often finds her irritating, but nevertheless the two make a good team for this case.

The book's viewpoint moves around between disparate groups who have had their lives disrupted by the bombing. The primary focus is the two police officers; but there is also a group of rather unappealing British and Australian ex-pats, one of whom has been missing since the bomb, a small group of Indonesian Muslims from another island, and of course some of the local Bali people, both within the police force and without. Singh and Taylor have a long slog piecing together the clues, even after an early breakthrough in identifying the shooting victim, but gradually the different threads they hold start to twine together, leading to a thrilling climax.

It would be very easy for a book using this subject to slip into exploitation, but Flint treats it with great sensitivity. One of the strengths of the first book was the way Flint showed multiple culture clashes from multiple angles, and this book develops the same themes. There is no demonising of any one group, and there is a thoughtful examination of how and why the different groups are motivated to behave as they do. The book is often gently funny and relatively light in tone even though it's using such a grim background and tackles some serious subjects. This can be a difficult balancing act to pull off, but this book does it well.

As with the first book, Singh himself is a marvellous character, and the other characters are well drawn. Team this with a good story and an evocative description of Bali, and you've got a book that's well worth your time. I'm looking forward to reading the third book, which is set in Flint's current home, Singapore.
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Union Club Mysteries by Isaac Asimov

JulesJones, January 2, 2010

This anthology collected the first 30 stories from a monthly series of mystery shorts Asimov wrote for Eric Potter at Gallery magazine. The frame story for the series is a group of four men who sit together at their club. One of their number claims to have a background in intelligence, and has a habit of telling stories about problems he has solved for the police and intelligence services. The problems are typically in the form of lateral thinking puzzles, and Griswold invariably finishes by commenting that the answer was obvious, and waiting for his companions to admit that they can't work it out before giving them the answer (thus also giving the reader a chance to try to work it out before the answer is revealed). With only 2000 words to play with each month, the stories are of necessity fairly pared down and low on characterisation. They're often great fun, and I find it entertaining to watch the ongoing frame story about the narrator and his two friends trying to decide whether Griswold is telling the truth about his past or pulling their legs; but if you don't like bad puns you won't like a fair few of these little mysteries, and some of them have dated badly.

I enjoyed the collection, though it's more of a book for dipping into occasionally than reading all the way through in one sitting. I find them excellent for when I want something that will occupy me for five or ten minutes without making it difficult for me to put down the book at the end of a chapter. The collection has kept me entertained through more than a few bouts of 3 am insomnia when I wanted something light and short to focus on that I could put down again as soon as I felt sleepy.

It's not really worth going to a lot of effort to lay hands on a copy, but if one comes your way it's well worth trying a few of the stories.
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Jade Man's Skin by Daniel Fox
Jade Man's Skin

JulesJones, December 19, 2009

(Reviewed from an ARC.)
Daniel Fox keeps up the quality and the pace in the second volume of his fantasy trilogy inspired by mediaeval China. The first volume, "Dragon In Chains", told the tale of the boy Emperor's flight from a rebel army, and the stories of some of those touched by the war. Now the Emperor has reached safety on the remote island of Taishu on the very fringe of the Empire.

Taishu may be remote, but no would-be usurper can afford to leave the Emperor there in exile. The island holds the jade mines that are the source of imperial power -- and in this world, that isn't just symbolic. This volume explores in greater depth the subtle magic that underpins imperial rule. And there is more than imperial magic. There are other intelligences in this world, and the human forces which are arrayed against one another are starting to learn just what it means to tangle such creatures into human battles.

It's hard to review this book in any depth without giving major spoilers for the first one (which I've reviewed previously), because this trilogy really is a single novel in three volumes, not a series of three interlinked novels. But what I can say is that it follows each of the major characters and threads from the first volume, developing each strand of the story in a satisfying way. This is no wish-fulfillment story wherein the Hero is noble simply because he is the Hero, but a careful consideration of the cumulative effects of power -- on those who have it, whether in name only or in reality, on those who desire it, and on those who are simply in its path. And like the first volume, it neither flinches from showing the horror of war, nor wallows in gratuituous gore.

This is a complex story with equally complex characters, which genuinely needs the three volumes to do justice to the tales it has to tell. But it's beautifully constructed, and told in stunningly good prose. If you've not read the first book, don't start with this one. It really is worth your while finding "Dragon in Chains" and reading that first, not least because part of the pleasure is watching how the characters are changing and growing in response to the upheavals in their world. But there's no need to wait for the final book to come out, as "Jade Man's Skin" offers enough intermediate resolution of plot threads to leave a reader feeling satisfied while still wanting to hear the end of the story. Go buy them now -- this series is breathtaking, in concepts, in story and in prose.
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