Sweet Sweet Revenge Limited by Jonas Jonasson

I’ll tell you what, I’ve been round the houses looking for a book I could settle on; I’ve dumped the last three I’ve started, but I don’t think the problem was the books (so I won’t say what they were: I think I was in the mood for something a bit more fun, a bit more lightweight … and then Sweet Sweet Revenge Ltd. popped up in the book feed.

What I like about Jonasson’s writing is that he manages to weave a deceptively simple plot (I don’t think I’ll be giving too much away by telling you it’s centred around revenge), some pretty unsavoury but strangely endearing antagonists (remember Hitman Sanders …?), and some fairly ordinary protagonists. The prose flows well, with no bumps or sharp edges; but plenty of humour, some of it gruesome, most of it just really fun.

The appeal of the book for me was that I could enjoy the book without expending too much brainpower; the author takes out much of the hard decision-making, but does it in a way that doesn’t patronise. To begin with, the villain, Victor, is a racist, misogynist, homophobe, thief, swindler and would-be murderer … and we learn all of this in the first ten pages, so we dislike him pretty much straight away. He does have occasional flashes of mercy, so he is very much a standout character in a book that focuses more on the adventure than the people.

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Book review: The Queen of Sidonia by Richard Fox

This one was from the ‘random grab and read a few pages’ list. I’ve got a lot of these books sitting in what I laughingly call a ‘short queue’, and a lot of them stay there for years. Every so often, I’ll pick one out, read a few pages, and if I carry on reading then we have a … Oh my god … is that … a slush pile?

Queen of Sidonia was up next, and after page ten, I realised it was the just kind of book I was in the mood for: an unpretentious middleweight sci-fi story with plenty of action and a nice tidy ending.

And it wasn’t advertising itself as anything else. I mean, the cover is basically telling you this isn’t Shakespeare, but you’ll have a damn good time all the same.

And yes, I really did enjoy it. The story is nothing that you haven’t seen before, and the characters will be exactly who you expect them to be: we’ve got an idealistic, straight-laced hero; a feisty princess; a ruthless villain and a fop. Still, they all have their quirks so you’ll have no difficulty remembering who’s doing what to who, and the dialogue is distinctive and punchy. Fox doesn’t waste time having his characters chatting about stuff you don’t need to know.

But back to the story. Yes, it’s nothing too original, but as I’m always saying, it’s not what you tell, it’s how you tell it, and this is told with flair, humour and without wasting a single word. The world-building is one of the best I’ve ever come acros, weaving the structure and politics of the future civilization into the story with leaving a seam. Great stuff. The plot thunders along without straining the reader too much, building to a climax that is perhaps a little too predictable aside from one nice touch which, if I’m honest, I didn’t see coming.

So, after taxing myself with something a bit more heavyweight (and probably far less fun), I’ll be back for the sequel: The King of Sidonia.

Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

It’s a bit of everything this book: part dystopian sci-fi, part urban fantasy, and part social commentary. You’d think that trying to blend all this together into a single novel would turn into a hot mess.

Well, no it doesn’t.

Set in a future Africa after a global disaster, Who Fears Death is the story – the long and harrowing story – of Onyesonwu Ubaid-Ogundimu, a child born of rape who undertakes a journey to become a sorcerer so that she can avenge the rape of her mother.

That alone is a lot to unwrap, but as I mentioned, this book is very much a social commentary wrapped in a fantasy novel, so along the way we also take a good, long, graphic look at incest, child abuse, female circumcision, weaponised rape, war, mutilation and my personal bugbear this year: the caste system. This is some bold writing: Okorafor doesn’t spare anyone’s fragility and that’s a good thing because it makes the book realistic, gritty, compelling and thought-provoking, stark and unsanitized. Some of it makes for uncomfortable reading, but don’t skip it.

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