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Note - I received a review copy through LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

Reprint ebook edition of a Regency romance first published in 1982. I'm not a follower of historical romances in general and Regency romances in particular, so I'm looking at it from the perspective of someone who reads the occasional romance rather than someone who goes into nitpicking detail about exactly what type of glassware they had on the table in a particular decade. If you're a hardcore Regency reader you'll need to look at someone else's review.

With that in mind, my first impressions weren't good. I found the characters as initially introduced very two-dimensional, and in one case decidedly unpleasant. I really did think I might have trouble getting through enough of it to give it a fair chance. And then I realised that I was eagerly reading to see what happened next.

Lady John is a young war bride and widow who met her husband on the Continent and has never met any of his family save for a younger brother. She's invited by her late husband's family to visit them in England, mostly out of courtesy and some curiosity. She gets on very well with most of them, particularly her mother-in-law, who is set on helping her into society with a view to a fresh marriage.

But when her brother-in-law brings home a guest one night, Lady John and her new family are startled by his cold and rude behaviour to her. The last time she saw Menwin was on the Continent, just before Lord John proposed to her, and they had been friends then...

Misunderstandings abound, and I found some of them rather too contrived, particularly the way in which both Lady John and Menwin had never questioned what they were told by a third party some years earlier. But the scheming by various characters to put things right was entertaining, and I found this a fun light read once I got past the first couple of chapters.

The first few pages are available as a free sample at Book View Cafe, and it's worth taking a look if you like Regencies.

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I feel rather guilty about taking so long to write my review of this one, partly because Pomegranate were clearly hoping for timely reviews to drive sales for Christmas gifts, and partly because so many of my friends would doubtless have been very happy to help with the "Christmas gift" sales figures...

102) Edward Gorey -- The Lost Lions

Note: I received a review copy of this through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers programme.

Pomegranate provides a treat for Gorey fans with this new edition of a title from 1973 which has been long out of print as a standalone book, although it was available in omnibus format. Hamish, a beautiful young man who likes being outdoors, opens the wrong envelope one day, and finds himself on a path to fame and fortune in films. He finds this to be less appealing than one might imagine, and prefers to raise lions... The story is told in a bare 14 pen-and-ink illustrations with one sentence per illustration, and can be skimmed in a few minutes, but Gorey does a great deal with those 14 illustrations. It's not as blatantly macabre as some of Gorey's work, but still has that eerie, off-kilter humour that was his trademark. And the book might take only a few minutes to read the first time, but you could lose yourself for hours looking at the detail in the drawings and thinking about the things implied therein.

There are other books which are more accessible to new readers and I'm not sure this one would be ideal as someone's first introduction to Gorey, but you don't need much familiarity with his body of work to appreciate the faintly sinister whimsy of The Lost Lions.

At US$13, this edition isn't cheap, but you do get what you pay for. Pomegranate have a done a superb job on the physical production side. The book is a small hardback with high quality paper in sewn signatures, and crisp reproduction of the pen-and-ink illustrations. It's laid out with one sentence and illustration facing each other per page spread, on a 6 inch square page size that makes it easy to take in the whole illustration at once while still being large enough to see the fine detail. The cover illustration is in colour, but the interior illustrations are in the original black and white. If all you want is access to the story, there are other options, but Pomegranate's new edition is a gorgeous presentation that's a joy to handle. This is a perfect "indulgent treat" for anyone who loves both beautiful books and Edward Gorey.

My review copy came packed with two Pomegranate catalogues, and one of their Edward Gorey bookmarks, which was a nice item in its own right, and I think well worth the $2 catalogue price if you like nice bookmarks. It's crisply printed on heavy stock, and comes in a heavy plastic protective sleeve, from which it can be easily removed if you prefer to use it without the sleeve.

Hardcover smyth-sewn casebound book, with jacket. 32 pages, 6½ x 6 inches.

ISBN 9780764959578

Edward Gorey -- The Lost Lions at the publisher's website.

Librarything entry, with more reviews.
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I arrived home this evening to find that the postman had been and forced a large bubblewrap envelope into the letter slot. I guessed immediately what it might contain, and cursed the somewhat sad appearance of the envelope as I eased it free.

In fact, "The Lost Lions" was further padded by a pair of catalogues which were the items that had been bent. The person responsible for shipping the review copies had also included a very nice little Edward Gorey bookmark, which sadly had suffered from the bending of the envelope, but will doubtless flatten out after a day or two.

I'm too tired to read the book tonight, but I can say that the physical production qualities are excellent, and if this is a typical sample of Pomegranate's work I shall be severely tempted to buy more.
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I have just got home from the day job to find an email notifying me that I have won an LTER review copy of Edward Gorey's "The Lions". This will doubtless make one or two of my flist rather jealous. Of course, if it gets eaten by the Post Office on its way to me you can all point and laugh.
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79) Pati Nagle - Pet Noir

Note: I received a review copy of this through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers programme.

Short fix-up novel about a genetically engineered cat whose creation is commissioned by the security chief of a large space station. The chief wants an undercover agent who'll be overlooked by criminals who might be suspicious of humanoids. A Maine Coon who's been genetically engineered to have human level intelligence, opposable thumbs, and a tongue that can wrap itself around human language is a useful thing to have loitering around fast food outlets and in cargo holds, picking up the gossip. An ordinary-looking cat won't be suspected because the high cost of gengineered animals means they're still rare -- but it's a price that's worth it for someone who wants to bust a drug-smuggling ring.

The book is structured as a series of short stories covering the first year or so of Leon's life, a first person retrospective from the day the Chief collects a know-all kitten from the labs to a year or so later, when Leon's experienced enough to understand how very inexperienced and naive he was that day. The general tone is that of a hard-boiled detective story, only here the hard-boiled tone is distinctly feline-flavoured and the setting is futuristic.

It's a lot of fun following Leon's emotional and intellectual development alongside his cases, and the cases themselves mostly make good stories. There are some good observations of feline behaviour worked into this. Leon's mostly plausible as a portrait of a cat with boosted intelligence, and his relationship with his human partner Devin, a mix of self-centredness and genuine affection after a rocky start, works well. However, there are two flaws which badly broke suspension of disbelief for me.

The first is that Leon is not just super intelligent, at 4 weeks old he speaks fluent English and he's already showing a better grasp of human culture than a human ten year old. Yes, cats develop much faster, but there hasn't been time for him to physically assimilate that amount of information, even if he does spend all day in front of the tv.

The second is that Leon speaks to other, unenhanced animals, who appear to be also human level intelligence in their conversation, even if they're speaking in cat rather than English, which rather undermines the point of him being genetically engineered for human level intelligence. There also appears to be a single human-level language across at least three species who are not regarded as fully sentient by the humans and other sentient species on the station. It felt as if the author was trying to appeal to readers who like to think of their cats as being just little humans in fur coats.

One of the things I did like about the book is that it touches on the ethics of uplifted animals. It's a very light touch, and anything stronger would have unbalanced the book, but it's made clear that Leon is under an indentured contract and is required to pay off the costs of his creation by working for whoever owns the contract. He's effectively the property of Gamma Station Security for several years, and he's unimpressed by this.

Overall, something of a mixed bag. It's a fun light read, and has some laugh out loud moments, but there are some niggles which mean I can't wholeheartedly recommend it. A free sample consisting of the prologue and first chapter are available for download at Book View Cafe, which will give you a reasonable idea of the style.

LibraryThing entry
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and this is the last of the books in the "read and to review" pile, so I'll stop spamming you with the book log for a bit now. :-)

59) Christopher Wakling -- The Devil's Mask

Note - I received a free review copy through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers programme.

Historical mystery set in Bristol just after the abolition of the slave trade. Inigo Bright comes from a wealthy mercantile family, but has gone into law rather than shipping. Newly qualified, he still works for the man he was legal clerk to, on one of the practice's major sources of income -- the nitpicking investigation on behalf of the port officials of customs fees owed and paid. What seems like a routine investigation of one ship's petty smuggling gives Inigo a minor problem with torn loyalties, because his family's business has some investment in the ship.

He sets that aside and goes on with his investigation, only to be led into a tangle of deception, threats and finally outright violence against himself and his master. And it seems to be linked with the murdered women who have been found in the city. Inigo does the sensible thing and tries to put his information before the authorities, but finds a suspicious lack of interest. If the truth is to be brought to light, he'll have to do the digging.

I enjoyed it enormously, but more as a historical novel with a literary bent than as a mystery. The mystery's good, but the book's structure gives away a lot of the solution just a little too soon for my taste if approaching it purely as a mystery. The reverse side of this is that Wakling has done an excellent job of laying out the clues and leaving the reader to draw their own conclusions about not just the solution to the mystery, but the society Inigo lives in. I'm partial to world-building via long, lingering descriptions when done well, as it is here, and found the book to have a good balance between plot and evoking a sense of place. The one criticism I'd have was that several characters seemed to start off as being intended to be significant players in the tale, and then more or less fizzled out. Inigo himself is an appealing character. He's young and uncertain of himself, but has the strength of character to make difficult choices once he's thought them through. At book's end I was satisfied with the closure given, but wanted to know what happened to him next, which is always a good sign.

A page-turner that brings to life the physical and moral price paid for the profits of the slave trade, even after abolition.

LibraryThing entry
hardcover at Amazon UK
Kindle at Amazon UK
paperback at Amazon UK (release date March 2012)
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46) Alex Epstein -- The Circle Cast: The Lost Years of Morgan Le Fay

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.

ISBN 978-1-896580-6-30
trade paperback at Powell's
trade paperback or Kindle ebook at Amazon UK (available now)
trade paperback or Kindle ebook at Amazon US (for pre-order)
LibraryThing entry
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My latest win from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers ARC programme has just dropped on the doormat. :-)

Of course, this means that I'd better get on with writing the review of March's win (which I thoroughly enjoyed, but finished just before I started the Interminable Backup, so haven't reviewed yet).
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23) Vonda N McIntyre -- The Starfarers Quartet: Starfarers
24) Vonda N McIntyre -- The Starfarers Quartet: Transition

This is an in-progress review, which will be added to as I read my way through the collection.

Note: I received this as a review copy from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers programme.

Omnibus edition of the Starfarers Quartet, published as an ebook reprint edition. The basic concept is a near-future setting where a space habitat is being built and fitted out for the first attempt at an interstellar voyage, using a recently discovered piece of cosmic string in the Solar System as a means of accessing almost instantaneous travel to another solar system. The habitat is set up as a university campus under international control.

In the first book, the station's purpose is being politicised, with an attempt by the US government to commandeer the habitat and re-purpose it as a military station for use in a peacekeeping mission on Earth, nominally under international control but in reality completely controlled by the US. The university faculty vote to continue their mission as planned, even if it means making an emergency run to the string and out of the solar system.

The second book begins with the Starfarer's arrival in the Tau Ceti system, accompanied by a parting shot from the military cruiser which had been sent to stop them. The alien contact team who were the main focus of the narrative in the first book now get to do their job for the first time.

I found the first book somewhat frustrating to begin with, as I found the writing style a little hard to get on with, particularly the way a lot of point of view characters were simply dropped into the narrative with their own chapter and then abandoned for a while. It made the book feel very bitty to begin with. But once I had a handle on who all these people were and how their individual stories started to weave together, I found it fascinating. I'm looking forward to finishing the quartet.
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Book 3)

Anthology of 20 short stories with the theme of elf love, published by new small press Pink Narcissus Press. This is an ARC I received through the LibraryThing Early reviewers programme.

While the cover art suggests fantasy-subgenre romance stories, the contents are a good deal more wide-ranging. There's a good sampling of traditional themes about elves, some in modern settings and some not, and the endings cover the full span from happy through bittersweet hope to tragic. The genre styles vary considerably as well. And to go with the prose stories, there's one in graphic form.

Unfortunately the quality varied considerably as well, and for me a few of the stories were a waste of dead trees; but the best were well worth my time. There were several authors whose stories felt a bit unpolished but made me inclined to find more of their work once they've got a few more kilowords under their belts. Of particular note was Duncan Eagleson, who provided my two favourite prose stories in the anthology, together with the art for the graphic story (and the cover art, which I liked less than the graphic story).

There's some violence, and some sexually explicit and some erotic content (the two are not identical) covering a range of sexual orientations, mostly not gratuitous.

In spite of the uneven quality, this is a worthwhile anthology -- this is a good selection covering a range of story types, and I could have quite happily read the whole thing in one sitting without feeling that the stories were too repetitive. While my copy was an ARC, I personally wouldn't have been disappointed had I paid the full cover price of US$15 for the trade paperback. Whether other readers feel the same will really depend on how many of the stories work for them, and regrettably I have to say that the anthology is sufficiently uneven and unpolished that I can't wholeheartedly recommend it at that price.

I'll try to write up some detailed notes on individual stories later, but in general I'd agree with TPauSilver's comments on LibraryThing.

Released in February 2011, but available now for pre-order direct from the publisher.

LibraryThing entry.
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Book 65

I received an uncorrected proof copy of this through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers programme, having been sufficiently intrigued by the description to request it even though it's outside my usual reading range.

Description: In the tunnels beneath New York a young man is missing. With each passing minute he heads deeper underground, further from the world of light and reason and closer to the moment of his great surrender. Above ground Ali Lateef of the NYPD is assigned the case. The boy's mother Violet is reluctant to help and Emily, Lowboy's girlfriend and only confidante, appears to have vanished too Can Lateef find Lowboy before it's too late?

As it turns out, I think on the basis of the first few chapters that it's probably a superb piece of writing, but I'm finding it sufficiently disturbing to read that I don't really want to keep reading it. Lowboy is a 16-year-old paranoid schizophrenic, off his meds and on the run in the subway system of New York. The book opens in his viewpoint, and he's clearly already losing connection with reality, although you don't get the details until the next chapter, in Lateef's point of view. Wray's prose is stunning, in a blend of psychological thriller and litfic that provides a dizzying look inside Lowboy's damaged mind, contrasting it with the world as it appears from consensus reality. Too dizzying for me, and I'm abandoning ship in large part because Wray is so good at what he's doing here.

In spite of which, I'd still say that this book is one more reason for me to keep requesting Canongate's offerings to the Early Reviewers. I'm glad I tried this one, even if in the end it wasn't for me.

LibraryThing entry

[Normally I'd pass this on via the "who wants it next?" thread on Early Reviewers, but I've had it such a long time there may be no point. If anyone wants dibs on it, yell.]
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Only two books (and a bit), because I wasn't feeling that great for one week of it and didn't want to read on the bus.

Robert Louis Stevenson -- Treasure Island
The world does not need another review of this, especially as there are already 66 on LibraryThing. So I will merely note that I think this is the first time I've read it since I was Jim's age, and even as an adult I found it a thoroughly entertaining yarn. Pulled from Project Gutenberg and read on the Cybook.

Frances Hodgson Burnett -- The Lost Prince
Another Cybook read, reviewed earlier today.

The "and a bit" is one of the short stories in the collection I received just before Christmas in the LibraryThing Early Reviewers programme, Why the long face?. I am ashamed to say that I didn't read it over Christmas because, well, Christmas; and then I managed to physically lose the book for a couple of weeks. Contemporary short fiction isn't generally my thing, but this collection looked intriguing, and I enjoyed the single story I've read so far. Looking forward to reading the rest of it.

In spite of my errant ways, I received another LTER book on the last day of the month, and a further one at the beginning of February. The tonsillitis hit me before I could get to any of these LTER books this week, but I shall report in due course.
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And this week's question from Bostonbibliophile: What's the most popular book in your library? Have you read it? What did you think? How many users have it?

Mine is Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, with 37,389 owners on LT -- though my copy is British and thus The Philosopher's Stone. I've read it, and thought it was enjoyable but there are better children's fantasy books out there.

Let's go on to the first one that isn't a Potterverse book. That's The Hobbit, or, There and Back Again (24,939 LT users), one of the aforementioned better children's fantasy books. This one I've read, but not as often as one might expect, in part because I had somehow never heard of it until I got to university. I haven't read it for some years, as my copy is in storage, and So Many Books So Little Time.

Running through a few more of the list of most owned books on LT, I have Pride and Prejudice (23,275), 1984 (23,067), The Lord of the Rings (17,972), Jane Eyre (16,841), Animal Farm (15,369), Brave New World (15,027). I've read them all, with varying degrees of enjoyment. Sometimes varying with the same book -- I know I enjoyed Brave New World when I first read a library copy in my early teens, but I bought my own copy from the Folio Society when I was still a regular member, which means probably my late twenties, and found it hard to get into then. I also have LoTR and Animal Farm in Folio Society editions -- in fact, Animal Farm was one of the first FS books I bought. It was one of my set books in English at high school, and I adored it, thanks to a wonderful teacher who brought the allegory to life for us.

1984 for me will always be something I see in the light of the 1954 BBC dramatization, which was repeated when I was a child, and thus I saw it before I ever read the book. It had such an impact that more than 30 years later I can still remember how I felt watching some of those scenes. I can't disentangle the book from that.

So, what's your book that's most popular with LT members?
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Another one from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers programme.

This is a short tale in what might seem an unsalubrious setting, but it's a small gem of a book that's well worth reading. It was first published in 1997, but went out of print, before being republished in 2007 by The Friday Project. The republication is well deserved.

Gents is the tale of Ezekiel Murphy, a West Indian immigrant, and the job he takes as an attendant in a public lavatory in London. The supervisor, Josiah Reynolds, and the other cleaner, Jason, teach him the job, which includes more than he had expected. As Ez soon discovers, the facility is popular with cottagers -- men using the cubicles for fast, anonymous sex with other men. The attendants discourage it as best they can, but tolerate a certain amount of activity, because as Reynolds points out, the 'reptiles' are no threat to anyone.

There are still complaints to the council about the goings-on, and the crew are told that they must clamp down on the cottaging or the facility will be shut. Alas, they're too successful for their own good, and takings from the small cover charge that covers the facility's running costs drop precipitously, leading to renewed threats of job cuts, and a dilemma for the attendants...

Gents is a gentle, funny and subtle parable about tolerance, on more levels and subjects than the obvious one. The characters and situations are sketched lightly but deftly, in a lovely display of showing rather than telling, and I wasn't surprised to learn that Collins originally conceived the story as a screenplay. The three West Indian attendants have much in common through their common background, but are still very different people with different attitudes and prejudices. They have an outsider's view of the society they live in, and see it from underneath. Through Ez the book touches on issues of race, class, homophobia, religion and culture, without ever being heavy-handed or one-sided.

There are stunningly good descriptive passages about the men and their world, and the characters are likeable and sympathetic, without being unbelievable saints. The main characters are the three men, but they also all have wives (two in Jason's case), and Ez's wife Martha and his relationship with her is a particular strength of the book.

One minor problem for some readers will be the Jamaican patois in the dialogue, which does take a few pages to get used to if you're not familiar with it. But it's appropriate for the characters and not pushed to the point where it's hard to follow.

This is a much shorter read than its 172 pages might suggest, as a large font and plenty of white space mean that there aren't many words per page. At 25,000 words or so, this is a novella rather than a full-length novel, and you get around an hour's reading for your eight pounds. But it's beautifully written and a joy to read. It may be short but there's plenty of depth, and it will stand up well to re-reading. Even if you feel that the book is too pricy for the word count, it's well worth checking it out from your library.

ISBN: 9781905548767

LibraryThing entry
Gents at Amazon UK
Gents at Amazon US
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We interrupt the Torchwood squee to bring you a book review I should have written nearly a month ago. :-) I snagged a book in the LibraryThing Early Reviewer programme, but was having some trouble writing a review that said enough about the book to let people know whether they'd enjoy it, without spoilering it to kingdom come. Finally got it done this morning, though I'm still not entirely happy with it.

Albert Sanchez Pinol -- Pandora in the Congo

I got this book as part of LibraryThing's Early Reviewer programme, and probably wouldn't have picked it up if I'd simply seen it in the bookshop. But the description in the ER programme intrigued me, and I'm glad I read it.

It's a multi-layered pastiche and parody of the old pulp African adventure stories, with two interlocking stories set early in the twentieth century, narrated by one of the protagonists as an old man late in the twentieth century. As the novel opens the narrator, Tommy Thomson, is scraping a living as a young man by ghost writing pulp adventure stories. He's frustrated by the need to pander to the extreme racism and disregard for facts of the pulp market. He loses the ghost writing job, but is offered the chance to write a true African adventure story -- ghost-writing the story of a man who is awaiting trial for the murder of his two employers on a gold-hunting expedition in the Congo.

Tommy is drawn ever deeper into Marcus Garvey's story. It's very like the pulp adventures he's written before, but with one twist -- this time it's a tale of brutal and amoral English aristocrats abusing first the black Africans and then a strange race of underground people, white but not entirely human, with a low-class servant who is the flawed hero. This tale of derring-do is interwoven with the story of Tommy's own life over the course of the years he writes Garvey's story, interrupted by his service in the First World War. Tommy thinks of his own life as boring and humdrum, but it's an enchanting read with some fascinating secondary characters.

There are multiple levels of unreliable narration, so things aren't quite as they seem. Part of the game is deciding who is unreliable and how far, and the author plays fair in the end. In the meantime you get a cracking read, with a lot of homages to other works.

I enjoyed the book a great deal, but I did have some minor problems with it. There are a lot of anachronisms, a couple of which threw me out of the story (in particular, singing "God save the Queen" in court at a time when a King was on the throne). These felt like mistakes by the author rather than being deliberate. One of the signals that part of the story is unreliable simply doesn't work if you're used to reading science fiction or magic realism. If you're an sf fan, switch into mainstream reading protocols when you're reading this book. And be warned that there is some gruesome imagery which might be a bit much for some readers.

One particular point -- this is a translation of a novel written in Catalan. Translations vary a lot in quality and can sometimes feel stiff and lifeless, but this one is excellent. It flows very well and is a joy to read.

Enormous fun, and well worth the time.

Pubisher's website
Pandora In The Congo at amazon.uk
at Powells


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