Vicious Circle, Mike Carey
It's been so long since I read the first book that I barely remembered it other than "nicely grisly ghost stuff" and "Castor gets beaten up a lot." I impulsively bought the second volume in a state I can best explain as a Matthew Swift hangover - having just finished The Minority Council, I was all up ons for more London-based urban fantasy wherein the protagonist gets beaten up a lot. AND THAT CERTAINLY IS WHAT THIS IS, SO... GOOD.
It does have its shortcomings. The pacing goes a little wonky toward the end as all the plot threads are tied together in a giant infodumpy death-bed monologue. And for a guy who repeatedly assures us he's not a fighter, and in terrible shape, and only armed with some exorcism gear and a knack for lock-picking, Castor... really seems to acquit himself suspiciously well in most altercations. It's a minor thing, but the dissonance between "yeah he's more or less an average Joe 30something exorcist" and all this sudden-onset badassery and competence in non-exorcism non-breaking-and-entering fields sorta stuck in my craw after a while.
Castor is, however, a pretty enjoyable narrator. I can't remember whether it was true of the first book, but this one has an almost conversational tone (there's one point where he makes a weird simile and then says, still in the narration, "actually that's an unpleasant image and I wish I hadn't thought of it"). There's interesting worldbuildy implications about the nature of all these unquiet dead and what have you and at least one reasonably cool scene of Hella Sinister Magic. The secondary cast isn't that memorable on the whole, but there are a few standouts. So I guess overall... it was enjoyable but didn't bowl me over, and I may pick up other books in the series, eh, whenever it occurs to me to do so.
Princesses Behaving Badly, Linda Rodriguez McRobbie
THE COPYEDITING IN THIS BOOK WAS REALLY SHODDY, I HAVE TO SAY. ENOUGH TO BE DISTRACTING.
/cough. Anyway. The subtitle of this book is "real stories from history, without the fairy-tale endings." And then the VERY FIRST STORY is one which, after fully recounting it, the author admits is probably not true. The whole thing is a bit slapdash - it reads more like a 300-page article on Cracked.com than a book. I mean, it's entertaining enough, and the author has done SOME research, but in general it's rather fluffy and tries too hard in places to be clever and congratulates itself too much on BLOWING YOUR PRECONCEPTIONS OUT OF THE WATER, WHOOOAAA, I BET YOU DIDN'T KNOW SOME PRINCESSES HAD ISSUES DUE TO THE RESTRICTIONS OF THEIR ROLE OR, LIKE, PEOPLE TRYING TO ASSASSINATE THEM, I BET IT'S INCONCEIVABLE TO YOU THAT SOME OF THEM WERE BADASS, OR KINDA SKANKY, OR WILDLY UNSTABLE. Some of the anecdotes are fun, but... ...yeah, I coulda just stopped at the Cracked analogy, I'm not saying anything new here.
(and looking at the price tag on this, holy shit am I glad I borrowed it from someone and didn't shell out for it myself)
Tamsin, Peter S. Beagle
I'm confused by this book. Because it seems to me that Beagle set out to do two different things, and he did both of them successfully, but I've got no damn idea why he did one of them. The two parts, to me, don't come together to make a cohesive whole, so at the end I was left thinking, "okay, the first hundred-odd pages of punching me in the emotions were meant to do what, exactly?"
I was promised a ghost story, see. Weird happenings in the English countryside, and dark pages in history, and ghosts. And, for the latter part of the book, that's exactly what we get, and it's MARVELOUS. Like, 4.5 stars for that part of the story, no criticisms here, unqualified recommendation. AND YET it is preceded by an overly long and overly detailed account of how exactly Jenny, our lovely protagonist, ended up in England in the first place. A simple "my mom married an English guy and we're moving to England and I'm upset about leaving behind everything I know" and a few scenes of "my new stepfamily is decent people BUT I HATE THEM FOR CHANGING MY LIFE BUT I KNOW THEY'RE NICE BUT I HATE THEM?" would have sufficed to set the scene and get me on her side. But Beagle goes into SO MUCH MORE DETAIL THAN THAT and almost none of it has any bearing on what's to come, that I can see. And what baffles me is that this is such a genuine and affecting study of THE PAINS OF BEING A 13-YEAR-OLD GIRL ... ... which has next to no reason to be there. I'm serious. It reminded me uncomfortably of my own adolescence and Stepfamily Problems
The ghost bit is fantastic, though, and I don't really want to talk much about it because gradually working out Tamsin's nature and why she's there is the compelling part. I just. Why are these two things in one book, and why are they not thematically tied together in any way I'm smart enough to pick up on.