Prince of Fools by Mark Lawrence

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3 and a half stars for Prince of Fools. A pretty much spoiler-free review, this, though I suppose you could argue that mild spoilers are inferred , so bear that in mind.

This second trilogy by Mark Lawrence lies parallel to his first, set in the same world at the same time. There are some really great crossover moments, and although you do not have to have read the original Broken Empire trilogy to follow this story, appreciation is greatly enhanced if you have.

Once more, as with The Broken Empire trilogy, there is much more going on in Prince of Fools than meets the eye… but in a way it is that fact that slightly marred my enjoyment. The main protagonist is one Prince Jalan, and the story is written in the first person from his perspective. However, he is an unreliable narrator, so we must remember that he tells the story from a perspective that he chooses to convey, which is largely that of a selfish, self-professed coward with a foolish temperament. And therein lies the niggle for me. The Broken Empire is a fascinating place with depths that we only get to glimpse at throughout all of Lawrence’s books, and of course that is deliberate and part of their allure, but it doesn’t stop this reader wishing he could discover the world from the point of view of protagonists who aren’t quite so blinkered by their own perspectives, therefore denying us this wider and deeper view.

Of course, the joke is on me because one could quite easily argue that the story just wouldn’t work if it were told in a different way, and that is probably so. Without Jalan’s humour and temperament the tone would be completely different, and the fact that he is unreliable as a narrator becomes an integral part of the story.

Mark’s prose is as great as ever, with those little moments of profundity and elegance raising the quality of the writing far beyond the mundane. The story generally moves forward at a good pace, with plenty of action, humour, humanity, and lashings of the “weird shit” (spoiler free, remember!) which makes The Broken Empire such a great world. As mentioned earlier, the crossover moments with the original trilogy are brilliantly done – no tacked on references these, but well integrated and entertaining parts of a whole – a delight for continuity fans.

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Muse Music

It’s been a while since I blogged about some of the things I’ve been listening to, but I kept a few choice pieces tucked away in a bookmark folder for just the right moment. Seems this is it!

 

Beneath The Crystal Canyon A Spark Remains by Adderall Canyonly

Some of you may remember that I particularly enjoy “kosmiche musik” a moniker that was lumped with the term “krautrock” to attempt to describe the extraordinary music coming out from Germany in the late 60’s and 70’s. For me (to put it simply), kosmiche musik (cosmic music) is based more on drifting synthscapes and hypnotic loops than the shamanic, beat-heavy progressions of krautrock. Kosmiche still thrives today in a variety of forms, and Adderall Canyonly is once of the more accomplished artists exploring this territory. Each of his albums takes the listener on a mesmeric journey, and Beneath The Crystal Canyon A Spark Remains is no exception. Beautiful.

 

Pavilion by Panabrite

The counterpoint to the par excellence of Adderall Canyonly within modern kosmiche would be Panabrite. Pavilion is transcendental.

 

Infinity Machines by Gnod

The mighty Gnod! Oh boy, what to say about this glorious triple album of sonic experimentation? It’s somehow been almost a couple of years already since its release, but now’s a perfect time as any to discover its vibrant, visceral depths. Out of 8 tracks,  5 are over 15 minutes long. This is an album to get lost and found within – a liminal masterpiece.

 

I have three new releases to tell you about next, starting with one by ethereal noise explorers Isobel Ccircle.

 

Lullaby of the Drowned by Isobel Ccircle

“According to a dusty old ledger we had found in one of the lighthouse’s three libraries, ships had been appearing off the coast here for centuries. These great vessels would appear seemingly out of nowhere, wrecks in varying states of decrepitude, jutting from the tempestuous sea, their broken masts and aerials vainly grasping for help from an unobliging and hateful sky.

“The ships were given frightful animation by their location and their appearance brought with them the unwelcome visions of horror we were unlikely to ever become accustomed to. Then, of course, there were those noises, quiet at first, scratching and buzzing that filled our ears. Songs of the dead perhaps, the lullabies of the drowned.”

The music really is evocative of the concept. Caressing waves of sound lap and lull the mind into serenity while beguiling secrets lie hidden in the depths awaiting discovery. Wonderful.

 

The Quietened Village by A Year in the Country

“The Quietened Village is a study of and reflection on the lost, disappeared and once were homes and hamlets that have wandered off the maps or that have become shells of their former lives and times.”

The Quietened Village holds a delightful collection of textures within its conceptual whole. Electronica, tape manipulations, folk, psyche, field-recordings, nu-classical – all these elements and more are present in this compilation of great artists. At the time of writing there are just a few copies of the beautifully crafted physical version left.

 

The Burnt Tower / Babylon the Great by John 3:16

This double-A digital single release by John 3:16 is a great introduction to the well crafted and vibrant guitar/drone excursions of multi-instrumentalist Philippe Gerber. Start here and work your way back…

 

Spirits Are Using Me Higher Voices Calling by The Implicit Order

Not new, but one of my favourite releases by The Implicit Order. “Spirits are using me…” is an astonishing ambient “love letter to the New Age and murder cults of the 1980’s and 1990’s“. Less a listening experience, and more a(n) (oc)cult awakening.

 

Now a quick dip of the toe into the world of more mainstream releases…

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Claire Boucher aka Grimes is one of the coolest people on the planet. Although her latest album Art Angels isshock, horrorpopulated with more “poppy” tunes than ever before, it is a glorious and vibrant thing that I can’t stop listening to, and what better qualification for a great album is there than that?

Claire produced and performed every aspect of the album: the music, the artworks, the videos. Fashion designers worldwide delight at collaborating with her, and she always looks amazing doing so. She is fiercely talented, independent, and a bit of a weirdo. Yes!

Take a looksie-listen at the video for Flesh without Blood, and if that doesn’t move you then maybe Grimes isn’t for you. But I love it!

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I had a listen to the new Tim Hecker album Love Streams and wasn’t all that impressed. I may have missed something – sometimes it takes a few listens, so I will go back and try again. The new Moderat album, however, I clicked with immediately. My favourite electronic album of the year so far. (I’m looking forward to and have high hopes for the imminent Under the Sun by Mark Pritchard)

Check out my favourite track from Moderat III – Finder – below.

 

 

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K Rowling

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And so at last I have completed my first read through of Harry Potter…

It’s great, isn’t it!

There may be individual moments of incredulity, but hey, this is fantasy, and having now completed the journey it would seem churlish of me to give this last book anything less than 5 stars. Rowling’s wizarding world is undeniably brilliant, and there is some neat and well thought out world building going on behind the scenes. Add to that great characters, a rollicking story, and emotional depth, and all is WIN!

I don’t think Harry Potter is quite my favourite YA fantasy, though. Garth Nix’s “The Old Kingdom” books were one of my first dips into YA as an A, and they really blew me away on so many levels. If you haven’t read those, I implore you to.

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Now – I said this last time and I’ll say it again. We need someone (HBO/Netflix/STARZ) to make a Harry Potter prequel tv show RIGHT NOW. At least 7 years of Tom Riddle/Voldemort’s time at Hogwarts (with Dumbledore flashbacks thrown in as well), followed by at least 7 years of the Marauders at Hogwarts and the rise of Voldemort.
That’s at least 14 years of tv, so come on, get on with it!

The Colour of Magic + The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett

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I’m reviewing these together as they are two parts of the same story, serving together as introduction to the wonderful story of Discworld. I read the first fifteen or so of these back when they were first being released before leaving the series behind. Since Terry Pratchett has now gone off somewhere with Death, it seemed an appropriate time to restart and gradually make my way through until the end.

The spectacular original artwork of The Colour of Magic by the late Josh Kirby
The spectacular original artwork of The Colour of Magic by the late Josh Kirby

I have seen some discussion that these first two books are not perhaps the best place to start reading Pratchett’s delightful tales, and I think I must beg to differ. What better way to start than at the beginning? This is a funny, thoughtful, and quite brilliant introduction to a world that reflects our own in such a dazzlingly, touching, and thoughtful way, while simultaneously managing to be engaging, escapist, funny, and quite often hilarious.

By the time I’ve reached the end of the series these two first books likely won’t be my favourite of the bunch, but as I’ll take them all as pieces of a whole, re-reading these first two has reminded me what a superb series this is.

4 out of  5 stars. Recommended for everyone.

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The Art of Asking; or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help by Amanda Palmer

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I sought this out specifically because I was looking for tips and advice about crowdfunding and the art of asking. I first became aware of Amanda through Neil Gaiman, whom I have admired since I first read the wonderful ‘Sandman.’ I followed Neil on Twitter and read his blog, and it soon became clear that he was dating this curious dynamo of a woman called Amanda Palmer, who used Twitter to communicate and collaborate with her ever-growing legion of fans.

It was the essence of her creativity and open way of communicating with her fans that ultimately made Amanda interesting to me, rather than her music or association with Neil Gaiman. I even found myself occasionally dipping my toes into the debate that sprung up about her methods, especially after the controversy that arose after she raised a million bucks on Kickstarter for an album release then called out for volunteer musicians to accompany her onstage during the subsequent tour. The continued debate about the merits and perceptions of crowdfunding and independent creativity is something that is of particular interest to me as a creator attempting to find an audience through social media.

This book: The Art of Asking; or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help tells the story from Amanda’s humble “beginnings” as street entertainer (as “The Eight-foot Bride” living statue), and how her philosophy of openly giving and receiving has informed and enriched her life. She tells it candidly, eloquently, and while perhaps her gung-ho, seat-of-the-pants, soul-baring attitude perhaps is not for everyone, I found it refreshing and – yes – downright inspiring.

So hurrah for Amanda Palmer and hurrah for her life philosophy. Also: thank you, Amanda, for the inspiration and courage. I see you.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

I thought I’d start sharing by book reviews here on my blog, and what better way to start than with book six of the Harry Potter series, right? Er… ok.

My Goodreads account has been linked with this blog for ages, but I’ve only recently started to actually write reviews rather than just allocating stars. I’ve added the handy category “Book Reviews” to this blog as well, so all my reviews can be found with relative ease (from the category section on the right when on a specific post). I’m no review virtuoso – most of my reviews are brief and spoiler free, and that’s the way I like them. I thought it might be worthwhile sharing them here anyway.

Here we go them:

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Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K Rowling

My score: 4 out of 5 stars

This is my first read of the Harry Potter books, I’m gradually making my way through them. I must say that I found the last one (The Order of the Phoenix) a bit tedious, and nothing that much seemed to happen, which is particularly impressive seeing as it is the longest of the lot. Still, I am apparently not alone, as it seems the general consensus that that is the weakest book – or at least, everyone can agree that Dolores Umbridge is a c**t.

So, it took me a while to get to The Half-Blood Prince, but having now read it I think that this is my favourite one yet, and I’ll be delving into the final installment before too long.

Also, it is now clear to me that there needs to be a Harry Potter show made immediately, or very soon, by HBO/Netflix/Starz/whatever which revolves around Voldermort’s origins, as partially detailed in The Half-Blood Prince. We need to see Dumbledore wearing his swanky plum suit, visiting young Tom Riddle Jnr. in the Orphanage, and then follow Tom through his seven years at Hogwarts. Then, after a 7 or 8 season show doing this, we need to then skip ahead a few years with a spin off show where we see Harry’s parents and the Maurauders and the first generation of the Order of the Phoenix, culminating with Voldermort killing Harry’s parents.

This has to happen. It must happen. It will happen. This is what everyone wants to see, and we’re talking two long series with at least seven seasons per show, so at least 14 years before it’s done. So, can we get on with it please?

Professional Reader