Happy Friday Gollancz Blog readers and welcome back to our weekly #FridayReads wherein a member of Team Gollancz shares with you a book we can’t stop talking about. Whether it’s an upcoming new release, an old favourite or a hot genre title this is the place for you to find your perfect weekend reading selection. This week we’ve asked Team Gollancz to share which books we’ll be reading over the Jubilee weekend with a special Jubilee themed post.
Simon: “The aristocratic thugs of the High Castle whistle as they go about their factional games among the derelict observatories and abandoned fortifications at Lowth.”
Welcome to Viriconium, a city caught between dream and nightmare. A city ruled by a queen, Methvet Nian, who broods on empty beaches. A city where artists beg aristocratic favour, where minor princes have their throats cut in dank alleys. The city in the waste. An ace in the gutter, a leopard made of flowers. What better place to go to avoid the paroxisms of craven glee that the Jubilee will bring?
You could say M. John Harrison built his reputation on the baroque foundations of Viriconium. Some might disagree, including Mike himself. There is plenty else to build a reputation on – whether it be Climbers, his simply brilliant, impassioned novel about climbing, or the twisted realities and dark futures of his noir space opera trilogy which began with Light, swerved through Nova Swing and draws to a thundering conclusion this summer with Empty Space. Or The Course of the Heart. Or Signs of Life. Or the early, but still coruscating, SF madness of The Centauri Device. Or . . . or . . . So much to choose from.
But Viriconium remains a very good place to start reading one of this country’s very best novelists. It’s as typical a book as you can get from this most untypical of writers. Nothing is quite what it seems in Viriconium. There is no map. The setting is numinous. The history little more than alluded to, the geography indistinct. The very nature of the city, its very boundaries, seem to shift. Is it medieval? Is it from the far future. Is it somewhere else altogether? Whatever it is, if you’ve lived in a city, you’ve lived in Viriconium. If you’ve ever dreamed uneasily, wondered or feared or been confused then Viriconium will feel like home. And if you’ve ever been ruled by a remote queen who lives a life you cannot conceive of, then I suggest M. John Harrison may have the city for you. Visit Viriconium. You can leave again but Viriconium may not leave you . . .
Jon: I was asked to come up with a Jubilee Friday read, and what better than a series that boasts an array of thoroughly vile, despicable Kings, Queens, Princes and Princesses – I’m talking Stephen Deas’s The Memory of Flame saga which, if you’re a Game of Thrones fan, you should absolutely be reading. Not as door-stoppingly huge, it’s scope is no less ambitious, telling a pacy, engrossingly addictive tale of political machinations set in motion as royal factions vie for power while dragons, kept docile and subservient by alchemists, slowly begin to waken from their chemical induced dotage. And they’re not happy. The Adamantine Palace kicks off the flame-and-blood-soaked action and it’s still one of the best first fantasy novels I’ve ever read. If you’re a fantasy fan, you’ll royally kick yourself if you don’t pick up this series.
Gillian: Just in time for Friday Reads, I’m reading (and, indeed, also working on!) The Red Knight by debut Gollancz author Miles Cameron. And oh my word it is FUN. There are giant, dangerous creatures to battle. There are knights in shining armour. There are kings and queens (necessary, of course, in any Jubilee-themed post! And the queen is probably the single more arresting character in the novel). There’s a fortified nunnery under siege. And of course, being a Gollancz novel, none of it is quite as you might expect. I love the fact that it’s sharp, it’s warlike, it has flashes of humour, and it’s got a proper romance as well. Everything about it is vivid and larger than life and powerful. And that power comes from the realism with which this novel is written. The weapons have heft, the blood spatters and splatters in a way you can believe, the people (because they’re more people than characters . . .) are entertaining folk to spend some time with. The sense that it is real is one of the thing I’ve been enjoying most about this book – and that sense of reality, in a tale of life, death and war, also gives it a fabulous, strong and cutting edge.
If you want me today, I’m not reading . . . I’m wyvern fighting.
Darren: “Today, I’ll be reading – and, if the gods of free time are kind, finishing – Lamentation, the first book of Ken Scholes acclaimed ‘The Psalms of Isaak’ series. It’s a post-apocalyptic fantasy that kicks off with the complete and utter destruction of Windwir, seat of learning of the Androfrancine Order – a religious organisation dedicated to recovering the lost artefacts of the earlier age and keeping them safe, only doling out small marvels when they feel the world is ready for them. The City of Windwir was brought down by one of those lost artefacts: a devastating spell called (rather wonderfully, IMO) ‘The Seven Cacaphonic Deaths’. How this dreadful spell was unleashed, and by whom, forms the narrative drive of the novel. Full of armies at war, clashing cultures, generations-long strategies, magick (yes, with a ‘K’, I’m afraid), politics, loyalty and betrayal, it’s terrifically entertaining – which I hope also holds true for books two and three, since I’ve already bought them!”
Jen: This weekend I’m going to be reading a non-Gollancz book, The Diviners. I was lucky enough to get my hands on an early reading copy. Move over Jubliee, give me the jazz age in New York City any day! Flappers, gin, jazz and the supernatural! Be still my heart. I love Libba Bray’s books. Her Gemma Doyle trilogy is simply fantastic. From her incredible historical accuracy to her unforgettable characters each of whom struggle for a place in a world at a time of rigid social classes. There are forbidden romances, but the focus of the books is firmly on the relationships of the girls at Spence Academy, mainly Gemma who has quite a lot on her plate considering her mother has been murdered and her father is a laudanum addict, as they have to fight to protect the magic in Realms and find their places in society. I devoured this trilogy set in England years ago when I lived in New York City. It seems only fitting to now be reading her brand new book set in New York City now that I’ve moved to London. So, I’ll be greedily tucking into The Diviners this weekend. And maybe attending a street party or two. But for those of you who do want to read a book that’s out now I’d highly recommend Bitterblue. It’s heartbreaking and brilliant. If you love novels about what goes on behind closed (palace) doors, if you love intrigue, secrets and redemption then you won’t find a better read than Bitterblue. Queen Bitterblue has my vote for best fictional monarch ever!
Marcus: Do you know, I’ve been racking my brain for a book to do for Friday Reads that had some sort of regal theme. What have I been reading recently? Well, there was the new Lost Fleet novel, which was (as always) lots of fun. If you like some old-fashioned military SF, a touch of the Battlestar Galactica, then this series is for you. There are eight so far (and counting), but they read very quickly. But nope, no kings or queens in it at all.
There’s the magnificent Whispers Under Ground by our very own Ben Aaronovitch. Yes, I know I’m lucky to have read an early copy, but there has to be some benefit to being chained up in the dungeon at Gollancz Towers. This is the third in the series of Peter Grant adventures, and is as funny, clever and enjoyable as the first two. And builds up some nice hints for the future as well. Kings & Queens? Not really, there are a couple of goddesses but no real royalty. Moving on.
I’m currently half-way through Redemption Ark by Alastair Reynolds, in my ongoing mission to catch up with the Gollancz authors I’ve always unreasonably neglected. I talked about the first book in the series here and all that I said applies to this as well. Massive ideas, great big spaceships, clever writing. Brilliant. Royalty? No. Bugger.
I’ve just finished editing Exodus of the Xandim, the long-awaited sequel to Heritage of the Xandim by the wonderful Maggie Furey. Fantasy! Brilliant, there must be Kings and Queens in here. Right, let’s rack our brains. Goddesses, Wizards, Dragons, Winged Folk, magic horses, check. Monarchs? … Umm … Oh, I give up. Clearly I’m a republican reader.
So, for my Jubilee themed Friday Read, I’m going to pick a classic. Which I probably won’t actually re-read this weekend, so I’m cheating a little, but there you go. Let’s talk about Gloriana, by Michael Moorcock. Now, Moorcock is one of my favourite authors, but I’d be prepared to admit that some of his fantasy books are a little… rushed. Always enjoyable, but rushed. Not surprising, given that he was cranking them out in a few days each to fund his seminal New Worlds magazine. But Gloriana is different. One of his far more literary novels, the care and thought that have gone into this book are immense. It has one of the best depictions of an alternate London anywhere, and a series of engaging, grotesque and brilliantly depicted characters. You don’t have to have read any Moorcock for this book to make perfect sense, although there are a couple of nods to his other works that you’ll notice if you stare hard enough. But if you are a newcomer to his work, this is a great place to start. Sadly, our Fantasy Masterwork edition is out of stock at the moment, but we have some major news coming in the next couple of weeks that should cheer all fans of the genre, and indeed of Moorcock himself. But in the meantime, if you can find a copy, do. It’s royally wonderful. (Sorry).