Steering the Craft – Ursula Le Guin
‘I want to say up front, it is not a book for beginners. It’s meant for people who have already worked hard at their writing.’
The contents page might suggest this is rather dry and technical – a chapter on sentence length and syntax; another on adjectives and adverbs. But Le Guin writes with clarity, enthusiasm, and dry humour, illustrating points with extracts from varied works and providing plenty of exercises to work with.
We’ve all seen Adverb DiscourseTM, but Le Guin’s statement is better expressed than most: ‘When the quality that the adverb indicates can be put in the verb itself (they ran quickly = they raced) or the quality the adjective indicates can be put in the noun itself (a growling voice = a growl), the prose will be cleaner, more intense, more vivid.’
I wrote a post about her take on conflict.
And look how big-brain this is: ‘I see the big difference between the past and present tenses not as immediacy but as complexity and size of field. […] Use of the past tense(s) allows continual referring back and forth in time and space.’
Moby Dick – Herman Melville
Ugh. I gave up just under halfway through.
There was a promising start – glimmers of humour and gorgeous, thoughtful passages suggested smooth sailing ahead. Throughout what I read, there were sections that showed exactly why this might be considered a great classic. These kept me going as long as I did. But there’s just far too much bloat.
Melville loves his semi-colons. Potential neat ideas are stretched and dragged out to hundreds of obsessively expanded words, action is drained of urgency, and long nautical digressions lead nowhere.
With some ruthless editing the early promise would pay off well. As it is, it’s a tiring slog.
Ninth House – Leigh Bardugo
h e l l y e s
Going from Moby Dick to this is like going from Ambien to crack. Alex Stern, the only survivor and ex-suspect of a bloody crime, is granted a Yale scholarship despite her lacking education due to a traumatic past of truancy and addiction. But she is tasked with monitoring the activities of Yale’s secret societies – users of dark ritual magic for the elite – as a murder on campus threatens to unravel a tenuous balance.
The characters are fantastic: dark, sassy Alex (‘you want seconds?’ Lmao!); dandyish Darlington; scholarly Dawes… The magic and societies are varied, gritty, and lavish, with the power and its dynamics explored to its daunting implications, the ritual scenes written with cinematic flair. The action drives a twisted, breakneck plot.
There’s some intense stuff, so be warned if that’s not for you. Otherwise, highly recommended.
Rivers of London – Ben Aaronovitch
This is a lot of fun. Peter Grant, probationary constable, gets a witness statement to a murder from a ghost. From there the case spirals through bizarre violent incidents across London, while a feud brews between the spirits of the Thames and their nymphs from London’s lost rivers, and Grant studies magic under wizard Inspector Nightingale.
The sense of setting is powerful, the magic lessons based on Newton’s systematic development of the field are enjoyable, the diverse cast’s dialogue vivid.
Some sentences felt a little awkward, some small points a bit off – I thought Grant’s scientific, experimental mind didn’t match with C grades. Small quibbles aside, it’s a good blend of adult Harry Potter and CSI with an imaginative, compelling view of London, magic, and crime.