The King’s Deryni by Katherine Kurtz (Berkeley Publishing Group, 2014)
Although this fantasy novel is clearly part of a world with multiple previous books, it is well enough explained to stand alone. The bigger problem is the premise: an “idealization” (as it says on the cover) of Europe in the 12th century, but in a world where people have powerful magic. It makes an awkward combination. The requisite map of the “eleven kingdoms” has an uncanny resemblance to western Europe, but without the English Channel. Though the names of the kingdoms are obviously made up, they have cultures (and character names) that are based on places like Scotland, France, and Germany. Throughout the book there are many references to real medieval Christian practice (Latin prayers, archbishops) interspersed with “Deryni” magical training. The story and characters are interesting, although everyone seems absurdly young. I would have more respect for a fantasy novel based on a world less obviously borrowed from our own.
The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber (Hogarth, 2014)
The first thing you notice about this book is that the edges are gilt, like a Bible or other sacred book. This is not a coincidence. ‘The book of strange things’ is what the aliens in the story call our Bible. In this science fiction tale, an English pastor is recruited by a corporation to travel to a distant planet as a missionary to the sentient humanoid species there. It turns out that after some unspecified negative experiences, the natives have only agreed to cooperate with the small settlement of human colonists (primarily engineers) if they send them a missionary from Earth. Unlike the situation most missionaries encounter, the natives are already familiar with Christianity from a previous missionary’s work. They crave more knowledge of the religion, so the new church grows rapidly and easily. The pastor’s positive experiences are in marked contrast to those of his wife who had to stay behind on Earth. Things back home are rapidly falling apart due to climate change (earthquakes, flooding etc) and his wife lacks a good support network to help her cope. This is a page turner that Christian science fiction fans will enjoy.
Maeve’s Times: In Her Own Words by Maeve Binchy, Edited by Roisin Ingle (Alfred A, Knopf, 2014)
This book is an enjoyable compilation of newspaper articles published in the Irish Times by novelist Maeve Binchy (a staple of public library fiction sections). From 1964 until her death in 2012, Maeve Binchy wrote regularly for the “lifestyle” section of the Dublin newspaper, as well as posting travel articles and news reports from locations around the world. Binchy’s observations of people and everyday life ring true in her unique voice, even for those of us who don’t understand her Irish references. If you’ve read and enjoyed any of Binchy’s novels, you’ll appreciate this final chance to hear Maeve Binchy in her own words.
Sweetness #9 by Stephan Eirik Clark (Little, Brown, 2014)
This newly published novel pretends to be the memoir of a chemist in the food science field who once did animal testing on an artificial sweetener. He found that rats and monkeys fed the sweetener gained weight and became depressed, but couldn’t persuade his employer to pull the product from the market. Although he goes on to a successful career with another employer (eventually becoming CEO), he never quite gets over the incident at his first job. It affects his whole life and his relationships with his wife and family. It is a well written book which offers unique insights into the normally hidden world of food chemistry, but not necessarily the most exciting plot or characters. I would like have liked the story to have developed differently, like the protagonist becoming an activist for food safety rather than just regretting not having done more.
Filed under Fiction, Science