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Justin Richards

Faber (2008)

ISBN: 9780571236916

Reviewed by David Buchbinder, June 2010

This novel, obviously intended for young adult readers, continues and engages with the present fascination in the culture with things supernatural, especially the vampire.  The Parliament of Blood commences, perhaps a little tritely, with a sort of Dracula-meets-the-Mummy episode, when the sarcophagus of Orabis, an Egyptian mummy, is opened at the British Museum in 1886.  However, Orabis is no ordinary dead guy wrapped in bandages: he is a kind of super-vampire whose return has been foretold and awaited eagerly by the community of vampires.  The opening of the sarcophagus, attended and witnessed by the good and great of English society and British scholarship, turns out to be more than a mere ceremony.  An “accident” with a knife being used to cut open the wrappings causes a cut in Professor Brinson’s left wrist, allowing blood to flow into a hole in the bandaging over the mummy’s mouth.  Orabis rises from his sarcophagus and escapes with the sinister Coachman waiting outside the Museum.

George Archer, a scholarly type, Eddie, a boy who loiters on the streets and has been taken under George’s wing, Sir William Protheroe, a curator at the Museum who deals with mysterious artefacts, and Elizabeth Oldfield, a young woman with whom George is in love, subsequently become embroiled in a search for Orabis, discovering along the way that not only are there such things as vampires, but indeed many of the highest-placed and most powerful men and women belong to their number.  There are attempts to defeat this group: for example, Sir William is blocked at various turns by officialdom, manipulated by the vampire community; George is invited to join a club and discovers just in time that it is an organisation for vampires; and Elizabeth, an aspiring actress, is almost seduced by a well-known actor who also happens to be a vampire.

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Max Frei

Translated by Polly Gannon

The Labyrinths of Echo, Book One

Gollancz (2009)

Reviewed by David Buchbinder, June 2010

It is always interesting to read the fantasy or speculative fiction of a culture other than one’s own.  Even allowing for the many problems inherent in the act of translation—for it constantly involves not merely substituting one word in one language for an equivalent in the other language, but also looking to match the cultural weight and implication of each word, each phrase, each clause, each sentence in the one language with its equivalent (though this will almost always be only approximate) in the other tongue—such works of fiction nearly always cause me, at least, as a reader to feel as though I have swerved and skidded so as to fetch up looking askew at the very genre (or, if you prefer, subgenre) concerned.  Often one tries to find equivalents to these narratives in one’s own language and culture; this is not, however, always a successful quest.

Written originally in Russian, The Stranger is the first in a decalogy (or series of 10 books) titled The Labyrinths of Echo which attracted an enthusiastic following; this volume was published originally in 1997 but not translated into English and published until nearly a decade later.  Max Frei, its ostensible author, is also the central character in this strange tale about a 30-year-old man who is pulled from this world and its realities into what he had thought was a dream world in which he had found himself on a number of occasions while asleep, but which turns out to be real enough.  (In fact, “Max Frei” is a pseudonym for Svetlana Martynchuk.)

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Conn Iggulden

HarperCollins (2007-08)

Wolf of the Plains – Vol 1, ISBN: 978-0007201747

Lords of the Bow – Vol 2, ISBN: 978-0007201778

Bones of the Hills – Vol 3, ISBN: 978-0007201792

Reviewed by David Buchbinder, June 2010

I began reading this series with the second volume, Lords of the Bow, because this was the first book I received and was asked to review.  I find it awkward, of course, to enter a narrative series in the middle—I feel as though I have arrived very belatedly at a party, long after friendships have been made, bonds affirmed, confidences and knowledges exchanged.  I hang about uncomfortably at the edges of the narrative, trying to look as though I were part of the conversation, but feeling a little mystified and often quite shut out of the sharing of memories, ideas and, above all, stories.  Often my engagement in the conversation is based on guesswork about what happened at the party while I wasn’t there.

In a sense, however, it was entirely appropriate that I begin with the middle volume: the series is described on the front covers of each book as “The Epic Story of the Great Conqueror,” and one of the rules of epic narrative, as these came to be formulated in antiquity and codified later, was that such narratives should begin in medias res, that is, literally, “in the middle of things.”  The Conqueror series lives up to its description as an epic narrative, though its author, Conn Iggulden, has chosen to begin his story at the beginning, rather than in the middle.

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