A couple of recent novels.
We Are Pirates by Daniel Handler
Handler tells the story of a few weeks in the life of a contemporary family living in San Francisco. They face the ordinary challenges of life with teenage daughter, replete with misunderstandings and emotional overreactions.
But this family veers into very strange waters, when Gwen and her crew literally go pirate for a couple of days. This doesn’t happen in San Francisco Bay these days (no matter what Gwen might imagine), and the adventure turns out pretty bad.
I found the writing awfully difficult to follow, consisting of internal monologs and baffling dialogs. Frankly, I’m pretty sure I missed a number of crucial events, because I simply couldn’t grok what they were talking about.
I also did not particularly identify with or sympathize with the pirate voyage—assuming that the events portrayed were real and not imagined, which is difficult for me to say for sure.
Overall, a pretty disappointing novel.
The Brothers Cabal by Jonathan L. Howard
The latest in the series featuring the life (and afterlife) Johannes Cabal and his brother Horst, “riding together again” after several years of estrangement.
In this story, Horst is resurrected (a second time) into his vampire afterlife by a mysterious group known as the Ministererium Tenebra, who have taken over a small country and amassed an evil army of zombies, were-beasts, extradimensional monsters, and venture capitalists. They seem to think that Horst is a good candidate to be one of their generals (as the “The Lord of the Dead”), to raise and lead an elite force of combat vampires,.
Horst isn’t really on board with their plans, and joins forces with the John Dee Society to fight against them. The Dee’s and Horst hook up with Miss Virginia Montgomery’s Flying Circus, an all female troupe barnstorming the countryside in their (Sopwith Camel sized) entomopters.
Things get bad, things get worse. Much, much worse.
Twice resurrected vampire Horst is moved to reunite with his estranged (and thought to be dead) brother Johannes, a powerful and egotistical necromancer. The Dee Society generally fights and kills vampires and necromancers and such, and they also call in several other secret societies, most of which would normally compete with each other and all of which consider Johannes Cabal to be an enemy to be exterminated.
But the need is great and they discern a goodness in the brothers Cabal others may have missed.
This book is a fun fantasy with a darkly humorous turn. Better yet, the writing is wonderful and makes me read very carefully to not miss anything. Fer instance,
“…Horst produced a calico shopping bag adorned with a floral pattern so unmercifully twee that Cabal was sure only the poor light saved him from blindness, specifically by clawing out his own eyes. From the depths of this radioactively pretty receptacle emitting fast particles in the quaint spectrum, Horst took [out their lunch].” (pp. 227-8)
While the Cabal brothers are reconciled, at least for now, and many of the supernatural enemies vanquished, at least for now; it is far from certain what the future holds. (It would be a good bet that the future holds another sequel.)
- Daniel Handler, We Are Pirates, New York, Bloomsbury, 2015.
- Jonathan L. Howard, The Brothers Cabal, New York, Thomas Dunne Books, 2014.
Sunday Book Reviews