BOOK & BLOG
February 14, 2010
Books of the Week:
These three books could not be more different from each other: an urban fantasy with an ex-genie female protagonist, Jasper Fforde’s sort of modern Alice-in-Wonderland with a young male hero, and Robert Crais’s tougher-than-tough Joe Pike solving a mystery in Los Angeles.
Rachel Caine is a great favorite of mine, and Unknown is her second book about Cassiel, a djinn who’s been made human because she refuses to end humankind to save the world from the incredibly evil Pearl. I know this sounds confused, but you believe it when you read it. If you’ve followed Caine’s Weather Warden books, you’ll be familiar with the world already. If not, you may have a little trouble catching up to the various antagonisms in the books. The humans hate and fear the Wardens, the Wardens are beginning to distrust their support group called the Ma’at, some of the djinn are on the side of the humans and some of them simply wouldn’t care if every last human vanished. It’s a complex world, and bargains have to be made that bode ill for Cassiel’s future, with or without the Warden she’s come to love, Luis Rocha.
Jasper Fforde is more fun than any writer working today. He seems endlessly imaginative, as if he were channeling Lewis Carroll through modern sensibilities. In Shades of Gray we visit a new world which bears only the slightest resemblance to England. The population, what’s left of it, is divided into a rigid class system based on what colors the people can perceive. There’s a strict book of rules left by a prophet, and there’s a rigid code of behavior, and yet people find interesting ways to get around all of these restrictions. Eddie Russett has better-than-average red perception, and he aims to marry up into the Oxblood family, knowing he’ll have a job for life at their stringworks. But Eddie has a streak of common sense and humanity that put him in peril over and over again. To read Jasper Fforde, you must have an active sense of whimsy and a strong ability to go with the flow. I love his books.
Robert Crais has written some wonderful novels. I’ve long considered him one of the strongest American detective writers. His dialog is wonderful, his characters are vivid and believable, and the team of Joe Pike and Elvis Cole is a match made in readers’ heaven. In most of his private eye books, Crais centers the narrative on wise-cracking Elvis Cole, The World’s Greatest Detective, but in a couple of books his protagonist has been Joe Pike, former policeman and now Elvis’s partner. Pike is a much more opaque character. He’s been through immense suffering, and a lot of people hate him, but he’s unstoppable. In The First Rule an old comrade of Pike’s is killed by a criminal gang who’s emigrated from the former Soviet Union. Their rules insist the gang comes above all else, even above family. That’s not the way Pike operates, and his idea of family is unshakeable. An amazing novel.
Perhaps we’re spoiled in many ways. When air traffic (and a lot of car traffic) ground to halt last weekend in the bad weather that struck many parts of America, southern parts unused to such stress, it seemed like a personal affront to many of the people who waited in line with me for two hours at an airport, trying to arrange alternative travel plans when our flights got cancelled.
Most people were docile because it was late and they were exhausted. But every now and then a (former) passenger took the whole thing as a slap in the face aimed at him/her alone. Then the passenger would give the airline representative a lot of grief when he/she got up to the counter . . . thus extending the length of time the rest of us had to stand in line.
No matter what amazing ways we think of to travel around this earth, we can’t forget that the earth has the upper hand, so to speak. Bad weather trumps advanced technology, almost every time. Do you think people used to blame their coaches or the horses if there was a snowstorm and they were stranded at an inn? I wonder if they accepted it more readily than we do now.
I’d like a week or two to pass before I have to get on an airplane again, but unfortunately that’s not in the cards. Tomorrow morning, very early, I board yet another airplane. Let’s hope that this one arrives on time and departs on time. I’m not going to hold my breath.
Remind me next year . . . no travel in January or February.
© 2010 Charlaine Harris