Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Book Review - George Mann's Ghosts of Manhattan

Ghosts of Manhattan by George Mann
Published by: PYR
Publication Date: February 2010
Format: Paperback, 237 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Gabriel Cross is leading a dual life. By outward appearances he is the playboy, always partying, always throwing around his cash, unconcerned by the world around him. But inside he is haunted by the war he fought in and almost died in. He will not let New York sink into a city on the brink with the cops being controlled by the mob. With the mob being controlled by the worst mobster of them all, the elusive Roman. Splitting his time between his lounge chair and the rooftops of the city, "The Ghost" as the newspapers have named Gabriel, will help his fellow citizens by getting to the bottom of who the Roman is. Yet his carefully constructed personas are about to crash around him when the songstress he loves, Celeste, gets embroiled in the Roman's dealings, and Gabriel himself exposes his identity to perhaps the only trustworthy cop in the city. What the cost of these risks are, only time will tell. But hopefully, with time, the Roman's reign will also fall.

I never thought I'd say this, but there comes a time when there are too many superheroes. This overkill, especially by Marvel, makes me inwardly groan that there is yet another Green Arrow spin-off, yet another franchise being launched off the back of an already successful franchise, Black Panther anyone? Or worse yet, a reboot of a film series that is only a few years old, The Fantastic Four or Spiderman, take your pick! Obviously I'm in the minority here as the movies and television shows keep getting the viewers but I have personally reached my saturation point, so much so that I might not even keep watching Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. All this lead me to be a little leery of Ghosts of Manhattan. There was the part of me going, but it's not Victorian, but more important the part of me going, really, this book is "Introducing the World's First Steampunk Superhero," spare me.

So, despite my love of George's work I wasn't unbiased going into Ghosts of Manhattan, in fact George had a lot working against him with all my preconceived notions. And then I got a few chapters in and was hooked. The writing isn't as polished as George's other stories, but there's a rawness and immediacy that sinks it's claws in, much like a certain creature in this series second volume. The best way to describe this book is Batman meets The Great Gatsby with a little Bladerunner thrown in. Gabriel Cross has the vigilante stance as well as the violent past of Batman, but instead of emulating his "true" identity of Bruce Wayne, despite there being similarities; the 1920s lifestyle, the parties, the estate on Long Island, are all straight out of Jay Gatsby's biography. As for other comic book antecedents, there's a little Hell Boy thrown in as well. These twists and also just the demeanor of Gabriel give a story that could be full of tropes and cliches a spark of life that made a cold winter day just disappear.

The turning point for me was the introduction of the golems. I blame Terry Pratchett for my love of the golem myth, seriously, if you have not read Feet of Clay go do so now! There's just something so fascinating about golems. A figure made of clay and endowed with the spark of life but not intelligence, much like Frankenstein's monster it can be either good or evil depending on who gave it life and purpose. Not to mention the fact that they are indefatigable and nigh on undefeatable! Plus, if you think about it, they are basically automatons, which is a link back to George's other work and the scary creations in The Affinity Bridge. Which might be one reason I'm so fascinated by golems. There's something so modern about them, yet at the same time there is something so old, so historical, dating back to early Judisim. I just love that more authors are taking advantage of incorporating this myth into their narratives, golems were even used in an episode of Grimm recently.

The golems I think get at the crux of the matter as to why this book works. It's a fusing of the old and the new. Your run of the mill superhero is all about the present or the future, and of course the gadgets, with maybe the occasional need for and old relic, but that's a rare need. Here we have a superhero who is more Indiana Jones, more about the old and the new meeting and clashing and forging something no one thought possible. If the golems weren't enough to convince you of this then I bring into consideration the role The Metropolitan Museum of Art plays in the book. Not only is it the location of one of the most important scenes, as well as cringe worthy if you're in art lover, but the curator friend of Gabriel's, Arthur Wolfe, provides an entree into this older world. The relics and artwork The MET house create an important link between the here and now and the time when golems and Roman currency were more common occurrences.

This is the heart of the book, the way to make a superhero story that will actually engage me. Ghosts of Manhattan is something more. By not just being about a vigilante on a roof with his gadgets we get this other side, an old world past that hints at the supernatural and the dark arts. Before the modern era superstition and urban legends and fairy tales were so important. People didn't just listen to them as entertainment, there was truth in the tales. As time has progressed more and more people forget that perhaps, just maybe, even though we are ruled by technology and the microchip, that fairy tales can be true. The Ghost learns this the hard way and in doing so takes us on a ride that puts all other superheroes in the shade.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Tuesday Tomorrow

Dead But Not Forgotten by Charlaine Harris and Toni L.P. Kelner
Published by: Ace Hardcover
Publication Date: November 25th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The #1 New York Times bestselling Sookie Stackhouse novels by Charlaine Harris spawned a hit TV show and captivated fans around the world—including other authors. Now this group of writers, specifically chosen by Charlaine, pays tribute to “the southern, mind-reading belle who gets mixed up in the world of vampires and magical creatures” (The Kansas City Star) with a collection of fifteen all-new stories about your favorite residents of Bon Temps."

While I've never been a fan of short stories, especially the Sookie ones which have always lacked the fun of the books, the fact that it's a whole bunch of authors writing in the Sookieverse, well, it intrigues me!

Buffy: New Rules by Joss Whedon
Published by: Dark Horse Books
Publication Date: November 25th, 2014
Format: Paperback, 136 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"While slaying the zompires that have overrun a small California town, Buffy and her pals are shocked to discover a new kind of vampire: harder to kill, able to transform and walk in the light of day—like Dracula . . . If that weren't enough, the rules of magic are literally being rewritten. While the crew attempts to find out exactly what this means and restore the status quo, Xander is the victim of a haunting as his relationship with Dawn crumbles."

Gaw, I am so far behind! I'm barely into season nine and it's already season ten!?! I blame this on the rising price of comics and there being too many offshoots of this series.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Newbury and Hobbes Dream Casting: Amanda Hale as Amelia Hobbes

Name: Amanda Hale

"Dream" Character Casting for the George Mann Newbury and Hobbes Miniseries: Amelia Hobbes

First Impression: The first time she really stuck in my head and made an impression was as the captive housewife in The Crimson Petal and the White. There was just something so intriguing about her portrayal of the crazy wife in the attic a la Jane Eyre.

Why they'd be the perfect actor for the Newbury and Hobbes Miniseries: She has this way about her where she perfectly balances insanity and a will of steel which I think is the fine line that Amelia Hobbes is always treading. Plus she looks fabulous in period costumes.

Lasting Impression: The White Queen, hands down. Of course I had seen her play crazy in The Crimson Petal and the White as well as Ripper Street, but here. Oh boy! She has a religious zealotry where the crazy actually reaches her eyes. But for all her actions she is an indomitable mother and a force to be reckoned with. I give you Amelia Hobbes!

What else you've seen them in: After starring in the newest adaptation of Persuasion Amanda quickly started getting supporting roles in miniseries until she was soon stealing the spotlight from the other so called stars. Despite her small roles in Jekyll, Spooks, and Any Human Heart, she will most be recognized as Emily Reid from Ripper Street, the disappearing wife (seriously, why does that show love to just not explain things? Especially why it isn't on Amazon Prime US) as well as the zealot mother of the future King of England, Lady Margaret Beaufort in The White Queen.

Can't believe it's them: Being Human! Not the fact that she was on the show but the fact that she was so funny! This has to be one of the funniest episodes of the show with her as a rather vulgar ghost who puts on a show of gentility for Hal. Proves she totally gets the underlying humor in all her crazy lady parts. Though my favorite scene ever from Being Human is this...

Wish they hadn't: Any Human Heart. But in all seriousness, I have no idea who she was in it I just hated this miniseries so much I will take any chance I have to badmouth it!

Bio: Hale trained at RADA, graduating in 2005, choosing to become an actress over going to Oxford to read English. She started receiving accolades while still in school and upon graduating they continued flooding in for her stage work. Currently she is staring in Uncle Vanya (yet another Chekhov play I dislike) at the St. James Theatre. There's not much else biography wise online other then she's Welsh and I'll add to that that she's an awesome and powerful actress and can't wait for her next show! Please let it not be anything from Chekhov!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Book Review - George Mann's Paradox Lost

Paradox Lost by George Mann
Published by: BBC Books
Publication Date: June 23rd, 2011
Format: Hardcover, 256 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Rory, Amy and The Doctor have once again ended up where they didn't intend to go. They have landed in London in 2789, not the Rambalian Cluster. There there is a team dragging a thousand year old automaton out of the Thames. An automaton that recognizes The Doctor and gives him a warning that The Squall, a dangerous race of monsters that feed off psychic energy and destroy whole planets, are coming. Using his sonic screwdriver, The Doctor finds that he must go back to 1910 to fend off the invasion of The Squall. But seeing as the tear in time needed to bring about the Earth's destruction has two ends, he sends Amy and Rory to look for a Proffesor Gradius, who started the damage here in 2789. 

Working the case from both ends Rory and Amy get the help of Professor Gradius's assistant, an automaton that Amy affectionately names Arven, while The Doctor teams up with the only man in Edwardian London who seems concerned about the rash of recent unexplained deaths, a Professor Angelchrist. Their timelines going the consistency of noodle soup, one might wonder if all this wouldn't have happened if they had left well enough alone. But The Doctor and Amy aren't ones to let mysteries remain unsolved and monsters left undefeated.

Now I'm not saying I'm the biggest Doctor Who fan out there. I mean, I haven't watched every single episode, after all some episodes are lost.... But besides all the DVD sets and VHS tapes, posters, gadgets, and scarves, I do have several bookshelves filled to capacity just with Doctor Who books to give you an idea of how my addiction has spread over the years. You can see my old Tom Baker paperbacks sharing shelf space with the newer line of books with the 9th, 10th, and 11th Doctor, as well as some Torchwood books thrown in for good measure. There's also the infamous set of books released for the fiftieth anniversary last year. Why infamous? Because while they look darn pretty sitting there on my shelf, some of the books selected are pure dreck. Taking all eleven doctors, the average star rating was less then 2.5. The psychic toll it took on me to actually finish those books was painful and almost made me not want to pick up another Doctor Who book ever again.

Needless to say the experiment of last year has left me with one clear talent, and that's to distinguish a good Doctor Who book. You read enough of the bad you get to know the good, and Paradox Lost is good. One clear reason it works is that George understands the show. While he does little things that make a fangirl sqwee, like referencing past regenerations and putting in the "in" jokes, it's the bigger things he really nails. Meaning George gets the characters voices as depicted by the actors. It's not just that I am allowing a certain suspension of disbelief in order to enjoy the book, oh no, while you are reading it you can see the action unfolding before you just as if it was an actual episode. There is Amy Pond, there is Rory, and there is 11, Matt Smith in all his goofy glory. George nailed these characters! The dialogue, the description of their actions, the book whizzed by as fast as if it was a forty minute episode instead of a two-hundred page book.

What really makes the story work though is that George uses Rory as our entre into the action. If in recent years there is one companion who is universally loved and who everyone wanted to stay, it has to be Rory, hands down. I spent much time thinking of ways in how the show could just ditch Amy and have Rory be the main companion. Alas, that wasn't to be. But because Rory is so loved and relatable he makes the perfect conduit for us, the readers. By seeing the action of the story through his eyes we become a part of the story in a way that I don't think the show is ever able to do.

We see Rory's world, Amy and The Doctor, in a clearer way that totally just expands on what we know from the show. Plus, unlike Amy and The Doctor, Rory actually is more of an everyman, he has fears, he has loves, and danger and daring do aren't just a way to spend the afternoon! George counters Rory's POV with that of Angelchrist. Thus balancing the more knowledgeable with the more naive. Angelchrist is the character to relate to if you knew nothing about Doctor Who. He's there to ask the questions that the trio wouldn't ask as well as to be the link to the current time period, aka 1910. The switching between the two makes the story stay fresh but also provides different insights, resulting in a well balanced book.

But as I have been working my way through George's oeuvre, I can not forget to mention that yes, indeed, this book ties into his greater universe. Angelchrist himself has shown up in the Newbury and Hobbes books as well as the short stories. In fact in the short stories there are a few nudges and winks to this very book and the adventures that Angelchrist shared with The Doctor. Not to mention a certain Arven.... But what I really liked was a subtler reference, the blink and you miss it because it's only mentioned twice.... What you might be saying is this reference? It's a reference to where Arven was made... a certain company that may have been up to some truly nasty things with an "Affinty Bridge." Yes George's work stands on it's own. Yes you will enjoy it whatever you pick up, but for the fans in it for the long haul... well, there's just so much more to find! George knows how to thank his long suffering fans (I mean seriously, get me The Revenant Express now, it's painful waiting).

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Book Review - George Mann's The Casebook of Newbury and Hobbes Volume One

The Casebook of Newbury and Hobbes Volume One by George Mann
Published by: Titan Books
Publication Date: October 22nd, 2013
Format: Paperback, 400 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

From disappearing valets to monstrosities lurking in the shadows of Cheyne Walk, creatures from the deep to lost Indian jewels, become an armchair detective with the best from Sir Maurice Newbury to the Doctor John Watson. And every great detective has to have his or her Moriarty. We learn more about Sir Maurice's adversary, Lady Arkwell, as well as Veronica Hobbes's "chess" partner with whom she has had several contretemps, Zenith the Albino. Whether you are returning to the world of Newbury and Hobbes or just stopping in for your first visit, this collection of stories will chill your spine and leave you wanting to read just one more story before your bedtime. That is if you can sleep once you find out the secret of "What Lies Beneath."

I have said it before and I'm sure I'll say it again, books with short stories are always a risk. There's the whole consistency issue as well as flow. I can guarantee that you will spend more time thinking about that one story that wasn't up to scratch then you do all the other ones that were great. But more importantly is the flow of the book. Because each story is so different and starts a new narrative there's sometime not the impetus to keep going to the end, especially if you hit one of those weaker stories. Luckily The Casebook of Newbury and Hobbes is the exception that proves the rule full of unique individual stories within a connected world.

The Newbury and Hobbes series has always lent itself to comparisons with Sherlock Holmes, and rightfully so in my mind. Therefore, like Conan Doyle's writing, it lends itself to the short story format. In fact sometimes the longer Newbury and Hobbes books have too much going on and these little stories are a nice way to have a short and sweet little tale that isn't bogged down by the overarching narrative but still gives you nudges and winks as to the universe they inhabit.

What sets this above other compendiums though is that we are given insight into George's process. At the back of the book there is a timeline of events (very handy), but more importantly little story notes in which George talks about why he wrote the story or what drove his decisions. It gives you a feeling that at the end of perusing this volume, like Newbury and Bainbridge, you have sat down on opposites sides of the fireplace in great comfy chairs and had a chinwag with George as to what he was doing. The insight into his writing makes it all the more memorable. There was one turn of phrase that caught me most when he was discussing "The Maharajah's Star" and that was that he likes the "smaller, nested stories that all come together at the last moment." This is exactly how I feel and also how I think some of the stories work and some don't.

To succeed the stories need to be encapsulated, like a little jewel that sparkles on it's own but only at the end does it shine out and radiate among the expanded universe. Which is an overly flowery way of saying separate but connected. Take "Christmas Spirits" as the prime example and easily the weakest story in the book. In this loose re-imagining of A Christmas Carol Newbury dwells on his life and what has happened and what is to come. This stories makes almost no sense without the knowledge gleaned from the longer books. It pulled me out of the moment and destroyed the flow of being entranced by these jewel like stories.  Which goes to show what a balancing act it is when compiling a collection. Just one that's not quite right and you're distracted.

But this one flaw which might have more to do with my hatred of that particular Dickens tale leads me to that aspect which George just nailed, and yes, it oddly has to do with Dickens. George is able to mimic other writers. I wouldn't say he's aping them, because despite giving the feel of Arthur Conan Doyle or Wilkie Collins his writing is still distinctly his own; clean, concise and conversational, with an approachability that I feel Nancy Mitford is the paragon of and which George captures as well. But he's able to lend an air to his stories that connect with writers that are contemporary to his stories, giving them a depth most other Steampunk books aren't able to do.

In my favorite story "The Dark Path" George gives us a more classic detective story that brings to mind Wilkie Collins and The Moonstone... a copy of which is found in the missing valet's room. A coincidence? I think not! "What Lies Beneath" gives us an utterly delicious and creepy story that would have made Poe proud. While the aforementioned "Christmas Spirits" channels some Dickens and "The Case of the Night Crawler" brings John Watson back to life, though in a far more modern story then Conan Doyle would have penned. By writing in this way he acknowledges his predecessors while creating his own path. I am again reminded of something George said in his story notes. George says that in "Old Friends" he shows that "the old guard [can] retire in peace ... safe in the knowledge that someone else is out there now." Well, the old writers can retire in peace safe in the knowledge that George is carrying on their legacy in grand style but never forgetting what he owes to them!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Tuesday Tomorrow

A Deadly Measure of Brimstone by Catriona McPherson
Published by: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: November 18th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"In A Deadly Measure of Brimstone, Dandy and the whole Gilver clan travel to a spa town for a weekend of relaxation which is quickly interrupted by a slew of mysterious— and deadly—events.

The men of the Gilver family have come down, between them, with influenza, bronchitis, pneumonia and pleurisy. The family repairs to the town of Moffat, there to submit to the galvanic wraps and cold salt rubs of the splendid Laidlaw Hydropathic Hotel.

But all is not well at the Hydro, and the secret of the lady who arrived but never left cannot be kept for long. And what of those drifting shapes in the Turkish bath? Just steam shifting in the air? Probably. But in this town the dead can be as much trouble as the living."

I am very excited for a new Dandy Gilver book but I am heartbroken that it doesn't have a cover by Jessica Hische, aka the reason I picked the series up in the first place because of the striking covers!

The Paris Winter by Imogen Robertson
Published by: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: November 18th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"There is but one Paris. -Vincent Van Gogh

Maud Heighton came to Lafond's famous Academie to paint, and to flee the constraints of her small English town. It took all her courage to escape, but Paris, she quickly realizes, is no place for a light purse. While her fellow students enjoy the dazzling decadence of the Belle Epoque, Maud slips into poverty. Quietly starving, and dreading another cold Paris winter, she stumbles upon an opportunity when Christian Morel engages her as a live-in companion to his beautiful young sister, Sylvie.

Maud is overjoyed by her good fortune. With a clean room, hot meals, and an umbrella to keep her dry, she is able to hold her head high as she strolls the streets of Montmartre. No longer hostage to poverty and hunger, Maud can at last devote herself to her art.

But all is not as it seems. Christian and Sylvie, Maud soon discovers, are not quite the darlings they pretend to be. Sylvie has a secret addiction to opium and Christian has an ominous air of intrigue. As this dark and powerful tale progresses, Maud is drawn further into the Morels' world of elegant deception. Their secrets become hers, and soon she is caught in a scheme of betrayal and revenge that will plunge her into the darkness that waits beneath this glittering city of light."

This looks very intriguing!

Serenity: Leaves on the Wind by Zack Whedon
Published by: Dark Horse Books
Publication Date: November 18th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 152 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"In the film Serenity, outlaw Malcolm Reynolds and his crew revealed to the entire 'verse the crimes against humanity undertaken by the sinister government--the Alliance. Here, in the official follow-up to the film, the crew has been in hiding since becoming everyone's most wanted, and now they are forced to come out. River uncovers more secrets, leading these former Browncoats on a dangerous mission against the Alliance that, with hope, will bring them together again..."

Ah, who am I kidding. Sure I hated the movie but I adore Firefly so much I'll probably read this too.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Newbury and Hobbes Dream Casting: Ben Miles as Sir Charles Bainbridge

Name: Ben Miles

"Dream" Character Casting for the George Mann Newbury and Hobbes Miniseries: Sir Charles Bainbridge

First Impression: Berkeley Square... only it wasn't him! OK, I'm totally confused. I would have put money on the fact that he was the soldier that Hermione Norris was fooling around with... I think I must re-watch the entire series to see why I got it wrong. Really, I'm doing it for us, not just for me. So I guess that means The Forsyte Saga and Dartie it is for my first impression. Which is really a shitty first impression, because the character doesn't have anything redeeming about him till he dies...

Why they'd be the perfect actor for the Newbury and Hobbes Miniseries: In recent years he's gotten very good at being cast as either a gentleman or a cop, and I can't think of a better way to describe Bainbridge then as a gentleman cop. Also he looks good with a big bushy moustache.

Lasting Impression: I want to say Coupling, because yes, he did make an impression on me... but really it's Zen! Why? Because for the first time I really saw the depth in his acting and saw that he was more then just a womanizing ass.

What else you've seen them in: More a TV actor then a film actor, though he has starred in some big name movies like Speed Racer, Ninja Assassin, and The Affair of the Necklace, if you're a BBC miniseries addict you sure know who he is. He spent many years perfecting the womanizing ass until he transitioned to elder statesman with perhaps a little bit of darkness thrown in. Just look at his role in the newer tv adaptation of Dracula or even the aforementioned Zen! Though personally my favorite of all his roles was as Sir Timothy Midwinter in Lark Rise to Candleford. Why couldn't he and Dorcas have worked it out? Or at least she could have ended up with someone better then Gabriel. Yes, I am still bitter. 

Can't believe it's them: V for Vendetta. Really, that's him! I mean a lot of that movie is, OMG, look who it is because it's peopled with British actors I know and love, but still, V for Vendetta man!

Wish they hadn't: Under the Greenwood Tree because I literally can not think of a more forgettable miniseries of all the miniseries I have ever watched. Though as the Parson this does mark his transition out of being a womanizer, and for that I am very happy.

Bio: Ben started acting on television in the mid-90s after training at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, but it wasn't until 2000 when he was cast as Patrick in Coupling that he got his big break. Which begs the question as to why he hasn't appeared on Doctor Who! I mean come on Steven Moffat, you gave him his start, get on this! End rant. After this many roles followed in numerous miniseries. He is married to a fellow actress, Emily Raymond, and among his theatre credits is a stint in Richard II opposite his father-in-law. Lately he has been starring more and more onstage and can be seen as Thomas Cromwell on Broadway when Wolf Hall transfers there next year. Though I'm still bitter that my friend Mike got to see him and a plethora of my other favorite actors on Broadway a few years back in the revival of The Norman Conquests which went on to win a Tony. Perhaps I might go and see Wolf Hall to level the playing field...

Friday, November 14, 2014

Book Review - George Mann's The Executioner's Heart

The Executioner's Heart by George Mann
Book Provided by the Author
Published by: Tor
Publication Date: July 9th, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 336 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Newbury has been sinking further into the mire his friends had hoped to extricate him from. His days are made up of dark arts and drugs. Yet little do they know he is doing it for them. His and Amelia's visions of a darkness to come brought by the sinister Executioner need to be studied so that it can perhaps be avoided. Though with bodies turning up with their hearts ripped out, perhaps the darkness is nearer at hand then they had hoped. With motives being questioned and no one knowing who to trust, can Sir Maurice and Veronica survive the darkness to find a bright future?

The way George's books are written they lend themselves to be read at breakneck speed wherein you never set them down. Alas life almost never allows for such luxuries. Work, appointments, commitments, sleep, anything and everything can be thrown in your path of just wanting to read one more chapter. The more interruptions that happen the more the story loses it's immediacy and the more likely you are to forget salient details and the narrative to lose it's impact. As it happens I had been reading the previous volume during my downtime at a Steampunk convention (fun for the tie-in, but hard when you just had to leave for a panel during a fight scene.) After the close of the convention I had factored in a few days of rest and recuperation before transitioning back to real life. This time allowed me the luxury of getting to read The Executioner's Heart without interruption.

I have just finished the last page and I seriously don't know what to do. The book enveloped me completely and I was just mesmerized. The best stories compel you ever onward, waiting for the next twist, the next chapter, the next book. I gobbled this volume up and I am sated. I just hope it will last, because while I'm not saying that I've reached the point of searching for cheap airfare and just showing up on George's doorstep, each book has built on the previous volume creating a greater story as we watch the characters and George's writing develop, and I do want more. As soon as possible. I know where you live George.

George has a knack with his characters. They have depth and originality. You can view them all as real people that you could meet on the street, that is if you could get to the street where they live. But what really makes his books stand out, which I'm sure I've mentioned before in passing, is that not just the heroes and heroines are well rounded but so are the villains, more so in this volume. In the previous three volumes we have gotten an understanding of those who would thwart Newbury and Hobbes, but in The Executioner's Heart we get even more insight. By having chapters telling us the story of The Executioner, we get a glimpse into what makes her tick, literally. By having these little flashes of her past, while we can't condone her actions, we come to an understanding. We know why she is what she is, but even the why and the how bring up more questions.

The clockwork heart and other infernal devices that have been prolonging Queen Victoria's life have long been a theme in this series, but now they are literally the heart of the matter. With Queen Victoria and The Executioner we have two individuals living beyond their time on earth by clockwork hearts. Both these women are depicted as, well, excuse the pun, but heartless. They are cold and calculating. They do what needs to be done. This brings the idea of man versus machine into stark relief. What is it that makes us human? We talk about love and emotion as being a part of the heart, when really they are seated somewhere in our brain.

But is it the removal of this organ that makes us less then human? Is it just this that sets these two women apart? Or is it the end result of that procedure that makes them something else? Is it living beyond their time that is what breaks them? Seeing the world change and not being a part of that change eroding your humanity? Immortal creatures from Gods to vampires are all in some way monstrous in the stories we tell. Is this because they are unable to connect to what it is to be human? There are just so many questions posed and as the book comes to a close, well, the answer is more important then ever. Gaw George, I might not have the next volume but you have left me so much to ponder!

One fact though I never need to dwell on is that at the end of the day the true villain is the one who tries to justify their deeds as being for "The Greater Good." Every baddie ever from Voldemort to the Neighborhood Watch Alliance of Sandford has used this excuse for their actions. Personally if anyone started spouting this dogma in front of me I'd take to my heels immediately. Or you know, go all righteous on their asses like Newbury. The thing is evil deeds cannot be justified. There aren't gradations of evil or wrong. If you do something wrong it's wrong. Yes, you could do something more wrong, but that's just going more evil, you're already evil from the wrong act. Having some people die without their say to save more... just no. It might be a "tough decision" but committing evil is never for "the greater good." There will always be a taint. Always.

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