Stuff I missed: The Traitor God by Cam Johnston, Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock, Temeraire by Naomi Novik

There are various books I read, enjoyed, but never reviewed from this blog’s early days. In an attempt to put that right, here’s some mini-reviews…

The Traitor God by Cam Johnston: On the list of things I’m an easy sell on, murder mysteries in worlds that feel very fantasy is very high up there. Ergo when Cam (who I do know online) brought out a book that featured a shady broken mage unravelling a mystery in a corrupt, noir-ish city full of powerful mages I was pretty pumped. When I got it, it lived up to my expectations excellently for half a book. Like, almost nothing to fault, enjoyed it immensely.

At about the halfway point thought The Traitor God veered more towards monster hunting and apocalyptic war, which I do enjoy but not so much when one of my favourite things is taken away from me. That tone and action shift left me a bit down on the book come the ending. Still, in hindsight, it wasn’t such a bad thing, and I imagine if I revisited the book I’d enjoy it more. Or I could read the sequel and see what the next episode brings. Recommended for anyone who likes their fantasy dark and violent.

Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock: This one is something of a cult classic with good reason thanks to its exploration of mythic echoes interacting with the real world. American Gods before American Gods, only very British and mostly set in an old forest that acted as something of a portal realm. While I did enjoy Mythago Wood, and recommend it with little reservations, it has to be admitted that the idea is the best part of the book.

The prose is well-written but has a post-WW2 stiffness to it, and the characters have few standout traits or conflicts. I think Holdstock grafted on a far better story in Lavondyss, and also somewhat addressed the reservation I do have in recommending Mythago Wood, namely female characters; a large part of the book is a woman being fought over without hearing much from the woman, which I know is a quick way to alienate many readers.

Temeraire by Naomi Novik: From the solemn and mythic to the jaunty and desacralised; Novik’s Temeraire is the answer to “what if dragons fought in the Napoleonic War?”. Equal parts Anne McCaffrey’s Pern and Hornblower, Temeraire mostly offers the appeal of Georgian derring do in the skies and Georgian backbiting on the ground.

It’s a well-written, quick moving book full of action and big characters. It does take occasional bites at being more than that with its thoughts on the power dynamics between man and beast, but never succeeds at getting its teeth into such subjects for my money. Best to accept this one as superior popcorn fantasy and ask for little more.

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