In my quest to read books before I watch adaptations, I picked up a copy of this book when I heard it was being turned into a TV series. Unusually, this book is written by two authors and despite some of the scathing commentary inside about whether a book that has sold millions of copies can accurately be described as a cult classic, this book certainly has a dedicated following.
“Good Omens” by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman is an urban fantasy comedy novel about an angel called Aziraphale and a demon called Crowley who each live on Earth trying to influence humanity towards good and evil respectively. However, they both really enjoy Earth and have struck up a friendship over the centuries since Adam and Eve were kicked out of the Garden of Eden. So when Crowley receives news that the Antichrist is coming to Earth to herald the end of days and the annihilation of the world and everyone in it, he and Aziraphale agree to try to prevent the child from reaching his full potential. However, a case of mistaken identity means that Heaven and Hell’s plans have gone awry and between prophecies, witch-hunters, motorcyclists of the apocalypse and four kids, the race is on to stop the end of the world.
I have read plenty of Neil Gaiman and a little of Terry Pratchett, and I think that there is no question that their work is well-known and well-loved around the world. Both authors are known for their reinterpretation of fantasy and mythological tropes, and certainly Christian-inspired fantasy with angels and demons is a popular concept in urban fantasy. I haven’t read too many books that are written by two authors, and one notable example was “Wicked!” by renowned Australian children’s authors Paul Jennings and Morris Gleitzman. Unlike Jennings and Gleitzman, instead of alternating chapters, Gaiman and Pratchett wrote much more collaboratively. While there are certain jokes and passages that are more reminiscent of one author’s style or another, overall their writing blended very well. This book is very much a product of its time, and I found it enjoyable and nostalgic reading about technology and cultural references in the early 1990s. I think my favourite character in the entire book was the hellhound who becomes known as Dog and whose diabolical nature is tamped down until he becomes a beloved childhood companion. Dog’s internal struggle with his own nature was probably the best and funniest piece of tension in the book.
However, at the risk of bringing the Pratchett-Gaiman fandom raining fire and brimstone down on me, I didn’t love this book. It wasn’t the uproariously funny book I was expecting, and that was not because I’m unfamiliar with quirky British humour. In fact, I thought perhaps watching the TV series would help bring the humour to life a bit but even the show, which is very true to the book, felt a bit flat. I could see what the authors were doing with young Adam and his crew of pre-teen friends, but I found their dialogue really unrealistic and, unlike Paul Jennings, neither particularly funny or compelling. While I often read books that were published some time ago and try to have a bit of patience for changing social standards, I do want to mention that there are quite a few racial stereotypes and slurs against particular races and the queer community peppered throughout this book that are very jarring. I am certain that Gaiman would not use this language today, but, for example, the scene where Aziraphale temporarily possesses an Aboriginal man was pretty cringe by today’s standards.
A bit of a let down after all the hype, so if you’re looking to read either author, this probably wouldn’t be the book I’d recommend you start with.
This was the set book for my most recent fantasy book club. Although I hadn’t heard of this author prior to reading the book, the author has had a number of books published recently and is generating quite a bit of hype for his novels.
“The House in the Cerulean Sea” by TJ Klune is a queer romantic urban fantasy novel about a public servant called Linus who works as a case worker for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth. Linus spends his days in a toxic workplace writing reports about the compliance of special orphanages with child welfare standards and his evenings alone listening to records with a cat who doesn’t particularly like him. Linus’ life is lonely but predictable, and he is always careful to maintain clear boundaries between work and home. However, when he is called to attend a meeting with Extremely Upper Management, Linus soon finds himself auditing an institution so secret even he has never heard of it. He travels to Marsyas Island Orphanage and meets the enigmatic Arthur Parnassus and the peculiar children he is responsible for. As Linus gets to know them, it becomes harder and harder to remain objective.
The book club member who picked this book also picked “The Rook“, and it has been really interesting reading another example of a subgenre that I’m going to call bureaucratic fantasy. Most fantasy novels focus on war and overcoming evil, and it is kind of a nice change to read about the less exciting practicalities of how magic might be regulated in a more real world setting. It was also really refreshing to read a romance novel that gently unfolds without anything especially bad happening. This is a sweet novel with a strong message of belonging. Klune manages to maintain a sense of tension without ever causing the characters too much discomfort, which is honestly kind of a relief during these times. The kids were really fun and I particularly enjoyed Chauncey and his big dreams of becoming a bellhop.
There were only two things that jarred with me a little. One was that Linus’ world didn’t really have a clear, consistent internal logic. There are a mishmash of magical beings that seem to derive from different mythologies and belief systems without any of those belief systems actually being incorporated into the story. It’s not often that I would be calling for more exposition, but I did feel that the magic was more of a nod to the canon rather than well thought out itself. The other was that while I appreciated the sweetness of the story, there were a number of scenes that were just too saccharine for my liking.
A light-hearted story that is not particularly challenging but is satisfying nonetheless.
I received a copy of this book courtesy of the author.
“Dreams of Fire” by Christian Cura is an urban fantasy novel about a woman called Kara who works as an artist in Washington DC, USA. Kara is enjoying a lot of success with a great new apartment, an assistant at work and even the possibility of an upcoming exhibition. However, Kara has a secret: she is able to use magic. When she fights alongside an intriguing woman called Selene hired as security at a party, Kara forms a connection and soon begins to share some of her difficult past on their dates. However, a plot underway at a magical prison in Canada means that Kara’s past might be catching up with her sooner than she thinks.
This is an action-packed novel that imagines a world with mystics living alongside people unable to wield magic. Kara and Selene’s romance is very sweet and wholesome, and was a unique and clever way to deal with exposition with Kara revealing more about herself as the couple grow closer. There is a diverse cast of characters, and Cura’s magical world seems very international. I really enjoyed how easily Cura wrote in a same sex relationship into the book. Cura had a very clear vision for the story, and the way magic is wielded was carefully explained and consistent. I enjoyed the discussions several characters had about the morality of magic, and how it is the users of magic rather than the magic itself which determines whether it is good or bad.
Cura has a very descriptive style of writing and there were a lot of details about characters’ appearances, wafting aromas and beers being tilted towards lips that could have been pared back to streamline the story. I also would have liked the system of governance fleshed out a little. Enforcers seemed to be both magical police officers and corrections officers, and it wasn’t clear how the Council existed alongside typical non-magic forms of government. The prison itself seemed to mirror the prison-industrial complex associated with the USA, and despite the huge population of the prison (ranging from 1,500 to 6,000 detainees), it was unclear what kind of court heard and decided all these cases. One of the characters considers that if detainees don’t want to be in prison, they shouldn’t commit crimes, but I would have liked to know more about what the socioeconomic driving factors may have been for mystics to turn to crime.
An intriguing debut novel that would likely make a good comic or film adaptation.