Monday, September 12, 2005

A Feast of New Books

My boss surprised me this morning when she asked if I would be interested in having a copy of the new Waterstones magazine, Books Quarterly, and naturally I said "yes"; I'm very glad that I did otherwise I would not have known for some time about some of the following books which will be coming out in the UK during the next quarter.

The first two are children's fantasy. Jonathan Stroud's final book in the Bartemaeus trilogy, Ptolemy's Gate is out in October. In it the world of magic is under threat and Nathaniel is working hard to contain dissent whilst Kitty has been researching djinn and looking for Bartemaeus. She embarks on a terrifying journey into the "Other Place" where djinn go when they're not enslaved by humans - and from which no human has ever returned. It sounds as if it's going to be as gripping as The Amulet of Samarkand and Golem's Eye.

I've not yet read any of Anthony Horowitz's books, but Raven's Gate looks interesting. It's Horowitz's first fantasy novel, although, the Waterstones Magazine reviewer calls it a "tense, enigmatic thriller", so maybe it's not strictly fantasy ! Either way, I shall badger the library for it, if they don't have a copy in the Central Lending Library already (it has been published already).

The third book to catch my eye, I've actually already seen - I looked at a copy in Blackwells last week. It's a luxurious edition of John Milton's Paradise Lost with an introduction by Philip Pullman that has been produced by OUP. Anyone who knows Pullman's work, knows of Milton's influence on his award-winning "His Dark Materials" trilogy, which takes its title from a line in the poem. I started reading his introduction to the poem and his enthusiasm for Milton's language and skill as a storyteller is so infectious that I'm actually going to make a third attempt to read the poem ! This time though, I'm going to get an audiobook version to play as I read, in the hopes that I'll manage to make it all the way through it. I confess to feeling some guilt about the fact that I've yet to manage to read this poem, despite being an English graduate and a lover of poetry.

The final fiction title to catch my eye was Terry Pratchett's new novel, Thud, which is another Vimes novel - and how I love those ! This one is out in October, as usual, but there's a twist: Vimes' son, Sam Junior, loves his bedtime book, 'Where's My Cow ?', and Pratchett has actually created this book as well ! I'm not sure whether this is metafictional or metatextual (the latter I think), but either way, it's certainly a very clever marketing ploy: Terry is already a success as a writer for adults and for children - perhaps he can catch children even younger with books for babies ?

Finally, two non-fiction books caught my eye. First there's Bettany Hughes' book Helen of Troy: Goddess, Princess, Whore, which is out in October, and aims to explain why men would go to war over Helen (and it's not merely for her looks, apparently !) Spartan women were very much a part of the turbulent and violent times through which they lived, and since their menfolk were often away fighting, the women were given a lot of power in running the day-to-day affairs of the home. So Helen wasn't merely a beautiful princess, she was also a powerful (and wealthy) woman.

The final book to catch my eye looks like a coffee-table book - it certainly has a coffee-table book pricetag (so thank goodness for the public library !): The Lore of the Land: A Guide to England's Legends, from Spring-heeled Jack to the Witches of Warboys by Jennifer Westwood and Jacqueline Simpson is out in October. Apparently it's a lavishly illustrated (which explains the price) and very exhaustive compendium of the folklore and legends of England, gathered from a number of sources, including the Folklore Society. It gives the origins and dates of the various legends and myths, and assesses their basis in fact, if there is one. It certainly sounds like a must-read for a fantasy fiction fan !

Two final things to mention, before I stick my nose in my current book: The BBC news site reports that "more than 20 nations have signed an agreement aimed at saving the world's great apes from extinction. The Kinshasa Declaration acknowledges that the root cause of poaching and deforestation is poverty, and pledges to support local communities. Numbers of gorilla, chimpanzee, bonobo and orangutan have fallen sharply, and experts warn that some wild populations could disappear within a generation." Anyone who knows Terry Pratchett's work, knows that his Unseen University librarian is an orangutan and that Terry supports (financially as well as morally) the work of the Orangutan Foundation, rightly so, since the great apes are our nearest relatives. So this is good news and will hopefully lead to a halt in the decline of these magnificent mammals.

And finally: England won the Ashes !! After a fantastically nail-biting and tensely fought Test series, that has had me glued to the radio/internet (and, when I was at home two weeks ago, the TV), England drew their final Test match today and took the series 2-1. Yes, I'm full of national pride for our side: it's been 18 years since we last won the Ashes, but I'm also quite happy to admit that I admire the way the Aussies didn't let us off easily ! We lost one Test, drew two, and won two - which goes to show that the teams were fairly evenly matched (the typical English summer weather did play a part, but it didn't favour us alone). For an outstanding display of team spirit and genuine sportsmanship from both sides, look no further than this year's Ashes series.

No comments: