I was going to write something about how autumn is the optimal season to read in but then my mind went “oh, oh, remember how cozy it is in winter when it’s snowing!” and “but in summer you’re on vacation and can indulge for daaays”. So let’s settle for that autumn is lovely to read in, just like the other seasons (but maybe just a liiittle better?). I’m rambling.
Anyhow, seasonally appropriate or not I wanted to share some lovely reads from the rock star of the fantasy genre- Neil Gaiman.
I have been reading and adoring his books since I was half my current size (which might impress you if you saw me). Here are my top 3 through the years, and let me tell you it was not easy to choose. 🙂
Delightfully turning all what we expect from a fairy tale on its head, Stardust’s plot looks the part of a classic “hero journeys to a fabled land to retrieve a fallen star and win a fair maiden’s hand“. But there the similarities end. Stardust is a wondrous and quirky ride of a story, at times humorous and at times melancholic.
The hero is young, awkward Tristan Thorn, who thinks himself hopelessly in love with the village belle Victoria Forester. Attempting to woo her despite her obvious disinterest he vows to bring her the star they see falling one night, landing beyond the Wall bordering their village. The Wall keeps things in, and it keeps things out.
So there are two problems with his quest. One is that no one goes beyond the Wall. Second, the star is not a lump of space rock but a woman called Yvaine.
First the light in the sky was no bigger than the moon, then it seemed larger, infinitely larger, and the whole grove trembled and quivered and every creature held its breath and the fireflies glowed brighter than they had ever glowed in their lives, each one convinced that this at last was love, but to no avail And then — There was a cracking sound, sharp as a shot, and the light that had filled the grove was gone.
Or almost gone. There was a dim glow pulsing from the middle of the hazel thicket, as if a tiny cloud of stars were glimmering there.
And there was a voice, a high clear, female voice which said, “Ow,” and then, very quietly, it said “Fuck,” and then it said “Ow,” once more.
As you can tell, the language is vivid, poetic and dryly humourous at the same time. Few authors, in my opinion, can create a language that is so easy to read and yet not at all childish, and I find it a joy to read.
The object that caused Yvaine to fall from her night sky was a strange amulet, and soon she and the amulet is searched for by our lovesick Tristan, mighty princes and evil witches alike. Tristan finds her first and the rest is for you to find out. : D
Do NOT confuse the book for a written version of the movie. While I don’t hate the movie (and especially not you Michelle Pfeiffer), it is way less edgy and whimsical and a lot more soppy and stereotypical.
2. American Gods
If Stardust is at least partly a sweet fairy tale and can be enjoyed by kids and adults alike, American Gods is definitely intended for grown ups. This is intellectual fantasy at it’s finest. I find the idea behind this book so intriguing: where do forgotten gods go? When the ones who believed in them die or move someplace new and forget their roots, do their old gods die too? And what if the gods don’t want to be forgotten?
I am not a religious person, but I love mythology. This books weaves together myth and religion, present and past, fiction and cold hard reality in an intelligent and riveting way.
“You got to understand the god thing. It’s not magic. It’s about being you, but the you that people believe in. It’s about being the concentrated, magnified, essence of you. It’s about becoming thunder, or the power of a running horse, or wisdom. You take all the belief and become bigger, cooler, more than human. You crystallize.” He paused. “And then one day they forget about you, and they don’t believe in you, and they don’t sacrifice, and they don’t care, and the next thing you know you’re running a three-card monte game on the corner of Broadway and Forty-third.”
For us readers, it all begins when Shadow is being released from prison. Shadow is a big man, silent, and maybe not very talented at making good choices. But that is all behind him now and all he thinks about is going home to his wife Laura and turning over a new leaf. The day before his release he receives the news: Laura is dead. As his world crumbles he is approached by an odd, charismatic old man who calls himself Wednesday. He conveniently enough has a job for Shadow.
American Gods is raw. There is violence, regret, betrayal, sex and death– but if you can handle Game of Thrones (I need a lot of closed-eye-time for that. I’m sensitive okay) then it is nothing to worry about.
I think that while not as dreamy and charming as many of Gaiman’s other works, and frankly a more tedious read, what brings me to award it second place is how unique, grim and thought-through it is. If you, like me, are a mythology-enthusiast you will find yourself hoarding clues and going wide-eyed at “coincidents” with character names and actions. Maybe the name Wednesday already gave you a clue as to who Shadow is dealing with?
Time flies when you are reading ridiculously long book reviews no? No? >.> Here’s goes number one!
Style-wise Neverwhere lands somewhere in between the easy-going Stardust and the mature American Gods. This is brilliant urban fantasy– haunting, creative and bustling with life. It is also highly entertaining.
Neverwhere takes place in London and tells the story of Rickard Mayhew, a young businessman with a lovely but quite demanding girlfriend. On their way to meet up with her influential boss they stumble unto a gravely injured, tattered girl. Her name is Door and to his girlfriend’s dismay, Richard helps her and brings her home.
The next morning Door has mysteriously disappeared , and so has the life Richard knew and kind-of-sort-of-liked. He seems to have ceased to exist. No one can see him, hear him and his bank cards are being declined. He has been claimed by London Below– the city beneath the city, inhabited by creatures of shadow and magic and those who have fallen through the cracks.
He hopes to set everything back to normal by finding the person he suspects was responsible for the change: Door. Who is conveniently being hunted down by the legendary assassins Mr Vandemar and Mr Croup.
Mr. Croup turned out the lights. “Oh, Mister Vandemar,” he said, enjoying the sound of the words, as he enjoyed the sound of all words, “if you cut us, do we not bleed?”
Mr. Vandemar pondered this for a moment, in the dark. Then he said, with perfect accuracy, “No.”
Other than having that wonderfully creepy villain-duo and a lot of other equally colourful characters, the setting of Neverwhere is engrossing. I love the real London, and London Below is that with extra icing. For example, in Earl’s Court subway resides an actual Earl and his posse and Knightsbridge (Night’s bridge) is a crossway of living darkness and terrible power.
The way London Below exists underneath and in parallel with normal London and the fact that Richard is just a normal guy gives me that “Harry Potter-discovers-the-wizard-world / Narnia”-vibe. It feels realistic enough to imagine it could have been me. (Only it wasn’t. Insert sound of a heart breaking.)
Neverwhere’s balance between chilling and playful, humoristic and dark, everyday life and the utterly bizarre is what earns it the number one spot and why I think it is a perfect autumn read. 😀 (That and the matter of me being the worst anglophile in Sweden. Hehe.)