Bite-size Books: reading round-up

A pair of burgundy boots rest on a bookshelf of fantasy novels

The month of May is made of good intentions, followed by a cascade of compromises. That is to say: I started Wyrd & Wonder with a stack of outstanding reviews …and I ended it the same way. Time to clear my conscience – let’s take a look at my last 2 Wyrd & Wonder reads and catch up on the third season of BookBurners.

Tales from the Folly – Ben Aaronovitch

Book cover: Tales from the Folly - Ben Aaronovitch

I’m a long-time fan of Rivers of London, although I’ve never read the graphic novels and I’ve only strayed as far as one of the novellas. My trip to The Furthest Station was such a delightful bitesize read that it took no persuading for me to pick up Aaronovitch’s recent collection of short stories from this universe. In need of something light and undemanding, it seemed the perfect pick as a palate cleanser in late May.

But if I’m crushingly honest, I was disappointed. The Furthest Station was a brilliant capsule adventure featuring one of my favourite characters (Abigail). I found the Tales From The Folly rather less successful. These are humorous vignettes rather than stories, often just a shaggy dog set-up to deliver their payload of a sly joke. Don’t expect closure – the cases under investigation are rarely the point.

It’s worth noting that many of these tales were originally published in special editions of the latest novel for Waterstones (a UK bookstore). Perhaps if I had encountered them in that context they would have worked better for me, a sparkly aperitif before I dived into the long drink of the novel they preceded. As it is, I’ve already forgotten most of the details and I can’t imagine I’ll revisit the collection. Strictly one for devoted fans (first time readers will be baffled as the tales assume existing knowledge of world, characters and specific plot points).

Orfeia – Joanne M. Harris

Joanne Harris is one of those authors I feel I’ve read, but somehow Orfeia is in fact my first experience of her work. Pitch me a gender-swapped Orpheus where our heroine must rescue her daughter from the underworld – but ditch the classic mythology in favour of that of Sir Orfeo, a mediaeval Child Ballad that relocates the underworld to the realms of Faerie – and you can have my heart on a stick if you promise to break it.

Book cover: Orfeia - Joanne Harris

Harris had me at hello for her deft prose and fairytale world-building. Fay Orr – Orfeia – is a grieving mother lured into a mirrorworld whose rules she doesn’t understand, one that offers the shining promise of restoring her dead daughter to her – at a price. But Fay isn’t the only person trying to win back a lost loved one, although she may be the only one playing fair. Love, loss, grief, music and memory intertwine in this gorgeous novella as Harris proves herself well-acquainted with the ways of folktales and the Fae. A shimmering diversion that stole my heart and has left me determined to read the other Joanne Harris novel(la)s on my shelf as soon as possible.

BookBurners: Season Three – Serial Box

Created By Max Gladstone. Written by Max Gladstone, Margaret Dunlap, Mur Lafferty, Amal El-Mohtar, Andrea Phillips, and Brian Francis Slattery.

If the end of Season Two left Team Three divided, Season Three rips them apart. Grace has turned her back on the team completely and defected to Team One. Asanti – saved but betrayed by Menchú – is caustically aloof, pursuing her studies with Francis and Perry in secret. Only Sal and Liam are broadly unscathed, although Sal would dearly like Grace to stop holding her at arm’s length and talk. But Season Three is primarily The One About Arturo, with his past about to shape everyone’s future regardless of their current relationship status…

Any season that starts with Neolithic cave paintings coming to life is off to a strong start as far as I’m concerned, and with the second episode delivering werewolves and a hydra I was a pig in mud. Interwoven with the missions, the twin narratives of Arturo’s angel and Grace’s meltdown are compelling – and the stakes ratchet up so quickly through the first half of the season that the episode focused on Asanti’s magical experiments going awry felt like much-needed comic relief.

The second half of the season felt weaker to me. I didn’t get the emotional pay-off I was expecting from the resolution of Grace’s storyline, which felt like it got wrapped up quickly mid-season to focus on the world-changing implications of Arturo’s. The Liam episode – in which he persuades Sal and Grace to accompany him while he apologises to his ex-girlfriends (oh, Liam) – felt like amusing filler with unexpected if not unwelcome implications for Sal and Grace.

However, the Bookburners writing team never fail to deliver a rousing finale: here another multi-episode showdown as London is literally ripped apart by magic. It’s big, it’s loud, and given the fractures within Team Three the outcome is far from guaranteed. While this feels like a saggier season than the previous two, it’s more than entertaining enough to leave me gasping to pick up Season Four given the new direction the series seems set to take in it.