Un-su Kim, The Cabinet (2021)

Author: Un-su Kim

Title: The Cabinet

Format: E-book

Pages: 400

Series:-

Among my recent reads this novel turned out to be the strangest one; for me, it resembles mostly an early attempt at a Frankenstein’s monster: sewn together from disparate parts it ends up having three arms, one leg, and an off-color head tacked on back to front. The first 60% were highly enjoyable, but afterwards, an inexorable downward spiral got me in the end to a disheartening feeling of “wtf did I just read?”

It’s a pity, really, because the premise of Kim’s novel is quite promising, with a lot of potential: the life in modern cities became so unbearable for humans that their evolution accelerated rapidly, creating first cases of a post-homo sapiens species. The mutations don’t seem to be adaptive, at the moment, but as evolution works through trial and error, we might see some that would become highly effective.

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Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Certain Dark Things (2016/2021)

Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Title: Certain Dark Things

Format: E-book

Pages: 272

Series: –

I’m recently jumping through Moreno-Garcia’s books: one new, one old – and let me tell you: there is a difference. Certain Dark Things is Moreno-Garcia’s second book, and it shows. It boasts of lots of great ideas, a skillfully created, moody and thick atmosphere, and an interesting plot. But the prose is clunky at times and nowhere near as polished or subtle in her later novels, and the characters, while engaging, remain early blueprints of protagonists from her other books: a sensitive, naive boy and a headstrong, wilful girl meet again and again in Moreno-Garcia’s stories, and Certain Dark Things is no exception.

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Dean Koontz, Odd Thomas (2003)

Odd Thomas

Author: Dean Koontz

Title: Odd Thomas

Format: Paperback

Pages: 446

Series: Odd Thomas #1

Koontz is a very prolific writer; he wrote over a hundred books and plenty of short stories, and has been a household name for American horror/thriller genre for ages. Somehow I had never been drawn to his work, maybe because I’m no great fan of horror 😉. I did read a King or two, and didn’t enjoy it, and I didn’t expect to change my mind for Koontz. But Bookstooge highly recommended both Odd Thomas and Lightning, and patiently kept recommending it, until I finally grabbed the book and read it. And I’m happy that I did, even if I won’t be going back to Odd Thomas’s world anytime soon.

Odd Thomas is a 20-year-old short order cook; he lives in a small, sleepy town and his most fervent wish is – for both the town itself and him in it – to remain this way forever. The slightly artificial, allegorical character of the novel, which from a certain perspective can be seen as an inherently old-fashioned yet very modernly, thrillingly written moral fable, is discernible from the first sentences – actually, from the moment when we learn that the name of Odd’s town is Pico Mundo. Small world, indeed.

Odd Thomas is a very likeable character: extremely humble, unprepossessing and caring, self-deprecating, gentle and well-behaved, he is the perfect image of a perfect boy as envisioned by an old-fashioned grandma. You’d all want him as an in-law (if you didn’t know better). Really, with his manners and unending optimism and willingness to selflessly serve others he is a character who’d feel more at ease in 1950s than in our wild 2000s. And that’s also intentional, I wager (well, I would if I were the wagering sort – which I’m not 😉).

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Frances Hardinge, A Skinful of Shadows (2017)

A Skinful of Shadows

Author: Frances Hardinge

Title: A Skinful of Shadows

Format: E-book

Pages: 448

Series: –

“Twenty-seven months is long enough for a place to seep into your bones. Its colours become the palette of your mind, its sounds your private music. Its cliffs or spires overshadow your dreams, its walls funnel your thoughts.

Humans are strange, adaptable animals, and eventually get used to anything, even the impossible or unbearable. […] Terror is tiring, and difficult to keep up indefinitely, so sooner or later it must be replaced by something more practical.

One day you wake up in your prison, and realize that it is the only real place. Escape is a dream, a lip-service prayer that you no longer believe in.”

A Skinful of Shadows is my first Hardinge book, but definitely not the last. Dark and atmospheric, full of loss and anger, horror and hope, this novel transports the reader into the 17th century Britain in the throes of its first Civil War. And while the actual battles, army marches and skirmishes remain on the fringes of the story, the very acute human ugliness always accompanying such conflicts is very much in the center of the novel, making the life of our young protagonist a rather difficult endeavor, fraught with danger, ill-timed happenstance and simple callousness and greed. But fear not, all is not as bleak and dark as it may seem from my introduction; and we have Makepeace Felmotte to thank for this. Makepeace (what an amazing Puritan name!) is a young girl gifted – or cursed – with the ability to see and interact with ghosts. The exact manner of this interaction I will leave to curious readers to discover; suffice to say that there are more things one can do with ghosts than I imagined, and all of them are rather creepy 😉 But despite that strange family trait, which drags her into danger more times that she can count, Makepeace is an inherently optimistic creature; indomitable would be a perfect word to describe her, were she not too humble to accept such aggrandizing epithets. But she is both, and more: humble and indomitable, steadfast, and full of empathy, ability for strategic planning and very un-youthlike patience.

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Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Mexican Gothic (2020)

Mexican Gothic

Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Title: Mexican Gothic

Format: E-book

Pages: 352

Series: –

The title says it all. A distinctly Gothic novel set in 20th century Mexico, complete with a sprawling, haunted house shrouded in mists, a feisty female protagonist thrown by fate into the middle of unknowable, and a terrible secret from the past. Sounds a bit like paint-by-numbers piece, but Moreno-Garcia deftly introduces elements of postmodern literary play into that sombre, creepy genre, freely mixing moods and plot threads, artfully twisting tropes and the rules of the game, all the while staying true to the spirit of the Gothic fiction. Blending body horror with social commentary regarding colonial past and gender roles in old and modern Mexico, Moreno-Garcia creates a unique story that will be perversely satisfying to fans of Hannibal Lecter and Brontë sisters alike.

Noemí Taboada lives her carefree life of a rich, spoiled socialite in mid-century Mexico City – until she receives a troubling message from her beloved older cousin, Catalina, who had recently – and hurriedly – married an English heir to a run-down mining estate and moved to her husband’s mansion in the mountains. Asked by her father to check on Catalina, whose missive seems both furtive and deeply disconcerting, Noemí embarks on a perilous journey. The High Place, Doyles’ family seat, is a remote, crumbling house, full of mould and ghosts of a wealthier past. Yet the estate, however repulsive at first sight, keeps much more horrifying secrets, which our protagonist will learn in time, together with us readers, whether she wants it or not.

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