Daniel Polansky, The Seventh Perfection (2020)

Author: Daniel Polansky

Title: The Seventh Perfection

Format: E-book

Pages: 176

Series: –

Daniel Polansky is known mostly for his Low Town grimdark trilogy. I read, and admired, his 2015 novella The Builders; a gritty and incredibly bloody tale of a group of small animals hell-bent on revenge. Think The Wind in the Willows x Reservoir Dogs (yes, I know. And yes, it works!) In The Builders I found that Polansky has a perfect feel of the limitations and opportunities inherent in shorter literary forms – though, frankly, almost 200 pages used to be a full novel, not a novella 😉. Suffice to say that when I saw The Seventh Perfection available on NetGalley, I jumped on it headfirst (or maybe teethfirst?).

And that’s the best way to approach this novella, in my opinion: don’t read blurbs, avoid spoilery reviews (yes, it’s self-defeating, but this one doesn’t contain spoilers, so it doesn’t count! :D) and be prepared to be surprised. But also, be prepared to shoulder at least some of the burden of understanding what in the world is going on – because Polansky surely and gleefully doesn’t make it easy for his readers. The Seventh Perfection is a reading challenge. A very welcome, and an extremely rewarding one, I might add. It’s written exclusively in the second person perspective, and each chapter presents a new point of view (there are very few recurring characters) – which might be overwhelming, but is also immensely enjoyable: all characters have their own peculiarities and their own unique voices, and, most importantly, their own agendas.

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Orhan Pamuk, My Name is Red (2002)

Author: Orhan Pamuk

Title: My Name is Red

Format: E-book

Pages: 335

Series: –

“To avoid disappointment in art, one mustn’t treat is as a career. Despite whatever great artistic sense and talent a man might possess, he ought to seek money and power elsewhere to avoid forsaking his art when he fails to receive proper compensation for his gifts and efforts.”

The Turkish 2006 Nobel Prize Winner in literature, Orhan Pamuk has gained popularity in the West mainly through two books: My Name is Red (first published in 1998) and Snow (first published in 2002), but by that time he was already very well-known – and quite controversial – in Turkey. Pamuk, born in Istanbul in a multicultural family (his grandmother was Circassian), explores in his books the liminal space between cultures and religions, where ideas, aesthetic preferences and beliefs clash and mutually influence one another. In the case of My Name is Red, that exploration is enriched by deeply philosophical musings on the nature and essence of human perception – both of the reality, the outside world, and of the idea and existence of God. The aesthetical angle of the novel, presented through many-voiced conversations on seeing, imagining, painting, change, and style, and on the nature and purpose of art, constitutes a fascinating examination of cultural differences between East and West, Islam and Christianity.

This deeply philosophical essay is deftly hidden in a complex love story, which in turn comes neatly packed into a murder mystery. Taking place in turbulent times, in wintry Istanbul in 1591, My Name is Red offers a kaleidoscopic view of a multitude of diverse, sometimes contrary perspectives; a plethora of unreliable narrators;  tongue-in-cheek play with other literary and artistic works – and  with itself, twisting and turning and changing rules of the game mid-play; instances of breaking the fourth wall, and plenty of other postmodern literary devices – all employed in service of a cavalierly conventional story.

“Doubtless, you too have experienced what I’m about to describe: At times, while walking through the infinite and winding streets of Istanbul, while spooning a bite of vegetable stew into my mouth at a public kitchen or squinting with fixed attention on the curved design of a reed-style border illumination, I feel like I’m living the present as if it were the past. That is, when I’m walking down the street whitewashed with snow, I’ll have the urge to say that I was walking down it.”

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Brent Weeks, The Black Prism (2010)

Author: Brent Weeks

Title: The Black Prism

Format: Paperback

Pages: 640

Series: Lightbringer #1

Brent Weeks seems to have as many die-hard fans as critics; and the number of both is not insignificant. His bestselling Lightbringer series, of which The Black Prism is the first instalment, consists of five books. And what books these are! Each is over 600 pages long, and the last reaches nearly a 1000 pages 😉. In other words, a huge time investment for busy bookworms such as us. Is it worth reading? Or at least starting?

The short answer is yes, but it is not an unequivocal yes. It’s not a game-changing literature, or a piece of art that will forever alter your understanding of reality. It’s not without its faults. And yet, The Black Prism is a well-written book, with a creative, complex magic system, a rich set of believable (well, mostly 😉) characters, and some highly enjoyable plotting. There’s lot of action, and plenty of blood and gore and cruelty, steeped in a thick sauce of political intrigue, treachery, side switching, heroic efforts, and spiced with variedly successful attempts at humour – generally, all what you have come to expect from epic fantasy.

So, what is it about? In a land ravaged by a civil war, in which brothers fought against each other with sorcery and sword, a tenuous peace is threatened once again by discontent, ambitious princes. In the world of Lightbringer the power comes with magic. And magic comes in many different colours. Literally; magic is dependent on the perceived light spectrum, and magic users are divided into groups based on their colour affinity: which hue can they harness to create luxin, a versatile substance exhibiting different properties depending on its base colour. There are as many types of luxin, and its creators, as there are colours in the rainbow – plus both ends of the spectrum, ultraviolet and sub-red. As magic is an indispensable element of the world of Chromeria, magic users are widely sought after and respected, increasingly so when they can use more than one colour; and a person able to wield all seven hues is called Prism.

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Ken Liu, The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories (2016)

The Paper Menagerie

Author: Ken Liu

Title: The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 453

Series: –

Ken Liu has been known as the translator to Cixin Liu’s critically acclaimed Hugo award winner, The Three-Body Problem. He is also known as the author of a “silkpunk” epic fantasy book, The Grace of Kings. But the readers of short stories know him predominantly as a talented SFF author with his own unique voice and unerring focus on humanity’s past and future, cultural diversity and a peculiar vision of transhumanism. His works won multiple awards, Nebula, Hugo, Locus and World Fantasy Award among them, and I must say that, at least with regards to the collection The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories, he deserves quite a lot of the praise 😉.

This review will vary slightly from my usual posts; as each story or novelette forms a separate whole, I will review each in turn and give score to each separately in short paragraphs.

The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species 5,5/10

Not a great start to the collection; a showcase of interesting ideas, but nothing really stands out in this fanciful enumeration of how various species in the universe might create/perceive books. It’s a fun exercise, and an invitation to the readers to think about the idea of a book, but nothing more.

State Change 10/10

One of two best stories in the compilation, based on an outlandish and very compelling idea that every person is born with their soul manifested as a concrete, tangible item – and that the form of that item directly affects their personality. A really sweet, light, yet thought-provoking story on how we create our own limits and then learn to transcend them.

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Jamie Lackey, The Forest God (2020)

The Forest God

Author: Jamie Lackey

Title: The Forest God

Format: E-book

Pages: 82

Series: –

A wonderful little story reminiscent of works by Terry Pratchett and Diana Wynne Jones, The Forest God is a feel-good literary adventure full of witches, quests, lord’s sons, love and duty. Who wouldn’t want to read one of those? 😊

Jamie Lackey is a name I hadn’t encountered before, and I requested The Forest God from NetGalley on a whim, my decision based mostly on the cover (I know, and I’m not repentant!) It turned out to be a surprisingly good decision, for Lackey’s novella is just a perfect read for a lazy, warm evening. With the length of less than a hundred pages there is not much space within for character development, worldbuilding and action, and yet somehow Lackey manages to cram a bit of all three – with the infallible aid of fairy tales. The Forest God offers a new retelling of a very old tale, and embellishes it with some delightful twists, subtle irony, and plenty of enthusiasm for the subject matter. But let’s start at the beginning.

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