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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Fantasy Book Critic’s 2008 Review/2009 Preview — Jasper Kent


First, let’s make a couple of things clear. There are enough books already out there to keep me busy reading for a lifetime and the ones that got published in 2008 are not going to disappear if I don’t read them straight away. Those are my excuses for not having read anything (or at least anything memorable) that was published within the last four years.

The real oldies were both Russian: “The Idiot” by
Dostoyevsky and “Black Snow” by Bulgakov. Both suffer from having to live up to their respective authors’ greatest works (Crime and Punishment and The Master and Margarita) and while both come short, these are authors whose second-best stands head and shoulders above the crowd. Both novels are satires on a milieu which the author knew well; nineteenth century Petersburg high society and the Soviet theatre in Moscow. Of the two, I think I preferred “Black Snow”, but on reading reviews it seems I may have had a poor translation of “The Idiot” (and you thought I was gobbling these up in the original Russian).

My I-really-should-have-read-this-a-long-time-ago book of 2008 was
Richard Matheson’sI Am Legend”, which I was inspired to read by the release of the film (though I still haven’t seen it). It’s a great novel, as I’m sure I don’t need to explain, but a couple of less obvious plus points are the stunning cover and the fact that it’s short enough for me to read the entire thing on a single plane journey. Why don’t people write novellas any more?

Two more recently published books were
Jasper Fforde’sThe Eyre Affair” and Mark Haddon’sThe Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time”. Fforde provides a great story and lots of fun literary references, but I have to say I find his prose-style a little lightweight. The narrator in The Curious Incident... on the other hand directly acknowledges his instinct just to tell the story and has to force himself to write with great depth (oh, how I empathise with him). This was by far my favourite read of the year.

A special mention goes to
William D. Montalbano’sBasilica”, which my girlfriend picked up second-hand when we were on holiday. While the story was only slightly more believable than average for the plethora of religious thrillers that are around at the moment, the author really managed to put far more flesh on his characters’ bones. It’s a shame he died soon after writing the novel.


Again, the same rules apply. I may read something published in 2009, but have no specific plans to as yet. I have a couple of
Mary Shelley’s I hope to get into: “The Last Man” (following on from I Am Legend) and the ‘original’ Frankenstein (before Mr. Shelley stuck his oar in). Also, there are two series I’d like to finish off (or at least get up-to-date): Boris Akunin’s Erast Fandorin stories and Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next.

I intend to read
Robert Harris’The Ghost”, in anticipation that he will be back on form with a return to the present day. Also, I have Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’sThe Exploits and Adventures of Brigadier Gerard” on my list, about which I know very little.

Finally, I suspect I’m going to be reading lots and lots about the Crimean War, but that’s research.


The sequel to “Twelve” (Reviewed
HERE), called “Thirteen Years Later”, has just gone in to the publishers, so I’ll be rewriting that I imagine, plus I hope I’ll be beginning to work on the third book in the series, which currently goes under the title of “The Third Section” (which is short for the ‘Third Section of His Imperial Majesty's Own Chancellery’). It’s set in Russia in the mid 1850s—hence the Crimean War research.

And by way of a holiday, I plan to visit... The Crimea. Actually, that’s research, rather than a holiday, particularly for tax purposes, but it should be interesting.


Jasper Kent has a degree in Natural Sciences from Trinity Hall, Cambridge. For almost twenty years he has worked as a software engineer and has co-written several musicals including The Promised Land and
Remember! Remember!. "Twelve" is his debut novel. For more information, please visit the author’s Official Website.

NOTE: For more author responses, please visit Fantasy Book Critic's 2008 Review/2009 Preview index



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