Thursday, November 23, 2023

The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher, narrated by Carrie Fisher and Billie Lourd

I've had this one marked on my wishlist for quite some time, so dropped my Audible credit on The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher, which is narrated by her, as well as her daughter, Billie Lourd. Honestly, I had no idea what to expect. I'll admit to a long-standing admiration for Fisher, for her role of Princess Leia, but I've known precious little else about her other than maintaining an appreciation her outspokenness in the media. What I got with this was a short dip into the behind-the-scenes activities for the first Star Wars film way back in the day, as well as a warts-and-all glimpse into Fisher's personal life.

I met a young woman, adorably insecure, navigating an industry known for eating people alive. Her involvement with Harrison Ford at the tender age of 19 was, let's be honest, questionable, and yet I don't gain the impression that Fisher feels ill-disposed to him or even that she was taken advantage of. She discusses the affair quite frankly and with great empathy for her younger self.

Fisher reveals herself as an astute somewhat introspective observer of people, and boy she can write. I will admit that it's difficult for me to give a free pass to people who indulge with other people's spouses, but as Fisher states, the event happened so many years ago, she has no qualms now about discussing the distant past. And indeed she does so, in a way that doesn't at any time make you feel as if the tale is sordid.

Stars are revealed as being merely people, whose paths run parallel for a while before they shoot off in different directions. As a time capsule, The Princess Diarist is a somewhat sweetly wistful memoir that encapsulates a period in a young woman's life where she is establishing her identity. I think we can safely say that we've all had that one intense love affair in our younger years that did not last but made a lasting impression. Carrie Fisher was and in many ways still is, a delight, and our princess is sorely missed.

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien (read by Andy Serkis)

I think by now it's pretty pointless to give a blow-by-blow account of JRR Tolkien's masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings (LotR) considering that it has become so firmly entrenched in popular culture. But I do feel I need to share a few of my thoughts and feelings about the Andy Serkis reading of all three books, which total approximately whopping 65 hours of listening pleasure combined.

I've been threatening for years to revisit the trilogy. I first read it around the tender age of 12, one heady summer holiday that had my mom complaining I spent too much time indoors when other kids my age were working on future basal cell carcinoma on Cape Town's beaches. I knew from the moment that I first read these books (I own the hardcover centenary edition, now sadly sans dust cover, with Alan Lee's illustrations) that I wanted to be an author who wrote about elves and dragons, and created worlds I could get lost in. The Peter Jackson films remain among my firm favourites.

So, yeah, LotR inhabits a very special place in my heart. It was my gateway to becoming a SFF author, and it's one of the few epics that has left me in tears at the end. Every time those elves go West. Sam's almost anticlimactic "Well, I'm back" at the end always slays me – that we can embark on these earth-shattering adventures and still return to merely being ourselves. We are forever changed on the inside, even if we present a face to our friends and family that appears the same as always. I can peel back so many layers.

The problem with LotR, is I simply don't have the time to sit down and read the entire thing, but I do have time when I'm doing mindless menial things like washing dishes and driving, to listen to audiobooks. Audible has been a lifesaver, and The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King, as narrated by Andy Serkis, are absolute gems.

It's one thing to read Tolkien, and have an appreciation for his exquisite style, but it's quite another to hear a gifted actor such as Serkis breathe life into the story so that it feels as if my earballs are giving me a full-cast production. Of course, as always, Gollum steals the show. 

I feel as if I've reconnected with the work in a different way through having listened to this rendition of one of the greatest works of fantasy literature in my personal library, and if you find the idea of sitting down with a dead-tree version daunting, you can't go wrong with these three chaps. Granted, it took me about three months to work through all of them consecutively, but they served to remind me why I keep returning to Tolkien's writing. His wordplay remains exceptional, and very few authors come close to how he describes the beauty of nature. (I realise I'm one of those individuals who won't tire of endless descriptions of bloody trees, okay?)

Friday, November 10, 2023

God of Broken Things (Age of Tyranny #2) by Cameron Johnston

I am so late to the party on this one it's not even funny. This book has been sitting on my TBR pile for YEARS. God of Broken Things is the sequel to Cameron Johnston's Traitor God, in which we encounter the Tyrant magus Edrin Walker, who although much maligned by his fellow magic wielders, at the end of the day is the only one who possesses the power and the fortitude to scrape their collective posteriors out of the flaming frying pan. The reason why everyone hates a Tyrant is because their magical powers allow them to get inside others' heads, and no one is a fan of mind control, especially when the person with that power isn't a particularly nice individual. Which Edrin isn't. He's entirely self-serving and often snarky, with no regard whatsoever for social hierarchy, and this is magic combination that's never going to win him friends.

But for all his irreverence, he's not a bad sort, and all told is quite fun to hang around precisely because he doesn't give a toss about the things that matter in high society. His understated, often darkly absurd observations of the goings on around him are what made me keep on reading – if Edrin took himself too seriously, these novels wouldn't be half as entertaining. 

In God of Broken Things, we see our hero mucking about in the aftermath of the Big Bad that pretty much wrecked the city of Setharis in book one. Except he and the rest of the Arcanum (the mages who rule the city) face an even bigger bad that makes Edrin and his powers look like a minnow. And he's packed off back to the region where he grew up – to face not only the Even Bigger Bad, but also the things in his past he's been doing his darndest to avoid dealing with. I'm not going to spoil, but all I'll say is he has a really creepy gran. Oh, and did I mention that there was something that was even worse than the Even Bigger Bad? 

Of course he doesn't have to go it all alone – he has a few of his fellow magi from the Arcanum, including my favourite, Eva – a knight who in many ways is the perfect opposite of Edrin – and the interaction between the two is rather special. 

Now, Cameron doesn't do anything by half-measures. This is the second of his novels that I've read, and if epic, world-destroying cataclysms*, with a side order of demons, ravening hordes, and inter-dimensional beings blows your hair back, then you'll be in the right hands. The Age of Tyranny duology packs a whopper of a punch, with piles of action, cinematic battles, a rich, varied cast of characters, and some deeply fascinating world building while Cameron's at it. This is a fire cracker in the fine old tradition of GrimDark fantasy and well worth the read if you're looking for a story that will dance with all your favourite tropes but then pull a few sly ones when you're not looking. 

*If the old ultra-violence isn't quite your thing, then maybe skip this round, okay?