Books : reviews

Jon Courtenay Grimwood.
Stamping Butterflies.
Gollancz. 2004

Jon Courtenay Grimwood.
9Tail Fox.

Jon Courtenay Grimwood.
End of the World Blues.
Gollancz. 2006

Jon Courtenay Grimwood.
Earthlight. 2001

rating : 3 : worth reading
review : 26 April 2004

In an alternate history where America never joined the First World War (known here as the Third Balkan Conflict), genetically enhanced Ashraf Bey is confused in the North African city of El Iskandryia. He has just been sprung from jail and brought there by Lady Nafisa, who claims to be his aunt, to marry Zara, the daughter of a wealthy businessman-cum-gangster, to restore the family fortune. But almost immediately someone tries to kill him, and then he finds himself a suspect in a murder, and must discover what is really going on, with or without the help of the fox in his head and his computer-savvy niece, Hani.

Most of the SFnal content is backgrounded -- some genetic enhancements, possibly some AI, and some high tech comms devices -- but most of the content is in the alternate history. This sets up an interestingly different (if rather unpleasant, especially for women) culture. The story is well-structured with flashbacks (rather than up-front info-dumping), and is a great murder mystery. What's not to like?

Jon Courtenay Grimwood.
Pocket. 2002

rating : 3 : worth reading
review : 2 May 2004

A few months after the events of Pashazade, Ashraf Bey finds himself the new chief of police, investigating his potential father-in-law, Hamzad, for genocide and war crimes, a course not recommended to endear him to his potential bride Zara. To cap it all, El Iskandryia is in meltdown, suffering gruesome murders of tourists, and a total loss of electricity due to several EMP bombs. But, as in any mystery, even alternate history ones, not everything is as it seems.

A great sequel. We get all the characters back, learn more about them and their often traumatic backgrounds, and learn more about the complicated politics of the alternate world. There's also a continuation of the slightly cheeky and fun reuse of contemporary characters and businesses, despite the AH turning point being about 100 years in the past. The fun counterpoints some of the grim and harrowing scenes, all there for plot-relevant reasons.

Jon Courtenay Grimwood.
Earthlight. 2003

rating : 3 : worth reading
review : 8 May 2004

It's just a few months after the events in Effendi, and Raf is called in to investigate an attempted murder, of the man many claim is his father, the Emir of Tunis, pitting him against his dissolute and sinister half-brother.

There's the same great sense of place as in the earlier books -- now mostly moved out of the city and more into the desert. You can almost feel the heat and sand in the desert, and the steam in the kitchens. And lots of questions raised in the earlier books about Raf's background get answered, yet those answers lead on to further questions about what might happen next. A great conclusion to the trilogy.

Jon Courtenay Grimwood.
The Fallen Blade.
Orbit. 2011

Jon Courtenay Grimwood.
The Outcast Blade.
Orbit. 2012

Jon Courtenay Grimwood.
The Exiled Blade.
Orbit. 2013

Snow shrouds Venice in cold darkness, ice fills the canals, and a thousand ghosts pluck at the shadow’s edge.

A violent attack on Lady Giulietta’s son forces Tycho from his new-found happiness and back into the treacherous intrigue of the court. For Giulietta’s sake he would go to the world’s end to track down those responsible.

As Venice teeters on the brink of civil war, its warring families prepare to discover who is a player and who a pawn in the coming struggle for power.

Jon Courtenay Grimwood.
NEL. 1997

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 19 February 2012

A monster is stalking the Paris night, but when prosecutor Clare Fabio starts to investigate, she becomes implicated in a larger nightmare. Her path crosses those of investigative journalist Alex Gibson, on the run from his latest finding, of Japanese gangster Johnnie T, of the 800 year old Prince Sabatini, and of the mysterious inhuman Dr Makai. Their various storylines collide in a tremendous climax under Paris, as an old immortal evil confronts a modern cyber-intelligence.

The futuristic (and alternate history) world Grimwood paints is dark, violent, and unpleasant. Despite greatly advanced tek, the majority of people are living in squalor and misery. Against this backdrop, the characters are scheming and plotting to continue their lives, and no-one emerges unscathed. It's a compelling read, albeit with a slightly unsatisfactory ending.

Jon Courtenay Grimwood.
Lucifer's Dragon.
Pocket. 1998

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 16 November 2015

Passion di Orchi is no more than the obscenely rich daughter of a West Coast mafia boss – until she decides to rebuild Venice. In the middle of the Pacific.

A century later, with New Venice ossified into a puritanical elegance, the daughter of Count Ryuchi slips away from her father’s palazzo, out to the levels to play Lacifer’s Dragon. A multi-level, self-perpetuating, true 3-D trawl through the Apocalypse, Lucifer’s Dragon is coded so the game never repeats its own failures. But an altercation in a bar puts Karo on a collision course with NVPD officer Angeli, drafted in by media giant CySat to investigate a murder she knows way too much about.

And then there’s Razz, the silver exotic. Too tired and jaded to keep living, she takes on the job of guarding CySat’s ultimate boss, the ten-year-old Aurelio. With a11 the high tech security in place, it should be a walk in the park. But the last thing Razz sees is CySat’s child-ruler making too close an acquaintance with an Uzi, and then she wakes up in Zurich. Dead…

The back cover blurb above summarises the complexity of the first few chapters, and the story spins off in Grimwood’s usual violent, sex-filled cyberpunk, wildly-imaginative style. Despite the fact that everyone is unhappy and living in a deeply unpleasant world, whether they are street kid, cop, heiress, or city ruler, Grimwood’s inventive and richly drawn world is a great page turner.

All the seemingly-diverse plot strands eventually come together, and the puzzles are all explained (if not resolved) satisfactorily. However, for me, the ending fizzled somewhat.

Razz and Alex Gibson from NeoAddix turn up here, but other than that, there’s essentially no continuity between the two: they can be read independently.

Jon Courtenay Grimwood.
Earthlight. 1999

Jon Courtenay Grimwood.
Earthlight. 2000

rating : 3 : worth reading
review : 26 March 2007

Pope Joan has just spent all the Vatican's money on the poor, then got herself assassinated. Lots of people are very unhappy with this. Cardinal Santo Ducque needs the money back before the Vatican is audited, so gets ex-reality TV assassin Axl Borja and his gun-with-attitude to investigate, rather than execute him for the murder he's just committed. Kate Mercarderes wants her sister Joan back, and knows kinderwhore Mai is the key, and so hides them away on the Dalai Lama's prayerwheel of a space station. Axl just wants his life's soundtack back.

This is fast and furious mayhem, in the brilliantly imagined near future of a subtley Alternate History. It's violent, funny, gritty, hilarious, tragic, and seriously warped by turns, as all these very damaged people eventually collide.