Reading and Listening Roundup: Absorption, Or The Bull Kills You and The Steel Remains

48john meaney absorption

Absorption by John Meaney (Gollancz)

Across the ages there are characters three things in common: they glimpse shards of darkness moving at the edge of their vision; they hear echoes of a dark, disturbing musical chord; and they will dream of joining a group called the Ragnarok Council.

There are some books that I read that make me wonder ‘Why didn’t someone convince me to read this earlier?’ Absorption is one of those books. But luckily I read a great review of the sequel, Transmission, and decided that if the second one sounded that good I really should give it a go.

I have to say what kind of put me off in the first place was the same thing that intrigued me: I wasn’t sure how John Meaney would mix of viking myth and space opera elements together. And I should have had a little faith as he twists them around each other very tightly. I don’t know yet what shape he’s making but Absorption definitely sets the stage.

As will all multipoint stories there are some views that are more appealing to follow that others.

Luckily John doesn’t force it by lingering with characters that at that point don’t move the story forward though their lack of stage time in latter chapters is oddly noticeable when you are waiting for them to reappear during scene changes and as will all multipoint stories there are some views that are more appealing to follow that others.

He’s chosen a diverse crew to build up his story. My favourite is probably Roger, a young man that has all manner of talents including being able to travel between dimensions. Meaney also invokes Germany between the world wars – a time and place that I’m starting to feel is a lazy shorthand but not in this case – Meaney looks at the point where physics was on the turn with a greater understanding of the underlying patterns in the universe, which is a good introduction to the scientific complexities (and perhaps impossibilities that he invokes).

It’s nicely compressed something is happening constantly. It doesn’t feel drawn out maybe in a couple of places oddly directed but who knowns where those threads are heading? I’m looking forward to reading Transmission to find out where this SF Norse myth mix is going next.

Paperback jacket

Or The Bull Kills You by Jason Webster (Vintage)

Either you kill the bull, or the bull kills you – traditional proverb. Chief Inspector Max Cámara hates bullfighting but one hot afternoon in Valencia he has to replace his boss, judging a festival corrida that stars Spain’s most famous young matador. That night, he is summoned back to the bullring where the young matador’s dead body now lies, naked and mutilated.

It has to be hard to bring something new to the crime genre. But crime happens everywhere and this time we’re off to sunny Spain. I initially thought this was going to be a crime in translation but like Martin Walker’s Bruno, Chief of Police series Cámara is written by a non-native that’s made the place a home, and like Walker brings out an accessible view of the culture and the place. Or at least that’s what comes across in Or The Bull Kills You.

Setting it at the time of the festival of Fallas is very immersive not only do you get to a Valencia in the raw it tightens the tension as Cámara of investigating the death of such a high profile figure. Though I wouldn’t say that makes him a worse detective. He’s very shambling. He likes an early drink and a not entirely legal recreational smoke. He is however endearing. And a good policeman even if he’s not that methodical he does have a policeman’s nose.

Webster keeps everything flowing nicely and you get a not exactly subtle but not force fed either lesson in bullfighting.


The Steel Remains by Richard K. Morgan

Ringil, the hero of the bloody slaughter at Gallows Gap is a legend to all who don’t know him and a twisted degenerate to those that do. A veteran of the wars against the lizards he makes a living from telling credulous travellers of his exploits. Until one day he is pulled away from his life and into the depths of the Empire’s slave trade. Where he will discover a secret infinitely more frightening than the trade in lives.

Now The Steel Remains I confess took me three goes over three different formats to get into. The first two were a review copy, and I bought the ebook to try out the format on my new Sony Reader, but I didn’t get very far. There was something in the opening that didn’t quite gel. So I wrote it off as not for me.

When I was choosing my next audio book a while ago I thought I’d give the sample a go and I’m glad I did (I immediately bought The Cold Commands so that’s a giveaway really). Simon Vance is an amazing narrator so that eased me back into the story.

Morgan challenges expectations from the off. His lead hero is gay and excellently portrayed as a hero who is gay rather than a gay hero. A distinction that is important. Morgan has aliens which haven’t elevated the level of technology to higher or a lasting degree apart from in strengthening swords. But by respecting as at the same time subverting lots of fantasy troupes to me it feels fresh and something I enjoyed listening to.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *