books monthly november 2019
  Christmas fantasy & science fiction for 2019





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Philip Reeve: Mortal Engines

 Published by Scholastic 5th July 2018

MORTAL ENGINES launched Philip Reeve's brilliantly-imagined creation, the world of the Traction Era, where mobile cities fight for survival in a post-apocalyptic future.The first instalment introduces young apprentice Tom Natsworthy and the murderous Hester Shaw, flung from the fast-moving city of London into heart-stopping adventures in the wastelands of the Great Hunting Ground. This first instalment of Reeve's critically acclaimed MORTAL ENGINES quartet is repackaged with a fantastic and eye-catching cover featuring new artwork.

I was lucky enough to receive a copy of the Peter Jackson DVD of Mortal Engines for my birthday in September, and was so taken with it, I had to read the book. I know the book is intended for young adults, but actually it is pure science fiction and worthy of any adult's reading time. I look forward to carrying on reading about the adventures of Tom and Hester as I get my hands on the other books in the series, and I understand there are three more books to make up the original quartet, plus three more "prequels". First of all, I was struck by the sheer inventiveness behind the plot. Philip Reeve has created something so original, so brilliant, it is a wonder someone never thought of it before. My own fantasy series, Heraklion, has creatures the size of small cities, mountainous animals on thousands of tiny legs that cross the countryside of Heraklion at an imperceptible speed, and on which whole colonies of people and smaller animals live, but that is something entirely different. This is science fiction at its awesome and fantastic best. There is mind-blowing action as "London" pursues and swallows smaller moving towns, and after enslaving their inhabitants, crushes the towns to smithereens. And through it all, there is Hester's pursuit of Thaddeus Valentine, the malevolent villain so ably portrayed by Hugo Weaving, and the wonderful Hera Hilmar as Hester Shaw, as she attempts to avenge her parents' death (no spoilers here!) and the savage wound he inflicted on her. Philip Reeve's description of Hester's injury is far worse than as we see her in the film, but that's by the by. I was hugely impressed by Peter Jackson's brilliant film, but then I expected nothing less from the director of the greatest three films ever made in the history of the motion picture industry. And I was hugely impressed by this book, which owes so much to the pioneering science fiction/fantasy adventure stories from the golden age of pulp fiction that began all those years ago with books by the great Edgar Rice Burroughs. I'm seventy-three years old and I loved every bit of this book, and can't wait to get the rest. Magnificent SF/fantasy on a grand scale - forget about age, this book (and probably the entire series) is ageless. It's pure gold, and I urge you to read it, because, even though Peter Jackson's film is brilliant, and has jaw-dropping special effects, there is more in the book that Peter Jackson chose not to include, such as a whole episode involving pirates, and the spectacular demise of Tonbridge Wheels and its mayor, Chrysler Peavey. The adventures for Tom and Hester come thick and fast, Thaddeus Valentine and the Mayor of London, Chrome, have far more important roles to play in the book than in the film. This wonderful novel is a tour de force of everything that's good about children's fiction, which makes it entirely suitable also for adult consumption. It's a genuine page turner, and makes brilliant use of the device invented a century ago by ERB, the end of chapter shock, adopted in the cinema in films such as Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. This book is not to be missed! Absolutely breathtaking fantasy-adventure fiction that's good for all ages! Almost certainly my fantasy book of the year for 2019.

David Day: A Dictionary of Sources of Tolkien

 Published by Pyramid 17th October 2019

The spellbinding world of Middle-earth is full of beasts and battles, heroes and heroines, and the struggle between good and evil.
In this dictionary of sources, Tolkien scholar and best-selling author David Day's four decades of research inform us about the lands, inhabitants, languages, geography and history of Middle-earth.
This compelling encyclopedia on Tolkien's world also includes over 200 illustrations and an appendix that examines the legends that were key sources for Tolkien's creations - the Völsunga Saga, the Nibelungenlied, and Richard Wagner's Ring Cycle.

David Day has written more books about Tolkien's worlds and work than just about anyone else, and this month sees the release of three brilliant new books; you can read about the others on this page but I thought I would whet your appetite here with this one, which brings together all of the books and sagas etc., that may have influenced J R R Tolkien as he embarked on his amazingly complex and massive creation. There are references to Norse myths, to Germanic folklore, to just about anything imaginable in the world of fantasy and myth, and it is a joy just to read this book, even though it it takes the form of a reference book, from cover to cover. The illustrations are striking, some of them are amazingly good, and this is a book any Tolkien fan will be proud to have on his bookshelf. Utterly amazing.

Terrance Dicks et al: Doctor Who The Target Storybook

 Published by BBC Books 24th October 2019

In this exciting collection you’ll find all-new stories spinning off from some of your favourite Doctor Who moments across the history of the series. Learn what happened next, what went on before, and what occurred off-screen in an inventive selection of sequels, side-trips, foreshadowings and first-hand accounts – and look forward too, with a brand new adventure for the Thirteenth Doctor.

Each story expands in thrilling ways upon aspects of Doctor Who’s enduring legend. With contributions from show luminaries past and present – including Colin Baker, Matthew Waterhouse, Vinay Patel, Joy Wilkinson and Terrance Dicks – The Target Storybook is a once-in-a-lifetime tour around the wonders of the Whoniverse.

I loved every single story in this marvellous collection of Doctor Who stories, but my favourite has to be the one by Terrance Dicks, and the line drawings are absolutely superb. Dr Who fans are in for a treat with this one!

David Day: The Hobbits of Tolkien

 Published by Pyramid Books 3rd October 2019

Forty years after the publication of renowned Tolkien expert David Day's A Tolkien Bestiary comes The Illustrated World of Tolkien - a collection of artworks and essays from expert illustrators, painters and etchers, accomapnied by David Day's fascinating and scholarly writing. Whether you are an expert or you just want to learn more about Tolkien's world and characters, this title is the one you've been waiting for - an exquisite  reference guide for any fan of the author's work and the imaginative brilliance his vision inspired. An entire race was born when J.R.R. Tolkien scrawled on a leaf, 'In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.' From the invention of that single word (hobbit) Tolkien became the explorer and chronicler of the character, their race and their significant role in his fantastical world, Middle-earth.

Here in his latest book, Tolkien expert David Day unpicks the myriad of riddles, puns and mystical meanings in Tolkien's works; The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

David Day has been writing books about the various worlds of J R R Tolkien for as long as I can remember, and this paperback-sized book is one of a series of brilliantly written and illustrated books on the subject of the characters and races of Tolkien's Middle Earth. Faultless and reliable.

David Day: The Illustrated World of Tolkien

 Published by Pyramid Books 19th October 2019

Tolkien's works have inspired artists for generations and have given rise to myriad interpretations of the rich and magical worlds he created.
The Illustrated World of Tolkien gathers together artworks and essays from expert illustrators, painters and etchers, and fascinating and scholarly writing from renowned Tolkien expert David Day, and is an exquisite reference guide for any fan of Tolkien's work, Tolkien's world and the imaginative brilliance his vision inspired.

In this large-format book, David Day gathers together some of the finest current illustrators of Middle Earth alongside a number of noted and notable writers to bring us a comprehensive and delightful treatise on the worlds of J R R Tolkien. I think I spotted a mistake, when the book claims that Arwen spent most of her life with the Elves of Lothlorien - it was always my understanding that she lived for the most part with the Elves in her father Elrond's realm of Rivendell. I am prepared to be wrong about that, and for this to be simply a typo, and it certainly doesn't spoil the enjoyment of the book, which is simply superb!


The small print: Books Monthly, now well into its 22nd year on the web, is published on or slightly before the first day of each month by Paul Norman. You can contact me here. If you wish to submit something for publication in the magazine, let me remind you there is no payment as I don't make any money from this publication. If you want to send me something to review, contact me via email and I'll let you know where to send it.