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Nightgate Inn

A blog about fantasy and science-fiction books, new and old, popular and obscure. Stay a while and listen...

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The Books of Skyrim
Nate Ellis, Matt Daniels, William Shen, Alan Nanes, Shane Liesegang, Jon Paul Duvall, Brian Chapin
A storm of wings: Being the second volume of the "Viriconium" sequence, in which Benedict Paucemanly returns from his long frozen dream in the far ... of the locust (Doubleday science fiction) - M. John Harrison Chaos, madness, insanity. These are words that feel apt to describe this second book of the [b:Viriconium|304217|Viriconium|M. John Harrison|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1347891771s/304217.jpg|295248] series by [a:M. John Harrison|10765|M. John Harrison|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1277603037p2/10765.jpg]. And how could it not be so, as half of the book's main characters are either mad or insane and its protagonist is more chaotic than a air-bubble under boil. As usual, I will avoid going into describing the synopsis of the book, you can read that up there ^. Instead, I will go straight into my review.

I've read in other reviews that this novel's characters are deep and intense but allow me to disagree. I felt as if the characters were really thin, only displaying one major personality aspect most of the time and nothing more. Maybe I've been pampered with [a:Joe Abercrombie|276660|Joe Abercrombie|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1207149426p2/276660.jpg]'s multi-layered and ultra-realistic characters from his books that I've recently finished but Harrison's characters were rather one-dimensional, flat and rather boring for me.

Plot & Pacing
Now here is where things get really messed up with this book. Apparently there is a plot... somewhere! The problem is that it is buried under mountains of endless and rambling monologues that hardly make any sense or long and bewildering descriptions that often get so verbose and complicated that they become confusing. The pace is very fragmented, swinging from incredibly slug-like slow (where the might be dozen pages of just hardly comprehensible dialogue) to hectic fast when so many things might happen in a single page that it becomes hard to follow.

Thoughts & comments
Now, of course, I read that "Harrison is stylistically an Imagist and his early work relies heavily on the use of strange juxtapositions characteristic of absurdism" and in a way this shows clearly through his writing in his novel but I just don't buy it so simply. To me it feels more as if Harrison was on some kind of drugs while writing this and his vision was so high that it got clouded.
On another note, in the introduction of the omnibus [b:Viriconium|304217|Viriconium|M. John Harrison|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1347891771s/304217.jpg|295248], Neil Gaiman, after comparing the tone of the first book to the likes of [a:Michael Moorcock|16939|Michael Moorcock|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1222901251p2/16939.jpg] and [a:Jack Vance|5376|Jack Vance|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1207604643p2/5376.jpg] (which I agree with in a way), then states:
A Storm of Wings takes a phrase from the first book as its title and is both a sequel to the first novel and a bridge to the stories and novel that follow and surround it. The voice of this book is, I suspect, less accessible than the first book, the prose rich and baroque. It reminds me at times of Mervyn Peake, but it also feels like it is the novel of someone who is stretching and testing what he can do with words, with sentences, with story.

First of all, I don't think reading the first book makes any difference at all since A Storm of Wings is so detached and separated from what happens in the first book that it doesn't really matter. Not to mention that it's too convoluted to make any sense anyway... (I've said that already, didn't I?).
Secondly, while I agree that it's obvious that Harrison is testing and experimenting with his wordcraft (and make no mistake, he's good!), I can in no way compare him nor find any similarities with [a:Mervyn Peake|22018|Mervyn Peake|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1341040504p2/22018.jpg]!! I just so happen to be reading Peake's second book [b:Gormenghast|258392|Gormenghast (Gormenghast, #2)|Mervyn Peake|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1328001220s/258392.jpg|3599885] after being totally amazed and blown-out by his first and the similarities I spot are only superficial. Peake, while verbose and eloquent, writes with clarity and lucidity, with an obvious purpose and aim, with each word flowing effortlessly into sentences and then into paragraphs that reading his books is like magic. While with Harrison's wordcraft the reader feels (intentionally) alienated and uncomfortable, with Peake's in stark contrast the reader feels completely submerged and attached to any subject, even the most mundane.

Quoted Reviews
I would also like to quote a couple of paragraphs from a few reviews that I find I agree with very much.
Kat Hooper says this in her review:
I like weird tales, but I had trouble with A Storm of Wings because the pace was so sluggish. M. John Harrison spends so much of his effort building an eerie atmosphere and a dreamy mood and not enough time with real action. The atmosphere is successful but that wasn’t enough to completely satisfy me because very little actually happens in this story. I often wished that Harrison would quit with the mood and move onto the story.
Tim also adds this to his review:
Clever notions are introduced that demand slow and patient development, but are let down by hurried and garbled text. The prose becomes painfully overwritten: everything has to be "hideous" or "terrible" or "alien". The plot mirrors this. Abandoning the beauty of the half-explained, Harrison tries to shock with detailed visual imagery that just isn't that impressive.

So what is my conclusion? Well, it's novel that feels a bit abnormal and strange compared with today's releases and standards. Harrison is obviously a very skilled writer but I personally feel that he let his ambition (and drugs? haha) out of control and he fell out with this one. It is a very demanding and tiring text that I don't feel it's as rewarding as it should be. So, approach with caution as I can't really recommend it.

2.5 stars out of 5