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The Light Ages by Ian MacLeod

I received this book in a pile of things my mother thought I'd like. I'm not sure whether she had read it, though I expect she would like it. I decided to read it because I had a few days working in the office, which means train journeys - and it was a light paperback.

Summary: A fantasy novel set in an alternate industrial revolution England. A strange magical substance called aether is the basis of a hierarchical society, which the hero is rebelling against.

I liked the rich language and the setting, and it reminded me very much of other books which I like.

At the centre of the story was Robert Burrows' search for the meaning of some strange events in his hometown, Bracebridge. This seemed to come in and out of focus depending on what else was going on: sometimes it seemed like it was supposed to be the only thing he thought about, and other times the rest of his life (him being surprisingly lazy about his quest) was described. I'm not sure if that was intentional, but while I was reading it seemed like a good portrayal of how things go up and down in importance in life.

There was a tangential love story (as there usually is) and this seemed to follow the path of the rest of the story - at the end, everything is how it is at the start, with people's dreams and hopes unfulfilled. This is not portrayed as a bad thing, but simply the way of the world. In this, I thought it was much better than a typical fantasy fairytale ending.

The author's writing is extremely rich and convoluted, and I liked that - it reminded me of Dorothy Dunnett and Stephen Donaldson.

The blurb on the back compared it to Dickens and Gormenghast. My entire experience of Dickens is a GCSE English Great Expectations, so I don't think I can comment on that. It was quite like Gormenghast in its atmosphere and supposed relevance to contemporary society. But it reminded me more of Perdido Street Station by China Mieville, as it was dark and urban in the same sort of way.

I think he has also written some short stories; I expect they're good too.

Next book: Journey by Moonlight by Antal Szerb

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July 2011

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