1990s Fantasy

The Prestige – Christopher Priest

I am really pleased that I asked for literary science fiction recommendations as I don’t think I’d ever have found this book otherwise. I’m not convinced that The Prestige is literary or science fiction, but it is a fantastic read!

The Prestige follows two Victorian magicians who are battling to out-perform each other. The pair get locked in an increasingly bitter rivalry that leads them to commit acts so dark and secretive that their actions go on to affect several generations of their families.

Audiences know well that a magician will practice his illusions for years, and will rehearse each performance carefully, but few realise the extent of the prestigitator’s wish to deceive, the way in which the apparent defiance of normal laws becomes an obsession which governs every moment of his life.

I loved learning about the world of a stage magician – everything from how the magic tricks worked to their back stage life fascinated me.

It has been a long time since I last read a book so gripping that I walked around the house reading it; taking it to the kitchen as I couldn’t even bear to part with the story for the few minutes it takes to make a cup of coffee. Many of you will groan if I say this book reminded me of the Fingersmith, but I’m afraid it is the only book that I can compare it to. The Prestige is packed with Victorian atmosphere and has twists and turns equal to those in the masterpiece that is the Fingersmith.

The Prestige is written from the perspective of the two magicians and their grandchildren. It flips backwards and forwards in time, slowly revealing the truth about what went on. I loved the way all the characters drew slightly different conclusions from the same situation. Their subsequent thoughts and actions made so much sense once you’d seen things from their perspective. It was all just so cleverly done that I am still in awe of it.

The Prestige could fit into the science fiction/fantasy genre, but please don’t be put off by this. It would spoil the book if I let you know what happened, but the plot is written so convincingly that you feel as though it could have occurred. It isn’t much stranger than Gothic tales like The Seance or Her Fearful Symmetry.

I’m giving this book 5 stars, not because it is the best written book in the world (it isn’t), but because it is one of the most entertaining. The Prestige has become one of my top 20 books of all time. I’m sure you’ll soon be bored of me recommending it at every opportunity, so you might as well give in and get a copy now. :lol:   

I am really excited to learn that Christopher Priest has written a lot of books and a few of them look as though they could be just as good.

This interview with Christopher Priest has made them sound even more appealing!

Have you read anything written by Christopher Priest?


I also watched the DVD as part of C.B. James’ Read The Book, See the Movie Challenge

Prestige DVD

The Prestige DVD is also very good, but the story is much simpler. Many of the twists and turns had been edited out, meaning that the book was far better than the film.

I admit that the film confused me a lot at first, although this was probably because the actors looked nothing like the images of the characters I’d built up in my head (and I am notoriously bad at recognising faces!).

The plot was also a bit different, so it was satisfying to watch straight after reading the book. I was never quite sure which bits would stay true to the book and which would take a whole new direction.

It was interesting to see the magic tricks performed on stage, but I have to admit that they were a bit disappointing. The book had conjured up fantastic images of amazing tricks, but the footage revealed the cheesy old magic that I’ve seen many times before.

I’d also warn all bird lovers to take care when watching this film – I was a bit distressed to learn the truth behind some of the bird tricks.

I’d recommend the film, but the book is far better, so I encourage you to read that first.

Have you watched The Prestige?

2009 Fantasy Other Prizes Science Fiction

The City & The City – China Miéville


Winner of the 2010 Arthur C. Clarke Award, Short listed for 2010 Hugo Award

Last year I read Perdido Street Station and although I wasn’t a massive fan of his epic science fiction novel I was impressed enough to give Miéville a second try. I am really pleased that I did – The City & The City is one of the most original books I have ever read!

The City & The City begins like a typical police procedural crime novel, with the discovery of a dead body on waste ground. The book initially appears to be set in an Eastern European country, but we slowly realise that all is not as it first seems – it is set in a place where two cities co-exist. People in one city have to deliberately “unsee” the buildings and people from the other. There are special places where it is possible to step from one city into the other, but this is illegal and “breaching” these boundaries causes severe punishment. It can be hard to get your head around these metaphysical rules, but I loved trying!

It was true. A political irony. Those most dedicated to the perforation of the boundary between Beszel and Ul Qoma had to observe it most carefully. If I or one of my friends were to have a moments failure of unseeing (and who did not do that? who failed to fail to see, sometimes?), so long as it was not flaunted or indulged in, we should not be in danger. If I were to glance a second or two on some attractive passerby in Ul Qoma, if I were to silently enjoy the skyline of the two cities together, be irritated by the noise of an Ul Qoman train, I would not be taken. 

The descriptions of the cities were so vivid that I could picture them, despite the complexity of the physical world. It tested my spatial awareness, but it added a whole new dimension to the typical crime novel.

The book worked perfectly – it was fast paced, intelligent and gripping. I think it might be a bit bizarre for some, but if you are after something a bit different I encourage you to give it a try.

Highly recommended.

Everyone seems to love this book!

…this is one of the most powerful SFF books I have ever read. Floor to Ceiling Books

One thing that really impressed me about Miéville’s writing was the amount of emotional empathy he creates….  The Boston Bibliophile

I was dazzled by Miéville’s skill in creating such a realistic world… Ms. Bookish

Are you tempted to try something out of the ordinary?

Have you read anything written by China Miéville?

2009 Fantasy Other Prizes

The Girl with Glass Feet – Ali Shaw

 Short Listed for Costa First Novel Award 2009

The Girl with Glass Feet was Simon’s choice for Not the TV Book Group (an online book group formed recentlyby several UK book bloggers).

The book is set on a strange island, packed with weird animals; the plot centring on a woman called Ida, who discovers that she is slowly turning to glass.

The only word I can use to describe this book is bizarre! I’m afraid that I didn’t really understand the point of this book and the implausibility just seemed to grate on me rather than entertain.

Ida’s toes have turned to glass and she notices that the glass is spreading up her feet, but we have no explanation as to why this is occurring. There is no wicked witch to hate, or cursed place to avoid – it has just happened and Ida seems to accept it. She has a relationship with a man called Midas, but their relationship lacked emotion and I found that I didn’t really care what happened to them. I felt distanced from all the characters, never really understanding what motivated them to do anything.

The book also contained ‘bull moths’ – tiny cows with wings. Why?!! I just didn’t understand. Cows are ugly, muddy things and miniaturising them doesn’t make them cute. I can’t imagine one flying and couldn’t understand why they were present in the book.

Overall I found this to be a very frustrating book. Little was explained or tied up nicely at the end – it was just one bizarre event after another. I prefer stories based in reality, or at least with enough detail to immerse yourself in the strange new world. 

Lots of other people enjoyed it though, so head over to Simon’s blog to read the fantastic discussion in the comments section.

Did you enjoy The Girl with Glass Feet?

Can you accept bizarre occurrences in books, or do you need a plausible explanation?

2010 Fantasy

Ruby’s Spoon – Anna Lawrence Pietroni

Ruby’s Spoon is an atmospheric book with a fairy-tale feel. The story is set in a small town called Cradle Cross, famous for it’s button factory. The residents of the town are disturbed by the arrival of Isa, a strange woman who is searching for her sister. Ruby is drawn towards Isa and offers to help in the search, secretly hoping that she will be rewarded with a journey on the sea.

The majority of the book feels as though it is set in our world, but then something slightly out of the ordinary will happen; I was left wondering whether the mention of mermaids, witches and other strange events meant that it is actually set in a parellel universe.  

I loved the imagery in the book and there were some beautifully touching passages: 

“My daughter drowned before her had a birthday. My grief is here; this handkerchief. I’ve worked her letters here, fine stitches in the corner, but look at all the rest of it, this empty space that says what might have been.” “Yes, yo were blessed with grief so small that yo can keep it in your pocket. My son was fully grown when I lost him to the War. My grief is larger than a sail.”

The dialect did take a short amount of time to get used to, but after a few pages I enjoyed the added atmosphere that it gave to the book.

The plot was straightforward, but strangely mesmerizing. The bizarre nature of some scenes meant that you never really knew what would happen next. I found the ending a bit of an anti-climax, but overall it was an enjoyable read.

The book is very well written and packed with symbolism and underlying themes. The originality and depth of this book make it a perfect for a book group choice. I’d love to discuss some of the aspects of this book, so if you’ve read it please comment below.

Recommended to anyone who enjoys books which are slightly out of the ordinary.


Have you read Ruby’s Spoon?

Did the mermaid exist?

What made Isa a witch?

2009 Fantasy

Tender Morsels – Margo Lanagan

Winner of The World Fantasy Award for Best Novel, 2009

I first saw Tender Morsels on Nymeth’s blog. Her passionate review was enough for me to add it straight to the wish list.

Tender Morsels is a beautiful, but dark, fairy tale. The book begins with one of the best pieces of writing I’ve seen in 2009. In the first few chapters we learn about Liga, a young woman living with her abusive father in the woods. Abused and raped, Liga finds herself pregnant and ends up alone in the world with two daughters. I loved this section so much that I thought this book would become one of my all time favourites. The scenes were vivid, without being graphic, and were packed with emotion.

Unfortunately, everything started to go wrong at about the hundred page mark, when, to make up for the terrible suffering that she had endured, Liga was transported to another world – one in which she was safe from harm.

I struggled to empathise with Liga at this point. The introduction of talking bears and other fairy-tale characters meant that all the tension and emotion just vanished for me. I found my reaction to be summed up really well by one of Liga’s daughters:

‘All the people do at home is smile and smile, and be kind. They have no opinions, and never want to go anywhere or do anything new. It is terribly dull.’

The writing was beautiful throughout and I can see why so many people love this book, but I’m afraid that the alternate world section just didn’t work for me. The book picked up a bit towards the end, but never regained the magic of the first few chapters.

I’m pleased that I read it, and recommend it to everyone, but I think you just need to be warned that it might not be for those who like their books to be based on reality.



Have you read Tender Morsels?

Do you have a problem with talking bears?!