The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Eddie Campbell

A novelette featuring two characters travelling across Scotland in search of the Misty Isles, gold, truth and maybe something more.  One character is the guide, the other a half man who is not all he seems.

This is a dark and rather haunting story, illustrated in a stark and dramatic fashion.  It’s a quick read that starts with the half man searching out Callum McInnes as a guide to to the Misty Isles.  The Misty Isles are strange and mysterious, some say not always to be found in the same place!  Upon this island sits a mountain on the side of which is the opening to a cave in which gold can be found.  You might be forgiven for wondering why all the gold hasn’t long since been taken and the answer lies in the payment that must be paid for taking the gold.  It’s a price that not everyone is prepared to pay.

I understand that this story was read aloud by Neil Gaiman to an audience at the Sydney Opera House, accompanied by the Four Play String Quartet.  I can only imagine how spectacular that must have been.  Gaiman is an amazing narrator and has the ability to hold an audience spellbound.

Now, obviously, I couldn’t drum up the same setting however I made the best of it, reading this by myself late of an evening with just a table lamp and my dog for company.  I thought it had a certain ambience, a certain lonely spookiness if you will!

Anyway, I have no intention of giving away the plot of the story.  This is a short read intended for one sitting.  It is brutal in parts and is definitely not to be confused for a children’s story!  Think more of the Sandman or Smoke and Mirrors and you’re a bit nearer the mark than Stardust and The Graveyard Book.  It is a difficult book to review because it’s only short and yet manages to carry a fairly strong story that will make you think for quite a while after you’ve finished reading – in fact I admit I went back to the beginning and read certain chapters again.  Even now I’m thinking about the ramifications of what actually took place.  It certainly wasn’t what I expected and it’s not the sort of book that you can finish and use words such as ‘enjoy’.  I think more that it’s a reading experience, with the magical words of Gaiman spinning a tale of folklore and superstition, family and revenge.  I confess that I wasn’t entirely a fan of the artwork – but that’s just down to personal taste and whilst I might not love it I admit that strangely enough it does fit the story with it’s strong dark lines.

My thanks to the publisher and bookbridgr for a copy of this book for review.  The above is my own opinion.

 

 

The Sandman Vol 4 by Neil Gaiman, Season of Mists

I’m gradually working my way through The Sandman series by Neil Gaiman and have just finished Vol 4, Season of Mists which is simply a brilliant collection of stories that really starts to bring together the previous stories into a really related theme.

We start off with a family meeting of The Endless called by Destiny.  This meeting sets into motion events for the rest of the book.  Morpheus is made to realise, finally (it’s only been 10,000 years after all) that he may have been a little hasty, maybe a tad harsh, banishing to hell his mortal lover after she refused to rule with him.  Talk about your women scorned!  Anyway, long story short he’s going to have to return to hell in order to perform this rescue and given that he’s on not too friendly terms with Himself (the fallen angel) since his last foray into hell to retrieve his helmet from one of hell’s minions, the welcome mat may not be out!

Of course Lucifer, in a total moment of genius, decides to rid Hell of all it’s inhabitants and pass the key to his domain to Morpheus!  Didn’t see that one coming at all.  Now, it turns out that the key to Hell is sought after by more than one ambassador.  The Fey, Chaos and Order, Egyptian deities plus demons to name but a few and the whole lot being watched over by a couple of angels, it seems that other Gods are interested in the outcome.  They’re going to try sweet talking, threats, bribery and corruption, anything to get their hands on that domain.  It’s going to be interesting not to mention a very difficult decision to have to make.  Let the banquet begin.

I thought this edition was excellent.  The resolution of the problem concerning Morpheus and Nada, the outcome of who will rule Hell, the combination of myth, folklore, religion and other intriguing tidbits of history plus a darkly humorous side – particularly in this instalment the portrayal of the Devil and his world weariness!

I loved it!  Plus the accompanying graphics are amazing.

If you’re a bit like me and are new to graphic novels – The Sandman series could be the one for you.  I can really see why people would become so enamoured with it and I’m not yet half way through!

 

Dolls House by Neil Gaiman, Sandman Vol II

Just finished reading the Doll’s House by Gaiman which is Vol 2 and covers issues No.9-16.  I thought this was brilliant.  Dark, yes.  Disturbing, in parts yes.  Gripping, yes.  The Sandman series is my first foray into graphic novels and I’m taking my time working through the series.

I thought this was a really good instalment.  The first story is a tale of a young tribesman being taken through a rites of passage into adulthood. The elder tribesman relates to him a story of Nada, once queen of a mighty empire and much beloved who tragically falls in love with Morpheus.  I enjoyed this story very much – if you want it’s a bit of a Romeo and Juliet.  Nada and Morpheus cannot be together.  Their love is doomed from the outset.  She follows him into his world and he in turn becomes enamoured with her, the first mortal to have ever sought him out in this way.   It really is rather tragic and a bit sad I thought – it showed a different side to Dream which is something that became a recurring theme through the other stories within the volume.

The rest of the stories relate how Morpheus is still putting back to rights his realm following his escape from captivity.  A number of Morpheus’s creations have escaped and on top of that he’s discovered a vortex – which could potentially have a disastrous effect or completely destroy the realm.  I loved the way that we look back at a character from a previous story whose granddaughter is having a major impact on the stories within this edition.  Rose is the main focus.  She’s been reunited with her grandmother and now searches for her younger brother.  This search sees her become an inhabitant of a house with a number of odd characters, it takes us on a journey into a strange dreamscape created by a couple of Dream’s escapees and also sees us at a Con with a difference.

Of the escaped dream characters Corinthian is undoubtedly the creepiest and his story arc with the whole serial con (a convention for serial killers!) is amusing and twisted in equal measure.

What I really enjoy about these is the way that Gaiman takes something that we think we know about and incorporates it into his story in such a way as to make it something new.  I loved that the Endless – are not Gods.  Unlike Gods they can’t die – dream, death and in this edition desire (causing trouble for Morpheus) – there are of course another four (not sure of all of them – destiny, despair and delirium, not sure about the other one – maybe destruction?)

Ultimately this series shows us a different side to Dream, almost making him appear more vulnerable – for example the story about the man who can’t die.  Does Morpheus really want friendship?  I’ve actually already read Vol 3 Dream Country (review here) which was a series of stories unrelated to the thread of the first two (although not sure whether they will have any future bearing yet) so now really looking forward to Vol 4 to see how the story of Dream continues.

I’m submitting this as part of my Stainless Steel Droppings RIP event.

My hero….

Neil Gaiman – what a legend!  I already was prepared to adore him from afar loving virtually everything that he writes but following today he’s gone even further up the adoration ladder, in fact he’s beyond the ladder (there’s a book title in there somewhere!)

Anyway, this weekend has just become officially awesome.  I went this afternoon to see a reading of Fortunately the Milk by Neil Gaiman, whilst I admit that this book is not aimed at me I was so looking forward to going and seeing Gaiman and he certainly doesn’t disappoint.  I had no idea what to expect as I’ve never been to a reading before!  But we were treated to a short introduction followed by a reading of the first two or three chapters of FtM, Q&A and then what turned into a mega book signing!

Basically he’s a great narrator.  Plus he tells such wonderful little stories about where he came up with the inspiration for some of his stories together with answering questions with real warmth and feeling, relating previous experiences and basically simply charming the audience.  On top of this he doesn’t rush through the signings – he makes everyone’s dedication personal and unique, takes time for photos and draws little characters galore!  Okay, it was a long wait in queue but he was still there signing away when I left and chatting easily with people – like I said a hero!

So, I learned that:

  • next year (don’t know the release date) there will be six more Sandman novels, one released every two months, prequels to the original Sandman and giving the story of Morpheus, before his capture – and why he was so easily caught (sorry, Gaiman gave a much more eloquent description of this than I just did!
  • There are going to be a series of novels (I think 3?) in which we will again be able to read about the Marquis de Carabas – can’t wait for those – and more about London Below – particular mention to the Shepherds of Shepherds Bush was made
  • I’m sorry but I’ve forgotten any other news because my brain went to mush.
  • and, I didn’t ask any questions because I was just too nervous – I so wanted to ask about The Ocean at the End of the Lane but I just totally wimped out

A photo of my signed book and a question – would it be silly to sleep with this book underneath my pillow!  (Probably more uncomfortable than silly)

photo

The conclusion: Gaiman = gushing, fangirlyness.  Plus he’s completely spoiled me now for any future book readings!

 

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Just finished reading The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman which I loved, enough that it gave me goose pimples and tears in my eyes!

This is only a short story, like a snippet of memory from childhood when you think everything is possible and anything can pretty much be something else.  The underneath of your kitchen table is a fort, the tree at the bottom of the garden is Nottingham Forest and the pond in the farmyard at the bottom of the lane is an ocean.  What I loved about this story is it makes you think back.  There’s always one perfect summer from your past, you can recall being on holiday, sitting on the beach eating sandwiches and sausage rolls, everything tasting a little as though it had been seasoned with sand grains, and you still believed in the impossible.  You wanted to explore that rock pool and you believed the caves to your back might have ghosts, smugglers from the past or maybe something more sinister.  This is what this story captures for me and perhaps that’s why I still love to read books like this because it keeps that small grain of something special alive inside.  As you grow older you forget the stories you created and lived in, those weren’t fairies at the bottom of the garden and of course you can’t really do magic!  Not to mention the world seemed so much bigger – when you revisit the places you used to live and play they’re not the same as you remember somehow.  That field is just a field – it’s not the size of a continent any more. This story reawakens some of those memories – or at least it did for me.

The tale is told in a flashback.  A man revisiting memories from his past.  We jump back a number of years to a young boy who lives in one of those ramshackle houses that no longer seem to exist.  Bits added on and no particular order.  This young boy lives in a world of books and imagination, which makes him into something of an oddity and probably not the most popular boy at school – a fact that is revealed by the absence of attendees at his seventh birthday party.  But he’s happy, he has his books and his kitten for company, until a lodger comes to stay and starts a string of events that turn things upside down for a while.

What I love about this book is that whilst it’s fairly short the author’s use of words bring the world to life for me.  I can picture the house and the countryside, the farm and even the pond.  Granted my imagination might convey something completely different from the next reader but I think that’s part of the magic of this story.  It will be unique for each reader.  I really enjoyed seeing the world through a 7 year old’s eyes.  Gaiman has managed to reach back and give this a child’s perspective.  When you read you can see the truth behind what is really taking place but only momentarily before the world shimmers and you’re back inside the fantasy again.

At times quite sinister, certainly the varmints turn into something very creepy not to mention Ursula Monkton – the nanny from hell!  The whole scene where the young boy is unable to get beyond the confines of his home and garden, like he’s trapped – is it just that Ursula is a regular nanny, protecting him and keeping him from trouble or is she keeping him trapped and exactly how does she manage to be everywhere at once!  She really has got eyes in the back of her head.

Evocative of lots of things all rolled into one and playing on superstition, folklore and myth the tale is beautifully told.

I’m not going to elaborate further.  All I can say is that I loved this and hopefully that comes across here.  And, I don’t think this is just some ‘Neil-Gaiman-can’t-do-anything-wrong-hero-worship’ type of review because frankly I don’t ‘love’ everything that he’s written.  Personally though I enjoyed this as much as The Graveyard Book and Neverwhere and it will be one of those books that I will pick up again and again.  I think that if you want a little flashback, to be taken back to an age when things held magic then you should give this a go.  Who knows what will happen…

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