27 June 2020

Last time I promised you my review of the remainder of the Rotherweird trilogy, by QC and fantasy writer Andrew Caldecott. So I’ll begin with that, and then see how you like the segue into my catch-up on Covid-19 and our illustrious Government’s part in its downfall.

So…I’ve already mentioned in a previous blogpost that I loved the first instalment of the recent trilogy Rotherweird, in which a vast cast of winsome and/or dangerous characters inhabit a Gormanghastesque world, hidden from wider England by decree of Good Queen Bess. The big baddie Sir Veronal Slickstone surfaces from the sixteenth century, and is narrowly prevented, by good guys including the wonderfully feminist scientist Vixen Valourhand, from crashing down this little world. It’s a clever, teasing and intricately plotted story. As other reviewers have said, it’s as if the Times cryptic crossword compiler suddenly took to writing timeslip fantasy. And it worked superbly as a stand-alone book.

Imagine the delight of Caldecott’s publishers when his Sunday afternoon diversion from the day job as a QC turned out to be a smash hit, quickly generating a loyal and passionate following. Inevitably they would hit on the cunning wheeze of a sequel, and a follow-on to the sequel.

Don’t get me wrong; both Wyntertide and Lost Acre are good reads – clever, complex and ultimately satisfying in a tying up knots way. They keep the reader completely sucked into the fabulous and original world of Rotherweird, and the flip-side parallel eponymous Lost Acre world.

Ah, but all the same you can hear a But coming up, can’t you? OK, here is my But. In the process of moving from a stand-alone book to a later trilogy, the author has to pretend at the beginning of the sequel that the previous entirely satisfying ending to the first book, all the loose ends nicely tied up with a bow, was really just a staging post to Books 2 and 3. And that’s a hard trick to pull off.

Even harder is how to create new problems for your Book 1 heroes, when their evil nemesis has already met his end in Book 1. It’s the James Bond dilemma of having to repeatedly save the world. You have to keep ramping up the menace, winding up the suspense and multiplying the jeopardy towards cataclysm. If, at the same time, you introduce a number of new characters, plus give some of the older ones multiple identities, it can all get just a bit too much.

Thus it was for me. The intricate problem-solving of the first book, which stretched the brain but was just about manageable if you made notes as you went along, was increased exponentially to explosive levels. By the end of Lost Acre, I have grey matter seeping out of my brain box. Worrying, cos at my age you need to hang on to the little grey cells, and tenderly care for each and every one. Also I stopped caring who won, who died, and whether Rotherweird was saved for another weirder day.

Add to that the giveaways of writing a little too quickly, such as a few typos and repeated words and phrases, and you end up with a slight but perceptible tailing off from the high satisfaction of the first book.

My rating? 5••••• for Rotherweird, down to 4•••• for Wyntertide and Lost Acre. Very good, but not quite up to the promise of the first instalment.

Moving on to the pandemic, and Boris –

If you’re like me, and following the science journalism reports as well as the front page news coverage, you’ll be gibbering in your cellar by now, surrounded by the stacks of toilet rolls and torch batteries you didn’t deign to rush out and buy the first time round. If you’re not like me, and/or you read certain other newspapers, then you’ve probably had a lovely day on the beach, and so far have only sunburn to regret.

The main difference between now and when I last blogged about coronavirus seems to be how much clear blue water has since extended between the UK government, and the science community/devolved governments/health leaders/policies of other countries who have kept their death levels to a tiny fraction of ours.

It’s ceased to be “We’re all in this together”, and “we continue to be guided by the science”, cos Bozzer has dispensed with his depressing wingmen, Whitty and Vallance. All of a sudden we’re invited to celebrate “the end of hibernation”. It’s “Cheers, Boris, get mine in”, Jacob R-M with a yard of ale down the pub, crammed Bournemouth beaches and deadly impromptu raves. Deadly to some, even before the attendees show signs of the infection.

Now who’s living in a weird fantasy?

And the cherry on the cake? Over the last few days UK coronavirus figures have moved from steady if slow decline, to flatlining, to what is now know as an uptick. And that’s even before the new easedown measures have come into effect. Cheers!

Meanwhile, back in the cellar…

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