a feast of texts

At this point I’m sure many of you have heard about the official launch yesterday of the sparkly new Tor publisher’s web site. It’s pretty, interactive, and has plenty of content.

To celebrate Tor has placed a number of its recent novels online in a variety of formats for free, as well as a plethora of wonderful artwork from book covers. Be quick. You can download them all until the end of the week, and after that they will be whisked away again.

Four and Twenty BlackbirdsI was almost cackling with excitement as I downloaded the texts because it would allow me to road test reading a book on my Eee PC. Just to get a feel for it, I loaded up Cherie Priest‘s Four and Twenty Blackbirds. Why must I try such experiments late at night? Next thing it was silly o’clock, and I’d finished the novel. The screen on the Eee PC is just perfect for this kind of reading.

Four and Twenty Blackbirds is a great read. Priest’s writing is simple, elegant, and persuasive. The story is told from the point of view of Eden Moore, a mixed race kid living in the South, who comes from a complicated — and treacherous — family line. The novel is Eden’s bildungsroman, and begins with Eden’s early years adjusting to seeing three sister ghosts, to growing up until she can investigate her history and discover why her cousin wants to kill her, among other family secrets. Eden is a fabulous heroine: smart, stubborn, and resourceful.

What most impressed me was Priest’s ability to describe unearthly events – such as seeing ghosts – in an effective manner without any of the usual flourishes or exaggerations. She also succeeds in writing several very creepy sequences, which is something I enjoy. On top of all of this there’s a lot of good storytelling, which is generally well-paced, and stuffed with fascinating characters. I thought the plot jerked a little after the story zipped past a bunch of years to when Eden was grown up. I’d liked Eden so much as a child it took me a while to adjust, but Priest helped me get over that problem by following Raymond Chandler’s dictum: “When in doubt, have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand.”

The story proceeded from there to the final denouement, although I thought the interjection of a secondary character late in the proceedings, was a little late and he tended towards expository scenes, but overall he worked. On occasion I thought the family tight-lippedness bordered on the unbelievable. It’s a good job Eden grew up pre-Internet because there’s no way some information about her background could have been withheld after the arrival of Google.

I do have a problem with one decision Eden makes at the very end of the book, which struck me as moral sophism, and showed a disdain for the rules of society she felt didn’t apply to her. It better come back to bite her in the ass in the later books, of which, happily, there are two. I look forward to reading more of Eden’s adventures.