The Man in the High Castle, by Philip K. Dick

What would life be like if the Allies had lost the Second World War? In an imaginative alternate reality, Philip K. Dick creates a world in which Japan occupies America, and the Nazis are moving their totalitarian conquest on to the solar system.

From out of this far-fetched yet compelling fiction stems a number of interrelated tales, as Japanese officials, American labourers and German spies search for meaning in a world of changed cultures and oppressive conquest.

Dick’s imaginative portrayal of this post-war world lends very much to a warped mirrored image of our own reality. As opposed to an American influence spreading across the world, there is instead a strong focus on Asian traditions, the author going so far as to change his very writing style with certain characters, to hint at a Japanese form of English.

In a delicate balance, The Man in the High Castle explores the outcomes of a victorious occupation immersing the population in Japanese culture, whilst maintaining a confusion of underlying American ideals. It is from this mismatch of east meeting west that a series of lost souls search for meaning in America, as so many pilgrims of the present and past.

For all it’s alternative vision, the message of this peice is however resoundingly clear. Regardless of the passage of history, of who wins which war and who remains in power, humanity never changes.

Length: 256 (Penguin Classics)
Overall Rating: 4 stars

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Imperium, by Robert Harris

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Politics, corruption, power – Imperium.

Imperium is told from the perspective of a highly able and literate slave, Tiro, following the story of his master Marcius Tullius Cicero, a great orator, lawyer and above all politician. The pair bear witness to the classic strive to ultimate power within the great Roman Republic, highlighting the dark deals, bribery and sheer ingenuity required to make it to the top. This is certainly in likeness to a Roman ‘House of Cards’, bearing the same dramatic trials and tribulations which make for highly compelling drama.

In the final decades of the Republic, Harris tracks this demise through a detailed narrative of its orcastrators. Legendary historical figures such as Pompey the Great and Julius Caesar are characterised in their glorious nature, but also in what was likely their true selves: ambitious, dangerous and entirely unstoppable.

Harris has an absorbing writing style, placing his reader in the heart of Roman life. Great events remembered throughout history are delved into more deeply, unearthing the corruption and strifes necessary for their accomplishment.

With a wealth of historical knowledge, and the use of Cicero’s own recorded speeches and letters, Harris captures real historical fact within the compelling compound of literature. Imperium is a thrilling narrative, which will have you following the exhilarating political manoeuvres from over two thousand years ago as attentively as if they were occuring today.

Length: 403 (BCA)

Overall Rating: 5 stars

The Incorruptibles, by John Hornor Jacobs 

25246213In a land built on steampunk contraptions and demonic beings, The Incorruptibles mixes the dangerous ingenuity and extravagance of ancient Rome, with the hard corruption of the wild west. Along with a dash of fantasy, this cross-genre novel harbours both ingenuity and intrigue.

‘The Hardscrabble Territories’ are an unforgiving land, filled with all manner of terrors, where roughened men seek solace for their sins in the fiery depths of the bottle. Damnation is not only rife, but physically apparent, as demon spawn and hell fire fuel mankind’s greed. Jacobs’ gritty western dialect and fluid description creates a harsh yet vivid world of ever-present hardship.

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The Girl Who Saved The King Of Sweden, By Jonas Jonasson

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Exotically imaginative and audaciously funny, The Girl Who Saved The King Of Sweden is another wonderful example of Jonasson’s witty and entertaining writing style. Following on from the success of his debut novel, once again Jonasson spins an irreverent and impossible narrative, born from small beginnings surging ever on towards the large and the great.

 

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TransAtlantic, by Colum McCann

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Human nature transcends time, ever offering violence upon the innocent, cruelty bred from war. Following a number of timelines and characters, Transatlantic explores the strifes of humanity, which echo on throughout history.

McCann’s subtle links and recurring themes underlying his plot certainly make for an interesting read. As the novel progresses, what at first appear seemingly unrelated stories become delicately intertwined, passing down through generations. TransAtlantic delves through history, shedding light on the unchanging nature of life for all our past ancestors, from violence to love, and hope to woe. Under the backdrop of an ever aggrieved Ireland and the fragile promise of America, McCann skillfully relates the hardships of humanity from a variety of characters, whose lives merge into one another’s in the slightest of ways.  

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The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller

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In a truly beautiful narrative, Miller adds a precious humanity to a tale preserved only in the golden glory of myth. The Song of Achilles is a tragic tale known by all, following the legend of the Ancient Greek demigod Achilles, from his early childhood through to the great siege of Troy. In a refreshing re-imaging, Miller has created a touching romance that drives straight to the heart of its characters.

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Pompeii, by Robert Harris

After my recent read of The Ghost by Robert Harris, I was interested to see how he approached his historical themed novels which I have also been highly recommended. Pompeii certainly didn’t disappoint.

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Following its key protagonist, Marcus Attilius, an engineer for the aqueduct of the Aqua Augusta, Pompeii delves into a gripping tale spanning the few days before this major historical event. With the inevitability of the disastrous eruption, Harris faced  the evident challenge of creating a tale of which all would know its end. In this aspect, Harris did a remarkable job of imagining a wider fictional narrative, offering a refreshing ground perspective on something emphatically distanced by history. Exacting his distinct knowledge on the period, Harris perfectly merges fiction with fact.

 

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