Several hourss on plane during the last week afforded me some time to read three books by three authors I do not normally read.
First off "Neverwhere" by Neil Gaiman.
I can't shake the notion that I have read Gaiman before but I cannot remember what or when. In any case "Neverwhere" (author's preferred text adapted from radio screenplay) is an enjoyable enough yarn. It paints a picture of a seedy under city of London, home to those who have "fallen through the cracks". London Below reminds me vaguely of Mieville's New Crobuzon but Gaiman's novel is far more lightweight than the Perdido street sequence. Gaiman's lighthearted take on fantasy might best be compared to the work of Terry Pratchett or Douglass Adams but Gaiman's writing does not reach the same heights of sidesplitting humour or piercing satire as either Pratchett or Adams. Enjoyable but far from classic stuff.
Next up is "Sword Song" by Bernard Cornwell.
Ireland is one of those countries that has bad memories of British redcoats and that has probably dissuaded me from reading more of Cornwell's better known series of novels about a redcoat named "Sharpe". Nevertheless I will admit to having enjoyed the couple of Sharpe novels I did read so it was a relief to come across a Cornwell novel about an altogether less contentious period of history. Sword song is set in 9th century Britain when the country is divided between Saxon and Dane. The hero was born Saxon but raised by the Danes a device which provides plenty of opportunities for angst as our hero works with King Alfred to strengthen the Saxon position. "Sword Song" is a very enjoyable historical novel with ample sword and axe wielding and a generous helping of viking longboat thrown in for good measure. My one complaint is that Cornwell tries too hard to create conflict for the hero. It was the same in the Sharpe novels that I recall. You just know that the hero will do all the hard work to resolve the plot drama but will receive none of the rewards.
Finally "Brethren" by Robyn Young.
This novel charts the twin careers of an initiate into the Knights Templar and a Saracen Sultan at the time of the crusades. It is a terrific setting for a historical novel and so far I am enjoying it. I am slightly concerned about a secret society with accompanying secret text that has cropped up. With any luck this won't interfere with the serious business of besieging castles but ever since forcing myself to read the ludicrously inept "Da Vinci Code" I recoil in horror at the mention of secret societies.