Thursday, December 19, 2013

And some more Kushiel...

Yup, still on these. I can knock 'em off rather quickly it seems. So book number 37 this year is Kushiel's Scion by Jacqueline Carey.

This is interesting as with this book, we switch PoV characters and are now continuing the story of Imriel no Montreve de la Courcel; adopted son of Phedre and Joscelin, blood son of the traitor Melisande. This book is basically Imriel's coming of age. We start off with him as a 13 year old boy and end with him being around 19 I think? He basically goes off to the equivalent of Rome to study and find himself. And of course, there's a lot of sex, intrigue and a few battles along the way. Imriel broods a lot, but this is a noted thing, and the other characters even call him on it. Sometimes I find such a thing in books annoying, other times it works, and here I didn't mind that the brooding teenager is called on it.

It was also interesting to see Phedre and Joscelin through someone else's eyes. Someone who unequivocally loves them, but can actually also see their shortcomings. But loves them anyway.

I'm willing to keep going with Imriel's take on things. I'm not completely fond of him yet, but I also don't mind him.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Another Crop!

Book # 33- Those Terrible Middle Ages by Regine Pernoud - This was an interesting book, written in the mid 70s because Regine Pernoud, a French medivalist, was sick and tired of how the Middle Ages were portrayed constantly (and wrongly) as backwards and violent and barbaric. General perception lumped 1000 years together and neglected to actually examine the changes over the times, in social mobility and advances in art and politics and law... all of it. No of course, the Middle Ages weren't great, but they also gave us a lot of good things that the Renaissance, and it's desire to go back to the Classics took away from us (more rights for women were definitely a part of that). Enjoyable book.

Book # 34- Dear Life by Alice Munro - This could quite possibly be Alice's last book, and a magnificent one as always.

Book # 35- Kushiel's Chosen by Jacqueline Carey - So looks like I found my popcorn books for the end of the year. As with Kushiel's Dart, I still find Phedre quite... passive as she chases after Melisande and plays her game and nearly dies numerous times. She's a shit to poor, besotted Joscelin most of the time (yes, I know, he can be a prat, but lets face it, hot, blonde, peerless swordsmen who are also a bit of a prat are kind of a weakness of mine...), so yeah, the romantic in me was actually kinda happy the two of them reconciled at the end.

Book # 36 - Kushiel's Avatar by Jacqueline Carey - Ok, this one, this one was pretty good. Pretty epic and damn dark in some areas, Phedre was definitely, finally, anything but passive and yeah, I ended up liking this one the best so far.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Fantasy with a side of court politics and BDSM

Number 32 is Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey.

Sometimes there is a certain convention in fantasy where the writing comes across as pretty darn overblown. In their world building, the author settles upon a style of writing that is incredibly stylized, flowery, precise, or what have you. Sometimes this is needed. Sometimes not. Sometimes this comes across sounding archaic or old fashioned. Sometimes it's just annoying. I'm pretty sure that the more blunt, realistic styles of a GRRM, Joe Abercrombie or Scott Lynch is a direct reaction against this sort of prose in fantasy literature.

So yes, this means that I found the prose in Kushiel's Dart to be hugely overblown. Blowsy even. I'm not saying it's bad writing, because it certainly fits with the setting and tone Carey is trying to create, but it can be a bit much to chew on.

But the society Carey is trying to create is overblown, a little decadent, and definitely stylized. Her analogue for a medieval-esque France is Terre D'Ange, a country founded by the illegitmate son of Christ (not called that though) and Earth herself. This child, Elua, was pretty much the ultimate hippy wanderer, and he had some companions, one of whom, Naamah, is like the ultimate free-love hippy. So there are Houses, devoted to her service, that basically churn out high-class escorts, all of whom have been tutored in various things, many of them sex related. And y'know, this is good. It means, for the most part, we're dealing with a very sex positive atmosphere.

Except for where the main character, Phedre, is sold to one of these houses by her parents, then the House sells her to a patron, who in turn basically acts like her pimp. Yes, I know, I know, the Houses would've acted like pimps too, as this is what happens when you're in the service of Naamah, but... I admit, I didn't like all that as much because it made, for a good chunk of the book, for a very passive main character, and I find that pretty boring.

The whole thing about her being an anguissette, a person who is marked by Kushiel (one of Elua's companions) as someone who truly enjoys the twining of sex and pain, actually felt kinda like... yeah, ok, that's cool. Lot's of people enjoy that. But no, it wasn't really lots of people, because here, she's so special that she's been marked by a godling or something for it. I dunno... I admit, I had a hard time thinking of her as special.

About half way through the book, Phedre's circumstances change and I found her to be way less passive and actually started enjoying the book more. She made more decisions on her own and actually participated. That was needed.

Despite all this, I enjoyed the book enough to continue on till at least the next book. Carey's world building is rather interesting, she's given a lot of thought on the religions and cultures (although I found it annoying that both the Germanic and British analogues were basically nowhere near as advanced as Terre D'Ange. I don't know if she was going more for a Roman Empire feel, but the inequality here did bug me for some reason). And she did court intrigue quite well, which is something I always appreciate.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Alright so we have books:

28 - The Heights of the Depths by Peter David
29 - The Strangled Queen by Maurice Druon
30 - Lancaster and York: The Wars of the Roses by Alison Weir
31 - Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch

The Heights of the Depths is the second book in PAD's Hidden Earth chronicles. It is a lot of madcap adventure and a web of schemes and intrigue, which I always like. There are a lot of characters and there's a lot going on, but I think PAD juggled it all nicely. A lot of the characters are split up and recombined with other characters (Jepp being with the selkie and the faun and the troll are now hanging separate from the rest of the Bottom Feeders). I also liked the fleshing out of the Serabim, who are basically Abominable Snowmen (I will love him and hug him and I will name him George). There's a good pace to these books, a nice sense of urgency and adventure. Unfortunately though, the story is not done and who knows if it ever will be.

The Strangled Queen is the second book of Maurice Druon's Accursed Kings opus. We learn more about the newly crowned King Louix X (he really has no business ruling), who basically begins to dismantle everything that his father had worked so hard to put into place, as he's being led around by his Uncle of Valois and his cousin, Robert of Artois, who is desperately trying to get his lands back and sees Louis as being much easier to manipulate than his father was. There is a lot of political manuevering in removing some of the previous King's trusted advisors, there is an overture to a new queen, and of course, there is the strangled queen of the title. It's all very sordid and fun and I can so easily see why GRRM says that this series is one of his inspirations for ASoIF. I think the next one is now translated and available in ebook. I'll have to get it. It's a total medieval soap-opera with the added bonus that it has historical basis.

Lancaster and York: The Wars of the Roses is exactly what it says; an examination of the two families who plunged Britain into the 30 year civil war. Weir does a nice job of setting it all up and explaining why poor Henry VI wasn't a very good king. Of course, it's easy to criticize someone who's in power, and once Richard of York got in there, he realized it wasn't easy to rule either. Of course, though, he never called himself King, it was his son who eventually ruled as Edward IV. But anyway, I also really liked this book because Weir really details just how formidable Margaret of Anjou (Henry VI's wife) was in her tenacity to restore her husband to his throne. The Yorks had to truly take everything away from her before she gave up. (I have also realized that my decision to read all these big, dense historical books this year is probably the main contributor to my not reading as many books this year... but I'm learning stuff!)

Republic of Thieves is the long awaited next installment of the Gentlemen Bastards series. As I only discovered this series last year, I didn't have a very long wait. Well, now I do, I guess, but whatever. Anyway. This one picks up where we left off with Locke and Jean being in rather dire straits. Locke has been poisoned and is definitely dying when they are approached by a most unlikely saviour; a Bondsmage. This particular Bondsmage, of course, has a deal for Locke; she'll save him from the poison if he and Jean will immerse themselves in the political elections in the Bondsmage's home city. See, the mages cannot themselves affect the outcome of the vote; but they can hire people to do their dirty work for them. Of course Locke accepts. But that's not the ONLY thing going on in this book... oh no, it's also half flashback from when the Bastards are kids and have traveled to another city to learn how to be actors. Which of course blows up in their faces spectacularly. Oh and in this book, we finally meet the elusive, mysterious Sabetha, the love of Locke's life. She's... ok. But by now, the build up of her character has been such that she'd have to be spectacular to live up to the hype. The amount of just plotting that goes on in this book is pretty huge. And rather noticable. It doesn't have the seamlessness of the first book. But weirdly, I did find it fit together a little better than the second book did. I can understand Lynch wanting to tell us of the backstory of how Sabetha and Locke's relationship came to be, but I don't know if we needed half the book devoted to it. Because the political manueverings of the Five Year Game seemed... not too interesting and just parlour tricks. I was hoping for something grand and intricate, but no, Locke really was more focused on Sabetha being around. Now, there was one thing that I really, really didn't like though, and that was the revelation of what Locke might be (and probably is). Usually I complain when something that we've understood is mystical is taken and given a scientific explanation (midichlorians anyone?). But here, I'm going to complain that someone (Locke) who we've been given as being an exceptional person, mainly through natural brains and charisma and a SHIT load of training, might actually have mystical origins. Weirdly enough I found this really stripped Locke of a lot of his power. It's like someone suddenly telling me that no, Batman isn't the peak of what a human can achieve, he's actually a Jedi. Ho hum. Anyway, despite all this, overall I actually DID enjoy this book for the most part. Lynch's dialogue is pretty hilarious, and capers and heists are difficult to pull off all the time, so I appreciate his continually trying to do so. Oh and the ending was actually pretty scary, so I do look forward to the next book.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

For the first time ever, I think I've completely lost track of where I am... I don't know why I'm so horrible at keeping this up this year... (well, August and September were kinda bad for a variety of reasons we won't get into here.)

24, 25, 26, 27

24 is Among Others by Jo Walton - Loved this book. Off beat and magical and a love letter to reading, especially reading 60s and 70s Sci-fi/Fantasy.

25 is Dance of the Happy Shades by Alice Munro - Can't say much other than so much love for her short stories.

26 is Captive Queen by Alison Weir - Eleanor of Aquitaine was pretty cool. Her husband Henry? Not so much.

27 is Darkness of the Light by Peter David - Glad I finally got around to reading this. Bit of a slow start, but once I figured out what was going on, it got quite enjoyable. And I liked how PAD began tying all, what seemed to be disparate, threads together.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Camelot and Hawaii

So books 22 and 23...

Book #22 is Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell. This is my second Vowell book on American history and I'm liking her style. And I'm liking learning about American history. Score! Anyway, this book is about the American colonization and eventual annexation of the Hawaiian islands. I realize that aside from the fact that two of my all-time favourite TV shows being set and/or filmed in Hawaii (that would be Magnum P.I. and Lost), I really know nothing about it. So this book was fascinating as it chronicled the early Protestant missionaries who gave up their comfy lives in New England to go proselytize on some tiny, gorgeous islands that were very different from anything they'd ever known. This took place shortly after the great King Kamehameha had conquered and united all the islands under him. The missionaries did some good things, they introduce literacy, including facilitating creating a written component for the native Hawaiian language. Of course, this was all done under the auspices of converting the native population to Christiantiy and basically helped almost eventually stamp out the native Hawaiian language... but y'know, nothing really new there. And of course, also with the missionaries and the new trading and whatnot, came the western diseases, with small pox devastating the native population, driving their numbers down from hundreds of thousands to just 40,000 or so by the time the white missionaries and land-owners overthrew the last Queen of Hawaii and offered the islands to the States for annexation. It's a very interesting, and personal book too about a time when America was very busy being an imperial power and gobbling up smaller islands they deemed as strategically important. 

Book #23 is In the Shadow of the King by Helen Hollick. This is the third and last book of Hollick's very, very historical based Arthur. I see now that she actually did do a good job of fitting the legend side of things into a more historical basis. She even had a triangle going there, with the more Celtic Bedwyr standing in for the late-comer Lancelot. But her Arthur was a douche and I got SO SICK of all the arguing and fighting he did with Gwenwyfar. I might as well have been watching a post-Roman Britain version of Moonlighting where everyone's just yelling at one another all the time. Ick. Also, it got to the point where I was having a tough time keeping track of all of Arthur's illegitimate kids. Hollick's Arthur was a lot of a dog. Like his father. So yeah, definitely not my favourite telling of the legends, but as we know, I tend to prefer my Arthurian legends with magic and Lancelot included.

Friday, August 09, 2013

MORE catchup!

I don't know why I'm finding it so hard to update this thing this year, but I am. So here's a whole whack of books I've read and only a little bit about them. Sigh. I need to get back on the timely update train.

Book # 14: Kingdom of the Grail by Judith Tarr - I'd read another book of hers way back when, it was about King John I of England and how he wasn't actually a huge jerk, just misunderstood. It was ok, but I sure didn't love it. I saw this book in a used bookstore and of course went Grail! Arthur! So let's just say I was a little surprised when reading the cover blurb that no, not Arthur... Roland? Hmm ok then. I don't really know too much about the whole Roland, Charlamange tales. I know a little, but not a lot, so I figured ah what the heck, let's give it a try. (Plus a friend of mine's new PC in our RPGs was of Roland's lineage, so I thought this would be fun to try out). Overall, not bad. Roland's got magical powers and is a relation of Merlin's. There is a big Grail quest, and lots of Grail lore that I thought worked out fine. Nothing earth shattering going on here, but enjoyable enough.

Book #15: The Iron King by Maurice Druon - This is another in the 'read ALL the source material for ASoIaF' initiative. Well ok, that's really not possible, so this is part of my 'read ALL the source material for ASoIaF that GRRM says is source material for ASoIaF'. Having gone through Costain's meditations on the Plantagents, I decided to check out Druon's books for the French side of things. As despite my many, many readings of English history, I don't know much of the French side of what happened. So this book is a French translation about the latter part of the reign of Philip the Fair, contemporary of Edward I and II of England. Philip is responsible for the destruction of the Knights Templar and the relocation of the papal court to Avingnon. I can see why GRRM lists these novels as an inspiration for ASoIaF because there is a LOT of court intrigue going on. Affairs and curses and traps and all sorts of fun stuff. Bonus being this is all historical! I am interested in continuing on with this series.

Book #16: The Tyrant's Law by Daniel Abraham - The 3rd book in Abraham's Coin and Dagger series. Things are definitely ramping up. Geder has launched the Spider Cult in other countries he is busily invading and is just becoming more and more reprehensible. And you can tell that deep, deep down he knows this, or at least this is why I assume he's allowed Jory to re-enter court life despite the treason his father committed? Or perhaps it is just selfishness in that Jory was always nice to Geder. I don't know. I think the best though is that Clara has become a one-woman resistance force, reaching out to anyone who might be able to help wrest the country away from Geder. Cithrin becomes more of a major player, but in trying to use Geder's love for her to help others, she's just placed herself in a very dangerous predicament. We know Geder is very big on revenge. And we also have West's quest to find a way to destroy the Spider Cult. While it initially ends in disappointment, a VERY game-changing discovery is made later. Abraham keeps everything moving forward very nicely. And I'm glad he gets one of these books out pretty quickly.

Book #17: Becoming Shakespeare by Jack Lynch - A very interesting look at how Shakespeare's plays survived through the ages, allowing for the 'cult' of Shakespeare we have now. He examines different publications of the plays, and a very good look at productions through the years and how the plays were changed or adapted for the times they were shown in, and even how today we don't get the 'pure' Shakespeare we've tricked ourselves into thinking we do, mainly because there wasn't really a 'pure' Shakespeare to begin with.

Boook #18: The Wind Through the Keyhole by Stephen King - Yes, I am a masochist who went back to the world of the Dark Tower. But as this was another book telling a tale from Roland's past, I thought I'd try it. I'm fond of Dark Tower books where half the main characters don't show up much. This was one of them. It's also an interesting narrative, since King is telling a story within a story, and I liked that aspect of it. It doesn't have the same emotional weight that Wizards and Glass had, but overall, this was a nice re-visit with the Dark Tower. It takes some of the bad taste that was left in my mouth after finishing the series away.

Book #19: The Kingmaking by Helen Hollick -  Historical Arthur is a bit of a douchecanoe, but I'll let it go. There's no magic, no Lancelot... yeah, the elements I like best in my Arthurian legends are not here.

Book #20: Pendragon's Banner by Helen Hollick - See above.

Book # 21: The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker - Wow I enjoyed this book. Blew right through it. A lovely, charming, sad and even suspenseful tale of immigration to NYC, but told through the eyes of two fantastic creatures from other worlds; a djinn and a golem. They both find themselves in turn of the century NYC alone and very, very lost. The jinni is a magnificent, selfish and restless creature, trapped centuries before, only to be reawakened by a lowly tin-smith in the Arab speaking portion of NYC. The golem, created to be a perfect wife for a man who dies on the voyage over, has no master, no one to truly serve, and she is lost and vulnerable without one. The two creatures try to fit in, but they find it so difficult to, and once they find each other, they see they can be themselves, but their natures are so very different, and theirs is still a tumultuous relationship. Throw into this mix the creator of the golem trying to find her and you also have a wonderful villain in the mix. I highly recommend this one.

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Catching up

I'm so far behind on updating this. Shame on me. So, a few quick write-ups to catch up: 

Book #10: The Three Edwards by Thomas B. Costain. This volume of Costain's Pageant of England covers the Plantagenet kings Edward I, Edward II and Edward III, and their reigns from Edward I's coronation in 1272 through to Edward III's death in 1377. Just over a hundred years of Edwards

Book # 11: 1356 by Bernard Cornwell - After reading Costain's book on the Edwards and the start of the Hundred Years War, thought I'd give Cornwell's fictionalized take on the Black Prince's (aka Edward the Prince of Wales) victory at Poitiers in 1356 a shot. Not bad but a little light on the fictionalized plot side. Cornwell definitely does do a nice battle scene though.

Book #12 : Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill. Nice, creepy ghost story. Definitely some similarities in writing styles between Hill and his father, but Hill does have his own voice and is a more concise writer. I like a good ghost story, and while this was a little predictable, it was also good and creepy. 

Book #  13 - The Last Plantagenets 1377-1485 (Book IV of the Pageant of England) by Thomas B. Costain. Did it. Finished all four books of Costain's opus on the Plantagenet monarchs. Really great stuff. This chapter went from Richard II, who was deposed by Henry IV, to Henry V, to Henry VI who was deposed by Edward IV to (sort of) Edward V to the last Plantagenet, Richard III. So this one covered one of my favourite time periods, the Wars of the Roses. He gave really short shrift to Henry IV though (deemed him boring basically, lol) and Henry V (based on there already being a mountain of writing about him), but spends half the book on Richard II. Who I didn't know too much about.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Book #9 is Open Secrets by Alice Munro

This collection actually has some unifying elements to it, mainly in that the stories all revolve around the town of Carstairs and (more loosely), the Doud family and their piano factory. And as with most Alice Munro stories, the narrators are women.

Some of these stories seem more... sprawling than is usual for Munro, especially The Albanian Virgin, an odd tale of Charlotte (or Lottar) who is captured by Albanians during a trip. She tells the tale as an eccentric, older woman, so we're not entirely sure how reliable the narrator is.

I also particularly like the Jack Randa Hotel, which has Gail, who's been jilted by her significant other for a younger woman, follows him to Australia. Her stalking of course rather blows up in her face, but at the same time, she gets a modicum of revenge.

Vandals is a typical Munro work, in that it starts off just fine and then takes a completely unexpected turn to a rather dark place and leaves you feeling rather uncomfortable.

But that uncomfortable feeling is why I like to read Munro, he stories might be short, but they are never, ever simplistic and they rarely sit easily with you after you've read them.

Friday, April 12, 2013

River of Stars

Book #8 - River of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay


Ok, got that out of the way. Whew.

I love books, and I love certain authors, but there really are few literary things I look forward to more than a new Guy Kay book.

So here we are, River of Stars. Set in the same world as his last novel, Under Heaven, we are back in Kitai, but 400 years later. Things have changed, there's been civil upheaval, barbarian raids and wars, and Kitai is not the empire it once was. It is diminished. 

Not only is it diminshed in land, but it seems to be diminished in ideas and freedom and certainly in heroism perhaps? The freedom of women has been greatly curtailed, rules and court advancement are closely monitored, and aesthetic arts are considered far more valuable than martial ones. In fact, being good at the art of war is greatly frowned upon in this Kitai; they don't trust their military for the havoc it has caused to it's own people in the past.

Yes, the past is something that weighs heavily in this book. What do you do when you live in a time where you see the past as something superior to the time you live in? When you look on that past and see the glory where others only see it as something to be frightened of and react against?

Ren Daiyan and Lin Shan are the main characters, and both are throwbacks. Ren Daiyan wants to be a soldier. He wants to be a military leader. And he should be. He's extremely good at it. He wants to lead forces to recapture the lands lost to barbarian tribes. He sees, he believes it can be done. And Lin Shan is a woman, who through a fit of what is probably supreme selfishness, has been educated by her father as though she were a boy. Her high education and vastly superior intellect make her an outcast amongst most women and men.

It is mainly through their eyes we see Kitai as it is and how it used to be. The narrative structure seemed a little different from Kay's previous books; more like short vignettes than anything. Of course they contribute to the overall story, but so many seem like small, standalone moments as well. And for most of them though, the sense of intimacy is astounding.

For really, while it is such a big, sprawling epic book, it is an incredibly intimate one. It is, as so many of Kay's books are, a love story on many levels. Love between people, but also the love for one's country. There is no doubt, that all the characters love their country, that everything they do, for good or for bad, is for love of Kitai. But of course, love doesn't always work out the way we want it and is so often bittersweet.

And that's precisely what Kay gives us here. 

Monday, March 04, 2013

The Magnificent Century

Book #7 is The Magnificent Century by Thomas B. Costain.

So this book deals with a time period and a ruler I really knew very, very little about. Henry III came to the throne as a child, after the death of his father, the unlamented King John (aka John Lackland). Of all the Plantagenet rulers, Henry ruled the longest, 56 years, a fact that is nearly astounding considering the amount of civil war going on during his reign.

We're introduced to Henry as one who seems to have great ideas, but not the ability to carry them out. A slightly unsure temper and a stubborness to restore his power back to the way French monarchs ruled meant he was in fairly constant conflict with his barons, lead by the charismatic Simon de Montfort, a person Costain obviously had a great deal of affection for an interest in. Henry was a fairly weak, feckless King, and it wasn't until his militaristic minded son, the future Edward I, took over, that the rebellion was put down.

Overall, there was much strife and chaos, and the putting down of rebellious barons (in fact, England's first parliament was called during Henry's reign), and it definitely comes across that Henry would have been a better builder than King, for he never seemed more happy than when he was supervising building churches, especially Westminster and his shrine to Edward the Confessor. So while Henry only reluctantly participated in furthering democracy in England, he played an active part in it's aesthetics.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Conquering Family

Book number 6 is The Conquering Family by Thomas B. Costain.

So a little history... I know more about English history than I do the history of my own country, sad to say. I suppose this is due to 1) my obsession with Arthurian legends 2) my interest in Shakespeare 3) the fact that I have a degree in English literature. There are certain points in English history I know better than others (such as the Saxon invasions, The War of the Roses, Elizabethan England and Victorian England),  but English history is something I've long been generally interested in.

So when George R. R. Martin listed a series of books written by a Canadian (from Brantford no less, the city my parents now call home) as a source for the Song of Ice and Fire books, well I had to read them. The fact that they're about the Plantagenet kings as a whole, and not just the War of the Roses was even better, it would allow me to examine other events and I'm not as familiar with.

So the Conquering Family begins with the quick introduction of the founder of the House of Plantagenet, Geoffrey V of Anjou, who married Matilda, daughter of Henry I of England. On the death of Henry I, there was civil war (something that will be increasingly common as we go through the Plantagenet rulers), until their son, Henry II takes the throne. With Henry II's marriage to the powerful Eleanor of Aquitaine, we have the first true Plantagenet ruler and the head of Angevin Empire, which spanned most of the British Isles and a good chunk of France. Henry's reign is coloured by his campaigns in France, and by his extremely volatile family. His boys (with their mother's backing) rebelled against their father a few times, with the eventual promise to first born Henry the Young King that he would inherit England, while his other younger brothers would inherit various French duchies. Upon the death of Henrys II and Henry the Young King, the crown went to Richard I, Richard the Lion-heart, whom was popular and well loved, and yet barely set foot in the realm he ruled, preferring to use it as a bank to raid so he could embark on his calling, the Crusade to the Holy Land. Honestly, for how little time Richard spent in England, and the way he seemed intent to beggar it really made me wonder why he still has such a golden reputation. Maybe that's because he was followed by his odious brother John I, the same King John who figures in the legends of Robin Hood, and ended up losing the Angevin Empire his father and brothers had carved out and defended, as well as so pissed off his nobles that they created this little document called the Magna Carta and forced him to sign it. John was a pretty lousy king.

Costain's writing style is fun, whether or not his history is correct I don't really know, but he incorporates facts and gossip, and throws in details of clothing and feasts and doesn't shy away from the violence either. He paints lovely pictures of these bigger than life Kings and Queens and Archbishops and Popes and of all the petty and not so petty ways they shaped England during their time. I learned a lot and I can definitely see the influence he had on GRRM. It's quite delightful actually.

Next the line of Plantagenet rulers is Henry III, who managed to hold the throne longer than any of the other Plantagenet kings.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

On Second Thought, Let's Not Go to Camelot...

Book #4 is The Camelot Papers by Peter David

It was through comic books (of course) that I was first introduced to Peter David. And these days, his X-Factor is one of the few comics I'm still reading. Over the years, I've branched out and read a fair amount of his prose too, most of which I've also reviewed here.

Peter had a stroke at the end of last year. He's recovering nicely (yay!), but of course, his health insurance doesn't cover everything, so when the call went out to buy some of his books in order to help him out, I immediately did so. Which brings us to The Camelot Papers.

Written in the form of a diary (and with a framing device that these are 'authentic' writings that were discovered and are now being studied) authored by Viviana, a name often ascribed to the Lady of the Lake in the Legends. Not so much here.

Viviana is a slave, sold into servitude by her debt-ridden father, she ends up at Camelot, working in the kitchens, until her intelligence is noticed by... pretty much everyone and she becomes a lady-in-waiting to the new Queen, Guinevere.

Peter plays about with the structure and characters of Camelot quite a bit here, and still (mostly) makes it fit the overall Legends. His Arthur is a dimwitted, too tenderhearted, yet extremely likable doofus. Guinevere is a headstrong tomboy. She and Morgan are sisters (and yes, Morgan is still half-sister to Arthur as well. Mordred is an incredibly intelligent (and creepy) albino child. And Lancelot is a big, French jerk (sigh). And Galahad is a completely fabricated knight of Viviana's invention.

In his other Arthurian books, Peter gets very political-allegory like, and he does so again here. He uses the time-honoured attack on Guinevere and Igraine by Meleagrance as a (not at all) veiled allegory for the Iraq war. Which is fine in and of itself, but I'm not entirely sure what the point was. Yes, Arthur (and the kingdom) lose it's innocence over this, but working in a framework of tales where the characters were often and always at war, it's hard to really feel that this was any worse than anything else Arthur has done in the tales (can you say Childslayer?), so for me, the ill-found war against Meleagrance and his WMD's (yes, that acronym is actually employed) didn't really hit home for me.

That said though, I did enjoy the characterizations and seeing things unfold through Vivana's eyes and interpretations. So yes, I liked this book even if this Lancelot was a jerk :)

Begin again

First post of 2013!

I've been busy reading, but I didn't do a post for the first five books yet as four of them are in a series and I wanted to talk about them all together. So...

Books 1, 2, 3 and 5 are:
A Shadow in Summer
A Betrayal in Winter
An Autumn War
The Price of Spring
by Daniel Abraham

There's a lot going on these books; 'magic' and courtly politics, family dynamics and war. We're introduced to our main character, Otah Machi as a young boy. He's been sent away by his family to learn to be a poet, a man who will control the power of an andat, which is basically the magic of the country of the Khaiem, and this is a magic no other country in the world possesses. The cities of the Khaiem rely on the Andat; in Saraykhet, the main commerce is cotton, and the andat Seedless takes the seeds from the cotton instantly, meaning Saraykhet can turn it's cotton around faster than anywhere else in the world. Machi's andat is Stone-Made-Soft, and so is home to vast, intricate mines. But there is a darker half to the benevolence of andats, Seedless can also end unwanted pregnancies, and Stone-Made-Soft could level mountains. With power like that, the other countries, including war-like expansionist Galt, have left the cities of the Khaiem alone for centuries, fearing that the andat would be turned on them if they ever invaded.

But I get ahead of myself. It is as a child that Otah makes a decision that will contribute to the breaking of the world many times over; after a moment of cruelty to an even younger boy, Otah then attempts to make amends for the cruelty and tells the younger boy basically the 'secret' to succeeding at the school. And so the younger boy, Maati, is selected to be a poet, and in the scheme of things, this ends up being not the best decision.

Abraham is not shy about doing drastic things and I always admire that in a good fantasy story. I wasn't being hyperbolic when I said that he breaks his world numerous times and in different ways and all are a kick in the gut. He also advances the timeline between books significantly, which is also great because yes, things don't always move at breakneck speed but instead take time to root and be planned and fester before shit happens.

These books are very melancholy, but it's a beautiful, terrible melancholy that makes them highly enjoyable.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Looking Back at 2012

So all in all, 2012 was a pretty good reading year. While I didn't manage to read 50 books ( a challenge I was trying to do that would allow for re-reads), I did manage to read 36 ALL NEW books, which is three more than my previous best tally. So yay me.

So what are the new reads I read this year? Let's recap:

1) His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik
2) Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie
3)  How Shakespeare Changed Everything by Stephen Marche
4) Jade Throne by Naomi Novik
5) Bite Me by Christopher Moore
6) The Sleeping Dragon by Joel Rosenberg
7) Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie
8) The Sword and the Chain by Joel Rosenberg
9)  Nine Princes in Amber by Roger Zelazny
10) The Silver Crown by Joel Rosenberg
11) Snuff by Terry Pratchett
12)  Dragonheart by Todd McCaffrey
13) Dragongirl by Todd McCaffrey
14) Sacre Bleu by Christopher Moore
15) The Guns of Avalon (Chronicles of Amber #2) by Roger Zelazny
16)  Black Powder War by Naomi Novik
17)  Friend of My Youth by Alice Munro
18)  A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore
19)  Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie
20) The Gunslinger (reread)
21) The Drawing of Three by Stephen King (reread)
22) The Waste Lands by Stephen King
23)  Wizards and Glass by Stephen King
24) The Wolves of the Calla by Stephen King
25)  The Tragedy of Arthur by Arthur Phillips
26) The King's Blood by Daniel Abraham
27) Fevre Dream by George R. R. Martin
28) Song of Susannah by Stephen King
29) A Once Crowded Sky by Tom King
30) The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie
31) The Dark Tower by Stephen King
32) Outlaw by Angus Donald
33) Palo Alto Stories by James Franco
34) Red Country by Joe Abercrombie
35) The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
36) Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch

Wow, I read a crap load of fantasy this year. I mean, I read a lot of fantasy anyway, but it really was the bulk of material this year. I was very happy to have delved into the world further into the world of Joe Abercrombie; The Last Argument of Kings and the Heroes were defintely two of my standouts this year. My favourite of the year was the Tragedy of Arthur though, because combining King Arthur and Shakespeare is just the best thing ever in my mind, and Phillips' wrote a passable Shakespearean play, which is a pretty major accomplishment and one to be lauded. We won't talk about the Dark Tower because I just don't want to :)

I've already finished the first two books of  Daniel Abraham's The Long Price Quartet, but I'm thinking I might write about them all as one entry at this point.

Now let's see where else 2013 takes me :)