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.