Friday, October 24, 2014

Book # 24 is Queen's Play by Dorothy Dunnett.

So while I liked the first Lymond book, I loved this one. Lymond, in disguise!, travels to France in the company of an Irish Prince, Phelim O'LiamRoe, for the express purpose of ferreting out a plot to kill 8 year old Mary, Queen of Scots. He's also there to protect her of course, and he does so with his usual, flashy (and yet also strangely subtle) aplomb.

This book runs from one action packed set piece to the next. All the attempts on Mary's life are huge and amazing; there's an elephant stampede, there's a hunting accident (complete with cheetah), there's a night time foot race over rooftops, there's a horse race, there's poison, there's boats and gunpowder. It's all glorious and grand.

And midst it all, Lymond plays his usual games and people are hurt and end up dead and Lymond himself nearly ends up dead a few times as well. There's the poor, sad figure of Robin Stewart, who comes to hero worship Lymond and of course, be let down. There's the mysterious Oona O'Dwyer, who styles herself a patriot and may play the game nearly as well as Lymond himself, and the O'LiamRoe himself; who goes from being a rather silly character into something else entirely.

Definitely looking forward to the next one now.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Wow, really behind now. Books 21, 22 and 23 coming up!

Book 21 is Half a King by Joe Abercrombie. I love Abercrombie's books, and decided to give his first foray into YA fiction a shot. It was very enjoyable and while not as dark as his adult books, there was still enough of his dark humour and revenge themes that marked this as definitely an Abercrombie book.

Book 22 is Here be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman. I branched out in my historical fiction reading to Wales, with this tale of Welsh prince Llewellyn the Great and his marriage to King John's bastard daughter Joanna. Very interesting and dramatic, Penman did a really good job of making John still horrible, but with some redeeming qualities to his daughter. It was an interesting take on him.

Book 23 is The Widow's House by Daniel Abraham. This is book 4 in the Dagger and the Coin series and I am really enjoying these. The world is devolving farther into war, and the dragon that Wester and Kit found at the end of the last book isn't quite the savior they hopped for. I also don't think that I've ever come across a fantasy book where they're going to attempt to save the world through banking. I mean, obviously it was going to come up due to Cithrin's presense, but yeah... different tack for sure. Still really loving Clara Kalliam though, she's a great, great character.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Rogues, Gods and Magicians

Whoops, falling behind again.

Book # 18 is another short story collection edited by GRRM, Rogues. It had stories from some of my favourites, Abercrombie, Rothfuss (I wasn't expecting to like his short story about Bast as much as I did, but I rather loved Bast running something like a black market for the nearby children) and of course, GRRM himself. Once again, GRRM's contribution was written as a historical account of the civil war known as the Dance of the Dragons. I'm enjoying getting a good handle on that time period in Westeros.

Book #19 was Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny. My dear husband picked this book up because an aborted attempt at making it a movie back in the 70s became the pre-production materials used by the CIA in the 'Canadian Caper' (aka Argo). The concept art was done by Jack Kirby, so yeah, in geek circles, this is big stuff. Now as we know, I'm not much of a sci-fi fan, but I'm trying very hard to branch out this year (...ok, this is really only my second attempt, but two is better than none!) so I decided I'd try it, especially since I've read other Zelazny (although I haven't got very far with his Amber stuff). Well. It took me a long time to realize that much of this book was actually told in flashback. heh. I'm not usually so narratively challenged, but I sure was here for some reason. The book follows Sam (aka Siddhartha, Buddha, Mahasamatman and another name I don't remember right now) in his attempts to defeat the fellow colonists he travelled with who have set themselves up as representations of various Hindu gods and are ruling (and kind of suppressing) the normal population. Now that I think about it, the book is nicely divided up into each of Sam's various attempts, but yeah, something about it I found confusing at the time. Overall, it was very interesting, and Zelazny parcelled out what was going on very well. I think my favourite of the stories was Sam becoming 'Buddha' and turning the assassin Kali had sent to kill him into his greatest disciple.

Book #20 is The Magician's Land by Lev Grossman. Need we say how much I was looking forward to this coming out? No? Yeah, I definitely was. Last we had seen Quentin Coldwater, he'd been kicked out of his beloved magical land Fillory and could never return. He was dealing 'ok' with this loss by returning to Brakebills as a teacher... but then he got fired from there too, and so strikes off on his own. The whole 'Magicians' trilogy was originally marketed as 'Harry Potter for grownups', but really, it's far more 'Narnia without all the Christian allegory for grownups'. The only true Harry Potter part is the school of Brakebills, because after that, it's pretty much all Narnia, all the time, and that is not a complaint, because damn do I love those books, heavy handed Christian allegories and all (which, for one who was raised in a very non-religious household, didn't see the Christian allegories until they were pointed out to her). Because while Quentin and friends went to a school to learn magic, Quentin didn't want to be Harry Potter, he wanted to be a Pevensie. He wanted to find his way into Fillory and have grand adventures and rule as a king there. And he did. The second book was a reflection of Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and Magician's Land is very much a fun-house mirror held up to The Last Battle. So much so that I want to re-read the Last Battle just so I can compare and contrast the apocalyptic descriptions better. Because that's what this is, the final race to save Fillory from reaching the end of it's lifespan. And it's a hell of a quest. The book does feel a tad disjointed and perhaps a little too... pat? And yet it worked for me. I love the techno babble of Grossman's magic system, and I loved all the familiar faces (it actually managed to make Janet slightly more interesting and less of 'stock bitch' character). And I loved how Quentin has, over the course of the books, grown up and is less of a prat. He's still not perfect, not by any means, but he's reached a level of self awareness where he is capable of seeing his own mistakes. And I loved how we see the psychological effects that Fillory had on those from our world who have journeyed there. And it's not always the nicest thing. That was something we never really got from the Narnia books; Peter and Susan seemed to take their ejection from Narnia not too badly (we only ever hear that Susan rejected it for 'bad' reasons, not that perhaps she did because she was hurt by being rejected by Narnia first), and that being in Narnia made the rest of them 'better'. That wasn't the case for Fillory and I liked that the fantasy aspect of it destroyed, because living in a fantasy isn't usually a good thing. Anyway, I could go on and on about this book (and the others), but suffice to say I really freaking enjoyed it.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Number 17 is The She-Wolf of France by Maurice Druon

Book number 5 in the Accursed Kings series, this one deals with the titular She-Wolf, Isabella, the only daughter of King Louis the Fair. Isabella, at the tender age of 12, was married off to Edward II of England. It was not a good match.

Edward II  was a weak king. Overfond of certain favourites, and perhaps homosexual, he quarreled with his barons nearly constantly, alienated his wife and ended up having to abdicate his throne to his son, who would become the very compentent and extremly war-like Edward III.

Most of the book concerns Isabella and her unhappiness. Her mistreatment at the hands of Edward's favourite pet, Hugh Despenser the Younger was enough that eventually she fled home to France and when she finally returned years later, it was at the head of an invasionary force, with her lover, the exiled baron Roger Mortimer.

Druon gives Isabella a good account, she is generally a strong woman, but her relationship with Mortimer is wrong, and she realizes enough that she is a hypocrite, but she also wants to finally be happy, and realizes that such a thing would never be possible with Edward. She is fortunate enough that her husband was a lousy king, so she wasn't the only one who wanted to be rid of him.

We also check in on the current King of France (the third of Isabella's brothers), Charles, another not strong ruler, who never forgives his sister for the part she played in the downfall of Charles' first wife, Blanche, and who basically spends his time letting his uncle of Valois rule (until Charles of Valois passes away) and hoping that his third wife will bear him a son.

Also of course, there is Guiccio, the young Lombard, who finally returns to France to see the son he has never before met. Of course though, he doesn't know that this isn't his son, but the rightful king of France, the son of Louis the Hutin. He is never told, but the wily Pope manages to worm the truth of Lord Bouville (pretty much only of the only, seemingly truly nice and good characters in these books), and learns of the Prince's existence.

The book ends with Edwards gruesome (and most probably not true) death. I liked this book a lot because, in dealing with England, it was more familiar territory for me, so I was able to 'place' when things were happening easier. With the death of Edward II and the soon to be ascension of Edward III, the Hundred Years War is bearing down on the French with frightening speed.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Kings aplenty

Couple behind again, so another 2fer.

Book # 15 is The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett.

This book came recommended by my favourite author, Guy Gavriel Kay. And whooboy could I see the influence this book had over his writing. I don't say that in a bad way though, more in a 'that's very interesting' way.

The Game of Kings deals with the time period just after Henry VIII's death, when his young, sickly son, Edward the VI is on the throne. The English and Scots are fighting, and part of the fighting is to force the nobility of Scotland to marry their young Queen, Mary, to Edward, and unify the two nations. Of course the Scots aren't particularly in favour of this idea.

This book introduces us to noble rogue extrordinaire, Francis Crawford of Lymond. AKA one of the obvious templates for my absolute favourite character of Kay's, Prince Diarmuid dan Ailel. The similarities are absolutely striking, from their appearance, their love of a certain tavern, the stormy relationship with an elder brother... just so many. Lymond's a fascinating character, brilliant, misunderstood, dangerous, Machiavellian and too smart for his own good. He's often impenetrable though, and sometimes, the novel is like that as well.

This isn't an... easy read. There's untranslated French, a fairly vast cast of characters to keep straight, and enough literary illusions to give even this English major some pause. But all that said, I really liked this book, especially when Lymond is humbled a little. The other characters are quite good too; especially Lymond's mother and Christian Stewart. There are great themes of betrayal and loyalty and a heck of a lot of things not being what they seem, which is what gives this book, and Lymond himself, a lot of their drive.

Book #16 is NOS4A2 by Joe Hill.

Joe Hill has written a wonderfully creepy book that evokes all the good stuff about his father's early work, but also with his own stamp on it. The supernatural in this book isn't really explained, it just IS, and I'm good with that. Victoria McQueen is a very messed up bad-ass with a special ability to find things. She crosses paths with the very bad Charlie Manx, kidnapper of young children and 'creator' of Christmasland, the place he spirits his charges away to, in his 1920s Rolls Royce Wraith. And basically, bad things happen. Also important to note, that despite the title, this is not yet another vampire book. There's some very, very slight vampiric tones, but nothing overt, and I liked that subversion of it. The action was also good and scary and there were numerous times where I didn't think anyone was getting out of this alive. So the stakes were appropriately high. And well done.

Friday, May 30, 2014

I oshied this thaven book...

Oh crap, I'm like a book behind. Book #14 is The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon.

This was an interesting book with an interesting premise, but also one not without it's problems.

The overall arc of this book deals with the breakdown of communication. The 'death' of reading and language and the over reliance we have as a society on things like cellphones and online communication. Language is a fluid thing, but there still has to be meanings we all agree on, and when meanings are changed and disregarded at a frightening pace, and for monetary exchange, then language is no longer meaningful and communication breaks down.

Graedon achieves this through something called a 'word flu', a virus a shady company infects the world with as they try to corner the market on language. And those with the flu start substituting nonsense words for every day words and those characters become harder and harder to understand. She peppers the characters' thoughts and conversations with nonsense, making it hard to understand, but it lends a nice bit of weight to what's going on, as we experience what everyone else is experiencing.

The problem though is that I didn't find the main character, Ana Johnson, to be terribly interesting, even though she, through her missing father, lexicographer Doug Johnson, is fairly central to what's going on. She seems quite helpless and scatterbrained and just... dull.

It's hard to recommend this book, as I said, there were parts that I liked, but the language is trying too hard to be clever in some ways, and I can perhaps understand this, to show how things will degenerate, but when I can hear the writer behind the dialogue, I get frustrated. There were a couple of times when I had to check who was speaking, as I found the 'voices' of the characters didn't alter that much.

So basically, interesting premise, not so interesting characters.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Lucky number 13 is The Serpent of Venice by Christopher Moore.

We once again visit with Pocket, the protaganist of Fool, who has gone to Venice on behalf of his Queen, Cordelia, and has of course, gotten himself in trouble. He ends up falling into a situation that combines the Bard's Othello and the Merchant of Venice, and somehow, this works surprisingly well.

There's the usual mad, bawdiness of Pocket (who could definitely become annoying, but it's testimony to Moore's craft that he never does), lots of violence and plotting, and of course, there's always a bloody ghost.

Only Christopher Moore could take a tragedy and a psuedo comedy and make a definite comedy complete with happy ending. And a dragon. Cause Shakespeare could actually use more dragons.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Needs more ghost

Book #12 is Bellman and Black: A Ghost Story by Diane Setterfield.

I really loved Setterfield's previous book The Thirteenth Tale. It was a wonderful book so when I saw that she had another one out, awesome.

The main character is one William Bellman, the son of the black sheep of the well Bellman family (William's father had married below his station, and then ran out on William and his mother) who own the town's mill. As a boy, William and his friends are out playing one day, and, in a fit of boyish cruelty, kill a rook. This sets things in motion.

Or does it? The problem with this book is that it calls itself a ghost story, but there's really not much 'ghost' to it. You keep waiting for it to kick in somewhat. Oh there's lots of death, and death even becomes William's obsession as he goes into the mourning business, but... the ghost of the story, Mr. Black, really isn't there.

It's a beautifully written book, and it's testament to Setterfield's skill that she can make Victorian-era milling and commerce actually kind of interesting... But beyond that, the characters don't leap off the page, and William is so focused on his work, or I guess what he sees as his atonement, that he drives all personality out of himself. Which I guess is the point, since other characters even remark as much about it.

I didn't hate this book, I didn't even dislike it, but I definitely expected... more.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

World War Snow White

Whoops, fell behind a bit again.

Book #10 is The War That Ended Peace by Margaret McMillan. I'd read McMillan's previous book, Paris 1919, about the WWI peace process and really loved it, so thought I'd check out her treatise on how the Great War was started in the first place. Especially since, this being 2014, it will be 100 years ago this summer that the War to end all wars broke out.

This was an EXTREMELY dense book. I mean, she is dealing with a cast of thousands and years of events that led to the war breaking out. It's tensions between Germany and England. And France and Germany. And Russia and Germany. And Austria-Hungary and Russia over the Balkans. And just a million other tensions and personality conflicts and war-mongering and just refusal to believe that an all encompassing European war could actually happen. Upon reading this book, you realize that the assassination of the Arch-Duke Ferdinand was really the last step before the War rather than the first step towards it. An excellent read, but definitely not an easy one.

An easier read was book #11, Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi. A loose retelling of Snow White, the book takes place in the 1950s and centers around, and is mainly told by Boy Novak, a woman who escapes an abusive father and moves to a small town in upstate NY where she meets and marries a man and becomes step-mother to the enigmatic, beautiful young girl Snow. Now all is well until Boy has a child and that child... is not what Boy expected. Snow is sent away, Bird is raised without her half-sister and family secrets are brought to light. It's a very, very good book and there is a hell of a bomb dropped at the end, to the point where I hope to heck there's a sequel.

Friday, March 28, 2014

It's a Busy Life in Camelot

Another double up. Books 8 and 9 are Camelot's Destiny and Fate of Camelot by Cynthia Breeding.

Alright, so in Camelot's Destiny we get to most of the meat of the Legends; fighting Saxons, Mordred (or Medraut in this book), the Arthur/Lance/Gwen triangle and all it's complications, Camlann and Arthur's death.

And overall, it's serviceable. But you (ok, I) can really see Breeding's influences in this book. She leans heavily on Mists of Avalon for Nimue and Lancelot and the old religions and whatnot. Which is fine, just noticeable. Her Gwen is also pretty much right out of Persia Wooley's Guinevere books. Once again, that's fine, just noticable. I'm very glad she didn't take Mists' Gwen, cause she is a horrible creature. Fortunately, her Lance, Gwen and Arthur are fairly likeable. There's still too much arguing between Arthur and Gwen, but when your wife is also in love with your best friend, that does kind of make sense. Medraut is a creepy bastard and he and Morgana make good villains.

Fate of Camelot kinda... goes off the rails as Breeding attempts to do a Once and Future King kinda thing. I appreciate her trying to do a completely different take on things, but there were a few details that just didn't work for me. Seems Arthur did not die at Camlann, he was taken to Avalon, but he was healed there. Gwen had to go with him to help, basically because she's Queen. Or something. But then it gets all weird with her being stuck in Faerie because the god Cerunos is infatuated with her and yeah... I like the supernatural in my Arthurian legends, but I find it works best if it is on the edges, interacting but not intersecting. But here we have unicorns and faries and it just seemed too much. Eventually Lance rescues Gwen from Faerie (of course), and Arthur says she can go with Lance, since Arthur is too busy roaming Britain and whatnot trying to keep the peace with the Saxons. Morgana's still running around, but she's kinda ineffectual for most of the book where she just pops up now and then basically to mention, numerous times, that she has to kill Guinevere. Which she does at the end, by unleashing the bubonic plague on Camelot. Uh ok? Anyway, Morgana also dies in a most unsatisfying way and I just found a lot of this book basically that, unsatisfying.

Now what I DID like is that she got the Grail Quest with Galahad and Peredur just right. All their stupidity and wanderings and whatnot and all the details are very good, and even if her Galahad is a prat, he's not as bad a prat as Galahad's often are. I kept just wanting to stay with Galahad and groaned whenever I started a new chapter and we were back to Lance and Gwen. Cause they got boring.

A fun little read.

Friday, March 07, 2014

I combined books 6 and 7 into one post as they are books 3 and 4 of Maurice Druon's Accursed Kings series, The Poisoned Crown and The Royal Succession.

The Poisoned Crown picks up where the Strangled Queen stops off; Louis X is now free to marry Clemence of Hungary and shore up succession, since his daughter, poor little Jeanne, could now be considered a bastard.

This book picks up more on how horrible a King Louis is; he's not terribly bright, he has a horrid temper and he gives in to pretty much any request made by his powerful, strong-willed uncle, Charles of Valois. Louis launches an incredibly ill-fated campaign against the province of Flanders, and what he had hoped would be a war that would leave him in good standing, did nothing but further his reputation as a weak king.

We meet sweet Clemence who, at first, is pious and greatful at her lot in life, to be Queen of France, but she quickly sees her new husband is definitely not a great king like she was hoping him to be.

Our tragic, young Lombard, Guccio, becomes a favourite of the Queen when he escorts her to France, and he nearly dies because he is showing off, and so he cannot immediately be reconciled with his secret, pregnant wife, Marie, who's family has basically disowned her for marrying the Italian, and who has been sent to a convent to bear her 'sinful' child.

And the formidable Mahaut, takes it upon herself to put a king on the throne that she can deal with, namely her son-in-law, Louis' younger brother Phillipe. The Game of Thrones starts in earnest.

To me, The Royal Succession felt the most SoIaFish so far. I can definitely see some inspiration here for GRRM. The election of a new Pope through some tricks definitely put me in mind of a certain election towards the end of Storm of Swords. Plus the succession here IS a mess. Louis X without a male heir. His wife, Clemence is pregnant, but of course, they don't know if she carries a boy. Even just selecting a Regent for the kingdom in the meantime calls for great expediture of bribes and political manuevring, till at last, Phillipe, Louis's brother, comes out as Regent. Louis son, Jean I is born, but that goes horribly wrong, and then there are swapped babies and lovers torn assunder and more murder and rebellion and even though Phillipe is crowned at the end of this book, one doesn't feel like the good guy has won. Which is often a feeling GRRM gives you too.

And now, I wait for the next volume to be released. Which is also very GRRM-like.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Farewell Terre D'Ange

Number 5 is Kushiel's Mercy by Jacqueline Carey.

So this is the 3rd and final book of the Imriel Trilogy. And I think with this one I'm pretty much done with the world of Terre D'Ange. Not that I didn't enjoy my time there, but I'm also not attatched enough to it to continue on.

That said, this was my favourite of the Imriel books. I'm not sure if this is because Imriel spends a lot of his time not being himself, but that might have had something to do with it.

I liked the overall plot of this book with it's big, awful magical spell and the race to unravel it. I'm still not buying the relationship between Imriel and Sidonie, which yes means I shouldn't then buy much of the resolution of this book, but whatever. I guess I'm invested enough in the world by now to make a go of it. The bad guys were more villainous then the last ones as well, which also gives this book more weight. Funny enough, it was the last of the Phedre books that I liked best as well, and that was also the one that had a really really bad bad guy.

Yeah, don't have a lot to say about this book. It's enjoyable on a pop corn level. There's still a lot of sex (which actually does get boring after awhile) and violence and unhappiness, but there's also pretty good resolution and a happy ending. Which, when I think about it, Imriel does kind of deserve. Over the course of three and a half books, he definitely worked for it.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

It's ok when it's a three way.

Number 4 this year is Lancelot and the Wolf by Sarah Luddington.

So the title of this post basically refers to what I thought (hoped) I'd be getting out of this story (or series actually as the case may be); a treatment where the triangle is depicted as being a sexual one on all three sides. It's been hinted at so many times (mainly in Mists of Avalon), but, it seems I still have yet to read one.

Because while this book gives us a bisexual Lancelot and a pretty much homosexual Arthur... Gwen is basically evil (or being evilly used for a pawn) and doesn't factor into this at all except... well to be evil.

Anyway. So that was my major let down and I was pretty disappointed. Luddington does do the relationship between Lance and Arthur well. They love one another, want to express it, and know that it's a shitstorm if they do. Interestingly, Arthur seems to be the one more willing to give up everything for Lance. This Arthur is a bit emo though, and at the start he's in a rather Theoden-like situation; he's been poisoned and manipulated by his enemies and Camelot is close to falling (he's also depressed that he had to exile Lance due to the affair, and that works).

But the lack of a good, sexy-times triangle wasn't the only thing that I didn't like... Let's face it, there was a lot I didn't like. So for simplicity, I resort to the dreaded bulleted list:

  • The language was so modern it was jarring. "Don't blow this", the fact that Lance knew he had a concussion, the prolific use of "fuck" and "dick" (neither word had entered the colloquial in whatever the hell time period Luddington though she was writing in), the misuse of "too", the shitty punctuation, etc., etc. I honestly question whether or not this book had even seen an editor.
  • Time period. Ok, I'm not a complete Arthurian purist, the legends don't HAVE to be set c. 500, but as that was the time Saxons were invading Britain and were the 'big bad' Arthur was fighting, it helps to have it set at that time. But as Luddington has put the Saxon invasion way on the back burner (ok, it's non-existent), I can go with her setting it in post-Norman invasion Britain. Even though I do find it jarring that Arthur is repeatedly referred to as "King of England" (Historical Arthur was no such thing, England as a nation didn't exist yet), and most of the names she used (de Clare, FitzWilliam) are Norman names, I was willing to forgive this as she was going the T.H. White route (who set Once and Future King in post-Norman England), mainly because I was going to give her the credit that it was a deliberate choice since she was using Lance as a protagonist and Lance is a post Norman invasion, French-authored insert into the legends. I think I'm being generous in giving her the credit. Because for someone whose bio says she majored in Medieval studies, what is WITH all the historical inaccuracies aside from the non-historical Arthurian time period (see previously mentioned anachronistic language)?
  • Arthur's fetch, or dream representative or whatever, should be a bear. Not a stag. (ok, that's just my personal preference as one of the etymology's of Arthur's name has it come from 'arth' which is Welsh for 'bear').
  • The character of Else. Wow did she not work for me. I have no problem with new characters being put into the legends, but I prefer if they actually made sense to be there. As a love interest for Lance, she added nothing new. As part of a love triangle? Why couldn't we just have the perfectly good one already there?? As a fey? Why not use any of the others who are tied to the stories already? As someone manipulated into loving Lance? Honestly, I would've preferred if she was Elaine d'Asolat (aka the Lady of Shallot) and given a bit more agency than she usually is in the tales. As a wife of Geraint? She's no Enid. I just didn't see Else as having any purpose other than giving Lance a new fuck-buddy. Ho hum.
  • Nimue was a shitty bad guy. Her constant use of the word 'fuck' robbed her of any menace and her Otherwoldly fey-ness that the author was so desperately trying to give her.
  • It looked like Luddington was ignoring any of the more fantastical elements in Lancelot's background (i.e. his being raised by the Lady of the Lake), but no, it was shoehorned in there that Lance was the son of some Faery king Aedan (I might have the name wrong and I can't be bothered right now to go look it up again). In pretty much every tale, Lance's father is Ban of Benoit (or Benwick), and Ban was perfectly mortal (although some tellings do have Lance as being the Lady's son and not just foster-son).  Now, the Aedan thing did ring a slight bell, but the only mention I could find (and once again, I might be wrong because I'm not sure if I have the spelling correct), is that Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the King's of Britain gives Aedan as Arthur's father (instead of the usual Uther Pendragon). So once again I'm like... whu? But then, so was Lance when he found out.  And the whole thing was never really brought up after Nimue drops this bombshell. Perhaps it's a thread that will be explored in one of the other books. But still... you'd think it might've caused a bit more stir? Bah.
Ok, enough ranting. The sad thing is that, despite all these things I didn't like, there is a germ of a good idea or two in this book. As stated, I like the idea that Arthur, Gwen and Lance all truly loved each other and were in it together. So, we at least have the Arthur/Lance part explored in not a bad way.  I liked the idea that this Arthur, basically in a fit of petty jealousy, stole Gwen away from Lance in the first place (this is a twist that's rarely seen, usually Lance and Gwen fall in love after she's betrothed to Arthur). I liked the rival fey factions fighting, but this needed to be far better explored than it is. It's like little vignettes that don't quite make a whole. And the really sad thing is that, because this book ends with them heading back to Camelot, I'm hoping that in the next book maybe the actual triangle will be explored? I probably shouldn't get my hopes up too high.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Prelude to Camelot

#3 of the year (which I actually finished earlier than I'm getting around to writing this up) is Prelude to Camelot by Cynthia Breeding (and if that's not a name of someone born to write romance novels, I know not what is)

It's a servicable little Arthurian tale. This is only the first part, but as of yet it hasn't brought anything new and thought provoking to the tales, but neither has it made me go 'huh'?

I appreciate an Arthurian author who gives me a likable trio of Gwen, Arthur and Lance, because so often, at least one (if not all three) are quite abhorrent and I just don't GET the triangle. Although I guess, if all three are horrid, then that makes sense as to why they're together. But I digress...

Here we have a strong, smart, likable, easy to follow Arthur. Bit of a womanizer again, but that seems to be the trend in Arthurs lately. But here, we can see why he's going to be king, we can see why all the Companions think he's the bees knees, we can see that he is Arthur.

Lance is likewise good. He seems earnest and likeable and definitely wants to impress Arthur and you can see the friendship build between them. This Lance has that more mystical background that I like, and the author uses it quite well to explain his rather incredible success with the ladies.

This Guinevere is of the tom-boy sort, but smart and strong-willed and resourceful, so once again, at least she's someone you can understand both Lance and Arthur falling for (although Arthur does seem to reach his decision to marry her merely because he's being a dick).

Her Morgan is of the oversexualized female villain type that I usually grow quickly bored of, so I'm hoping she can do more with her here.

The triangle is well set up and I appreciate that enough to carry on and see how she does with the other aspects of the Legends in the follow up books.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Book #2 is Outlander by Diana Gabaldon.

I hadn't been... actively avoiding this series, but I also hadn't gone after it either. I knew a lot of people who adored it and recommended it, and it's not like I haven't read a romance novel or two, so I'm not sure what the reticence was...

Oh wait, it was the whole time travel thing.

I hate time travel. Hate it. Fortunately here, Gabaldon has it happen (due to magical, druid type means) and then pretty much dismisses it. I'm pretty much ok with that.

Overall, this book left me a little conflicted. A 'modern' (from 1945) woman in mid-1700s Scotland definitely has a different outlook on life, and so in someways, Claire wasn't a standard damsel in distress, she was tough and resourceful and didn't take shit from male dominated society...

Except she did.

She ended up in situations where she constantly needed to be rescued. Which is fine the first couple of times, not fine after it kept happening to the point of repetition. She was forced into a marriage. The saving grace here is that the main male character, Jamie (whoo... took three tries to not type that as 'Jaime') was also forced into the marriage. Jamie thrashes her at one point for disobeying his orders, and the whole thing just becomes annoying because it's kinda just dismissed later. If they had enjoyed it as play, then I would've had no problem with it, but as it was, it was portrayed as Claire being VERY against it, Jamie seeing it as his husbandly duty, but... I don't know, it just didn't work because Gabaldon didn't really commit one way or another. To me, it would've been the perfect catalyst for Claire to go home, realize she did love Jamie (still not certain why she did love him other than he kept rescuing her and they had great sex) and return again to this life that she had chosen under careful consideration and not just five minutes of debate before deciding NOT to return at all.

Maybe that's what really bugged me about this, is that Claire didn't return to her own time. I think I needed that, for her to put to rest her first marriage, have some closure there and then return to Jamie. We didn't need a big confrontation scene with her first husband, but perhaps to see that he had moved on with his life and so case closed.

The amount of violence and threatened sexual violence didn't bug me, comes with the historical territory really. The fact that the worst sexual violence happened to the male character was a bit of an interesting twist, but once again, I didn't like that the main bad guy ,Randall, was such an overdone caricature, AND once again, Claire and Jamie were robbed of any real closure with him as he died in a completely ridiculous manner. And what we're left to take away from it all, that since dude died before he had children (so basically the history Claire knew has been changed), Claire's modern husband might not be born now, so hey... no worries on that whole, weird bigamy thing that Claire's got going on. Perfect!

Sigh. There are interesting ideas in this book, and not bad characters, but it just never really gets anywhere for me.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Welcome to 2014!

First book of 2014 is Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. Yes, I will get to that controversy, but not immediately.

Y`know how, in the training of seeing eye-dogs or helper dogs in general, that, in order to be a help, much of the dog`s natural personality is completely trained out of it so that their training is the only thing left? That is exactly how I felt about Ender Wiggins.

This poor kid is so thoroughly trained that he is left with no personality. Is that a conscious decision on Card's part? Or is that just my interpretation? I don't know. But all I felt that I'm left with is a kid who, no matter how badly he wants to run off and be a normal kid (although he's not normal to begin with, he's a super, tactical genius), he can't because he's shown too much aptitude for this one thing that the world NEEDS, so he's manipulated and trained and bullied and until yes, he saves the world.

I dunno. I found this book as depressing as all get out. To the point where I did want Ender to rebel and say 'fuck you all, I'm not saving Earth, it doesn't deserve it'. I'm glad there was a little hope at the end. Except for the fact that Ender's sociopathic older brother is now one of those in power back on Earth. That sounds grand...

And basically, I didn't feel that there were any real narrative surprises along the way. I could see what was coming, which, given that I'm not a tactical genius, I felt it was rather unfortunate that I saw through the charade but Ender didn't. Perhaps the only thing that was a bit of  a surprise was the very end where Ender does make an important discovery.

(Ok, now for the controversial part. I did not buy a copy of this book, I read a pirated version of it, sent by a friend (thank you Y!). I feel ok about that. So... knowing what I know of Card's homophobia, did I see much of it in the book, or did I carry that with me as I read? Surprisingly not that much. Yes, there is some taunting that is homophobic, but I really didn't see it as much more than rotten little boys being rotten to one another in a Lord of the Flies kinda way. But otherwise, the only thing that stood out to me was the choice of the epithet 'buggers' to refer to the alien enemy. I either missed it at the beginning or it truly isn't explained until towards the end, that the aliens are an insectoid race. I mean, I had hoped they were and that Card was going with the 'bug' slang and wasn't just being homophobic, but I unfortunately couldn't be sure. Overall, I think I actually found this book slightly misogynist than anything else. I also doubt I will be going on to read any more of his books. For so many reasons, these are just not my cup of tea.)

Thursday, January 02, 2014

2013: The Year's End

My last high of new books read was 2012, with 36. Well this year, it was 39! 39 all new books! Go me! 

Yes, I did reread some Song of Ice and Fire books again,  but I only read as far as ASoS this year, trying to just read as far as GoT the series got, but I did read quite a few things that GRRM used as source material for his opus. My list includes 3 Canadian authors, one of whom won the Nobel Prize for Literature this year (Go Alice!), and a couple of French authors in translation. There's the usual genres of fantasy (and more fantasy), historical fiction, historical non-fiction, horror and of course, something on Shakespeare. 

So the list is: 

1) A Shadow in Summer by Daniel Abraham
2) A Betrayal in Winter by Daniel Abraham
3) An Autumn War by Daniel Abraham
4) The Camelot Papers by Peter David
5) The Price of Spring by Daniel Abraham
6) The Conquering Family by Thomas B. Costain
7) The Magnifienct Century by Thomas B. Costain
8) River of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay
9) Open Secrets by Alice Munro
10) The Three Edwards by Thomas B. Costain
11) 1356 by Bernard Cornwell
12) Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill
13) The Last Plantagenets 1377-1485 by Thomas B. Costain
14) Kingdom of the Grail by Judith Tarr
15) The Iron King by Maurice Duron
16) The Tyrant's Law by Daniel Abraham
17) Becoming Shakespeare by Jack Lynch
18) The Wind Through the Keyhole by Stephen King
19) The Kingmaking by Helen Hollick
20) Pendragon's Banner by Helen Hollick
21) The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker 
22) Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell
23) In the Shadow of the King by Helen Hollick
24) Among Others by Jo Walton
25) Dance of the Happy Shades by Alice Munro
26) Captive Queen by Alison Weir
27) Darkness of the Light by Peter David
28) The Heights of the Depths by Peter David
29) The Strangled Queen by Maurice Duron
30) Lancaster and York: The Wars of the Roses by Alison Weir
31) Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch
32) Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey
33) Those Terrible Middle Ages by Regine Pernoud
34) Dear Life by Alice Munro
35) Kushiel's Chosen by Jacqueline Carey
36) Kushiel's Avatar by Jacqueline Carey
37) Kushiel's Scion by Jacqueline Carey
38) Dangerous Women by GRRM and assorted
39) Kushiel's Justice by Jacqueline Carey

My favourites? River of Stars, Among Others and my fav of the year, The Golem and the Jinni

Looking forward to a new year of reading. This year I pledge no more rereads of ASoIaF books, so maybe this year I'll hit 50 :) 

The last of 2013

As I type this, it's already 2014, but the last two books of 2013 were finished on NYE, and then we were out of town for a few days, so the write ups are only arriving now. So how did I round out a spectacularly shitty 2013? With some decent short stories and another Kushiel pop-corn book.

#38 is Dangerous Women, a collection of short stories written by numerous authors of different genres, but all female-centric. There were offerings by some authors I really enjoy, Joe Abercrombie, Lev Grossman, and of course, the crowning glory of this collection, a story detailing the history of the period of civil war in Westeros called the Dance of the Dragons by GRRM. It was written as a history and I loved it. The story I liked best though was actually by Brandon Sanderson, who I've actually managed to never read yet. I may finally have to change that.

#39 is Kushiel's Justice by Jacqueline Carey. Another of the Imriel books... I'm not buying the relationship between him and his (slightly distantly related) cousin. But I liked a lot of the celtic-themed stuff going on when Imriel lived in Alba, and I liked his revenge journey too. I've only got one more Imriel book to go, so guess I should just keep going at this point.