Books read, September 2011
What it says on the tin.
Knife of Dreams, Robert Jordan. Discussed elsewhere.
The Unstrung Harp, Edward Gorey. Re-read. Still the truest book on novel-writing I have ever read.
Lion’s Blood, Steven Barnes. Alternate history, where African powers became the dominant empire and Europe is a backwater, raided for slaves to man farms in the colonies of Bilalistan. I had trouble getting into the right mental gear for this book; it takes place in the latter half of the nineteenth century by the Gregorian calendar, and I kept expecting the setting details of this world to map more directly to the U.S. at that time than they do. But Bilalistan is still a colony, not yet independent, and there aren’t any railroads, etc; the men of the plantations still study and make frequent use of swordsmanship, though they do also have guns. Nothing wrong with that, of course; the entire chronology is different, from Alexander’s day onward, and so the setting shouldn’t just be the real nineteenth century with a Muslim paint job over it. But it kept distracting the analytical part of my brain.
As for the story itself, it was good, but never quite got me as strongly as I wanted it to. The inevitable betrayals brought on by the differences in Aidan’s and Kai’s stations didn’t cut as deeply (for me, at least) as they might have, and — this sounds like a contradiction, but it isn’t — I have a hard time buying the notion that Aidan doesn’t just flat-out hate Kai by the end. Still, I may very well read the sequel, Zulu Heart, simply because the setting is so interesting.
Africa in History, Basil Davidson. This ate a whole lot of my month, which is part of why the list for September is so short. I don’t remember who recommended this book to me, but I’m glad they did. Had you asked me what I know of African history at the end of my senior year of college (the high point of my knowledge on the subject), it would have gone: chapter and verse on human evolution, a good overview of Egypt up to the Roman period, uhhh, slavery and colonialism? Africa is, of course, a rather large continent to cover with a one-volume history, but in this case that’s exactly what I needed; it gave me a framework on which to hang later reading.
Ignorant as I am of the subject, I can’t really evaluate Davidson’s scholarship. The areas and time periods he neglected, he seems to have done because of a lack of solid historical record; he could probably make better use of archaeological/anthropological evidence (a topic he seems less than fully comfortable with), but then, I can’t be sure there’s much of that available to him, either. The one thing I raised my eyebrow at was the occasional pan-African refrain, where he made claims for a universality of certain motifs across the continent and their distinctiveness as compared to other parts of the world; Africa’s a big continent, with lots of natural divisions, and I’m dubious that one can make any universal observations that aren’t vague to the point of uselessness. But it’s not a major issue. On the whole, I found this very useful as a 101-level introduction.
Black Maria, Diana Wynne Jones. Discussed elsewhere.
Nzingha: Warrior Queen of Matamba, Patricia McKissack. Notice a theme for September? 🙂 This is part of the “Royal Diaries” series, and as such is a very brief little book, focused on Nzingha’s childhood. Me, I wanted to read more about the actual “warrior queen” stage of things, which came later — but that would have been both depressing (things didn’t go so great for her people) and not nearly of as much interest to your average child, what with the politics and all.
22 Czech Legends, Alena Ježková, trans. Martin Tharp. A gift from my brother. They are distinctly legends, not folktales; it’s all about how places got their names or ghosts that haunted particular castles, etc. Pleasant reading, and very quick.
Red Glove, Holly Black. Second in the Curse Workers trilogy. I’m very much enjoying these books; they’re YA urban fantasy in a world where magic is known and illegal, and largely the province of mob-style crime families. Red Glove is somewhat middleish, compared to the first book (White Cat) — it has a central plot, but Cassel spends a fair bit of the book either leaping to conclusions about it or trying to avoid thinking about it — but I still enjoyed it, especially the bits where you watch Cassel twitching and edging backwards into being a good person.
Books abandoned this month: three. All three of them after reading a goodly chunk, too — a hundred pages or so — which annoyed me; I felt like quitting meant I I had wasted my time. Then I realized I was only pushing forward for that reason, which was a waste of my time, so I stopped.