Books read, October 2011
Two cons ate into my reading time a fair bit, but I still made it through a decent number of books.
A Natural History of Dragons, Marie Brennan. As usual, my own work doesn’t count. (But this was for editing purposes, if you’re curious.)
Freedom and Necessity, Steven Brust and Emma Bull. A historical novel set in 1849, about (at least to begin with) a man thought to be dead, who has no memory of what happened to him. The novel is epistolary — that is, told via letters, and the occasional newspaper excerpt or such — and although it takes a little while to build up momentum, from the start the characterization is superb. All four of the main letter-writers are very vivid and distinct, with complexity that unfolds beautifully as the novel goes on. I particularly loved Susan (which will surprise no one); she says things at various points which struck me as addressing the issue of feminism in the nineteenth century from an angle that is not the same one I’ve seen over and over again in other books. A sample quote:
I’m doing this mostly because it’s opened wide a door to a room inside me that before I could only guess at by the light along the sill and through the keyhole. It’s a room in which all those things in me that, living the normal life of a well-bred woman, I could never use — strength and speed and hardiness; command over my mind and body; respect for the language of my senses; a certain ferocity of the spirit — are not only useful but essential. In that place life is lived as if in mid-air over an obstacle, between leap and landing, with everything committed and nothing certain.
Her life is infinitely more dangerous once she gets involved with the plot, but the sense that she is truly living for the first time is striking.
(Also, if you tell me Brust and/or Bull imprinted hard on the Lymond Chronicles, I will be not at all surprised. James bears many interesting resemblances to him — and this book has a similar-ish Richard, too.)
The only reason I am not head-over-heels in love with this book is that I felt a little bit let down at the end. Some of that, I think, is the fault of the cover copy, which promised me “a magical conspiracy,” and didn’t quite deliver the way I wanted. I’m fine with the book being largely mundane, but there came a point where I really expected fantasy to break through much more strongly than it did, and the lack disappointed me. Related to that, the plot strand involving the Trotter’s Club never integrated with the rest in the way I really wanted. Saying more would involve spoilers, though, so if you want to know what I mean, e-mail me or ask me in person.
Still and all — a very, very good book. My complaints above keep it from being perfect (for my tastes); they don’t make it bad. Not by a long stretch.
A Sudden Wild Magic, Diana Wynne Jones. Discussed elsewhere.
another book of mine, but I’m not going to tell you which one or why Yeah, I’m being mysterious. Deal with it.
House of Mystery: Room and Boredom, Jill Thompson et al. First volume of a graphic novel series, about a place I almost want to call the Hotel California — which may well have inspired it. There’s a bar in a house that can be accessed from many different places, but not everyone who comes to it is allowed to leave again. It’s hard to properly judge a comic on this small of a dose, but I liked how it began.
Hexwood, Diana Wynne Jones. Discussed elsewhere.
Wild Robert, Diana Wynne Jones. Discussed elsewhere.
Believing Is Seeing: Seven Stories, Diana Wynne Jones. Discussed elsewhere.
Last Watch, Sergei Lukyanenko. Russian urban fantasy, and final volume of the series that began with Night Watch (also made into a very attractive movie). It’s been long enough since I read the first three volumes that I had to refresh my memory on Wikipedia, but it made for a pretty solid ending. The biggest weakness, I would say, is that each novel is more like three loosely connected novellas, which somewhat undermines the sense of forward movement. But it does a decent job of finding a transformative note to end on, which is something I really look for in the conclusion of a series like this.
Castle in the Air, Diana Wynne Jones. Discussed elsewhere.