Books read, April 2013
Happy May Day!
I really, really want to list as one of the books I read this month, “the first third of Quicksilver.” Because really. I read and read and read, and and it was an entire book’s worth of reading. It just wasn’t the entirety of that book. Not by a long chalk. Stephenson, you are engaging, but also a very wordy bastard.
Moving Pictures, Terry Pratchett. Probably the weakest Discworld book for me since the first two. Mostly because the central conceit felt shoehorned in — a fact which was lampshaded by having it be an intrusion from some kind of outside, quasi-Lovecraftian realm. Having Holy Wood be somewhere outside Ankh-Morpork, having the characters wander off there with no real understanding of why they’re going . . . on the one hand, I see why those things fit the concept, but on the other hand, it meant I was constantly aware of the artificiality of the whole thing, in a way that kept it from being as engaging and as funny.
But Reaper Man is next, which I’m looking forward to. (Also looking for, since I know we own it, but the actual book appears to have gone walkabout.)
Without a Summer, Mary Robinette Kowal. Oy, does Jane make some bad decisions in this one. Plausible ones, but that didn’t stop me from going “auuuuuuuuuuuugh” at her a lot. There are two really strong things going on here: first, the politics, which revolve around the fact that 1816 is the year when, courtesy of Tambora’s eruptions, the northern hemisphere faced a freakishly cold summer. In this book that gets blamed on the “coldmongers” — people who use glamour to chill things — even though there’s no logical way the coldmongers could be at fault. Society needs a scapegoat, and that makes a good one. But the coldmongers push back because they, like many groups in that time period, labor under appalling conditions (using glamour for cold is extremely dangerous), and you can probably see where this is headed, at least in general terms.
The second really strong thing is the politics of family, most specifically Vincent’s. Which, um. Wow. We finally get to see more of them, and what we see is pretty appalling, in ways that take his backstory from “romantic trope” to “fully-grounded realistic thing.” This book is way too girly for the general public to call it “gritty,” but between Vincent’s family and the coldmonger issue, I think it deserves the word.
Behemoth, Scott Westerfeld. Picked this up at the L.A. Times Festival of Books, and finished it before I went to bed. A quick, entertaining read, and one that recontextualizes some interesting bits of Ottoman history I didn’t know before. (My ignorance of twentieth-century history: let me show you it.) I am, of course, itching for Alek to find out Deryn’s secret, and of course that doesn’t happen this book, because we’re not close enough to the end of the story yet. But the road to that point is fun, too.
A Dance with Dragons, George R. R. Martin. Speaking of things long enough to count as several other books. Discussed here, with major spoilers. Short form is that I was seriously disappointed, and am hoping the TV show rewrites some of how it goes.
Dragon Age: The Calling, David Gaider. This was a bad one to try and finish right after A Dance with Dragons, because I was seriously crankyfaced and then hey look slogging through another book I’m not really enjoying, why am I doing this to myself. In this particular case, my reason (as before) was research for the Dragon Age game kniedzw and I am running, but it turned out to offer very little in the way of information I didn’t already have, and some of what it did offer, I’m chucking. (Darkspawn share a consciousness? Really? So that if you kill one, all the others will know where you are and come running? That is a howling contradiction of the way the games work — they use proximity triggers, so if you’re careful enough, you can kill some of the darkspawn in a room while the others just stand there and watch. A petty example, but I didn’t really get much out of this book that was more significant.) As for the story itself — eh. Possibly I would have enjoyed this a lot when I was thirteen and chowing down on Forgotten Realms novels, but I skimmed two entire chapters in here that were “the characters fight the darkspawn” followed by “the characters fight a dragon.” Combat, yawn, can we move along.
Also, I don’t remember who told me that reading these books would make more sense out of what Loghain does in Origins, but dear that person: nope. I still think he’s a jerk and a flaming idiot.
Women in Purple: Rulers of Medieval Byzantium,, Judith Herrin. Read for a book club. To the extent that this was a study of eighth- and ninth-century Byzantine politics and specifically the role of imperial women in same, I enjoyed it. My knowledge of Constantinople pretty much ends with the fall of the western empire, so this was largely new to me, and okay now I see why “Byzantine politics” is a proverbial phrase for a) complicated and b) cutthroat. (Blinding your own son to keep him from taking power. Cutting an emperor down, in church, while he’s singing the Christmas liturgy. Making your best friend marry your mistress so you can go on sleeping with her. Etc.)
The other half of the book was less engaging. Herrin’s argument — in what is clearly a “here is my original contribution to historical research” kind of way — is that Empress Euphrosyne formed kind of a bridge beween the two iconophile heroines, Irene and Theodora, who both helped reverse the temporary Byzantine policy of destroying icons. (The logic there was that Islamic forces eschewed figurative art, and were kicking the asses of the Byzantines, ergo getting rid of icons would clearly make Byzantium more successful in war.) In pursuit of this thesis, though, Herrin does a great deal of speculation in the vein of “we don’t have any proof that Euphrosyne did this, but she could have.” Also, long explanations of building projects in Constantinople are not as interesting as emperors getting shivved by soldiers disguised as choirboys. But the stuff around that was cool.
Reflections: On the Magic of Writing, Diana Wynne Jones, ed. Charlie Butler. Discussed elsewhere.
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