Books read, September 2020

Still catching up (or at least trying not to fall more behind) . . . short list for this month because a large chunk of it was taken up by revisions on the second Rook and Rose book.

the second Rook and Rose book Doesn’t really count, even though I read through the whole thing. 🙂

A Natural History of the Senses, Diane Ackerman. This was an interesting but uneven book for me, and one that never quite fit into any particular category in my head. Ackerman is sometimes writing interesting explanations of how our brains process sensory information, and sometimes writing scattershot surveys of our culture around the different senses, and sometimes doing deep dives into random sub-topics of that, and there were places where I knew enough on the subject to say she was wrong about a particular thing, which made me give more of a side-eye to some of her other claims. But it’s also very lushly sensuous, in the strict sense of that term, so useful reading in some ways from a craft perspective.

The Last Uncharted Sky, Curtis Craddock. Third of the Risen Kingdoms trilogy. I went into this with slightly wrong expectations: the characters are sent off in search of a major craton (sky continent) that’s uninhabited — not a New World analogue; that one’s already been found and mentioned as part of the ongoing political game — more like finding Atlantis, in that it’s thought to be the location of something that might or might not be mythical. From that premise, I expected some amount of time spent getting there and then a fair bit spent exploring the place and looking for the possibly-mythical thing. Instead the book is 95% “getting to the craton” and 5% “dealing with stuff on the craton.” Which doesn’t make it bad; it just meant it didn’t scratch my itch for fun exploration. On the other hand, some fascinating exploration of how a few of the sorceries work, Seelenjager and Fenice most particularly. This might be the end of this series, but I would totally read more in this setting.

A Parliament of Bodies, Marshall Ryan Maresca. Also third of its trilogy, and also a book I went into with the wrong expectations. I knew Maresca had written or was writing other series in this setting, and it was clear from early on in this novel that there was overlap between them; Welling makes passing reference to some recent events I hadn’t seen happen which involved a character I recognized as being the protagonist of (I think) the first Maradaine trilogy, and I had a feeling two newly-introduced people were being set up for/had been ported in from one of the other trilogies. But it turns out Maresca is actually doing something more akin to an MCU-scale undertaking: this novel does not resolve its plot, nor the underlying metaplot, because all four series are coming together in a grand showdown in a different book. It’s an impressive narrative feat, but I have to admit it was somewhat jarring when I didn’t know it was coming.

Invisible Agents: Women and Espionage in Seventeenth-Century Britain, Nadine Akkerman. You know how sometimes people talk about women being “written out of history”? Akkerman demonstrates that more literally than I would have thought possible. The general point of this book is that women were up to their eyeballs in spying during the English Civil War, on both the Parlimentarian and Royalist sides . . . and in the former case, you can look at the draft versions of the council minutes where they record X sum being paid to Mrs. So-and-so for intelligence work, then compare it against the finished copy of those minutes and see that same woman being paid for “nursing.” Not as a way of protecting their assets against the enemy, either; it had more to do with women’s information being seen as less reliable than men’s, and Thurloe (the Parlimentarian spymaster) protecting his credibility by concealing those sources. There’s also a lot of class bound up in it, too: Royalists were more willing to credit their women, but their women also tended to be ladies of quality, while Parlimentarian spies were more often common-born. So anyway, this is a fascinating survey of specific women and what they did, the dynamics of espionage and credibility in the seventeenth-century, and some specific techniques for how stuff got done.

(Irritatingly, I now realize I committed some historical errors in my references to the Sealed Knot and Lady Dysart’s involvement with same during Part III of In Ashes Lie. I can be forgiven the ones that I couldn’t have known about because the relevant information wasn’t published until a decade after I wrote the book, but for crying out loud, I should have noticed that Lady Dysart’s father was dead by then. Grumble mutter hrmph.)

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