Books read, December 2020

I am behind again! But at least I’m posting about December before January is over.

Kingdom of Copper, S.A. Chakraborty. Second of the Daevabad trilogy. I’m enjoying these well enough, but there was a moment in here that made me realize what’s generally lacking: a sense of humor. It’s got a scene where some characters wind up shoved together with all the awful conflicts between them coming out with teeth bared, and then in the middle of that one of them says they need to get out of there before somebody realizes they’re plotting conspiracy in a janitorial closet, and I thought, yes. I want more of that. It doesn’t negate the pain they’re all feeling and inflicting; in fact, that kind of thing usually makes the dramatic stuff hit harder for me. When it’s nothing but tension and bleakness and bad things happening without anybody managing to find a note of levity, I just don’t engage as deeply.

RWBY: Fairy Tales of Remnant, E.C. Myers, illus. Violet Tobacco. I know nothing about RWBY, but I saw this mentioned and the folklorist in me was intrigued. It’s a pretty little book, and the material in it ranges across a couple of folkloric genres, some more successfully than others; it can actually be very hard to write realistic folklore, because that stuff just doesn’t operate like modern fiction. (It’s entirely possible that “realistic folklore” is neither the target Myers was trying to hit, nor a desirable target to aim for in the first place.) It didn’t quite scratch that itch for me, though, and since I know nothing about RWBY, I’m not inclined to hold onto this.

These Violent Delights, Chloe Gong. This reminds me of Angel of the Crows in one specific respect: I think I would have liked it even better if it had let go of its source material and just focused on the original stuff it was doing. In this case the source material is Romeo and Juliet, but only very distantly; Roma Montagov and Juliette Cai met years ago, had a relationship and fell out and now consider themselves bitter enemies, and so their names and Benedikt and Marshall Seo and Rosalind Lang and Juliette having a nurse who died years ago were mostly just distractions in a story about a weird monster and a war between Chinese and Russian gangs in 1920s Shanghai. The one place where it felt like the Shakespeare plot really played a role, I got pulled out of the story by thinking “ah, here we have a piece of actual Shakespeare plot!” Without that . . . I liked the historical setting, the complex politics of a city being carved up by various European interests and the rise of Chinese Communism and the ambiguous role of gangs, and I cared a lot more about that than I did about the minor Shakespearean elements. I could have done with more meaningful progress on the plot, which involves a strange magical effect causing people to tear their own throats out, as that felt like it was treading water for long stretches of the book. And Juliette was a little too persistently angry at everybody around her and determined to prove she was hard and heartless; more dynamics there would have been welcome. So overall, a mixed bag.

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride, by Cary Elwes (with Joe Layden). This was a Christmas present that’s been on my list for years, and having finally received it, I found myself apprehensive to open it. This movie was so formative for me and I love it so much, any “behind the scenes” account risked poking my heart in some very vulnerable spots. But the book is an utter delight, y’all. For starters, the people involved genuinely loved what they were doing and got along amazingly well: although the bulk of this is written from Elwes’ perspective (who knows how much of it is his words, vs. being ghostwritten by Layden), there are sidebars from a bunch of other people, and they consistently praise each other and talk about what a great experience filming this movie was. Not that nothing ever went wrong — Wallace Shawn was so convinced that Rob Reiner regretted casting him and was about to fire him that he apparently fretted himself into hives, and Elwes is 100% frank about how he was a twenty-three-year-old idiot who broke his toe goofing around on set and nearly screwed over the entire production — but the love truly shines through. And my household can attest that various bits had me cracking up throughout.

The Light of the Midnight Stars, Rena Rossner. Sent to me for blurbing purposes. Gorgeous and melancholy historical fantasy about three Jewish sisters in fourteenth-century Eastern Europe, blending some historical personages with folktales. This is not a cheerful story in any respect, but it’s beautifully written and notably queer, both of which I know are aspects that would be of interest to several people who read my blog.

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