Books read, June 2022

A bit belated on account of me being on vacation; a bit short on account of June being the month of Revise All the Books.

Swanfolk, Kristín Ómarsdóttir, trans. Vala Thorodds. Reviewed in the New York Journal of Books. Asas, I did not like this nearly as much as I hoped to, given the premise (spy for a dystopian society encounters human/swan hybrid creatures).

Putting the Fact in Fantasy: Expert Advice to Bring Authenticity to Your Fantasy Writing, ed. Dan Koboldt. My own essay on translation in fiction is reprinted here. The rest of the essays range from language to military matters to how noble titles actually work to rather a lot of people wanting you to know that Horses Don’t Work That Way. The brevity of the essays means that none of them are full explorations of their topic, but there is useful food for thought in here.

redacted As usual, my own work doesn’t count, with the bonus effect this time around that I’m not allowed to even tell you what it is yet. >_<

The Sorrows, Randy Lee Eickhoff. I continue to mostly enjoy Eickhoff’s transretelladaptations or whatever I should be calling these things. However, 1) his poetry continues to be atrocious and 2) dude, lay off the fruit metaphors for women’s breasts. (The latter were especially egregious this time.) This volume collects the Three Sorrows: “The Fate of the Children of Tuirenn,” “The Fate of the Children of Lir,” and “The Exile of the Sons of Usnech.”

The Bruising of Qilwa, Naseem Jamnia. A novella, also reviewed for the NYJB, but since this one hasn’t been released yet, the review isn’t live. Queer medical fantasy in a distinctly Middle Eastern society, complete with the feeling of being at the crossroads of different cultures. My main reaction to this was that, as the novella is apparently an expansion of the short story Jamnia wrote first, I hope someday they expand this to a novel. There was a whole lot in here I really wanted to see explored in more depth — and would gladly read if it came into existence.

Ninefox Gambit, Yoon Ha Lee. Re-read. The opening battle is much less gruesome than I remember it being, probably because this time I was prepared for it to be gruesome. I still love how vivid the setting is, not just in the obvious, load-bearing spots, but in random side details that are there because there’s no reason they shouldn’t be.

The Merchant’s Tale, Ann Swinfen. Fourth of the Oxford Medieval Mystery series, this time with a mystery that starts well before the murder. The characters were rather stupid about failing to guess what the bad guy was there to do, but in the meanwhile there’s a fair and the womenfolk have teamed up to run a booth selling fruit preserves and fruit cheeses and Nicholas convinces one of his scriveners to get spectacles and yeah, it’s still kind of a feel-good tour of medieval life, which is so what I’m here for. And though I do like historical precision when I can get it, I don’t fault Swinfen for hastening by a few years the incident where the prior of the local priory led a band of armed men to break into his own church so he could steal and sell some things.

The Smoke Hunter, Jacquelyn Benson. Pulpy Victorian archaeological fantasy that wears its debt to The Mummy on its sleeve. The romance was a touch too tsundere for my taste and I was annoyed at the heroine for how long she held back some vital information, but its lost Central American city threads a nice path through the history of the actual cultures that lived there, and if the locals are not a large presence in the story, one of them at least gets a pretty substantial bit of protagging in. There’s supposed to be a second book out some time this year, but I haven’t found any information about it on the author’s site.

Carthage Must Be Destroyed: The Rise and Fall of an Ancient Civilization, Richard Miles. Wow, is it interesting to see Carthage from a non-Roman perspective. I basically knew bugger-all about it except for a bit about the Punic Wars, which I received very much as “and then Rome finally crushed their Great Enemy.” Among other things, this book traces the rise of Greek anti-Carthaginian sentiment, which then became Roman anti-Carthaginian sentiment — and I couldn’t help noticing that, while we use the term anti-Semitism to refer specifically to prejudice against Jews, the stereotypes about this likewise Semitic group struck some distinctly familiar echoes. It also made me wonder how Carthage was so successful for so long when their military affairs were so frequently a disaster; I think the answer is some combination of “the book didn’t talk as much about naval engagements until Carthage started losing them” and “their strength was more on the economic front.” But seriously, you’d be forgiven for thinking Hannibal was their only competent general — Hannibal, and the Spartan guy they hired for that one war, who very wisely buggered out as soon as he’d done what they paid him for before Carthage’s ruling council could do its usual thing and get suspicious of his success. And then you have to feel some pity for them when they fought Rome to the point where any other Mediterranean state would have meekly come to the table to settle peace terms, but Rome’s response was to basically go “fuck you I’m gonna raise a SECOND ARMY that’s EVEN BIGGER.” (My sense of Rome as the honey badger of the ancient world grows ever stronger.)

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