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.)

We’re not done yet

So Biden has won both the popular vote and the electoral college. Yay! This is, of course, an enormous relief to me.

. . . but if you think that means we can all now cruise along and not worry, think again.

We still have a pandemic to deal with, and it’s not magically going to go away because of an election. Neither is climate change. We need to fix our broken system of immigration, and demilitarize our police. There are countless problems that still need to be addressed, and the momentum for addressing them is going to come from us.

Especially since . . . y’all, this election should not have been remotely close. By any objective metric, Trump has been a disastrously bad president — the sort who should have been catapulted out of office without thinking twice. In previous decades, he would have been. Instead, the election was close enough that it took days to count the votes to the point where news outlets could cautiously say that Biden appears to have won. Because in addition to the problems I listed above, we’ve got a problem right here in our own body politic.

And that problem is quite simply white supremacy. Not just in the active, obvious, neo-Nazi sense, but in the creeping sense where fifty-seven percent of white people voted for the most incompetent president most of them have seen in their lifetimes. You can’t just blame it on QAnon conspiracy theories — and the reason those conspiracy theories are meeting with such an eager audience is, at its root, still white supremacy. Fred Clark at Slacktivist (himself a white evangelical) has for years now been charting out how much of American white evangelicalism is driven by white supremacy: built on a base of justifying slavery, continued in the opposition to the Civil Rights movement, and now desperately seeking grounds to say that no really, they’re still the good guys by embracing overheated lies which tell them at least they’re better than those Satanic baby-killers underneath the local Pizza Hut. Imprisoning immigrants at the border? White supremacy. Our inhumane carceral system? A replacement for Jim Crow laws. Housing policy? Time and again, looking for ways to keep people of color out, to keep them down. And it’s no accident that the voter suppression efforts disproportionately hit those communities. I’m not going to say there are no other factors playing into this mess, but white supremacy is the poison at the root of this tree.

If you are glad that Trump is on his way out of office, thank the black voters, the Latine voters, the Asian voters, the Native American voters. Because if it had been left up to white people, he would have won with ease. Sure, 42% of my own demographic looked at the corrupt, incompetent, pathologically dishonest bigot and said, “please, let’s not.” But that’s not enough. It isn’t remotely enough. We’ve got to leach this poison out, and that means getting more white people to take positive action.

As soon as I’m done posting this, I’m going to go donate to the campaigns for Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, who are headed into runoffs in Georgia. I’m also planning on writing more letters through Vote Forward, which specifically seeks to encourage underrepresented demographics (such as voters of color) to step up to the ballot box. You can donate to Black Lives Matter, the Native American Rights Fund, LUPE, and more. Give your support to the people white supremacy wants to keep down. The more power they have, the stronger we all will be.

For your Halloween delectation

Aconyte Books, publishers of The Night Parade of 100 Demons, have put together a free sampler for you with chapters from five of their recent or upcoming novels — mine included! Do not be unduly alarmed (or later disappointed) by the title “Terrifying Halloween Tales;” I am in there by dint of my novel concerning rather a lot of supernatural creatures of a malicious sort, not because it’s anything you’d call horror. But if you want a sneak peek at the story (or at any of the others), here’s your chance!

History with Magic StoryBundle!

If you could use some distraction right now, may I offer the History with Magic StoryBundle? It includes my novel Midnight Never Come, the first of the Onyx Court series, and ten other excellent books by Natania Barron, Alma Alexander, Jo Graham, Karen Lord, A.M. Tuomala, Robin Shortt, Nina Munteanu, Su Wei, E.N. McMahon, and Stefan Mears. To quote from the organizer’s blog post:

The stories in this bundle range widely over cultures and eras: from Tang imperial China and medieval Samarkand to post-reform czarist Russia and Belle Époque Boston, to Depression-era Mississippi and contemporary Senegal; from god avatars in shifting configurations across parallel universes and twinned conduits who collapse quantum-entangled history lines to plotting faeries in Elizabeth I’s court, ancient souls who act as spies for Napoleon, struggling exiled dissidents in Cultural-Revolution China and dueling magicians in Portland, Oregon. Full of rousing, sweeping derring-do and jeopardies, risky missions and fraught choices, intricate alliances and jarring betrayals, it's all here—with the layers of real history, and its very concrete consequences, glimmering like fata morganas through the gauze of fiction.

a cover collage for the History with Magic StoryBundle

It is very shiny and you can get it here, for about the next three weeks.

Truly, The Face of Stars is the card of good luck

Alyc and I have netted a STARRED review from Booklist for The Mask of Mirrors! The choice quote:

“For those who like their revenge plots served with the intrigue of The Goblin Emperor, the colonial conflict of The City of Brass, the panache of Swordspoint, and the richly detailed settings of Guy Gavriel Kay.”

. . . yeah, I’m basically rolling around in that like catnip.

The book comes out January 19th, which feels like it’s foreeeeeeeeeever from now. You can pre-order it here!