So, it’s Saturday and time for Stacking the Shelves, which I tooootally don’t look forward to all week… It’s a meme where you show off your haul for the week, hosted by Tynga’s Reviews. (Hi to everyone dropping by from there.)
So anyway. It was going to be a very sad and empty week, haul-wise. Then I was browsing the Kindle store while feeling cranky, which I probably shouldn’t do. And this resulted…
I’d say spot the theme, but the covers pretty much give it away. (Welsh books and superheroes, if you didn’t get it. I love some of the superhero covers — they’re all novels apart from Dark Reign: Young Avengers, but each I think has a bit of a reference to comics in the cover art.)
So, uh, the Dark Reign cover actively infuriates me, because that’s Billy Kaplan there with Enchantress, and — he’s gay, actually. I don’t know what the hell they were thinking with that cover. He has a boyfriend in the comics, he’s with him the whole time except for a brief break during the most recent issues. It looks very much like a ridiculous attempt to de-gay him, and I hate it. But hey, at least I also got the first issue of the new Ms. Marvel and the 2014 Captain Marvel, which I’m excited about and haven’t been able to get in physical form locally, so finally got on ComiXology. I also set up subscriptions to both, because hey.
Of the other books, I can’t decide what I’m most interested in or want to start with. Hm. Maybe Make Room for the Jester, just because I’m curious that Philip Pullman has written the introduction. Or The Heyday in the Blood, because one of my lecturers from my BA wrote the introduction!
What’s everyone else been getting? What’re you getting excited about?
ETA: Belatedly dropping in to add a link to this giveaway I’m running. Gain entries by promoting my charity run or sponsoring me!
What did you recently finish reading?
The Bearkeeper’s Daughter — evidently, since I just posted the review today — and before that, Conquistadors by Michael Wood. One fiction, one non-fiction, but both based on bits of history I know comparatively little about, so both interesting for that!
What are you currently reading?
Dark Currents, by Jacqueline Carey, is what’s at the top of my pile. It’s fairly standard for urban fantasy, I guess, not as rich as most of Carey’s other work, but absorbing and well written. More like Robin McKinley’s Sunshine than Random Joe’s The X’s X or whatever. Speaking of a more Random Joe-ish one, I’ve also started reading Sandman Slim, by Richard Kadrey, which… well, when the main character has been dragged down to hell and then escapes, owns an Impala, and has an attitude problem, I side-eye Supernatural and wonder about the influence there.
Other than those two, I started Tam Lin by Pamela Dean, which I thiiiink got mentioned in Jo Walton’s What Makes This Book So Great? So that would be the impetus for finally getting round to it, probably. So far, the actual links to the Tam Lin ballad are just beginning to take shape, but I’m just glorying in that academic world. It seems so simple compared to the hoops they want me to jump through to get back into academia. (Hm, a thesis on fairytale retellings?)
Aaaaand I still haven’t picked The Thirteenth Tale back up yet, but I’ll get there.
What do you think you’ll read next?
Well, probably a bunch of graphic novels, since they’ll be the most awkward things to drag back to Cardiff in my suitcase. Then there’s my ARCs of Gretel and the Dark (Eliza Granville) and Stolen Songbird (Danielle L. Jensen) that I really really have to get to, or no one will ever send me physical ARCs again.
The Bearkeeper’s Daughter, Gillian Bradshaw
I was really interested to read this, since it’s set in Constantinople, and I think in the same period as Guy Gavriel Kay’s Constantinople-analogue, Sarantium, in the Sarantine Mosaic books. Even in other fiction I’ve come across Theodora, both as a great and powerful woman and as a scheming whore. This version is a somewhat ambivalent one, seen through the eyes of her bastard son whom she cannot acknowledge but nonetheless loves and schemes for. I liked the way she was portrayed: her drives and ambitions made sense, came out of the real history we know Theodora had.
The story is more about her son, though, based on a rumour about Theodora from Procopius’ Secret History — a very Rosemary Sutcliff-like touch, to take a half-known story and expand it and develop it into something that could have been, like The Eagle of the Ninth. Her books are aimed more at adults, I think, but there’s still that same flavour to them from the ones I’ve read so far, and they touch on similar periods and topics.
I got really involved in this, gradually, drawn into the world of Constantinople and of the people Bradshaw gives us — I loved Narses and Anastasios, and though I didn’t think I would come to love her, Euphemia as well. Theodora, of course, and this version of Justinian, worked very well for me. There are some really powerful scenes, and while there’s a constraint and dryness to it in a way — it doesn’t step severely away from what we do know of the period — it still caught me up in a spell while I was reading.
When you read the blurb, it does sound as if it’s going to be somewhat sensational — bastard sons usually are a pretty dramatic complication, after all. But actually, it tries to steer a path between an interesting story and realism, and I really enjoyed watching that balancing act.
Conquistadors, Michael Wood
I’m pretty willing to pick up any of the books Michael Wood has written. They’re obviously more popular history than anything, pitched at BBC documentary level, but that is the level of knowledge I have for a lot of historical subjects. Conquistadors is in the usual format familiar from Wood’s book on Alexander: he retraces the steps of the conquistadors, in some cases clarifying their routes where they weren’t completely known before.
This is a period of history that’s not entirely new to me, but pretty nearly — we were taught a bit about the Aztecs and Cortes back in primary school, but that was about the extent of it. Wood evokes all this pretty clearly, though some colour photographs may have helped — my edition only has a small section of black and white ones. He uses sources from both sides of the conflict, and I think he kept a balance reasonably well. He obviously admired some of the conquistadors, but he kept in mind that even those of a more exploratory bent still thought and acted as conquistadors, save perhaps Cabeza de Vaca.
I think it interesting that one review complains of a completely one-sided view of the conquistadors “ethnically cleansing” the lands they conquered, while another complains about the British self-loathing. I think actually, there’s a pretty good balance between the two: Wood rightfully points out the excesses of the Spanish, but he also explains some of their reactions and doesn’t gloss over the issues of human sacrifice, etc.
Maze, J.M. McDermott
Ehhh, definitely not for me. Maze is really, really bizarre, not a little disgusting, it can be pretty violent, and it made no sense at all to me. I won it from LibraryThing’s First Reads program, since I’ve been meaning to try this author for a while, but just… nope. It’s creative, sure. Weird, if that’s what you like to read. It’s not even badly written — maybe indifferently, from my point of view, but not badly.
It’s not like I necessarily mind weird, disgusting, violence — I read China Miéville with glee, after all. It’s just… I had nothing to get a grip on here, not even the kind of verve that characterises Miéville’s work.
I have another of this guy’s books to read, I think retelling Greek myths? I hope I enjoy that more.
The Dragon Griaule, Lucius Shepard
I wasn’t sure what to hope for from The Dragon Griaule. I mean, obviously it’s received some critical acclaim to be considered a “Fantasy Masterwork” by Gollancz, but it purports to treat dragons in a very different way to traditional fantasy, and Lucius Shepard professes to hating the usual run of fantasy with elves, dwarves and halflings. I rather like my elves, dwarves and halflings, so I wasn’t sure if I would get on with Shepard — particularly as I like my dragons to be real and active, not any kind of allegory of human nature or morality as some commentary on this implied it would be.
But it’s okay: I loved the world of Griaule. I couldn’t point to one of the stories I liked best, really: I just loved the overall style and setting, the way Shepard set up his world. If I had to pick, it’d be ‘The Scalehunter’s Beautiful Daughter’: the world of exploration there fascinated me. In general, though, I enjoyed this more for the unique take on dragons than for characters, most of whom were unpleasant or otherwise hard to root for.
I can see Griaule’s influence on more recent books with dragons, I think. At least, something of Griaule seems to touch Robin Hobb’s work, with her amoral, self-centered dragons.
What I wasn’t entirely sure about: Shepard’s portrayal of pretty much all the women in the book, while often sympathetic, generally cast them all in very similar roles with similar attributes. Even while the narrative didn’t seem that judgemental about their antics — sexual promiscuity, dissipation — it seemed to consider them universal. I don’t think there was an actual “virtuous” woman in the book. It seemed very one-note in that sense. Not that the male characters are much better, thinking about it.
So, as you can tell if you just scroll down a bit, or maybe the speed your browser has crawled to, I acquired a lot this week. That would be because my mother gave me a £40 Amazon voucher. She would claim I made her give me it, but I simply reminded her that she had promised it to me. Her guilty conscience did the rest…
Anyway, so this is my weekly haul, for the meme as hosted by Tynga’s Reviews! A couple of these have already appeared before, but now I’ve bought my own copies rather than borrowing them!
I’ve already read Saga, and I’m going to polish off Spider-girl today hopefully, so other than those, hmm. Of the ARCs, I’m more excited about The Wizard’s Promise; I’ve enjoyed Cassandra Rose Clarke’s work, and I haven’t yet read Freya Robertson’s first book. (Oops.) Many thanks to Angry Robot/Strange Chemistry for those, though.
Of the non-fiction, most of it ethics/morality related, I’m most interested in Paul Bloom’s books. He taught a class I was in on Coursera, Moralities of Everyday Life, which I really enjoyed. Of the fiction, it’s gonna have to be Night of Cake and Puppets, because Laini Taylor! Can’t wait for Dreams of Gods and Monsters. I kept an eye out for an ARC but I didn’t see it anywhere, woe is me.
All these new books, and yet I have to work this weekend. *dramatic sigh* What about you guys? Frivolous weekends of reading ahead? Anything spectacular new on your shelves this week?
Spider-woman: Agent of S.W.O.R.D., Brian Michael Bendis, Alex Maleev
It would probably have helped if I’d read the Skrull invasion stuff which figures highly into Jessica’s emotional state here, or other stuff that explains Madame Hydra’s obsession with her, but this was better than the Spider-woman: Origin TPB. The art felt more alive; I liked a lot of it, though in some places the colour palate was so limited it was hard to make sense of what I was seeing.
Again, though, this isn’t the Jessica I’m used to seeing from Captain Marvel and the recent Avengers: The Enemy Within. It’s dark and she’s tortured and not sure where the hell she fits in the world. I did like the brief glimpse of the team caring about her, particularly Carol.
And let’s be honest, I spent half this book wondering if they were counting Teddy Altman as a Skrull and if someone would try to kill him.
Spider-woman: Origin, Brian Michael Bendis, Brian Reed, Luna Brothers
I’ve loved what I’ve seen of Jess in Captain Marvel, but this is a long way from that cheerful character. This is Jessica’s dark past, her birth and her training as a member of Hydra. We see a couple of flashes of her later humour — when told her costume doesn’t count as a uniform, she retorts that she’ll just go and break that to Captain America — but mostly this feels a bit flat, despite the emotional content. It just goes too fast: one minute she’s a seven year old in an adult body, the next she’s an adult who’s willing to sleep with her enemy to get what she needs, using her body consciously and purposefully.
The art is okay, but nothing special — people kept talking about the Luna brothers when I was looking up this comic and raving about them, but the art here felt kinda flat here, too.
Still, it’s good to have more backstory on Jessica Drew.
What did you recently finish reading?
Volume two of Saga! I really love the comic timing this series has. I need to get my hands on volume 3 now.
Before that, I think it was Identically Different, which is a book on epigenetics, which I already enthused about at some length.
What are you currently reading?
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield, still. I stalled on it because I was busy with work and then I get distracted by non-fiction, so, oops. I do want to get back to it, it’s atmospheric and interesting even though I’ve just realised I have no idea when it’s set. It has that sort of heavy gothic novel type atmosphere. Maybe a bit like the feel of some of Sarah Waters’ work, and Shirley Jackson.
The other thing I’m reading is The Bearkeeper’s Daughter, by Gillian Bradshaw. I really enjoy her historical fiction, there’s something very satisfying about it, and this one is set in Constantinople. It reminds me both of Rosemary Sutcliff’s work (though I think it helps that in my edition, it’s even set in the same font) and Guy Gavriel Kay’s Sarantine Mosaic.
I’ve also read the first story in The Dragon Griaule, so presumably that’s up next. I’m intrigued by this version of dragon lore.
What do you think you’ll read next?
Well, the plan to read Retribution Falls (Chris Wooding) and Augustus (John Williams) came to nothing, so maybe those next? I do need to get working on reading stuff that I can’t drag back to Cardiff with me, so maybe Bear Daughter (Judith Berman).