Received to review via Netgalley; release date 22nd March 2022
I think this was first described to me as “Phryne Fisher with magic”. It’s not quite, since it’s not a detective story, but I can see why the comparison: there’s something very Phryne-like in Dolly’s matter of fact certainty about things. But don’t downplay the magic element when you’re thinking about this book: there’s a whole rich world outside the novella, happening before and after it, and giving it a context. There’s stuff going on that isn’t really explained, that just stands there as background, and it makes me hope there are going to be more books following Dolly/Comeuppance.
Everything about this is remarkably well-handled: telling a non-linear story in such a way that everything comes together with a snap at the end is a pretty good trick. You get just enough information to not quite trust everything, but not to put all of it together at once.
I enjoyed the characters a lot, in the end — even Fiona, to my surprise. I feel like there are two or even three strands of the story I’d like to follow in future books: I’d love to see more of Gabe, Philippe and Violet, as well as more of Dolly, or of her associates.
It comes together really well, tells a complete story, and leaves me wanting more. What more can you ask?
This really is a little book, but it’s still interesting. It uses the British Museum’s collections (with a little bit of help from the British Library) to discuss how same-sex desire has been portrayed in art and literature. It’s not an exhaustive account, and many cultures leave no mark: I’d say it’s best viewed as highlighting some interesting objects (and some of the lacunae where we can’t say), rather than as any kind of complete narrative.
For me, there wasn’t a lot that I didn’t know about, or which surprised me if I didn’t, but it’s a good opportunity to get a closer look at the objects: the images are full-colour, and most pages enlarge some of the interesting details to take a closer look. The focus is on gay men, partly due to the limitations of any collection and the general invisibility of women in the archaeology of certain periods, but there are some references to genders outside the binary, and to portrayals of female same-sex desire.
It’s worth noting that quite a few of the images are explicit. In addition, some of them are Greek/Roman, so some of the men portrayed are teenage boys (since there were sanctioned and encouraged relationships between boys and older men).
And just like that, I’ve finished the last Raymond Electromatic book. I feel a bit sad now, though there’s no doubt I’ll come back: it’s a fun idea, and Christopher does a good job at a pastiche of Chandler’s style. I was quicker to the final answer here than Raymond, in several ways, but that only makes sense: he’s limited by a 24-hour memory, allowing Christopher to sprinkle in clues and deductions by him that he can’t remember, but which the reader can.
It could feel just annoying and obvious when Raymond finally arrives at the answer, but things speed along quickly enough — Raymond is aware of the limitations of his memory, so sometimes he’ll go along with something that’s happening in a way that both makes sense for the character and his limitations and prevents the reader from hopping up and down with frustration.
This last book brings a few things together and gives us some much-needed answers, in a way that’s pretty satisfying, while maintaining that pastiche feel and being a pretty slick read. For me at least, it brings it home triumphantly.
Here we are, at the end of Irene’s story! At least for now. And what a finale it is, digging into the secrets of the Library, wrapping up questions that we’ve had all along, putting paid to enemies, seeing old friends, and answering some things that seemed like inconsistencies. I’ll try not to say too much, since it’s only been out for a few days, and instead keep my comments relatively spoiler-free, though you can expect to see me mention characters who are involved (or not) and stuff on that level.
Speaking of which, it feels a little odd to me that Lord Silver’s involvement is so very small. It makes sense in the context of the story — I didn’t question it at all — and he does have a part to play twice in the course of the story… but after we’ve been thrown together with him in book after book, his absence at a few key points rings oddly. Though, in the context, his presence wouldn’t make sense, so this is more of a meta-comment on my expectations.
Anyway, those who haven’t read the previous books in this series technically get some hints along the way of the history and how things work, but I really wouldn’t recommend starting here. It’s the eighth book of a series which has had a few recurring themes, a lot of recurring characters, and where a lot of detail has been sketched in to support the plot. There’s enough here to remind someone who hasn’t read the other books recently of what’s going on, but not enough for a total beginner. (I don’t understand why people start a series of this sort in the middle anyway, but seemingly they do.) You won’t care about the characters if you don’t know how they got here.
There are a few moments that caught me by surprise in how they were handled — notably Irene’s interactions with her birth parents. It felt very right for Irene, in fact, but I guess if I’d expected a misstep in how Irene’s relationships with those around her were handled, it would be here. But no, Cogman handled the moments well, balancing just enough curiosity and feeling with Irene’s affection and admiration for the people who raised her.
I was a bit nonplussed to find other reviews complaining that everything turns out perfectly at the end. It feels like they missed some of the losses along the way: sure, there are good things about the ending, but it’s not quite the status quo, either. I guess I too would’ve expected a more fundamental shift at the end… but I wouldn’t say that the ending is unalloyed joy, either.
And with that, I’ll leave others to find out for themselves…
One of my Christmas gifts from my wife was actually an “advent calendar” — of books! Classic crime/mystery fiction, to be precise. That means I’ve been getting a bit of an education in different crime/mystery work, much of which I’d never heard of. So with Elizabeth Daly’s Gamadge, a series detective who mostly seems to investigate fakes. There was some of this book which was a bit difficult to keep up with, because it related to relationships and explanations covered in previous books — but for the most part this one can be picked up and enjoyed on its own.
Gamadge’s attention is drawn to the crime by the fact that there seems to be some elaborate fakery in order to cover up something about letters belonging to a dead poet, murdered during a drunken ramble through the city. Certain suspicious actions grab his attention, and he’s not willing to let it go… which, as ever, leads to more trouble than might’ve occurred if he’d left well alone.
It works out pretty well, and my only problem is really that I didn’t know the setup of why he’s into detecting, how he knows people who appear to be recurring characters, etc. Enjoyable, and I’d actually rather like to find the first book of the series and give that a go.
Also, points for teaching me something I didn’t know about Chaucer.
River Kings touches on a few topics surrounding the Vikings that I haven’t read much about elsewhere: their role in creating and maintaining the slave trade, for one, and then a brief (but fascinating to me) reference to using bioarchaology to understand the spread of disease, including a theory that the Vikings helped to spread leprosy and smallpox. I’d love to read more about that (in pretty much any period, to be honest).
The format of the book is fairly simple: Jarman chooses an item from a dig in Britain, at Repton, and follows its path to where it may have originated. How did a carnelian bead make its way from the east to Britain? The story allows her to touch on a lot of topics along the way: first the Vikings’ presence in Britain, and then their raiding and trading in general, and then further back along the bead’s journey. She explores the customs and capabilities of the Rus (Vikings by another name), and their role in affairs in Constantinople and beyond.
It’s a pretty effective structure to explore a bit more about what the Vikings did and why. It doesn’t cover all possible topics, but nor does it limit itself too much. I found it pretty enjoyable.
This one is a little out of the beaten path for me: it’s a mystery, but set in a historical place and period I know nothing about, set in Joseon, Korea, in the 1800s. I found the setting and role of the main character pretty fascinating: Seol is a damo, a female indentured assistant to the police, who can handle female corpses and search women’s rooms with propriety, giving them information to assist their cases. Seol is a curious girl, with a secret mission of her own to seek out her older brother, who long ago left for the city.
There are some turns of the story that I found very predictable, which I shouldn’t say anything at all about for fear of immediately spoiling the mystery for someone! I didn’t notice the person I should be suspecting, though, so the central mystery did hold up. There are some quite graphic descriptions of violence, gore, torture and dead bodies, but all described in a rather matter-of-fact way, so it didn’t make me too squeamish.
I thought I hadn’t really got attached to the characters, finding Seol a bit annoying in her impulsiveness and inability to think things through all the way to the end, but the ending did actually come through for me. I think the setting was probably the thing that interested me most going in, and that held up for sure: I’d be interested to read more about it, non-fiction in particular!
I’m finding it a bit difficult to settle on a rating, as I don’t feel very passionate about it one way or another: it was enjoyable and made me curious, but not something I couldn’t put down.
Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 19th April 2022
I don’t know how I skipped reading the summary, or if I just blanked it, but I hadn’t actually realised this was an Arthurian retelling. It was kind of interesting to come to the story that way, and see the clues emerge so that I suddenly went, oh, right, and knew a little more about where I was and where I was about to go. Spear is a gender-bent retelling of the story of Perceval/Peredur, which fortunately skips the Welsh jokes and “lol he’s a clown” that got played out in the tradition at one point (and which put me off Perceval as a character).
Griffith plays with the legend and with a sort of etymology for the name to create a story that hits some of the same notes, but in a different key. Her version of Kay is interesting, halfway between the Welsh version and the French, and her footnote about him in the author’s note gets him (as far as I’m concerned) spot on. Bedwyr’s around, too, though no sign at all of Gwalchmai that I can recall — despite the Dyfed setting, it’s not the most Welsh of retellings in that sense.
Honestly, I don’t want to say too much; it would get to sound nitpicky, given my academic background and all the little tiny features I was interested in and had thoughts about, rather than enthusiastic. Suffice it to say that I enjoyed it, greatly enjoyed certain touches surrounding the usual triad (Arthur, Lancelot and Guinevere), and definitely don’t mind a queerification of Arthuriana. In fact, let’s have a lot more of it!
I do have a few concerns, like: does Griffith realise how that changes the pronunciation? It’s nothing at all like “Lancelot”, a double L in Welsh is a completely different sound. The natural nickname wouldn’t be “Lance”, as far as I can tell — I’m not a Welsh speaker, but I have doubts here. Mind you, the Welsh alphabet doesn’t have “Z” either, so if “Llanza” is an attempt to make the name fit, then it’s an awkward one.
And my other concern might seem ridiculous, but… in the author’s note, to refer to “the Red Knight of Troyes’ Perceval” is painfully wrong. It’s referring to Chrétien de Troyes, obviously… and the way you do so is by referring to him by his full name initially, and then abbreviating to “Chrétien”. Troyes is a city, not a name. It’s like you said “Monmouth’s work”, meaning to refer to the work of Geoffrey of Monmouth. It should be “Chrétien’s work” — “de Troyes” is not actually a surname, and “Troyes” super definitely isn’t. It should be “the Red Knight of Chrétien’s Perceval“.
It’s something that was hammered into me at university, that we’d look ridiculous if we made this mistake, so obviously I noticed it right away! Maybe it’s a weird pet peeve to have, but here we are.
That said, the story itself works really well for me, and I enjoyed it a lot, both as an avid consumer of Arthurian retellings and for itself.
And here I am at last, caught up! And it didn’t even take me as long this time (I think)! It turned out that Murderbot was the ideal (mostly) bite-size companion for the stressful month of November, and the novellas in particular were eaten up in the space of a day in most cases. Fugitive Telemetry took me a bit longer, but it wasn’t the book’s fault. It’s a very fun detective story, with Murderbot getting to use its skills in ways much more like it was designed for, and it gives us a glimpse of how Preservation works, how people (and free bots) behave there, and how Murderbot is beginning to find its place.
It is set before Network Effect, and I think for some people that made it a touch disappointing, since Network Effect was a step up in scope. For me, though, I was relieved to sink back into a monster-of-the-week type adventure — I couldn’t take a season finale in every book! And I think Murderbot shines here, grumpy and yet unable to help caring, and unable to help forming attachments despite its best efforts.
There is also a great line where Murderbot calls Ratthi and Gurathin when it needs witnesses/accomplices, on the grounds that Ratthi will help them do a thing and Gurathin will come along in order to tell them they’re doing it wrong. (This is a paraphrase so as not to ruin the context or the moment, but those who’ve read the book will know.) I’d happily read a lot more of Murderbot hanging out with Ratthi and Gurathin!
Actually, there are a bunch of great lines, of course, but that one really struck me.
This reread took me a while. The Lord of the Rings is no less epic in scope, no less cleverly put together from the point of view of a medieval literature student who Sees What You Did There, no less nostalgic and magical and full of great moments and also space for your own imagination… but I feel like I’ve grown out of it for now, and despite the nostalgia for it, it’s not quite the kind of thing I want to read right now. Which is fine: it will be here when I come back, and I have faith that I will.
What I noticed particularly this time — since I always try to pick that sort of thing out when I re-review something I’ve reviewed before — is that I’d embellished a lot of the scenes with my own imagination. Inflating Eowyn’s part and Faramir’s, expanding out the personal stories like theirs which get lost against the big canvas… It’s a nice thing, to be clear: I enjoy that there’s so much space for it.
Anyway, not a wholly successful reread for me at this point in time… but there was still much to enjoy, and I don’t regret taking the time, either.