Again, it’s difficult to review without being either incomprehensible (to those who haven’t read any of this series) or spoilery (for those who have). There are some twists that are quite anxiety-making, some developments that have been a long time coming, and some moments where you think everything is surely about to go terribly wrong (and some moments where things do go terribly wrong). That’s not saying much about the book, though, since it’s true of many books and definitely of every book in this series — but the fact that all those elements are there keeps the pages turning swiftly, almost too swiftly, toward the end.
I love how far all the characters have come, and how much more the world has been developed, and the subtleties in relationships that have developed and changed since the first book. You wouldn’t expect to arrive here, starting at the beginning, but each step along the way has made sense.
I’ll probably read some of the other books in this world in the end, but not yet. For now I want to let it sit.
Chasing Aphrodite: The Hunt for Looted Antiquities at the World’s Richest Museum, Jason Felch & Ralph Frammolino
Chasing Aphrodite is not just about the “Aphrodite” statue that proved a flashpoint for the Getty Museum after it became clear it was most likely looted from a site near Morgantina. It is, as the subtitle says, about the looted antiquities, the changing attitudes toward that, and the long legal cases that forced American institutions and collectors to change their acquisition policies and return looted art. In some ways, it’s a biography of Marion True, a curator at the Getty who was instrumental in the acquisition of many of the looted antiquities, while also becoming a strong voice for restoration and refusal to purchase such items.
I found it surprisingly suspenseful — if that’s the right word. I wanted to find out what ended up happening; I didn’t remember enough about the events described (many of which hit the news when I was a teen) to remember how things worked out exactly, though it was obvious that the Getty were running their collective neck into a noose. The narrative is fairly dispassionate but nonetheless makes it deeply obvious that what the Getty were doing was wrong, suspect even under their own lax policies.
As a note, the book isn’t pro-repatriation per se. It seems fairly ambivalent about other repatriation requests, like the Elgin Marbles, striking a note that seems to call some of that type of request “unreasonable”, at the end. It casts Marion True as a fairly sympathetic figure in many ways, despite her deep culpability. She was at least as deeply implicated as other figures at the Getty, and a little honesty and self-examination might have helped her weather the storm.
One of my least favourite things in any story is when the plot is driven by miscommunication/lack of communication… but though this is true of Slippery Creatures, I can’t ding the story for it. The lack of communication is built into the characters, and how they react to it is totally consistent, and makes sense with who they are. It would be more frustrating if they weren’t bouncing off each other, because it wouldn’t ring true. Kim is messed up, and Will is horribly stubborn, and the story would be far too easy without them.
I do enjoy their relationship, and their characters, even though Kim unquestionably brings it all on himself and puts Will in terrible danger by misreading him and his motivations, and then not being straightforward with him. But I really enjoy Phoebe and Maisie, and I’d love to know more about them — they both play small but emotionally significant parts in the plot, and I love them.
The end of the book is very much not a happy ending: Slippery Creatures is the start of something, not the end. For that reason, it’s a little rough to say how much I’m going to enjoy this series as a whole — but I suspect it will be a lot.
Magic Binds would be an impossible read without all the previous books building up the story, laying the groundwork for the relationships, and painting the world Kate works in. When you think about the progression from Magic Bites to this, it’s pretty staggering — the whole scope has changed, the stakes are huge, and there are so many characters of all kinds to love and hate.
I think one of the best things about this book is the nuance it brings to the relationship between Kate and her family. From her heritage being almost completely hidden in the first book to the reveal of what she’s been raised to do to her claim on Atlanta to this… I won’t say too much, but there’s a surprisingly moving scene with someone who you don’t expect to have a quiet moment with. Actually, a couple of moving scenes with very unexpected people, honestly. And some very interesting developments with Christopher…
The ending feels a little cut off at the knees; the book accelerates toward the ending and then, of course, stops. And the next book doesn’t pick straight up from there or something — it’s quite the anticlimax. It feels like there was too much ending to do in one book, so then it just kind of abandons ship.
It gets harder with each book to do reviews without spoilers, and this is not a book where anyone could jump in, pick it up alone, and understand what’s going on. I highly recommend the series, but don’t start here!
The Apple Orchard: The Story of Our Most English Fruit, Pete Brown
Broadly speaking, I really enjoyed this book. I came across it during my sudden random interest in histories about food, and though it’s also a history about cider and farming fruit, it ticks some of those boxes. It’s perhaps a little unusual in that the author can’t actually eat apples due to an allergy, so though he happily tastes cider (which doesn’t trigger the allergy), he’s otherwise stuck with other people describing the flavours (and textures, which always seem to be mentioned when people describe eating an apple).
There are… a few things that drove me absolutely nuts, though, so people would be forgiven for thinking that I didn’t actually like the book at all. The first thing is the firm location of King Arthur stories in England, as an English thing (just like apples are English, even when he’s talking about ones from South Wales). He’s done some half-assed research, like this:
The problem for Celts who want to claim the Arthurian myth as their own is that the details — such as we assume them now — don’t stack up. […] But Sarmartian warriors did ride horses, which were first domesticated on the Kazakh steppe, and they did wear chainmail and armour of overlapping scales. If we look at the customs and legends from the homeland of these armour-clad horse warriors, other familiar aspects leap out. […] There’s even a sacred golden cup in the Central Asian myths that sounds an awful lot like the Holy Grail.
Sounds very convincing, right? Except the man has done the very bare minimum of research, and quite possibly skimmed his theory off the blog of a random Arthurian enthusiast. It’s manifest bollocks from start to finish: he bases his theory about King Arthur being a Sarmartian on the grounds that we imagine King Arthur to have been armour-clad and riding a horse. But that’s just the version of King Arthur that we’re most familiar with, one that wasn’t really codified until much later. Early sources don’t mention anything about horses or chain mail or any of that stuff. If the sacred golden cup of Central Asian myths has any links to Arthurian literature, those links are no earlier in the Arthurian canon than Chrétien de Troyes, who made the first reference to a graal — which wasn’t even a cup.
Meaning, dear friends, that Pete Brown’s imagined parallels are largely way too late to have any bearing at all on whether Celts can claim the Arthurian myth as their own. We obviously can: the Welsh have the oldest sources.
It is a little worrying when I come across research as woeful as this in a book that involved allegedly years of research. Kind of throws the rest in a bad light — as does saying that CRISPR involves turning genes on and off, rather than full scale gene editing. CRISPR, if we can get past the problem of targeting it precisely, can do whatever gene editing we want. Plus, if you’re going to reference CRISPR, then maybe don’t just explain it like that with a throwaway footnote saying “No, me neither” — some of your readers do actually understand what CRISPR is, or are more than capable of looking it up.
(In case you want to edit that footnote, Mr Brown, here’s my suggested text: “CRISPR stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats. It’s a tool adapted from bacterial defences against invasive viruses which can be used for gene editing.” Fixed that for you; not much more difficult to understand than “No, me neither”, and much better at giving context if someone is interested.)
Also, it’s really, truly, incredibly, breathtakingly, moronically irresponsible to write that you are worried about eating “moth bits” in an apple if the tree was gene-edited to include a resistance gene from moths. It’s a piece of DNA; it doesn’t make bits of a moth, you idiot. It makes a protein which has nothing to do with any part of the moth’s lifecycle. If you took that gene and begged it, it could not become a moth, nor could you reconstruct moth DNA from it. If you really want to make some kind of comment about gene editing, I strongly recommend you go and spend at least one more year on your research, because you patently don’t understand a thing about it right now.
All of that said, I realise that makes it sound like I hated the book, but the parts where he sticks to what he knows and has experienced are very pleasant — he waxes poetical about the beauty of apples, the traditions surrounding them, and the events he’s taken part in that involve apples. He should have stuck to that, because overall it’s a really enjoyable read.
Magic Shifts is the last book of this series that I’ve read before, and it’s very difficult to review without spoilers for people who haven’t read the previous books. There’s a “monster of the week”, of course, in that Eduardo gets kidnapped, so Kate and Curran have to dig into what happened there, figure out who/what is spawning weird giants that metamorphose into other animals, and find Eduardo. There’s also some background information about djinn and their place in the world, and about ghouls (only briefly mentioned before, if at all).
There’s also a lot of development for the changes to the Pack composition begun at the end of the last book, and a lot of personal changes for Kate and Curran. Like, you know, having to get used to living in suburbia with a nosey neighbour who wants Curran to avoid walking around in his lion form.
And then there’s the fallout of the previous book, and some hints about where things are going… And that’s all I’ll say about that.
Like the previous books, there’s a lot of action, the plot moves quickly, and Kate is a bit better at investigating things than she says she is. Some things fall into place beautifully, and there are some really nice character moments.
Killing is My Business is very much in the same vein as the first book: Raymond Electromatic is one of the world’s last robots, originally designed as a private investigator, and co-opted by his partner Ada to become a hitman. He has a little limitation: he can only remember the past 24 hours, along with the background information that’s hard-coded and gives him his skills.
The feel is very Chandler-esque, and the story slips by quickly. The one frustrating thing for some people might be the fact that some things are obvious to the reader before they’re obvious to the narrator, due to the gaps in his memory. Personally, I thought that was well-handled, but if all you care about is getting to the answer then you might feel like shrieking a bit.
I’ve never read the third book, and I’m looking forward to it now; the ending of this book does some really nice setup for the truth to come out.
It took me a bit longer to get into Tears of Pearl than with the other Lady Emily books, and partly that’s because Emily arrives in Constantinople and is promptly a total British tourist and has the most typical imaginable reactions to everything, including her opinions on the treatment of women. Sure, it mentions the relative freedom some of the women have, but… it all felt really shallow.
It’s also a bit weird to read this book and find it so similar to Mary Robinette Kowal’s Glamour in Glass in terms of Emily’s thoughts and fears about pregnancy and childbirth. It makes total sense that it was a preoccupation for women at that time, and these books already inclined more toward historical mystery than romance, so an exploration makes sense… and even the end of the book makes total sense as the obvious thing to happen (trying to be vague here, because of spoilers), but I’ve read that plot before in a book that I love, so it kind of hit weirdly for me.
I don’t know how much longer I’ll stick with Lady Emily; I do enjoy her preoccupation with classical things, and her unconventionality, and her warmth for her friends — and of course her funny dialogue with Colin. But I struggled to get started with this one, and got involved more with how the mystery was solved than with the emotional stuff going on. It’s too soon to say if I’ve fallen out of the series, and I’ll give it another book at least — especially since I read two-thirds of this book almost all in one go… but I’m wondering.
There is a particular scene from this book that I remembered without remembering much else, and it really seared its way into my brain — the rest of the book, even though it was a reread, was pretty unfamiliar… which meant I had a few shocks! Really, the whole thing was kinda stressful, right from the moment I read the author’s note talking about how this feels like the end of the series in some ways. And it really does — you’d walk away with questions, still, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and it certainly turns a page for Kate and her family.
It’s difficult to review this without saying too much, to be honest. There are a few ways that this book is a gamechanger for Kate, and it’s probably most fun if you experience it for yourself.
Personally, I continue to love that these books aren’t straightforward to define: it’s not just a story of vengeance, or a story of a mouthy mercenary with some flashy magic, or a romance story, or a set of stories about a private investigator, or a story of post-apocalyptic survival. There’s so much going on.
To get a little more specific about this book, I love that we get to see more of Ghastek, his past and what drives him. It’s also interesting to see more of some members of the pack, particularly Robert Lonesco. I could wish for more of Andrea and Raphael in this book, but it’s also fun to change it up.
Elatsoe is a book set in a slightly alternate US, with many things that are familiar… and some things that aren’t, like Ring Travel (for those related enough to fairies to use fairy rings as transport) and the well-known presence of things like ghosts, vampires, and weird cursed scarecrows. Darcie Little Badger is Lipan Apache, and so is her main character and her family, and the story is strongly informed by those traditions, stories and magic.
I think that for the right person, this book is pure magic. There’s a lot to enjoy, like Kirby the ghost dog, and the ghost trilobites, and for goodness’ sake the ghost mammoth. The world-building around the story is pretty fascinating, in its differences and the way it makes different traditions work together. I also enjoyed the trust between Ellie and her parents, and the fact that they believe her and act on what she tells them (unlike many parents in YA books). It’s also cool that Ellie is casually revealed to be asexual.
I didn’t fall head over heels for it, though. It felt like it just wasn’t aimed at me, really; there was nothing that I hated or could point to that I didn’t specifically like, though the narration felt a little young, and I could never quite place how old Ellie was meant to be. (We’re told at one point, or at least get a pretty good idea, from her thoughts about college and so on, but then I kept reading her as younger.)
So, not quite for me — and yet still enjoyable: I read it in big chunks, after all!