This week has involved a bit of a spree, because of Christmas money and my sister being a terrible influence. She will try and claim it’s the other way round, but that’s lies and slander. Anyway, as you might’ve realised, it’s time for Tynga’s Reviews’ Stacking the Shelves. I would like to take this moment to note that we’re the 4th January and I haven’t yet bought any books in 2014. That’s big stuff for me.
Anyway, breaking these down into sections just for ease…
I came across this because of Amal El-Mohtar’s NPR review; the idea of a book in dialogue with Tolkien, by one of the women around him who he encouraged and listened to, definitely appealed: I think just recently I was asking if anyone’s written anything about Tolkien’s female students, about whom I know very little except that I’m sure I have been told they existed. (Time for a woman to write a biography of Tolkien? Move over, Humphrey Carpenter, Tom Shippey?)
And this book delivered. It is rather slight — it’s short, and on first glance, rather fable-like. Naomi Mitchison resisted any urge to insist on a moral, though: while there are religious people in the story, and Hella’s travelling light seems a virtue in her, there are good people who struggle with faith, good dragons who keep out of the gods’ way, and though for a while it looks as though there might be a moral about Christianity in there, then there’s also a bit of a wry look at the church in Constantinople, and it ends with some more Norse mythology. I don’t think she honestly ever pushes any moral except finding your way through life and being good to people and creatures, and in the meantime she has an intriguing wander through different cultures and traditions.
Mitchison is a lot less sure than Tolkien about the period and the people she wants to write about, I think. Tolkien talked about creating “a mythology for England”, and I’ve argued elsewhere that Susan Cooper succeeds, but I don’t think Mitchison is as rooted in a place, an idea. Like her protagonist, she’s willing to wander. I wonder what a difference it’d have made to genre fiction now if Mitchison had a greater role, and Tolkien a lesser? Maybe we’d have less to worry about from the constant onslaught of medieval European fantasy.
It won’t scratch the same itch as The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, for sure. It’s a different sort of story — if you’re a fan of Le Guin, perhaps, it’s more like the stories of Earthsea. Or it’s like a more fantastical, more female Rosemary Sutcliff. Don’t read it for The Hobbit 2.0 — it’s something all its own.
Oh, and it can be quite amusing, too: Dragon Economics 101…
What did you recently finish reading?
The last thing was Ironskin (Tina Connolly), and before that, I Am Half-Sick of Shadows (Alan Bradley). I’m slowly creeping up on getting my list cleared, even if I keep starting new books a bit too often still…
What are you currently reading? Midnight Robber (Nalo Hopkinson). The Creole narration (I think I’m right in saying it’s Creole, but I found conflicting information when I googled, so correct me if I’m wrong!) is really fascinating; it’s a bit tough for me at first, but the more I read, the easier it becomes. I think Hopkinson was very inventive in transplanting those West African traditions into a SF world. It feels different than pretty much anything else I’ve ever read.
I’m also reading Natural-Born Cyborgs (Andy Clark), which is quite interesting, but begins to lose me whenever he gets too scientific. I need to stop reading it when I’m less than fully alert! And slightly behind that in the queue, there’s Helene Wecker’s The Golem and the Djinni, which I should be finishing soon, and Melissa Scott’s Shadow Man. Basically, as usual, I’ve bitten off more than I can chew.
What do you think you’ll read next?
Once I’ve finished those two, I think I’ll read the next Flavia de Luce book, since I’ve so nearly caught up to the ARC, so that’ll be Speaking from Among the Bones. Then I think I might make an effort to finish Republic of Thieves (Scott Lynch), before me mother and partner both expire waiting. The plan is to work mostly on ARCs I already have in progress, this month, I think. I’m thinking maybe also The Darwin Elevator (Jason M. Hough), etc.
Books acquired: There’s been enough acquired with Christmas money that I think my Stacking the Shelves entry for this week will just have to be edited highlights… Examples are Carl Sagan’s Cosmos (because Carl Sagan!) and Anna Cowan’s Untamed, after reading lots of fascinating reviews about it. It sounds deeply problematic in some ways, but also like it pushes on the boundaries of genre. I like my Regency romances, I confess, though Georgette Heyer can’t be beaten in my view; Untamed sounds like it adds some LGBT issues to the mix. Two words: crossdressing duke. I’m looking forward to getting round to that one.
I wasn’t sure about Ironskin at all when I initially picked it up. I’d seen the comparisons to Beauty and the Beast, and I knew it was based somewhat on Jane Eyre. I don’t generally like stories based on classic novels, and Jane Eyre is one of my favourites, but as I got into this, I rather liked it. It doesn’t follow the novel too closely, doesn’t break its own logic to fit the novel’s plotline; it makes and sustains a world of its own. There are parallels, more than similarities, if that distinction makes sense.
I enjoyed the first half of Ironskin quite a lot; I know other people found it slow, but I enjoyed that. The romance is, of course, quite closely parallel with Jane Eyre and Mr Rochester, so I can’t really fault it for the brevity of that aspect. It isn’t quite as compelling as the original, though.
Towards the last third or so of the book, it gained a lot of momentum and became a much more important (in the sense of far reaching consequences for the world) story. And… I didn’t like that so much. Sometimes you get sick of people saving the world — I wanted the story of Jane saving herself, Dorie and Edward, not the world. I wanted it to end on a more personal note.
The strength Jane finds isn’t a bad thing, but the story just didn’t take a direction I was interested in. The high drama of the last third after the post-war calm at the beginning didn’t work. I was prepared for an introspective story about recovery, from the beginning, and it became a story about war.
It’s a very interesting idea, and I enjoyed the fey lore and the set up. I don’t know if I’ll read more books in this series — my heart sank rather when it diverted almost completely from Jane Eyre. We’ll see!
It’s time for Tynga’s Reviews’ Stacking the Shelves meme again! I’ve already posted about the books I got for Christmas here, so I won’t repeat them — and there’s far too many to do so anyway! But here’s some I picked up today (with my first ever paycheck, hee).
On another note, you know those noble plans about the books I was gonna read for the WWE challenge? Well, I’ve realised there’s one more book I’ve read that I meant to count for the challenge, Martha Wells’ City of Bones, and I ended up starting reading another which wasn’t on my little list, Tina Connolly’s Ironskin.
Stick around, you’ll come to expect this kind of fickle behaviour from me when it comes to books…
At this point, I’ve elected not to take these books seriously at all, and just enjoy them for what they are without picking nits. After all, at least it features a curious, resourceful young girl who is interested in chemistry and forensics, who solves murders in a delightfully Blyton-esque way by getting herself all tangled up in them. Of course there’re problems with this… fetishisation of an old British country house and ~British spirit~*, etc, Flavia tampering with crime scenes, the nigh-on abusive behaviour of Flavia’s sisters (although that does seem to be developing, slowly, book by book, and might perhaps become more understandable later on).
No, nitpicking aside, I Am Half-Sick of Shadows is fun. How very like Flavia to try and prove the existence of Father Christmas by attempting to more or less glue him to the chimney pots. And there’s a touch more about her Aunt Felicity, and Dogger, which makes both of them more interesting characters. Well, I already found Dogger interesting, but I wasn’t sure what the point of Aunt Felicity was. Now… I think she and Flavia have more in common than we’ve yet seen.
The mystery itself is fairly perfunctory — the murder isn’t discovered until pretty much half-way through! I barely had time to get my head around the suspects before Flavia was getting attacked. It’s really less of a mystery series and more of a quirky detective series, mysteries to some extent optional.
Still, as I say, it’s fun — when I don’t take it seriously.
*British my foot. The De Luces of this series are very, very English, and that’s what Alan Bradley meant them to be. British is unnecessarily inclusive of the Welsh, Scots and Irish. There’s not a trace of any of those nationalities here.
This year, Worlds Without End ran a challenge about getting people to read female genre authors who were new to them. Now, I figured I already read plenty of female authors, but there’s always room for new ones, right? I even decided to go one better: I’d read double the amount suggested in the challenge. And I’ve been pretty successful so far — these are my completed reviews for the books I’ve read, available on Goodreads. Likes on Goodreads are super helpful, by the way: I’ve given up linking to the GR version of each review, as the links never registered any clicks, but it would really help me in getting ARCs and so on!
Oh, and there was one other rule — you had to pick a random new female author. So I had to pick two.
Now, the observant will have noticed that I am not quite there yet, and I haven’t got a lot of time. So, here’s the list of books I hope to get read in order to complete the challenge, by New Year’s Eve.
Silver on the Tree combines all the best of the other books of the sequence: the magic, the genuine moments of terror and alarm, the weaving of legends and the everyday, the mysteries that leave you to wonder, the sense of place… And more than any of the others it combines both sadness and joy; in that, it’s the most adult of the sequence.
I especially enjoy little touches like Bran getting to meet Owain Glyndŵr; one thing I did miss was Barney not having more of a reaction to actually meeting King Arthur who he’s idolised since before the first page of the first book. I can’t remember having noticed it before, but that jarred me, this time. Also, I remember someone mentioning to me how much it bothered them that this book plays into the betrayal of a woman theme (as does The Dark is Rising, in the form of Maggie Barnes, “a sweet face” to lure people into the Dark). Thinking about it this time, I see their point, even though the White Rider is otherwise ambiguously gendered. It’s as if women can somehow hide their allegiance to the Dark behind womanly charms, where the men are immediately picked out (Mr Mitothin doesn’t fool Will for a moment; Maggie Barnes, however, has to act wickedly to get him to realise, and “Blodwen Rowlands” fools John entirely until the very end).
We do have some great female characters in these books — the Lady and Jane, mainly, with Will’s sisters, mother and aunt and other such minor characters — but it’s a bit nasty that the alluring side of the Dark is pretty unambiguously female.
Still, that’s not enough to ruin the books, and nor is it suggested as something all women could/would do. It’s just something that may bother you, particularly if you forget how old these books are.
I think I’ve ended my reviews of this book with this quotation before, but it’s still true. The book ends with a call to arms to all of us, to stop relying on anyone else to change the world and know that we are, alone, responsible for our own choices.
“For Drake is no longer in his hammock, children, nor is Arthur somewhere sleeping, and you may not lie idly expecting the second coming of anybody now, because the world is yours and it is up to you.”
Whoops! Yesterday being Christmas Day, it didn’t “feel” like a Wednesday… Though I doubt anyone missed it.
What did you recently finish reading? He Said, Sidhe Said by Tanya Huff, which I’ve reviewed already. Before that, I’ve been working on my reread of Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising; I’m up to The Grey King.
What are you currently reading? Silver on the Tree by Susan Cooper is the first book open on my ereader. The second one is I Am Half-Sick of Shadows, by Alan Bradley; I’ll probably finish both of those tonight.
What do you think you’ll read next?
Well, I’m still working on the epic unfinished list. I think either my next ones will be the rest of the Flavia de Luce books, including the ARC I have of The Dead in their Vaulted Arches, or I might take a break from Flavia and work on some of the books that aren’t in a series. Christopher Morley’s The Haunted Bookshop, maybe, or Helene Wecker’s The Golem and the Djinni. I’m not sure yet. All my new Christmas books are very, very tempting… *snatches hands away from one of the genetics ones*
Books acquired: Many, many and varied. See this post