The Shadowy Horses is another delightful romance with a strong sense of place and a bit of a mystery/ghost story factor, this time set in Scotland in the midst of a dig to find remnants of the Ninth Legion. There’s no proof of what happened to the Ninth Legion, so stories like this and like Rosemary Sutcliff’s The Eagle of the Ninth that try, in different ways, to puzzle out some of it have always fascinated me. That’s not the primary story here, which is a little disappointing, though I didn’t really expect it to be.
Primary, of course, is Verity’s story, and the stories of the characters around her; how they intersect and intertwine, and in some cases, part ways. The ghost story might feature a Roman ghost from the Hispana, but it could be any ghost with a tragic story for all that it really matters.
It’s a fun story, and I really need more books like it and like Mary Stewart’s books. The sense of atmosphere and, secondary as it is, the historical background give the romance its flavour.
Repost! Since for some reason, WordPress ate the first version.
It’s February 14th, which means it’s Valentine’s Day. Which means that the TTT topic for today is, unsurprisingly, about romance. I’m going to talk about couples-that-might-have-been, and couples-which-aren’t-yet, in books that I love.
Csethiro and Maia, from The Goblin Emperor (Katherine Addison). Okay, they’re getting married, so the chances are good. But we only just glimpsed the two of them beginning to really come together as a couple. I long to see more of Csethiro protecting him, and Maia respecting her and giving her power and influence in his kingdom, and how that unfolds.
Kim and Aileron, from The Fionavar Tapestry (Guy Gavriel Kay). Come onnnn, I can’t be the only one who saw that. Kim should’ve stayed in Fionavar; marrying Dave makes no sense at all. But then, Kay is kind of prone to that.
Arthur and Guinevere, from Paths to Camelot (Sarah Zettel). I just love seeing them have a functional, central, mutual relationship without betrayal. We get glimpses of them throughout the four books, but… I want more.
Eowyn and Faramir, from The Lord of the Rings (J.R.R. Tolkien). They make sense as a couple, but they have so little time and development. Gimme more!
Alcuin and Anafiel, from Kushiel’s Dart (Jacqueline Carey). It’s not faaaaair.
Phèdre and Nicola, from Kushiel’s Chosen (Jaqueline Carey). I really liked their relationship and wished we saw a bit more of it.
Alan and Matthias, from Blood and Circuses (Kerry Greenwood). Their scenes together with Phryne made me laugh, and I kind of hope that they at least kept up the relationship.
Lin Chung and his wife, from Murder in Montparnasse (Kerry Greenwood). I feel like Lin Chung’s wife deserved a bit more ‘screen time’, so to speak — she and Phryne could have a fascinating relationship, and she seemed pretty interesting as a character.
Rupert and Bryan, from Season of Storms (Susanna Kearsley). Okay, I kind of want them to be my dads, but. The book ends tragically and it’s not fair.
Celia and Marco, from The Night Circus (Erin Morgenstern). Or maybe I just never wanted that book to end…
And now I kind of want to go and reread all these books.
This week’s theme from The Broke and the Bookish is a freebie, so I took a while to think of a theme I liked… But you’ll be relieved (or not) to discover that I did eventually make my mind up: the theme for me this week is “top ten books I picked up at random that were a really good idea”. All of these books I just grabbed in a bookstore or library, without checking reviews or being recommended them. I’ve linked my reviews in cases where I’ve posted them here, though!
A Taste of Blood Wine, Freda Warrington. I thought this might be a silly vampire story, but I was in the mood for that. I didn’t expect it to be as well written and absorbing as it was — nor to have LGBT+ characters, female scientists pre-WWII, and a rich mythic background.
The Dragonbone Chair, Tad Williams. I actually bought this whole series in one go, plus his Otherland books, and enjoyed them all greatly. Time for a reread, soon!
A Sorcerer’s Treason, Sarah Zettel. It’s been a while since I read this series, so I just remember picking it up in Borders and getting quite absorbed.
Dead Harvest, Chris F. Holm. And that whole series, in fact. I really loved the pulp pastiche covers, and loving the story was a good bonus.
The Invisible Library, Genevieve Cogman. Granted, I didn’t read it until rather later, but just the summary was enough to make me grab this one.
The Gate to Women’s Country, Sheri S. Tepper. I liked this so much more than I expected. I’d been more or less anti-recommended Tepper’s work, and just picked this one up because it was in the SF Masterworks list.
The Universe Versus Alex Woods, Gavin Extence. I picked this up in Belgium — I can’t remember if it was the time my ereader broke and I just had to get my hands on some books, any books, to fill the void. Anyway, I ended up loving it, but I hadn’t read anything about it beforehand and I was quite surprised by the depth of the subject matter.
The Rose Garden, Susanna Kearsley. On the face of it, this didn’t even look like my thing. But I ended up giving it four stars, so not bad, right?
On Basilisk Station, David Weber. I loved this — and my sister loved it even more. Yet I remember just being mildly curious when I picked it up at the library…
Century Rain, Alastair Reynolds. Even if I hadn’t loved the book, it’d be worth the price of entry because it was the book that got my sister back into reading, after years of not being interested. And it’s still her favourite.
I really need to jot down ideas for freebie weeks in advance. Any suggestions, people?!
This surprised me with the bittersweetness of the ending. I guess I was expecting a happier one after The Winter Sea managed to work it all out. Still, it’s satisfying that this dodged my expectations, and in more way than one — it deceived me all the way through about the identity of a particular character, and yet when it became clear, it was suddenly obvious as anything. And I do care enough about the other characters to be a little sad about the way it works out; not everyone is going to be happy, for sure.
This is a slow build, really, with Julia’s slow feeling her way into the past, the lack of urgent drive in either timeline until pretty late on. It’s not my favourite of Kearsley’s books, perhaps, but it was fun to read, I got involved with the characters, and it definitely manages to pin down that sense of place which I’ve enjoyed in her other books. I could almost drift in Julia’s life, Julia’s house, while reading this, just as Julia drifted into Mariana’s world… It feels close enough to touch.
Silly story: when I finished The Winter Sea, I thought, darn, I really want a story by Kearsley that is set in Wales, in that landscape, which I love and feel part of. Because she does a great job with landscape, with the feelings it can invoke, but Scotland or Cornwall aren’t my landscapes.
Then I remembered I had already got a couple of chapters into Named of the Dragon. Suffice it to say that the landscape was satisfactory, and I would probably have felt homesick had I read this when not in Wales. Particularly at the bit with the lovely little chapel, St Govan’s — I’ve meant to go there for a while, because of the Gawain link, and this reminded me.
I’m not sure why I stopped at that point, before; while I adore the Welsh and Arthurian aspects of this book, it might have been the characters that didn’t work for me. Mostly the supporting characters: Elen, with her Arthurian fantasy; Bridget, with her flirtations and lack of remorse over basically planning to cheat on her partner; Christopher, with the general veneer of charm that lacked the warmth of (I couldn’t help but make the comparison) Stuart in The Winter Sea. I enjoy Kearsley’s books, but sometimes the supernatural links are too tenuous for me, or rather, too tenuously explained, too tangential to the actual emotional plot.
Because really, it doesn’t matter if Elen and her baby are really somehow related to Igraine and Arthur. What matters is the main character’s gradual acceptance of her own child’s death, her ability to finally put it aside and belong in the present, and help someone else. It doesn’t matter if Gareth and Lyn are somehow linked back to Gareth and Lynette, because their relationship is all their own anyway (and let’s face it, Lyn’s not half as nasty as Lynette, and this Gareth is at least twice as nasty as Fairhands).
I was glad that the romance wasn’t laid on too thick, here. There’s hope, potential, but nothing certain. If the book had been longer, more would have been okay, but for the length and where the story stopped, it was right to stop at that moment of potential.
It took me a while to read this one, and I think I was slightly less engaged than with the other books. The Scottish setting is great, and I’m always impressed by the sense of place that Kearsley conjures up. I wasn’t that big a fan of the love triangles and such, though; I-love-you-but-you-love-another isn’t one of my favourite tropes, and though it was light, it was played with her. I’d rather not have two romantic rivals.
It’s still a book by Kearsley, though, so it’s an enjoyable read: details of character and place to make you really feel like you know the landscape and the people, so you can picture the scenes. The supernatural element, well, I’m not a fan of memories-in-DNA as a plot point (Assassin’s Creed gets away with it only because I hold games to different standards, I think), so that link between the main characters wasn’t a big thing for me.
I feel like I liked both halves of the novel — the past and the present — well enough, but I’d have liked them more if either was the whole story. I’m not sure what could be made of the modern story, but it felt like the stakes were low, everything muted; it was just a frame story for the storyline set in the past.
There are some beautiful bits of description about the wintery sea, and I think whoever retitled this as Sophia’s Secret has no soul. The Winter Sea is a perfect title for it.
Some lovely book-mail awaited me on my return from my month in Belgium, Canada and the US. So excite! Thank you to Susanna Kearsley and to Pan Macmillan for these, respectively.
Aaaand I was happy to reunite with the library, of course.
One-Eyed Jack is a book I had as an ARC… ages ago. So I figured I’d get it from the library. I don’t know what exactly prompted me to try Sarah Pinborough’s books, but I’m intrigued. Susan Cooper is, well. Susan Cooper. ’nuff said. Been meaning to get to this one for ages. And The Darkest Part of the Forest features queer characters, so why the heck not? The Great Zoo of China… I haven’t heard 100% good things about it, but I felt like giving it a shot anyway.
Aaand just one comic on my pull list this week.
So what’s everyone else been getting? Anything you’re really excited about?
This week, I got some major goals done — the book I was ghostwriting was finished (well, one of them), I got a lot of transcription work done, and I got an assignment done. So I was allowed some books, and much deserved they were. Also, one of them was bought with a voucher my mother gave me a few weeks(!) ago. Aaand then was Support Tor Day (warning: link to Vox Day’s blog; no, he isn’t supporting Tor, he’s calling for a boycott, which to me is tantamount to asking all reasonable people to support them).
Plus, Susanna Kearsley sent me an Amazon voucher to make up for me getting smacked with a customs charge for a book she sent me. I don’t have that book in my hands yet, but I do have a couple of her others. I had some of these from the library, but…
I’m not sure how I feel about this event, but still. Ms Marvel. Yay.
This week’s Top Ten Tuesday theme is “beach books”. Which is not something I really do, so instead I shall pick the kinds of books I like to relax with. Whether that looks like your beach reads or not, I don’t know!
Shades of Milk and Honey, Mary Robinette Kowal. Or anything in that series, but the first one is the lightest and closest to Austen and the like.
This Rough Magic, Mary Stewart. Or any of her mysteries — they have an amazing sense of place, it’s like going on holiday without leaving home.
The Rose Garden, Susanna Kearsley. Another one with a great sense of place, this one in Cornwell. It’s not all happy, but the romance is sweet and it has a happy ending.
The Grand Sophy, Georgette Heyer. I have a huge soft spot for these romances. I loved Sophy in particular, though I’m also a fan of…
The Talisman Ring, Georgette Heyer. Which is more of a mystery/adventure than some of the primarily society type ones.
Magic Bites, Ilona Andrews. Light and compulsively readable.
Have His Carcase, Dorothy L. Sayers. Okay, I think you need the background of previous books, but I love the first line and the rest doesn’t disappoint: “The best remedy for a bruised heart is not, as so many people seem to think, repose upon a manly bosom. Much more efficacious are honest work, physical activity, and the sudden acquisition of wealth.”
Gaudy Night, Dorothy L. Sayers. For Harriet Vane in the prime spot, with her final answer to Lord Peter’s proposals at the end of the book… Plus, tons of smart women in academia.
Jhereg, Steven Brust. It’s a fun first book of the series, it raced past me, and it’s really easy to read.
Soulless, Gail Carriger. Fluffy fun with werewolves.
I don’t think that’d be a bad selection for the beach, right?
Looking at the reviews for this book, I had to laugh at how many people compared Kearsley’s work to Mary Stewart’s. Including myself, I’m afraid, which leaves me wondering if Kearsley embraces that or is rather sick of it by now. But truly, some of the plot things here are right up Stewart’s street, too: the moment where the villain kisses the heroine, that charged moment between them. Except that there’s something more subtle here: the villain isn’t purely villainous, but motivated by love as well. There seems something genuine in his attraction to the heroine, his interest in her.
And Kearsley is much harder on my heart. As with Season of Storms, I found myself falling for a character who didn’t make it to the end of the book. Kearsley did a great job with character, much more so than Stewart: I can believe in what happens between the protagonists, I adore a lot of the characters, and all of them have an inner life. There is something dreamlike about the whole book, with these moments of clarity where you really get to know characters and see what makes them tick, even less significant ones.
The plot itself is a bit convoluted, and I could perhaps have done without the drama of Hans and Isabelle’s story, the convenient way everything comes back together at just the right time… but then, it was exactly what I expected from the genre, and worked out with sympathetic characters and a sense of place, it doesn’t come off too badly.