Tag Archives: ellen kushner

Books in January ’14

So I’m back to monthly wrap-ups! I almost forgot it was the last of the month, too. Reading has been impeded by various distractions, including the Gentleman Bastard Sequence fandom and the fact that I have a book exam on romance novels and another exam on the classics of literary theory, both in the beginning of March, one after the other. And on top of that, a course on literary adaptations, which takes its sweet time as well.

But enough excuses, this is what I managed this month:

Agatha Christie: The Moving Finger

[unfortunately I have returned the copy I had to the library and Goodreads does not have a summary]

I picked Christie from the library because hey, what better to read during the break than a good whodunit? The reason for choosing this particular mystery was that I love the TV adaptation – which means that I remembered who the murderer was and even the motive, but this caused very little trouble. What I found interesting is that the adaptation adds very little, which in my experience isn’t all that usual: a lot of the Christies you see on television add lots of red herrings and side plots to the fairly straightforward narratives. This one does not, which tells a lot about the way this book is executed. I can wholeheartedly recommend this!

Published: 1942

Pages: 299

Ellen Kushner: Swordspoint

On the treacherous streets of Riverside, a man lives and dies by the sword. Even the nobles on the Hill turn to duels to settle their disputes. Within this elite, dangerous world, Richard St. Vier is the undisputed master, as skilled as he is ruthless–until a death by the sword is met with outrage instead of awe, and the city discovers that the line between hero and villain can be altered in the blink of an eye.

(Goodreads)

Swordspoint remains one of my favourite novels of all time, and it only seems to get better the more you read. When describing the plot to someone one starts to wonder what exactly it is that happens in the book, only to realise that there actually isn’t much in terms on dramatic action, but boy, is there a lot of political intrigue going on! This time around I was most struck by the relationship between Alec and Richard, and the ending hit me hard and will require some further thought the next time around. Absolutely a masterpiece, this novel is.

Published: 1987

Pages: 286

Scott Lynch: The Lies of Locke Lamora

[Do I need to introduce this book again? I think not. I have it tagged.]

I know, I know. Yet again. But how could I not reread these books, particularly now that Republic of Thieves is finally out and there is so much to draw together? I got fascinated by Sabetha’s absence in this one – it reveals a lot about the other gang members, especially taking into consideration what we learned of their relationships in Republic. This is what I love about rereading a series: you start to pay attention to things like this and find new things to think about and words you previously just read gain new meaning.

Lies, like Swordspoint, is one of my favourite novels of all time. If you look at the Scott Lynch tag here on my blog, you’ll see I absolutely rave about this series.

Published: 2006

Pages: 530

Jane Austen: Pride and Prejudice

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”

So begins Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen’s witty comedy of manners–one of the most popular novels of all time–that features splendidly civilized sparring between the proud Mr. Darcy and the prejudiced Elizabeth Bennet as they play out their spirited courtship in a series of eighteenth-century drawing-room intrigues. Renowned literary critic and historian George Saintsbury in 1894 declared it the “most perfect, the most characteristic, the most eminently quintessential of its author’s works,” and Eudora Welty in the twentieth century described it as “irresistible and as nearly flawless as any fiction could be.”

(Goodreads)

This was my third time reading this novel, and I must say, the two years between readings had done much. I found it even more enjoyable than before, and was much more attuned to nuance. My understanding of Mr Darcy is now much better, and I must say this time around I really enjoyed Caroline Bingley, with her see-through attempts regarding Darcy and her malice towards Elizabeth. Absolutely delightful!

Published: 1813

Pages: 262

China Miéville: The City and the City

China Miéville delivers his most accomplished novel yet, an existential thriller set in a city unlike any other – real or imagined.

When the body of a murdered woman is found in the extraordinary, decaying city of Beszel, somewhere at the edge of Europe, it looks like a routine case for Inspector Tyador Borlú of the Extreme Crime Squad. But as he probes, the evidence begins to point to conspiracies far stranger, and more deadly, than anything he could have imagined. Soon his work puts him and those he cares for in danger. Borlú must travel to the only metropolis on Earth as strange as his own, across a border like no other.

With shades of Kafka and Philip K. Dick, Raymond Chandler and 1984, The City & The City is a murder mystery taken to dazzling metaphysical and artistic lengths.

(Back cover of Macmillan 2009 paperback)

The only novel-length text we are reading for the Science Fiction and Fantasy class. I must say I’m not overly fond of this. I read it with a focus on the detective plot, which wasn’t entirely satisfactorily executed, but I did enjoy the way the two cities function in regard to each other. It was what made the story complicated, but I’m not sure it was not unnecessarily complicated. I hope to gain some insight on Monday when we have a class discussion on it.

Published: 2009

Pages: 312

That is January. I apologise for the paltry commentary – several of the books were rereads and I only finished City and the City some minutes ago, so there has not been time for it to settle in my mind yet.

February will include the rest of the books for the romance exam, and hopefully some Regency romance, and something for the adaptation class. It is hard to plan ahead with reading at the moment, but here’s to trying!

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Books in August ’12

So. End of August. Summer pretty much over. It’s sort of a good thing, as you can see from my previous post, but on the other hand I’ll miss the sun. You can already feel the darkness and depression creeping in… But we’ll fight it! And books will help!

My regular shifts ended two weeks ago, and the last shift was a week ago, so I’ve had slightly more time to read. Still not my usual speed, but much better than July!

 

Mark Lawrence: Prince of Thorns

When he was nine, he watched as his mother and brother were killed before him. At thirteen, he led a band of bloodthirsty thugs. By fifteen, he intends to be king…
It’s time for Prince Honorous Jorg Ancrath to return to the castle he turned his back on, to take what’s rightfully his. Since the day he hung pinned on the thorns of a briar patch and watched Count Renar’s men slaughter his mother and young brother, Jorg has been driven to vent his rage. Life and death are no more than a game to him–and he has nothing left to lose. But treachery awaits him in his father’s castle. Treachery and dark magic. No matter how fierce his will, can one young man conquer enemies with power beyond his imagining?

(Goodreads)

Of course, the first book in the Broken Empire trilogy had to be reread in anticipation of the second part. I’ve been putting of the reread in fear I wouldn’t like the book as well as I did the first time around – but that fear proved unnecessary. By chapter two (starting on page 6) I was in love again. I read slower this time, and noticed a whole lot more. Usually I’m not big on personal reflection, but when Jorg does it, I just can’t seem to get enough. Something’s broken in his head, I swear, and that makes attractive reading!

Published: Harper Voyager 2011

Pages: 373

 

Ellen Kushner: The Privilege of the Sword

Reread for bi-monthly favourite – you can read more about it here!

 

J. B. Priestley: The Prince of Pleasure and His Regency 1811-1820

The Regency Period is perhaps the most romantic of British history. It was an age which swung between extremes of elegance and refinement, and depths of sodden brutality. The central figure is the Prince Regent, Prinny, and though he sometimes appears as a gigantic spoilt child, he was famously good company and a notable patron of the arts. The author portrays the personalities of the giants of the romantic age – Byron, Shelley, Sheridan, Wordsworth, Jane Austen and Sir Walter Scott; Davy Faraday and Macadam; Turner, Constable and Cotman – to name a few. It was an age of extravagance; an age marked by great eccentricities and prodigous jokes; the luddite riots; the Battles of Waterloo and Peterloo; the first waltzes and the first locomotives.

(Goodreads)

Ah, the Regency period, how I love thee! Priestley’s book takes some getting used to, since it is a little different from your general history book. As he says in the foreword, this book sprung from his love of the period, and it shows throughout the reading. He tends to say things like, “This would be interesting but there’s not enough room in this book to discuss it” too often, and sometimes dismisses topics simply because they don’t interest him personally, but on the other hand he goes through the Regency (1811-1820) year by year, introducing hot topics of the year and explaining the on-going war with Napoleon in a way that spreads it nicely instead of info-dumping it. After you get it into it, you really get into it – the last 150 pages I just devoured. Very interesting, very entertaining! Even those averse to history would, I think, enjoy this one.

Published: Heinemann

Pages: 293

 

E. L. James: Fifty Shades of Grey

 A book that started out as a simple Twilight fan fiction, but then turned into a bestseller phenomena on its own.

When literature student Anastasia Steele goes to interview young entrepreneur Christian Grey, she encounters a man who is beautiful, brilliant, and intimidating. The unworldly, innocent Ana is startled to realize she wants this man and, despite his enigmatic reserve, finds she is desperate to get close to him. Unable to resist Ana’s quiet beauty, wit, and independent spirit, Grey admits he wants her, too—but on his own terms.

Shocked yet thrilled by Grey’s singular erotic tastes, Ana hesitates. For all the trappings of success—his multinational businesses, his vast wealth, his loving family—Grey is a man tormented by demons and consumed by the need to control. When the couple embarks on a daring, passionately physical affair, Ana discovers Christian Grey’s secrets and explores her own dark desires.

(Goodreads)

Err… Yeah. This book? Thinly veiled fanfiction, with annoying characters. If you publish, make sure the style is suitable for print. If you write genre – in this case romance – be aware of the conventions. And for heaven’s sake, hire a good editor.

Y’all know I read both romance and fanfiction. This one is such an average mix of both it could work as an example of what fanfiction on average looks like. I have to give a point for the end though – not what happens, no no no, way too predictable when you know it’s A) first in a trilogy and B) based on Twilight, but Christian’s emotion was nicely conveyed, at least to my romantic sensibilities.

My friend is having the time of her life reading these. She asked whether I intend to read the sequels, seeing as the whole business is so funny. I said I wouldn’t buy them or get them from the library, but if she bought them I would read them.

She bought the rest of the series. Oh well. It’s not like they take a long time to read…

Published: Arrow Books 2012

Pages: 514

 

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes

 Eleven of the best and most popular tales of the immortal sleuth include “Silver Blaze,” concerning the “curious incident of the dog in the night-time”; “The Greek Interpreter,” starring Holmes’ even more formidable brother, Mycroft; and “The Final Problem,” the detective’s notorious confrontation with arch-criminal Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls.

(Goodreads)

There’s very little I can say about Sherlock Holmes that hasn’t been said, that people don’t know. So I’m not going to even try. They are exciting, and fun, and an excellent work-read. (I spent a rainy Sunday reading it. Double wages for doing practically nothing but reading, oh yeah!) Some of the stories I remember from the Granada series, but most of them were new to me. The collection ended in “The Final Problem”, which brought emotions to the surface.

Looking forward to getting started with The Return of Sherlock Holmes and finally officially meeting my current character-to-obsess-over, Colonel Sebastian Moran!

First published: George Newnes 1894

Pages: 200 (Dover Thrift 2010 edition, wonderful edition this!)

 

Glen Duncan: Talulla Rising

 When I change I change fast. The moon drags the whatever-it-is up from the earth and it goes through me with crazy wriggling impatience . . . I’m twisted, torn, churned, throttled—then rushed through a blind chicane into ludicrous power . . . A heel settles. A last canine hurries through. A shoulder blade pops. The woman is a werewolf.

The woman is Talulla Demetriou.
She’s grieving for her werewolf lover, Jake, whose violent death has left her alone with her own sublime monstrousness. On the run, pursued by the hunters of WOCOP (World Organisation for the Control of Occult Phenomena), she must find a place to give birth to Jake’s child in secret.
The birth, under a full moon at a remote Alaska lodge, leaves Talulla ravaged, but with her infant son in her arms she believes the worst is over—until the windows crash in, and she discovers that the worst has only just begun . . .
What follows throws Talulla into a race against time to save both herself and her child as she faces down the new, psychotic leader of WOCOP, a cabal of blood-drinking religious fanatics, and (rumor has it) the oldest living vampire.
Harnessing the same audacious imagination and dark humor, the same depths of horror and sympathy, the same full-tilt narrative energy with which he crafted his acclaimed novel The Last Werewolf, Glen Duncan now gives us a heroine like no other, the definitive twenty-first-century female of the species.

(Goodreads)

Second part in The Last Werewolf  trilogy, Talulla Rising is almost better than the first part. Duncan has an amazing way with words, seriously. I’m completely enamoured by his way of putting things, describing the transformation into a werewolf, the cultural allusions (not as many and not as clever as in The Last Werewolf, or maybe they are too subtle and clever for me to recognise), the action. All beautiful. If you have never tried Duncan, do!

Published: Canongate 2012

Pages: 425

 

Currently reading:

Professor Moriarty and the Hound of the D’Urbervilles by Kim Newman

Books bought:

Erm. It’s getting better, is it not? The pile isn’t as ridiculously big as in the last couple of months. It’s still more than I promised myself I’d buy, but hey – my bookstore still doesn’t have King of Thorns by Mark Lawrence, so that needed recompensating! Lots of ACD, as you can see: I’m trying to familiarize myself with the original canon now that the tease words for the third season of BBC’s Sherlock have been announced and I want to be part of the guessing game.

Next week we’ll take a look at how I did with the summer reading list!

Happy autumn, people!

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Favourites: The Privilege of the Sword

Time for another favourite book! This time we dive into the charming subgenre of Fantasy of Manners, also known as Mannerpunk – and my favourite of all fantasy subgenres, to tell the truth.

FAVOURITES

ELLEN KUSHNER: PRIVILEGE OF THE SWORD

Published: Bantam Spectra 2006

Pages: 459

Series: Riverside (third published, second chronologically)

Welcome to Riverside, where the aristocratic and the ambitious battle for power in the city’s ballrooms, brothels, and boudoirs. Into this world walks Katherine, a well-bred country girl versed in the rules of conventional society. Her mistake is thinking they apply. For Katherine’s host and uncle, Alec Campion, a.k.a. the Mad Duke Tremontaine, is in charge here – and to him, rules are made to be broken.

When Alec decides it would be more amusing for his niece to learn swordplay than to follow the usual path to marriage, her world changes forever. Blade in hand, it’s up to Katherine to navigate a maze of secrets and scoundrels – and to gain the self-discovery that comes to those who master… THE PRIVILEGE OF THE SWORD.

Ellen Kushner was a guest of honour at the 2010 Finncon. It was also my first time attending the con (or, indeed, any con), and I thought it would be a good idea to familiarise myself with the work at least one GoH. Neither Kushner nor Nalo Hopkinson could be found in the library, so off to the bookstore it was. The only Kushner available was The Privilege of the Sword, and it came home with me. And I fell in love with it.

Making sure that her fingers were well licked and dried, the Ugly Girl went to take a book from the pile on the mantelpiece. She sat by the window reading her treatise on mathematics, ignoring the duke as he received and donned his new shirt, received and interviewed an informant (who was not offered strawberries), received and made fun of a small but very ugly lamp meant as a bribe and finally went back to his fireplace excavations.

Although it is more YA than her other books, I still chose Privilege of the Sword as my favourite among the Riverside books. It’s light, witty, and fun – a growing up story of Katherine, a picture of Riverside after Alec has become Duke, and a delightful comparison of two girls; Artemisia Fitz-Levi has everything Katherine initially wanted, but all the beautiful dresses and exciting parties and numerous beaux don’t a happy life make.

Of course, if one has read Swordspoint, this book also offers a look at Alec’s adult life, and let me tell you, it’s heartbreaking. Seriously.

We found the old armory, full of antique weapons and country things like boar spears. My teacher picked us out some old, blunt practice swords, and we started back through the hall.

Suddenly, he grinned at me. “Hey!” he cried. “On your guard!”

I raised my sword, and he retreated before me. “Don’t worry,” he called. “I’ll keep falling back – just come on!”

And so I advanced on him, all the way down the long gallery, driving the master swordsman back with my clumsy tipped blade, sweeping past the portraits and landscapes, the swathes of sheeting, the covered mirrors, over the polished parquet.

He fetched up against a door, his face bright with laughter, and spread his arms open to me. I sighted my spot, to the left of his breastbone, and lunged – but he deflected the point with the tiniest of motions and my sword jarred in my hand.

“You want to relax your grip,” he said, “but that was good: a nice, clean attack.” He was laughing, looking back down the length of the hall. “God, I’ve wanted to do that ever since I got here! Thank you.”

The foremost praise for Kushner’s Thomas the Rhymer (not part of the Riverside series) has been the masterful handling of different points of view. In Privilege of the Sword, I feel, the POV business is absolutely beautifully executed. Katherine’s story is conveyed in first person, whereas other main characters are written in third person. The effect is quite wonderful, even if it sounds suspicious when thus explained. Trust me. It’s great.

One point I would like to make. Katherine gets a swords master to teach her to fence, and reading the scenes he appears in are reminiscent of Syrio and Arya in A Game of Thrones. It appears though that Kushner has not read ASOIAF and only recently found out the books have this little bit in common.

Just in case someone was wondering.

So get yourself some Kushner! If you haven’t read any, here, let me help you out by arranging the three books in reading order:

Swordspoint

Privilege of the Sword

The Fall of the Kings

There are also various short stories situated in Riverside, such as “Red-Cloak”, “The Swordsman Whose Name Was Not Death”, “Death of the Duke”, “A Wild and Wicked Youth”, “The Man with the Knives” and “The Duke of Riverside”. I have yet to read Wicked Youth and Duke of Riverside, but I can already tell you all these short stories are excellent.

Kushner gets you addicted. I swear. Give mannerpunk a shot!

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October Books

Hello, and sorry for being late!

School took over all of a sudden. I had to return a study diary, read Stephen Crane’s the Open Boat, get a book from the library and the a three-hour lecture followed by a movie. This blog completely slipped my mind, as I’m not in the habit of writing for it yet.

Without further ado, on to the books!

The Last Werewolf was the first book I’ve read by Glen Duncan. A friend linked it to me, and as it seemed interesting, I decided to give it a go. The title tells a lot: the main character is the last werewolf alive, since there is a sort of disease that prevents change in future victims. He is being hunted by the official forces, and takes it very stoically – until something happens to awaken his will to live.

It took me a while to warm up to the style. It’s not hard or heavy, but at times intricate and crowded with literary references. (What really attracted me to this book was an excerpt online that started “Reader, I ate him!”) The plot flows nicely – we see events through Jake’s eyes as he records them in is journal – and keeps surprising you. Jake is an interesting character. We find out about his background, and here lies one of my complaints: he received the curse in the 19th century, but I can’t get the feeling of the era in the flashback sequences. The history and broodings of a monster remind me a lot of Anne Rice’s books, sometimes of Louis in Interview with the Vampire and sometimes Lestat in the Vampire Lestat. Not that this is a bad thing, as I like both of those books.

Published: Canongate Books 2011

Pages: 346

I couldn’t restrain myself any longer: I had to reread Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman’s the Fall of the Kings. The book takes place in Riverside, the place established in Kushner’s Swodrspoint, although this one happens several decades later.

Basil St Cloud is Doctor of History at the University, and keen to prove that not only did wizards exist hundreds of years before but their magic was real. This is an outrageous view and the whole city talks about it. Basil’s students back him faithfully, as does his lover, Theron, a student of Rhetorics and, without Basil’s knowledge, the heir of the Tremontaine dutchy. Strange things start to happen, omens are in the air, Northmen come down south, and Basil finds a book.

The plot is a little hard to abbreviate, since there are several points of view: Basil, Theron, a student of Basil’s, and Lord Nicholas Galing, who is up to no good. The writing itself is enchanting, Riverside is very much alive, and the whiffs of magic and the traditional rituals of the North make the reader shiver. There is, as often in mannerpunk, a political dimension, which adds to the attraction.

It is a wonderful book. I do not like it as well as the other Riverside books, the aforementioned Swordspoint and the later published the Privilege of the Sword, but it definitely has its appeal.

Published: Bantam Spectra 2002

Pages: 505

Catherine Arnold’s book City of Sin – London and its Vices take the reader through time but not place: it relates the history of prostitution and sex in London from the Roman times to the 21st century. It is definitely an interesting read. It shows how important part prostitution has played in people’s lives and how it has survived despite the laws set to prevent it. It gives us such aspects of sexuality as pornography, homosexuality, escort girls and even art.

The balance of this book is slightly off, as always happens when a topic is examined during such a lengthy period of time. It is heavy on the Victorian, which of course is because there are many more records from that period than, say, the Tudor era. Regency period is a little neglected, but that seems to be a common problem when we’re discussing vice.

Overall I recommend this book as a background read for writers and for anyone who has an interest in these matters.

Published: Simon & Schuster UK 2010

Pages: 333

I was not supposed to borrow anything from the library before I’ve read everything I brought back home from London, but after a particularly nasty day at school I decided I deserved a little treat. Back from the library is brought Georgette Heyer’s These Old Shades. It is the first book in the Alastair series, telling us how Justin Alastair, Duke of Avon, meets his wife. I will not say anything particular about the plot, and recommend not reading the blurb if you wish to be surprised. What I can tell is that it has many typical elements of Regency Romance: revenge, a kidnap, a chase, society and, in this book very charmingly, France and the court at Versailles.

I did not like this book as much as I enjoyed its sequel, the Devil’s Cub. This is an early work of Heyer’s and I don’t think her style was very refined yet. It is fairly charming, however, and a quick read. I have to recommend it despite the shortcomings I find in it, for it shares some characters with the much better Devil’s Cub and thus makes the latter easy to understand.

Published: William Heinemann 1926

Pages: 347

I’m starting a course on History of Literature, from the middle ages to the Romanticism, and one of the books required was Dante Alighieri’s Inferno, which is the first part of the Divine Comedy. It was surprisingly easy to read, thanks to Eino Leino’s excellent translation. For those who are unfamiliar with this classic work: the main character goes through the different layers of Hell guided by Vergil and meets people from each layer, telling him what they have done to deserve their fate. In the first layers the punishments are relatively mild, but the deeper we go, the more gruesome it gets.

What can I say? This is a classic work, and not without a reason. One has to be vigilant, though, because there are references to people who were certainly known to the contemporary Italians but might not ring a bell for a modern reader. Often the crime is not explicitly stated and only the criminal’s identity is revealed. Having a map of Dante’s Hell helps a lot.

Written: the whole Divine Comedy sometime between 1308 and 1321

Translation: Eino Leino 1912-1914

Pages: 206 (not counting pages with pictures)

So that is all for October. I’m currently reading Dan Abnett’s Triumff – Her Majesty’s Hero and have Cervantes’s Don Quixote part one waiting. The latter is required reading again, and its size took me by surprise – I’m hoping it isn’t the whole 600 pages I’m supposed to read.

I have also bought books: the Gollancz 50 collection’s edition of the Lies of Locke Lamora and Hannu Rajaniemi’s the Quantum Thief, which I got from this year’s Book Expo, where Mr Rajaniemi was speaking. I got the book signed, hooray!

Until the end of this month, now!

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