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Books in May ’14

May is gone, and I’m late with this post due to a family thing yesterday and my computer refusing to work after it was over. So let’s not draw this out – here be the books!

 

Mary Robinette Kowal: Without A Summer

 

Up-and-coming fantasist Mary Robinette Kowal enchanted fans with award-winning short stories and beloved novels featuring Regency pair Jane and David Vincent. In Without A Summer, the master glamourists return home, but in a world where magic is real, nothing – not even the domestic sphere – is quite what it seems.

Jane and Vincent go to Long Parkmeade to spend time with Jane’s family, but quickly turn restless. The year is unseasonably cold. No one wants to be outside, and Mr. Ellsworth is concerned by the harvest, since a bad one may imperil Melody’s dowry. And Melody has concerns of her own, given the inadequate selection of eligible bachelors. When Jane and Vincent receive a commission from a prominent family in London, they decide to take it, and take Melody with them. They hope the change of scenery will do her good and her marriage prospects – and mood – will be brighter in London.

Once there, talk is of nothing but the crop failures caused by the cold and the increased unemployment of the coldmongers, which have provoked riots in several cities to the north. With each passing day, it’s more difficult to avoid getting embroiled in the intrigue, none of which really helps Melody’s chances for romance. It’s not long before Jane and Vincent realize that in addition to getting Melody to the church on time, they must take on one small task: solving a crisis of international proportions.

(Back cover of the Tor paperback)

Some of you may remember that Shades of Milk and Honey was my WOW book of last year. I loved it, and I loved Glamour in Glass – and Without A Summer continues that line. I think it better than it’s predecessor, vastly intriguing and oh so pleasant to read! Kowal’s period detail is wonderful and reading her you may trust you are in good hands. I very warmly recommend this series! It is magic mixed with history and, although light in style, takes on many important issues of the family circle and doesn’t shy even from the most difficult of topics. Janeites will also recognise the copious parallels to Emma!

This is one of my favourite series, and this book is excellent. I’m very much looking forward to getting my hands on the next instalment, Valour and Vanity!

Published: 2013

Pages: 349

 

Den Patrick: The Boy with the Porcelain Blade

 

Lucien di Fontein has grown up an outsider; one of the Orfano, the deformed of the Kingdom of Landfall. He is lonely, tormented by his difference and a pawn in a political game. The reclusive king and his majordomo rule Landfall from the vast castle of Demesne, but the walls are no barrier to darkness from without. Or within.

Landfall is a harsh world of secrets and rivalries, where whispers are as lethal as blades, where control is fragile and the peace waits to be broken. Lucien will have to rely on more than just his blade to protect the ones he loves.

Den Patrick’s richly imagined high fantasy introduces a memorable new hero. His is a story that will delight those who love Locke Lamora and Titus Groan alike.

(Back cover of Gollancz trade paperback 2014)

Yes, even I sometimes manage to read something the same year it comes out. What did you expect? Locke Lamora has been mentioned, political intrigue promised, and a fantastic title presented.

As a whole, I find this book rather average. Well, perhaps a little above average. There are some things that bothered me, but also a lot to admire. I shall break this review into bullet points, because I feel that is the clearest way to explain both my qualms and approvals.

Pros:

  • Despite being numerous, fight scenes do not get boring; very alive, very well described
  • The worldbuilding works well, although it took me a while to catch on. This is likely more me than the book, as I tend to skip scenery.
  • When the dialogue is witty, it really is witty! And it’s good in general.

 

Cons:

  • Some unnecessary repetition of details; they get underlined but aren’t all that significant.
  • I’m not too happy with the female characters. This gets a bit better towards the end, but the inaction and the very traditional roles they’re cast in grates.
  • Lucien spends a lot of time sleeping or unconscious; surely there are other wise of transitioning from one scene to another?
  • So. Many. Fires.

 

In general, I think it’s a nice, enjoyable book. I also think that Patrick has a lot of potential, which he will reach through more experience; this reads very much like a first novel. I will also mention that this edition could have used another round of proofreading, as there was a lot of punctuation missing and a few typos. The latter didn’t bother me as much as the former.

I will definitely read the next one as well, because I think there’s something here. It just needs some improvement to really snare me.

Published: 2014

Pages: 321

 

Scott Lynch: The Republic of Thieves

 

I will leave out the blurb and, indeed, a review. This was my third reading and it was conducted mostly to take notes and to see if there was anything I missed earlier.

Published: 2013

Pages: 598

 

M. C. Beaton: The Taming of Annabelle

 

From the moment the honey-tressed young Annabelle meets her sister Minerva’s intended, Lord Sylvester, she develops a secret passion for him that obsesses her. Now she is determined to take him away from Minerva – no matter what.

But Annabelle hadn’t reckoned on Lord Sylvester’s best friend, Peter, who falls in love with her and decides to tame her growing passions for the wrong man.

(Back cover of Constable & Robinson paperback)

This is the second book in The Six Sisters series. I hadn’t read Beaton before, but decided to get it from the library when it happened to sit there on the shelf.

Thing is, I’m too old for this book. This would work wonders for a teen reader; it’s quite fun and introduces the Regency period very well, with several rather entertaining explanatory paragraphs here and there. The plot is a bit childish, but so is the main character, and at times Annabelle annoyed me to no end. Peter hardly behaves any less childishly despite being 35 (I think) and that does not quite sit with me.

This book, and I assume the others in the series, could work well as easy introductions to Regency romance. The Taming of Annabelle is fun, but for older readers it may be too shallow. I would say a 13–15-year-old would be more in the target readership, and I would not hesitate to recommend this to someone of that age with an interest in romance.

Published: 1983

Pages: 250

 

Elizabeth Bear: Shoggoths in Bloom

 

Shoggoths in Bloom: A compilation of short science fiction and fantasy from Elizabeth Bear – tales of myth and mythic resonance, fantasies both subtle and epic in tone; hard science fiction and speculations about an unknowable universe. This collection, showcasing Bear’s unique imagination and singular voice, includes her Hugo- and Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award-winning story “Tideline” and Hugo-winning novelette “Shoggoth in Bloom”, as well as an original, never-published story. Recipient of the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, a World Fantasy, Nebula, and Philip K. Dick nominee, Bear is one of speculative fiction’s most acclaimed, respected, and prolific authors.

(Back cover of the Prime paperback)

Now, understand that I’m very bad at reading collections of short stories. Very bad. I manage one a year, if I try hard, and it can be slow going without a plot to pull me.

I didn’t have my usual troubles with Shoggoths.

Bear is amazingly versatile in her writing, and I promise you a swoon over how much research has gone into every single story in this collection. I am both enamoured and awed. If you read short story collection this year, read this one.

I cried at the end of the first one. Several made me uncomfortable, in the way good SF should. Two hit me really hard in my current situation in life, and I draw strength from them. And oh, I think I’ve found my favourite short story. Well, a new one for the small list of the ones I love: “The Cold Blacksmith” took me and chewed at my heart and now, days later, I’m still not over it.

Published: 2011

Pages: 329 (20 short stories)

 

Julia Quinn: Just Like Heaven

Honoria Smythe-Smith, the youngest daughter of the eldest son of the Earl of Winstead, plays the violin in the annual musicale performed by the Smythe-Smith quartet. She’s well aware that they are dreadful but she’s the sort who figures that nothing good will come of being mortified, so she puts on a good show and laughs about it.

Marcus Holroyd is the best friend of Honoria’s brother Daniel, who lives in exile. Marcus has promised to watch out for Honoria, but he faces a challenge when she sets off for Cambridge determined to marry by the end of the season. She’s got her eye on the only unmarried Bridgerton, who’s a bit wet behind the ears. When her advances are spurned, can Marcus swoop in and steal her heart in time for the musicale?

(Back cover of Piatkus 2011 paperback)

I don’t find the blurb terribly accurate. Just wanted to say that. I also want to say that my primary motive for reading this book is the rather hilarious dedication – “And also for Paul, even though when I went to him for medical advice to save my ailing hero, he replied, ‘He has to die.’”

I’m not particularly fond of this sort of “We have known each other since we were children and I am starting to realise I actually love you” romance. Not that I don’t occasionally enjoy it, but at least at this instance I was not in the mood for it. I also found this book rather flat and it failed to raise any particular feelings. It served its purpose of something light and quick to read, but apart from that, hardly memorable.

Published: 2011

Pages: 374

 

Mary Balogh: The Proposal

 

Lady Gwendoline Muir has experienced her fair share of tragedies in her short life: she lost her husband to a freak accident, and developed a limp after falling from horseback. Still young, Gwen is sure that she’s done with love, and that she will never be married again.

Gwen tries to be content with her life as it is, and to live through the marriages of her brother and her cousin and best friend, Viscountess Ravensburg. She’s happy for them, and for years that is enough for her… until she meets Lord Trentham – a man who returned from the Peninsular War a hero, but is unable to escape the bite of his survivor’s guilt. For he might just be the man who can convince her to believe in second chances.

(Back cover of Piatkus 2012 paperback)

Now we’re talking. I have been eager to start the Survivors’ Club series, of which this one is the first. Balogh writes very believable and mature characters and does it with such certainty that it is hard not to fall in with them – and indeed, why would you even want to avoid that? Some of you know of my penchant for wounded heroes, and that is exactly what this book, along with the rest of the series, provides. Trentham is particularly interesting for his utter bluntness; I don’t think I’ve read a Regency romance where sex is so explicitly discussed (never crudely, though – Balogh is never crude).

The charm of this book is mainly in the characters. When it comes to plot, it’s rather straightforward and un-dramatic, which I feel speaks of Balogh’s skill as a writer: the lack of drama does not diminish the experience or slow the reading, quite the opposite. There was a little too much retelling of moments from another point of view, but I hope that is only a lapse in this book and won’t occur in the rest of the series, the next of which I have waiting.

Published: 2012

Pages: 309

 

Fyodor Dostoyevsky: The Idiot

 Returning to Russia from a sanitarium in Switzerland, the Christ-like epileptic Prince Myshkin finds himself enmeshed in a tangle of love, torn between two women—the notorious kept woman Nastasya and the pure Aglaia—both involved, in turn, with the corrupt, money-hungry Ganya. In the end, Myshkin’s honesty, goodness, and integrity are shown to be unequal to the moral emptiness of those around him.

(Goodreads)

Not too fond of this one. It is obvious that Dostoyevsky was in need of money while writing this, and the serialisation is so obvious it was at times painfully dull going – there is a confession latter that lasts for three chapters (some 40 pages) and it largely unrelated to the plot. However, some of the characters – particularly Nastasja Filippovna and Rogozin (I’m using the Finnish version of the names) – were very interesting, and the last few chapters are excellent in their dramatic flair, although I wouldn’t say they are worth reading the whole thing. However, I’m glad I’ve read it and can now move the next Dostoyevsky to my more immediate list.

Published: 1868

Translation: Olli Kuukasjärvi

Pages: 829

 

Alexander Pushkin: Eugene Onegin

 

Eugene Onegin is the master work of the poet whom Russians regard as the fountainhead of their literature. Set in imperial Russia during the 1820s, Pushkin’s novel in verse follows the emotions and destiny of three men – Onegin the bored fop, Lensky the minor elegiast, and a stylized Pushkin himself – and the fates and affections of three women – Tatyana the provincial beauty, her sister Olga, and Pushkin’s mercurial Muse. Engaging, full of suspense, and varied in tone, it also portrays a large cast of other characters and offers the reader many literary, philosophical, and autobiographical digressions, often in a highly satirical vein. Eugene Onegin was Pushkin’s own favourite work, and it shows him attempting to transform himself from romantic poet into realistic novelist.

(Goodreads)

Now this was very much my thing! I started reading a bit sceptically, although I’ve long wanted to read this, and my, it was an absolute pleasure! Pushkin is much more fun than I’d expected, I wasn’t bored by his nature descriptions at all, he is very intertextual, and there is some damn good drama, although some of the motivations elude me. Nonetheless, very very good!

Published: 1823–31

Translation: Lauri Kemiläinen 1935

Pages: 242

 

Currently reading:
Andrei Belyi: Peterburg

That’s it for May!

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Republic of Thieves Read Along – Weeks 2 & 3

Last week, I didn’t get around to answering any questions. Why? Because during the weekend I was in Brighton, meeting Scott and fellow Right People. Without my laptop. So I think I may be excused. This week, I’m doing both last and this week’s questions though!

WEEK TWO

Blood And Breath And Water: Patience tells Locke that the ritual to save him is serious business. She wasn’t kidding… What did you make of this scene, and do you think any of it might (perhaps literally) come back to haunt Locke?

I don’t think the pain and such will come back to haunt him, but oh, I do hope the ghost Bug will keep nagging at him because it was amazing! My heart was racing as I read it in the middle of the night! It was unexpected, and discomfiting, and I loved it! And I like sins-written-in-the-eyes thing, absolutely gorgeous.

Orphan’s Moon: Back to the childhood of the Gentlemen Bastards, and here we get another ritual, this one in service to the Nameless Thirteenth. It looks as though it might be Locke vs. Sabetha, round two – but this time Locke seems to be a little slow on that uptake… Who do you think deserves to be given the final oath? Locke or Sabetha?

I’ve got to say I squealed with utter delight on seeing the title of this interlude. I was hoping we’d see it some day! It intrigued me when it was mentioned in RSURS, and now we got it! I’m an absolute sucker for rituals and rules and all that, so it really hit the spot.

As to the Locke-Sabetha rivalry, well. At this point it seems Locke gets the things Sabetha wants, which is unfair considering how much drive she has, how hard she works, how ambitious she is, as opposed to his kind of drifting to places and turning out to be a natural. I wished Sabetha had gotten the final initiation, although of course we knew Locke was getting it. But there was that small flickering of hope they’d both get it…

Across The Amathel: This chapter takes a breather for quite a bit of Eldren history, while Locke starts recovering. What do you think of the history lesson, and Patience’s ominous speculation regarding the Eldren? Is this something you’d like to know more about?

I’m not really concerned with the Eldren, never have been. I like cities and countries and cultures and societies, but am not all that infatuated by obscure mysteries – something that probably sounds odd coming from a fantasy reader, but there it is. Mannerpunk is my thing more than epic fantasies. Unless it turns out the Eldren were rather people-like, I’m fine with anything we’re revealed about them. I am, however, interested in the magi of Karthain, those high-and-mighty assholes. Very, very interesting, they are, and I definitely like it that their power is far from infinite and that they are far from invincible.

Striking Sparks: The gang’s off to Espara, after a bad summer and a pretty thorough dressing-down from Chains, and we finally get to the source of the book’s title – they’re bound for the stage! What are your thoughts on this latest ‘challenge’ and the reasons for it?

Oh-ho-hoo, I love the teenage Bastards! Especially the twins! They are such annoying little ass-hats that you can’t but love them! I completely understand Chains, I would need a break, too. He’s harsh with them at this point, sure, but if you’ve lived with surly teenagers you know how bloody annoying it can get.

The Five-Year Game: Starting Position: The election gets underway with a party (as you do) and before it’s even over, the Deep Roots party has problems – and not just thanks to Sabetha. What do you make of Nikoros and his unfortunate habit?

I think the addiction really adds to his character. It’s a touch that gives him an identity, above that of a tool. He’s a person, he’s got weaknesses, an inconvenience, no matter how helpful he tries to be. I like it.

Bastards Abroad: The gang arrives in Espara, and already they’ve got problems (nicely mirroring the Five Year Game!)… This aside, we’ve also seen some more of what seems to be eating at Sabetha. Do you sympathise with her, or is Locke right to be frustrated with her?

Of course I sympathise with Sabetha! Being the only lady in a group of guys can be tough, and when you don’t get your voice heard except for occasionally – yeah, it’s frustrating. And wrong. Locke’s reasons for frustration make sense because you see things mostly through his focalisation and therefore understand him a bit better (not to mention we’ve had time to adjust to him over the course of two books), but when you think about Sabetha’s position it’s pretty clear why she is how she is. She’s tough, and she has to be. Where is Nazca, they should hang out more.

As an extra, I want to say how much I love it when Locke starts arranging security matters. There’s an urgency and a drive, and I enjoy it so so much. It’s great fun to read, and you can just hear the wheels spinning in his head, the sheer effort and joy of thinking. Love it to death!

WEEK THREE

The election competition.  Sabetha isn’t wasting any time throwing pranks at Locke and Jean.  Mostly it seemed fairly harmless, or at least not overly serious, until they were kidnapped and put onto a ship and taken out to sea.  What did you make of Sabetha’s latest plan? And what did you think about the way she executed it?

I readily admit I did not see it coming, and then chided myself because of course it was coming. It’s what I like about these books in general though – I’m always one-upped. I never expect the things that happen. And it’s great. Plus I think it was a very good plan, and I love the attention to detail Sabetha puts into it. It shows she knows them inside out. And I really appreciate the twenty men she placed outside the door to take Jean down, one of the most amusing things so far!

During the escape overboard and Jean’s rather subtle nose dive into the water – I was curious about the lights Locke saw deep in the water when he was performing his rescue – Locke thought they looked different once he was under the waves which I suppose they would but he also had the feeling that he was being watched?  Do you think this relates back to the Eldren or some other presence?

They’re probably something to do with the Eldren, given that no one seems to know what they are. Maybe something related to the mist at Parlour Passage (in RSURS)? For some reason I’d like to think so, although it might be the way in which the phenomenon’s are described, with that eerie Moomin Ghost Ship tone, and the connection to water and ships.

Given that Locke hadn’t seen Sabetha for five years how did you think their first meeting together went (well, it wasn’t strictly speaking their first meeting of course – were you surprised that Jean and Locke hadn’t figured out that the woman pickpocket was Sabetha?) and also what did you make of Jean and Sabetha’s reaction to each other?

Again, one of my favourite scenes. You need to reread it to see what was going on, once you’ve read it once. Ever so amused! At some point I started suspecting this was Sabetha though, as what are the odds she would find such an accomplished pickpocket in Karthain, where the underworld is quite non-existent? No, there’s no one who could match Sabetha in that respect, and oh the pure joy of it! It’s always good fun to see Locke so outplayed. You think you’re so clever mister.

So, the gang have arrived in Espara and already the plans have gone wrong through no fault of their own!  Jail for a year plus lose a hand for slapping a noble?? What do you think of the justice system in Espara and how does this bode for the gang?

Jasmer’s punishment serves to show that Esparans are not very tolerant, and you can only imagine the punishment for murder or some such crime. I will take this opportunity to say how much I like these little cities in the book. Espara is wonderful, by the sounds of it very small but having pretences at grandeur, and don’t even get me started on Lashain! I hope we go back there at some point, in the novels or in whatever short stories and novellas are forthcoming. Lashain seems like an excellent place for a game, a good place to exercise your attention to detail, with all the strict societal rules and the constant assessment of your peers. I’m only sad we didn’t stay there longer…

The acting company are finally coming together and we’re watching the gang as they try to read, act and grab the best parts – are you all ‘happy face’ with the whole theatre scenes or, sad face!  Also, I can’t help feeling like this whole storyline is a step out of character for the gang.  Any ideas of how it will play out?

Initially, I wasn’t too keen on the play: I don’t usually care for much recited fictional things inside fictional things, if you get my meaning. Having said that, I utterly enjoy the play The Swordsman Whose Name Was Not Death in Ellen Kushner’s The Privilege of the Sword, and therefore feel inclined to give especially plays some consideration inside narratives. Republic of Thieves is so Shakespearean that the metre (or lack thereof) bothers me to some extent, although of course there’s no reason to expect it there.

On discussing the play on tumblr, there arose some speculation as to the characterization and the correspondence to the Bastards and their immediate circle – but that’s a conversation for later, I think.

We are also being introduced to a number of new characters, particularly Moncraine and Boulidazi.  What are your first impressions of these two and the other new characters in the Company and any particular likes or dislikes so far?

Jasmer is exasperating, but I kind of write him off as an artist and let him be. Boulidazi, though… He makes me uncomfortable. He’s not all that smart or sophisticated, but he’s not unobservant, and that spells trouble. He draws conclusions very much to Locke and Sabetha’s advantage here, but that is also a dangerous aspect, because he takes what he sees for granted and doesn’t really stop to ponder on alternative explanations.

And I have a soft spot for nobility, titles, the upper class society. The social history fan in me squealed with delight when he asked how he should address Locke and Sabetha. I’ve marked it down as “useful information”.

The rooftop scene and the apology.  How did it all go so wrong?  And how will Locke get out of this latest fix with Boulidazi?

I refer you to my previous answer. Boulidazi interprets things based on his observations and doesn’t really entertain any thoughts of other options. Dangerous, very dangerous.

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Books in Janruary ’13

Hello, friends!

Gods, has January felt long! School has been rather exhausting, especially towards the end of the month, but I’ve managed some books, and certainly more than I thought I did! I’m kind of hoping I could maintain this reading speed, but that seems unlikely, considering that the time to apply for exchange starts tomorrow and the candidate’s essay due date looms.

It’s not much in evidence on this blog, but I’m a big Tarantino fan. Django Unchained premiered in Finland just a couple of weeks ago, and yes, I have seen it. I didn’t write a review, but if someone’s interested I could do it.

I’m still fuming about Anna Karenina. I’ve taken to reading newspaper reviews on it and disagreeing with them – mostly because it looks like no one has read the book. Sigh.

Anyway, now to the main event – the books!

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: The Return of Sherlock Holmes

‘… once again Mr Sherlock Holmes is free to devote his life to examining those interesting little problems which the complex life of London so plentifully presents.

Evil masterminds beware! Sherlock Holmes is back! Ten years after his supposed death in the swirling torrent of the Reichenbach Falls locked in the arms of his arch enemy Professor Moriarty, Arthur Conan Doyle agreed to pen further adventures featuring his brilliant detective. In the first story, ‘The Empty House’, Holmes returns to Baker Street and his good friend Watson, explaining how he escaped from his watery grave. In creating this collection of tales, Doyle had lost none of his cunning or panache, providing Holmes with a sparkling set of mysteries to solve and a challenging set of adversaries to defeat. The potent mixture includes murder, abduction, baffling cryptograms and robbery. We are also introduced to the one of the cruellest villains in the Holmes canon, the despicable Charles Augustus Milverton. As before, Watson is the superb narrator and the magic remains unchanged and undimmed.

(Back cover of Wordswoth Classics 2008 edition)

After Gardner’s Moriarty failed to hold my interest, I decided to finally get on with the ACD canon. My obsession with the character of Colonel Moran was kept back by the fact that I had never read the story he appears in – “The Empty House” – and so this was my main incentive.

As a whole, I liked this collection of stories better than the previous ones. Doyle has clearly advanced as a writer, and the mysteries are more complicated: the previous ones are, for those familiar with detective stories, easy to deduce and the clues are put forward with virtually no red herrings. In Return, there were a couple of cases I managed to piece together (sans motives, though) even with my limited knowledge of detective fiction, but some simply sucked me in because I couldn’t focus on the right details.

A thoroughly enjoyable experience. Returning to both the Baker Street boys and Victorian London was a great relief, and a good start to the year.

First published: 1905

Pages: 303 (Wordsworth Classics 2008)

Stephen Fry: Moab Is My Washpot

Moab is my Washpot is in turns funny, shocking, tender, delicious, said, lyrical, bruisingly frank and addictively readable.

Stephen Fry’s bestselling memoir tells how, sent to a boarding school 200 miles away from home at the age of seven, he survived beatings, misery, love, ecstasy, carnal violation, expulsion, imprisonment, criminal conviction, probation and catastrophe to emerge, at eighteen, ready to try and face the world in which he had always felt a stranger.

When he was fifteen, he wrote the following in a letter to himself, not to be read until he was twenty-five: ‘Well I tell you now that everything I feel now, everything I am now is truer and better than anything I shall ever be. Ever. This is me now, the real me. Every day that I grow away from the me that is writing this now is a betrayal and a defeat.

Whether the real Stephen Fry is the man now living, or the extraordinary adolescent now dead, only you will be able to decide.

(Back cover of Arrow Books 2011 reissue)

Fry’s style is rather rambly, which took some getting used to after Doyle’s precise way of carrying a plot, but he never strays too far and always returns to where he took a by-path. I enjoyed myself, and although it was slightly disconcerting to read about the growing up of a person I hold in high esteem – and Fry’s life has been more chequered than I expected, even with a little background knowledge – it was also very interesting. I could relate to some of the feelings he expressed and explained, which of course made me read with more gusto than I perhaps otherwise would have.

I’d recommend the book to fans of Stephen Fry. If you can take the style, you’ll enjoy it. You get used to it fairly quickly, I promise.

Published: 1997

Pages: 436

Mary Balogh: The Dark Angel/Lord Carew’s Bride

Dark Angel

Jennifer Winwood has been engaged for five years to a man she hardly knows but believes to be honorable and good: Lord Lionel Kersey. Suddenly, she becomes the quarry of London’s most notorious womanizer, Gabriel Fisher, the Earl of Thornhill. Jennifer has no idea that she is just a pawn in the long-simmering feud between these two headstrong, irresistible men – or that she will become a prize more valuable than revenge.

Lord Carew’s Bride

Love has not been kind to Samantha Newman, but friendship has. When her emotions are rubbed raw by the reappearance in her life of a villain who had broken her heart some years before, she turns with gratitude to the kindly Hartley Wade, with whom she had developed a warm friendship when she mistook him for a gardener during a visit to the country. She accepts his proposal, expecting a quiet, safe, undemanding marriage. She does not know that Hartley is the Marquess of Carew and that he loves her passionately–and believes she returns his feelings.

(Back cover of Dell omnibus edition 2010/marybalogh.com)

I haven’t read romance in a while, and devoured these two in one day. This was my second time reading them, and yes, Hartley Wade, Marquess of Carew is still my favourite romance novel hero.

Published: Signer Regency 1995

Pages: 308/285

J. R. R. Tolkien: Silmarillion

The Silmarillion is an account of the Elder Days, or the First Age of Tolkien’s World. It is the ancient drama to which the characters in Lord of the Rings look back, and in whose events some of them, such as Elrond and Galadriel, took part. The tales of The Silmarillion are set in an age when Morgoth, the first Dark Lord, dwelt in Middle-earth, and the High Elves made war upon him for the recovery of the Silmarils.

The three Silmarils were jewels created by Fëanor, most gifted of the Elves. Within them were imprisoned the Light of the Two Trees of Valinor before the Trees themselves were destroyed by Morgoth. Thereafter the unsullied Light of Valinor lived only in the Silmarils; but they were seized by Morgoth and set in his crown, guarded in the fortress of Angband in the north of Middle-earth.

The Silmarillion is the history of the rebellion of Fëanor and his kindred against the gods, their exile from Valinor and return to Middle-earth and their war, hopeless despite their heroism, against the great Enemy. Included in the book are several shorter works. The Ainulindalë is a myth of the Creation and in the Valaquenta the nature and powers of each of the gods is described. The Akallabêth recounts the downfall of the great island kingdom of Númenor at the end of the Second Age and Of the Rings of Power tells of the great events at the end of the Third Age, which are narrated in Lord of the Rings.

(First leaf of the Unwin paperback 1979 edition)

I managed to shock a friend of mine by telling her this was my first time reading Silmarillion. I tried it about ten years ago, when I’d just gotten into Tolkien, but put it down after about fifty pages. Reading it now, it was still slow going, particularly because I like dialogue better than description and I can’t stand extensive family trees or geography, but it wasn’t nearly as daunting as I remembered. What I did enjoy was making a stylistic comparison between this book, The Lord of the Rings, and The Hobbit. Tolkien is the master of style, and I would love to write my stylistics essay for Academic Writing on him would not the teacher be the one choosing the material. But maybe someday I will write something on the subject in my own time.

The experience was a lot like reading a religious work. I’m not saying it’s a good or a bad thing; it was merely different to what I usually like to read.

And, of course, the languages were a source of delight. Particularly the mountain pass of Calacirya amused me. (I here assume that /y/ is pronounced as [j], which would make the pronunciation sound like the Finnish word ‘kalakirja’, which means ‘fish book’, ‘book on fish’. Add to this the fact that in this pass was raised the hill of Túna, and I’m sure you see why I’m amused.)

Published: George Allen & Unwin 1977

Pages: 367 (plus genealogies, notes on pronunciation, index of names, appendix) (Unwin paperback 1979 edition)

Scott Lynch: The Lies of Locke Lamora

The Thorn of Camorr is said to be an unbeatable swordsman, a master thief, a friend to the poor, a ghost that walks through walls.

Slightly built and barely competent with a sword, Locke Lamora is, much to his annoyance, the fabled Thorn. And while Locke does indeed steal from the rich (who else would be worth stealing from?), the poor never see a penny. All of Locke’s gains are strictly for himself and his tight-knit band of thieves: The Gentlemen Bastards.

The capricious, colourful underworld of the ancient city of Camorr is the only home they’ve ever known. But now a clandestine war is threatening to tear it apart. Caught up in a murderous game, Locke and his friends are suddenly struggling just to stay alive…

(Back cover of Gollancz 50 edition)

I know, I know. Locke Lamora again. I couldn’t help myself! It is by far the most comfortable book I can pick up from my shelf, and after Silmarillion I needed something more explosive and fast-paced.

I’ve discussed this book so many times on this blog I’ll forgo that for now, but you’re more than welcome to read the Favourites post I wrote on it, or to go through the Read-Along posts, the first one of which is here.

Published: Gollancz 2006

Pages: 530

There it is. I think this year will include a lot of re-reading.

No books bought all month, despite the sales: I take some pride in this self-control! But the fact is, I just don’t have time to read, and so amassing new books feels a little foolish.

Currently reading:

Pistols for Two by Georgette Heyer (collection of Regency short stories, I love them so much!)

Goodbye! I hope you had a nice January; let us now proceed with the year!

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Red Seas Under Red Skies Read-Along: WEEK 5

Shamefully late! I do beg your pardon!

“Now, if you find yourself in trouble wherever you go, you can hold up that little bag to whoever’s bothering you, and you san say, ‘You have no idea who you’re fucking with. I’m under the protection of the lady who gave me this object of her favour.’”

“And that’s supposed to make them stop?”

“Shit, no, that’s just to confuse them. Then you kill them while they’re standing there looking at you funny.”

I sob like a baby at the end of the battle. Like in Lies, Jean’s emotional reaction is so heartfelt and honest that it just breaks my heart. Even though I don’t like the kamikaze mode his grief seems to activate in him, it’s understandable. I don’t yet know whether he will recover, although of course I hope he will, eventually. He’s a down-to-earth guy, he will soon enough admit to himself that he can’t just keep living in grief and continue with his life (particularly now that Locke has forced him into it).

“What? How dare I contemplate doing what you’re now planning to do to me? You self’righteous strutting cock, I’ll – “

“What?”

“ – I’ll throw myself at you, and you’ll beat the shit out of me. And then you’ll feel awful! How about that, huh?”

Merrain! Oh, she’s just so very interesting! I’ve marked all the bits that give some sort of a clue about her identity. She might (hopefully) turn up in Republic of Thieves? I certainly want her to, because I want to know. Why is it so important no one knows she’s actually working for someone else than Stragos? Maybe she works for the bondsmagi, and the tattoo marks him as their foot soldier or something? A sword and a vine. That could be just about anything. I’m fairly certain she works on orders, and the way she wants to stick to them could mean she’s very dedicated to her master. Her calm and skill seem to denote experience.

Locke mimed shoving a dagger into an invisible Archon of Tal Verrar. It was so satisfying he mimed it again.

Now that I looked carefully and knew what Locke and Jean were up to with Requin, you could actually spot some hints. They are pretty casual, like Locke looking out of the window in Requin’s study, and Selendri leaning against the wall between two paintings etc. Very sneaky, Mr Lynch, very sneaky! I think it’s a wonderful game. It would, of course, have been wonderfully clever of Locke to get someone to tell him whether the paintings were fake or not (was there any mention of it being common knowledge that they would be real?), but he’s not an expert in art fraud or anything like that so he probably didn’t think about it that way. Requin’s not an idiot, although he’s rich, and I guess the Bastards are used to rich people who are stupid and trusting.

Requin seemed to derive a perverse pleasure in seating the seven Priori on fine chairs in the midst of the chaos and pretending that all was perfectly normal.

I’m just really fond of Requin. Particularly in the end. I think he’s quite amused by the fact that he got robbed and still got the upper hand. He’s my favourite of the sort of background characters. Him and Merrain, the latter for the mystery. Yes. Of course, Requin and Selendri and Jean and Ezri as couples, but if concentrated on just single characters… Requin and Merrain.

“Zamira, enough. Enough Ravelle this, Kosta that. Around the crew, sure. But my friends call me Locke.”

It feels so wrong to say this, but I guess I like The Lies of Locke Lamora more. The time structure is clearer, and we stay in one city. It just feels more comfortable. However, Red Seas offers a new depth to Locke and Jean.

Oh Lynn, do you even need to ask? The moment Republic of Thieves hits the stores I’ll be there. I’m sort of hoping it would be published in time for Christmas holidays, because then I could just read it and go nuts and it would interfere with schoolwork. On the other hand, it can’t be out soon enough. Fingers crossed it really happens this year!

Emerging from a long spell of false-facing could be like coming up for air after nearly drowning, Locke thought. Now all the baggage of their multi-tiered lies and identities was peeling away, sloughing off behind them as they pounded up the stairs to the Golden Steps one last time. Now that they knew the source of their mystery assassins, they had no need to sham as priests and skulk about; they could run like simple thieves with the powers of the city close on their heels.

Which was exactly what they were.

All good things must end, it would seem. I want to thank all of you lovely people who participated, and naturally the wonderful hosts of the read-alongs! It’s been a blast! We’ll see how long it takes to go back to not reading a dose of Lynch every week…

Almost forgot! I haven’t referred you people to Camorr, a website + forum dedicated to our favourite Bastards! It’s been quiet there for a while now, but things are very likely to spice up one Republic of Thieves comes out.

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Red Seas Under Red Skies Read-Along: WEEK 4

“All bullshit. I’m a bullshit artist, Zamira. A false-facer. An actor, an impersonator. I didn’t have any noble motives when I made that request. My life just wasn’t worth much if I didn’t do something utterly crazy to win back some respect. I faked every second of composure anyone glimpsed this morning.”

It feels a bit weird to see Locke lay himself bare like that, but it’s also very moving. That’s one of the reasons I like this chapter so much. He has to decide whether to trust or not, as he says himself, and he knows Jean is right in the matter. I dare say it would have been easier to go on lying if he’d not been part of the crew at any point and thus didn’t know anyone personally, but in now… Well, I would have been disappointed in him if he could have just given them to Stragos after all that scrub-watching.

“Gods, whatever’s out there knows my real name.”

“Mine as well.”

“I mean, it’s not calling me Locke. It knows my real name.”

“Oh. Shit.”

Took the words straight out of my mouth, Jean. That mist is creepy. It could be that the mist is some sort of chemical that affects the brains, and so it’s Locke’s own head talking to him, and naturally he knows his own real name. But it’s not just random mist, it comes from somewhere or is emitted by someone or something and that something/one uses the mist to lure its victims. It’s mentioned that Jean sees a dark shape, but that’s not really too much to go on.

It’s frightening in general, to think that something might know Locke’s real name. Jean would never tell anyone, but if the Bondsmagi got it… *shudder*

Also, if you have ever watched the 90s TV series Moomins, there’s an episode with a ghost ship that creeps the hell out of me even to this day. The ship glides out from the mists with ripped-up sails and passes through the bow of the boat the Moomins are in. The music is scary, and I hear parts of it reading the Parlour Passage bit.

“Legs are open, old man. Can you really get it up?”

I love the selling of the Red Messenger. I think Locke enjoys himself enormously, pulling off something he’s sure about. It’s a pretty simple trick, as he points out, but he was posing as a captain for a rather long time without a clue about what to do, and now he gets to be in total control of the situation. Must feel good, be doing something he has in hand the whole time for a change.

All the names, then. I don’t know whether Lynch does it on purpose, but I doubt Locke has the identities muddled up any more than the reader does. Of course, this is kind of reminiscent of what Arsène Lupin says in The Escape of Arsène Lupin: “… there comes a time when you cease to know yourself amid all these changes, and that is very sad. I feel at present as the man must have felt who lost his shadow…” (I’m shamelessly quoting from The Quantum Thief – that quote is at the beginning. But looking it up on Gutenberg would have taken forever.) We’ll see if this happens to Locke. Maybe one day there’ll be a game so elaborate he needs a dozen names and then slips with a character, and has to either think very quickly or run like hell.

“Look, we almost got killed today. Fuck these games. Do you want to have a drink with me?”

Ngh. Jean and Ezri. Damn them for being so infuriatingly adorable! Gods. I just squeal every time they are talking together. Or just mentioned in the same sentence. OTP? I think so!

Then something that bothered me in the last chapter. When Locke and Jean go to Sinspire, Selendri says, “Stay here in the service area, Valora.” Now, have I missed something? Shouldn’t Selendri be calling Jerome “de Ferra”? Did Locke at some point tell Requin what their names on board would be? If someone whose brain is working better would tell me what I’ve missed I’d be grateful. Almost lost sleep over it last night – I’ve never noticed it before.

“Tonight is delicate business. Misstepping in Port Prodigal after midnight is like pissing on an angry snake. I need – “

“Ahem. Originally, we’re from Camorr.”

“Oh. Be on the boat in five minutes.”

Teehee. That amuses me greatly. Go Camorr!

Ahem. Yes, that’s it for this week. Last section to go. One week. We’ll see what happens!

“Crooked Warden, I will fear no darkness, for the night is yours. Your night is my cloak, my shield, my escape from those who hunt to feed the noose. I will fear no evil, for you have made the night my friend.”

 

EDIT:// I found that episode of Moomins in English! It loses some of the creepiness in the English dub, unfortunately, and the music I associate with the ship is for the most part not in here but in a later part (apparently – it’s been long since I’ve watched these!) – but it’s still scary. The scene with the ship starts somewhere around 11 minutes, but feel free to watch the whole episode! 😀 Moomins are very entertaining.

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Red Seas Under Red Skies Read-Along WEEK 3

Okay. This is going to be a very, very random post. I wrote it Friday night, just after the questions arrived, and if I touch it too much now it will become very dull and short. (Vocabulary marvellously expands during the night, I find.)

Some of the set questions will be discussed, some not, and nothing is likely to be in any kind of order. Bear with me.

 

“Well, splendid. Once again we’ve engineered a brilliant escape from immediate peril and stolen something of value to take with us. This boat must be worth two solari.”

 

Seeing as I learned the word “mutiny” from the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, my mental images come heavily from that movie. As indeed do a lot of my mental images on piracy, to be frank.

“What do you mean, you haven’t been turning the glasses?”

“Captain Ravelle, sir, beggin’ your double-fuckin’ pardon, but we ain’t had no time to turn the glasses nor mind the log since… hell, I suppose I can’t say. Awhile now.”

Did anyone go “Oh shit oh shit oh shit oh SHIT!” when Caldris died? ‘Cause I remember the first I read that. I’d been reading all evening, it was probably two thirty in the morning and I really really REALLY needed to get some sleep in and then Caldris goes and dies and Locke and Jean are in the middle of a storm and oh gods. It was horrible. Now at least I can take a deep breath and assure myself that it’s okay. It’s too bad about Caldris though, I like him.

“I’ll wager I would have screwed things up regardless. But… can you imagine those poor bastards grappling their prey, leaping over the rails, swords in hand, screaming, ‘Your cats! Give us all your gads-damned cats!’”

The practical reason for cats is probably the rat-catching, ‘cause that can naturally be a real problem. I’m sort of partial to rat-catching dogs, actually, but that’s because I’m a dog person. And maybe the cats are there partly because Mr Lynch has a cat (or cats?). But as for the symbolic reason for their necessity is what Caldris said about them: they are proud creatures, and they please Iono, so I suppose it’s the kind of religious thing you tend to get.

“Ah, that’s wonderful. Another fine chance to explain myself to someone. How I do so love explaining myself.”

Women! I forgot to say last week how much I love it that NOT having women on board is bad luck. Uh yeah, why wouldn’t it be? And we finally met Ezri! I like Ezri so much! She’s real fun and spunky, and a damned good officer it would seem. (This may be strange, but if anyone follows Team Starkid and their musicals, Ezri reminds me of Lauren Lopez. Not much, but… somehow.) She’s yet another detail I’d love to see on a big screen, and particularly in the All Souls In Peril chapter; first ordering the crew around, being all bad-ass, and then fighting on the Kingfisher, being even more bad-ass! She’s great. Any actress playing her would have to have a certain kind of voice though, at least to get my acceptance.

Locke responded with a two-handed gesture he’d learned as a boy, one guaranteed to start fights in any city-state of the Therin world. The crowd of pirates returned it, with many creative variations.

First we just kind of slipped to Jean’s perspective, and suddenly we find we’re in his head a lot. I like how sneaky that is, and it’s really nice to get a better picture of Jean. Particularly because he’s such a sweetheart. I hope the trend carries through the series, and I also think that it provides us with certain possibilities.

“Marvellously clever, Jabril! You’ve tracked me unerringly to the cabin in which I’ve been fast asleep and motionless all bloody night. Who tipped you off?”

I’m sort of uneasy about Paolo and Cosetta, but then again I’m always a little vary of children. Cosetta seems to have the makings of a pirate queen though (Moot nust!), and it would be very interesting how they turn up when they are older.

Locke Lamora was small, but the Thorn of Camorr was larger than any of this. The Thorn couldn’t be touched by blade or spell or scorn. Locke thought of the Falconer, bleeding at his feet. He thought of the Grey King, dead beneath his knife. He thought of the fortunes that had run through his fingers, and he smiled.

This was the first time that the appearance of the Thorn had such an impact on me. I reread that little bit several times, and afterwards it made me giddy to have all the present crew whisper about Locke. It’s just wonderful, to see him gain respect, although this is the kind of respect and reputation that might easily get him killed.

… Locke meant to hit it wearing the biggest lie of his life like a costume. He might be dead in a few seconds, but until then, by gods, he was the Thorn of Camorr. He was Captain Orrin fucking Ravelle.

Kills my heart, by the way, to have Jean and Locke argue like that.

Oh, and I really like the name Orrin Ravelle. Nice sound, it has.

“Hey, time comes to board her, I’ll row the boat naked and attack the bastards with my good fuckin’ looks. Just wait and see if she’s prey, is all I’m sayin’.”

Next week, some of my favourite bits coming up! More Ezri! More Drakasha! Cats! Ships! Pirates! Err… Yeah.

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Red Seas Under Red Skies Read-Along WEEK 2

This week’s first question is about Requin and Selendri. If you’ve even skimmed through my monthly books, it’s pretty obvious I’m a sucker for romance – and gaaaaaaah, Selendri and Requin! The story behind her arm is just magic for me. It doesn’t do for me to read it just once, oh no – I read it a couple of times every reread. I think they are both tough, and they trust each other completely, despite what Requin said. They clearly want to protect each other, which completely endears them to me. It’s almost a pity Locke’s planning on robbing them.

“Ow! Madam, please! Allow me to introduce myself!”

“You’re too fat and well dressed to be an apprentice after patronage so you must be here to beg a favour, and when your kind says hello, it tends to take a while. No, shut up.”

Salon Corbeau. Ugh. The thought just makes me want to break something. It’s really awful. And knowing Locke’s background, it must be absolutely disgusting for him. The Amusement War is just cruel, and nothing else. Lynch really makes you feel it when that girl loses her hair. Horrid. Horrid, horrid, horrid.

In the same category comes the scene at Sinspire, with the stiletto wasps. (To lighten things up, is the Pokémon Beedrill familiar? That’s how I imagine stiletto wasps. Every time.) Locke’s sympathy breaks my heart, and the poor boy in the cage… Even though I just said I like Requin, there are limits. The wasps are not acceptable.

“Crooked Warden, a glass poured on the ground for a stranger without friends. Lord of gallants and fools, ease this man’s passage to the Lady of the Long Silence. This was a hell of a way to die. Do this for me and I’ll try not to ask for anything for a while. I really do mean it this time.”

Locke’s soft side bothers me, just the slightest bit, although it would equally bother me if he didn’t care two shits about people suffering for nothing. Actually, that would be worse. So go on caring, Locke. That makes you human, and that’s good. (Well wasn’t that a pointless few sentences?)

The mysterious assassins! They bother me so much! Who the hell are they? Is this some sort of game the Bondsmagi play, hiring assassins and then make something happen that allow Locke and Jean to escape? So they can never relax?

And who is Merrain? She’s clearly not the Archon’s creature, at least not originally. So for whom does she work? Who sent her to the Archon, and why? Is she some sort of agent for the Bondsmagi? Does she anything at all to do with the pompous Karthani sons of bitches?

She gives me a headache, I’m telling you.

“Eh? Well, the ignorant need room in which to risk their lives without bothering anybody else for a while. This here’s our own private pissing-pond. Never mind the soldiers of the walls; they’ll ignore us. Unless we drown. Then they’ll probably laugh.”

Caldris is such a charmer. He’s not the kind of teacher I’d particularly like, but he sure as hell could make anyone learn. And he knows what he’s talking about. A soft spot for me he is, really.

For learning some nautical words, this book is excellent. Nothing too specific or hard, just stuff that a foreign-language landlubber like me has to check but won’t forget in a hurry. Very very simple stuff, but somewhat essential. Words that’ll come up in other books, too, like ‘doldrums’, ‘capstan’… And thanks to Scott Lynch I can now tell starboard from larboard! Rejoice!

“It is something like a madman’s private language, isn’t it? So intricate in its convolutions. Say you have a rope lying on the deck; after the third hour of the afternoon on Idler’s Day it’s a half-stroke babblegibbet, and then at midnight on Throne’s Day it becomes a rope again, unless it’s raining.”

“Unless it’s raining, yes, in which case you take your clothes off and dance naked round the mizzenmast. Gods, yes. I swear, Je… Jerome, the next person who tells me something like, ‘Squiggle-fuck the rightwise cock-swatter with the starboard jib,’ is going to get a knife in the throat. Even if it’s Caldris. … “

And oh, the quotability of this section! By Their Own Rope was the hardest bit to mark, because quite honestly it’s just a huge verbal explosion of fun. However, this time the winning quote came from a little before that:

“Maxilan, darling. I knew you were driven, but I had no idea you could smoulder. Come, take me now! Jean won’t mind; he’ll avert his eyes like a gentleman.”

Got some looks on the bus again for that. And again today.

One of the things that popped to mind while reading was how big a kick I got from the scene where Locke tries on the uniform. It’s always a pleasure to see him work the details and such, and I’m pretty certain the Archon was duly impressed, although his reaction was minimal. He has the file, so of course he knows Locke is good, but I don’t think he realised just how good.

Plus another thing I’m a sucker for is uniforms, and a blue uniform makes me think of the English naval officer’s uniform from the 19th century.

(That’s young Admiral Nelson, peeps. The uniform’s not the one he wore at Trafalgar, but I like this one better. Less glitter. You can read more about the portrait here, if you’re interested – and if you happen to find yourself in London, the National Maritime Museum is awesome!)

One more quote, then you’ll be free of me. For a week anyway.

“Master Fehrwight, who are you?”

“A man who’s dead serious about chairs.”

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