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Books read, late December

Sarah Gailey, The Fisher of Bones. A grim and affecting fantasy novella about the leader of a group of people on a trek across a wasted landscape. Gailey’s previous novella, with the hippos, was not exactly pure joy, but was a lot of fun. This is a different tone completely, displaying her range. It’s very dark. Very, very dark. Well done, but…brace yourself.

Tessa Gratton and Karen Lord, Tremontaine Season 3, Episodes 10 and 11. Discussed elsewhere.

Rodney Hilton, Bond Men Made Free. The first half of this book is a history of peasant uprisings in medieval Europe, the second specifically a history of the British peasants’ revolt of 1381. As it is not a long book, both halves were interesting, but I could have done with twice as much of each. There is not a sufficiency of peasant uprising history running around, though, so we take what we can get I guess. There’s a lot of discussion of what worked and what didn’t, in which ways peasants got which rights when, how they conceived of what they were asking for and when they just flailed angrily and why, etc.

Justina Ireland, Troy L. Wiggins, et al, Fiyah Issues 3 and 4. One of the lovely things about Fiyah is that I can read it purely as a fan, not being eligible to submit. That being the case, I have no idea how their issue themes hit their authors, whether they feel inspiring or frustrating from the author side. From the reader side, I think they’re succeeding admirably at picking things that are broad enough and deep enough to give a body of work that feels united without feeling samey. The specific stories I loved best will show up in my short story recommendations post, but I’m definitely glad to have a subscription here for the next year.

Carmen Maria Machado, Her Body and Other Parties. Oh, these stories. I had read some of them, most I had not. And they just…unfolded beautifully, relentlessly. The title is perfect. I think the one that hit me the most, the best, started out feeling like a catalog of lovers, like a mimetic story, and…went from there into something far more speculative. But there’s so much here. This is another example of the hype I heard being absolutely worth it. I was entranced.

Peter Marshall, The Magic Circle of Rudolf II: Alchemy and Astrology in Renaissance Prague. Weird book about a weird man. A lot of this was background and biography, trying to put Rudolf II in his context in his place and time with the Habsburg family and Austria and Spain and…hoo. That era. They were in that “we are figuring stuff out!…we really don’t have stuff figured out!” era, when “maybe pour mercury on it!” was as good an idea as anybody had. “It might be a comet who knows!” Yes sure give that a look. This is not an outstanding book on the topic, but if you’re really enthusiastic about the topic, well, here we are.

Samuel Moyn, The Last Utopia. This is a history of the concept of human rights, and a discussion of a) why people associate it with the 1940s, b) why the 1970s were actually an even stronger time for its rise, c) other aspects of human rights as a global concept/focus. Interesting, far more focused on those two decades than I expected, not too long and not too abstruse. Made a good case for human rights as a social minimum rather than a social maximum when figuring out a society.

Jeannette Ng, Under the Pendulum Sun. Oh, this one was lovely. It’s about missionaries to fairyland, a missionary and his sister more accurately, and it has all sorts of grounding in what missionaries actually were like and did, and also all sorts of grounding in what old fairy stories were actually like before they got prettified, and as a result there are strange and dark and terrifying things going on here, many of them human. Captivating, thoroughly recommended.

Ada Palmer, The Will to Battle. Discussed elsewhere.

Milorad Pavic, Dictionary of the Khazars. This is a Serbian novel in translation, a somewhat Ruritanian novel in encyclopedia entries. It would be another mildly interesting entry alongside the others I like of that type–I am a sucker for Ruritanian novels–except that being Serbian ends up distinguishing it extremely, because when Anglophones try to set a Ruritanian novel in that part of the world, they quite often attempt to leave out religion, or at least dash past it with a glancing blow. Pavic has no interest in that. Dictionary of the Khazars is in three sections for the three largest religions of that area, and quite often each section will have different things to say in its encyclopedia entry about a person or element of “Khazar” life. The shape of thing comes out distinctive and interesting, coming together at the end with a bang.

Molly Tanzer, Creatures of Will and Temper. I critiqued this book in draft and loved it then, so I saved the polished version for when I knew I would want something I would enjoy. This, it turns out, was prescient; nothing gets you through a six hour airline delay while recovering from multiple illnesses like a book you already know you like but haven’t gotten in quite its final form yet. This is a book of fin de siecle art world, family relationships, fencing, and diabolism. It’s fun. It’s got significance and depth and the ending goes straight to me–in ways that I can claim no credit for, because Molly had nailed it the very first time I saw it. I’ve been wanting to be able to rec this book for two years now, and here it is. Yay.

Lynne Thomas, Michael Damian Thomas, Michi Trotta, et al, Uncanny Magazine Issues 18 and 19. These were two very strong issues, and I had notes on which stories I really loved from them, and…those notes went wandering when I was in the process of recommending stories on Twitter. I have them for my big short story recommendation post! So it’ll be in there! Short version is: enjoyed them, glad I subscribe so I don’t miss things in passing, but it does mean that I’m less likely to read things in passing because I know I’ll get there eventually.

Deborah Weisgall, The World Before Her. This is a novel with two parallel time streams, one of which is about George Eliot adjusting to her late life marriage, the other about a sculptor in the ’80s whose marriage is not really working. The details of her art work are delightful, and both timelines actually end up working fairly well for me, although I have to confess that since I have recently read Middlemarch the main effect of this book is to make me want to read Daniel Deronda. There are worse effects for a book to have.

Emily Wilson translating Homer, The Odyssey. Yes, this is counter to my usual policy of listing the author first. But come on, we all know that it’s Homer’s Odyssey…and we all know that this translation being by Emily Wilson is immensely important and immensely specific. This just feels so clear on the page. I didn’t struggle with the Fitzgerald Homer I read in college–I don’t ever recall feeling like this was hard material–so the clarity I mean is aesthetic, like sparkly water. The focus on hospitality, the characters getting to be characters, even the slaves. This is just a joy to read. I’m so glad of it.

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