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Books read, early August

Daniel Abraham, Blade of Dream. Second in its series, more tightly focused than the first and more conventional, in some ways more successful in terms of pulling me in but less structurally interesting. I find myself not knowing where the third one is going, which is a place I like to be. But for heaven’s sake don’t start here.

Christopher Hill, The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas During the English Revolution. Hill does an excellent job of not assuming inevitability: knowing what we do of which groups survived does not mean that they “had to” be the surviving groups. Absolutely full of Quakers, Diggers, Levelers, all the sort of thing you’d want, and I do want, and I’m glad to have it.

Eleanor Janega, The Once and Future Sex: Going Medieval on Women’s Roles in Society. This actually disappointed me a bit. It spent quite a lot of time on theories of the body that I already knew–which you might not, and if so, go nuts, this is the book for you–and not nearly as much time on work and social organization as I had hoped. The chapter on work was brief and fairly general, which felt to me like the exact opposite of what was called for to overturn assumptions about medieval women’s roles in society. Ah well.

Elizabeth Lim, Her Radiant Curse. Discussed elsewhere.

Anna Neima, The Utopians: Six Attempts to Build the Perfect Society. This is about utopian societies after WWI and the effects of that war on people’s theories of what a better world would look like. That makes it basically catnip for me. I also appreciated Neima’s willingness to go around the world to look at communities in different regions, not just one country or continent–especially as they interrelate in this period. Good stuff.

Noel Streatfeild, Saplings. Another of the books that has a surface-happy ending whose entire point is that it is really, really not happy. This one is about how war, in this case the Second World War, terribly damages children even when they’re on the “home front” rather than the front lines. It’s beautifully observed and well-characterized and terribly sad, and it further cements my belief that part of Theatre Shoes is not as it seems. (This is for adults.)

Stephan Talty, Agent Garbo: The Brilliant, Eccentric Secret Agent Who Tricked Hitler and Saved D-Day. Briskly written and interesting work about a Spanish man who basically forced his way into being a double agent. Not terribly long.

Adrian Tchaikovsky, City of Last Chances. I have a gift for picking up grimdark I might otherwise like at the worst personal moments. Tchaikovsky does some really good worldbuilding with the gods of this world and with passing the story from character to character in a way that almost reminded me of Yourcenar (but without the coin), but he also writes some very successfully dark scenes, so be braced for picking it up on the right day.

Brenda Ueland, Strength to Your Sword Arm: Selected Writings. Ueland was more a newspaper opinion columnist than an essayist, and that was very clear from the depth or lack thereof in these writings. Sometimes it was charming to see how she presented social elements that now wouldn’t have to be explained; some ideas aged much worse than others. (Seriously, just…do not propose corrective rape of people whose opinions you disagree with. Just. Don’t. Not charming. Not okay.)

Izzy Wasserstein, All the Hometowns You Can’t Stay Away From. A fun and varied SFF collection, some of which I’d enjoyed previously and some of which was new to me, glad to have it all in one place.

Katy Watson, The Three Dahlias. Three actresses who have played/are playing the same iconic detective are in a country house for a convention of her fans when murder strikes, and everyone is–of course–a suspect. They must use the skills they’ve learned from playing her onscreen to solve the case before one of them gets blamed. This was light and charming, but for me it ended up spreading the characterization a little too thin among a few too many characters, not leaving me with a strong sense of any one of them, including the one who eventually turned out to be the killer. I would probably read another if there was a sequel, but probably from the library rather than purchasing it.

Richard Wilbur, Collected Poems, 1943-2004. A lot of “collected poems” volumes start at the beginning and you get to watch the poet get better, and this did the opposite, and…it turns out I like that better? I don’t necessarily think that the latest work is the best work, but when someone does start to get more callow and less skilled, there’s that sinking feeling of “oh dear, this is it then,” and I definitely had that in the middle of this volume. Wilber turned out to be another poet I mostly connected with intellectually, and that’s okay.

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Her Radiant Curse, by Elizabeth Lim

Review copy provided by the publisher.

This is a stand-alone prequel in the world of Six Crimson Cranes; if you know the characters and the events of that book, some events of this one will be enhanced, but this is a perfectly reasonable entry point to this world and its people.

Channi’s life revolves around her amazing and beautiful sister Vanna, and it always has. When she was a toddler, Vanna was born with a special magical glow–perfect, beloved, amazing. Her father attempted to sacrifice Channi to the jungle witch Angma to save his wife, and it failed–she was cursed with the face of a serpent and poisonous blood, and her mother died anyway. In all the years since, Channi and Vanna have grown up together, each other’s polar opposite in looks–but always the best of friends.

Now their father is choosing a suitor for Vanna. Kings from all around will come to bid on her hand. Her sister Channi, however, is more concerned about her sister’s happiness than about their cruel father’s wealth. Her friends the snakes of the jungle are willing to try to help her protect her little sister–but the entire endeavor gets, as one would expect, quickly complicated, with dragons, demons, and armies pursuing them around the island landscape.

The relationship of sisters and snakes is devoted and charming, and this book serves well either to add dimension to a world already known or to introduce the reader to its environs.

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Books read, late July

Alison Bashford, The Huxleys: An Intimate History of Evolution. This did not do what I hoped. It was organized conceptually. Several of the people I have said this to have gasped, “Oh no!” but it isn’t as bad as all that, but it isn’t amazing either. It made the ending less predictable than a chronological biography, but on the other hand there are just great heaps of what I would find interesting missing. I’m reading another book that has the edges of Julian in it already, absolutely accidentally, and already I’m muttering, “why wasn’t there any of this in the other thing.” Not enough Huxley per unit Huxley is not a complaint I expected to have here, and yet here we are. There’s absolutely nothing like the bit in the Haldane bio where Naomi Mitchison bit him. Surely with this many Huxleys somebody had to at least kick somebody sharply. I would have. Maybe it was even Naomi Mitchison, she had several chances. Well, someone else will have to tell me, it’s not apparently Alison Bashford’s job, she was doing something different.

Stephanie Burgis, Claws and Contrivances. Kindle. The second in a series, but it stands alone–frothy fun that has a little bite to it as animal welfare is at the heart of the plots. The animals in question are dragons, and the title format should tell you what era they’re drawing on. Just what I needed for an adventurous escape in a stressful time.

Jackson Crawford, trans. etc., The Wanderer’s Hávamál. I really like this edition of this very old Norse poem: side by side original and translation, followed by lots of translation notes and then a much more loosely done “cowboy” dialect version that was a tribute to the translator’s grandfather and made me smile–I know the Mountain West US dialect he was using pretty well, and he did a good job of it.

Jan de Vries, The Dutch Rural Economy in the Golden Age, 1500-1700. Lots of tables and facts about what was going on in those Dutch towns, some interesting bits but mostly I read this because it was here and I was waiting on my birthday, probably only interesting if you are really interested in the topic.

Edmund de Waal, Letters to Camondo. Like me, like Auden, like several of my friends, de Waal is in the club of people who write letters to friends who have been dead since before they were born. In this case he became interested in a neighbor of his family and how that life had unfolded for a Jewish person in that part of Paris in the early 20th century. It is not a story with a happy ending, as you can expect from the first half of the 20th, but de Waal notices all the good and bad his absent “correspondent” has along the way, and it’s poignant, lovely, and brief.

Samuel Delany, Empire Star. Reread. I read this for a book club, and I’m afraid I won’t have much to say in the book club. There are things Delany wanted to do here with time and mentality that were fine but not particularly exciting to me at this point in the genre. I’m not sorry I read it but I didn’t engage with it strongly either.

Rebecca Fraimow, Iron Children. Kindle. A novella that explored the sense of grinding permanence only to explode it, looking into questions of loyalty and personal transformation…with mechas and survival in the snow. I tore right through it, lovely stuff.

Margaret Frazer, The Novice’s Tale. A nice little medieval mystery from the reign of Henry VI, who ever bothers with Henry VI, well done Frazer for even remembering him. It’s the first in a series, so it looks like I will have several ahead of me to enjoy when I want nice little mysteries.

Carlo Ginzburg, The Night Battles: Witchcraft and Agrarian Cults in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. My favorite part of this wasn’t actually the main thread of it, although that was fascinating–it was the parallel case of the werewolf. This was “sure, we’re witches, but we’re good witches, and we fight crime in our dreams”: oh bless, well done, neighbors. But there was also a person on trial for being werewolf and he gave the judges an absolute epic hecking about where they would be without the werewolves going down and harrowing hell for them. This period was a wild ride and I love them for it. Early moderns, bless. Trying to sort out worldview, bless.

Sophus Helle, trans., The Complete Poems of Enheduana, the World’s First Author. Translations from the Sumerian, wow, and then lots of essays and notes about what we know about this poet (or poets) and how poetry and its composition was regarded and who this poet’s contemporaries were, really interesting stuff.

Beth Lincoln, The Swifts: A Dictionary of Scoundrels. A Wacky Family Reunion novel and also a MG mystery novel and also an exploration of how much one’s family can predetermine one’s identity vs. how much one gets to choose one’s own. The trans characters’ identities are handled with a light and deft touch in this context. Generally an interesting read and certainly as fast as you would expect for being MG. Walks right on that line of “how much murder can be in a MG mystery really.”

Premee Mohamed, No One Will Come Back for Us and Other Stories. Premee, on the other hand, has no limits of how much murder. A lot of this is overtly horror, in the vein of cosmic/existential/personal rather than chompy chomp horror, and it’s beautifully done, and also maybe plan to read it a bit at a time so as not to be overwhelmed by the aaaaaaah because it’s beautifully done. Some previously known favorites here and some new to me.

Susan Palwick, Shelter. Reread. I don’t feel like this aged well, but then I look again and some of the problems were problems I feel like Palwick could have seen in 2007 as well, they just…got worse instead of better with time. If you want to talk about failures of compassion in modern society–and it’s explicitly a near-future American setting–I feel like making up a fake environmentalist religion as central to the near-future society and having those people fail in their community and compassion is…passing quite a lot of buck. There were also some pretty serious issues with the portrayal of mental health and its treatment, and yes, some of that was that Palwick was trying to point at lack of compassion, but some of it was Palwick herself conflating symptoms and rushing past potential treatments with a handwave in order to get to the desired science fictional result. This was a book where choice of point of view was a serious problem, because there were two main points of view, both of whom were almost completely isolated–which was deliberate, it was a statement, but it meant that when they held horrifying views and the people contradicting them were also pretty terrible, there was no ground to stand on, you were just stuck in the horrible with nowhere else to go. I don’t intend to return to this; the parts I remembered fondly turned out to be a tiny fraction of the whole. I read it for an online book club, and other people found other things upsettingly handled as well, including adoption.

Pierre Riche, The Carolingians: A Family Who Forged Europe. More Carolingians, yes, but also more about their aftermath and periphery, which I enjoy.

Margery Sharp, The Eye of Love. Kindle. An adult book about an artistic little orphan girl who is about as far from Anne of Green Gables as you can imagine. I love them both. Martha is a stolid, laconic little soul who doesn’t give a rip for the neighbors’ opinions, who almost entirely wants to be left alone to draw, and who only really wants to draw things that matter to her. She does not gush. She occasionally, with distaste, uses people’s preconceptions about small girls, but it is not something she enjoys doing and only does it out of dire necessity. Meanwhile there is another plot going on, about her aunt’s domestic situation and whether it will resolve satisfactorily, and the theme ties in with Martha as a young artist seeing the world her own way as per the title. There are two more in this series, which is good because it only got up to about the first third of a coming of age young artist novel while doing the whole plot about Martha’s aunt, but also I am now really curious about what other plots will go alongside Martha’s.

Noel Streatfeild, Aunt Clara and It Pays to Be Good. Kindle, both. What a fascinating pair of her adult novels to read at once. They’re both character studies, extremely well-done character studies. The former is an absolutely hilarious portrait of an extremely nice unfashionable old lady who inherits disreputable property and responsibilities and goes around taking it in her stride and doing the absolute best she can with it while her supposedly respectable relations have fits and try to keep her from realizing what it all is. It’s lovely and also makes some pretty good points about how goodness is not stupidity, thank you very much. The latter, on the other hand, is also talking about respectability, but in its case superficial respectability is rewarded in just the way other novels of its time (and especially the time preceding it) believes that it should be. It is one of the most appalling tragedies you can ask to encounter. Both just beautifully observed.

Amy Wilson, Shadows of Winterspell. A MG fantasy with kids trying to figure out how to make the world better on the limited information given them by adults, but their world has ghosts and all manner of fey creatures. A fun read.

Serge Zenkovsky, ed., Medieval Russia’s Epics, Chronicles, and Tales. Primary sources in translation, so this varied highly from “oh wow this is fun actually” to “how appalling,” as one might expect from several centuries and varied topics and genres. One of the notes I would make on this is that it was published in the late 1960s, and its editorial staff/annotator saw no particular reason to be careful about the distinctions among Kievan Rus, Muscov, Russia, and other polities. I don’t entirely blame them for this; I don’t expect that a Russian writer of the time would have been exacting about Mercian vs. English vs. British vs. Scottish–heck, some American writers aren’t–but there are times when things are discussed or translated with a rather sloppy hand in that regard that’s a bit wince-worthy in the current political climate, and worth keeping an eye on when you’re thinking about what’s actually being claimed about the history of the region (as in, not what certain parties would love it if you thought).

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Books read, early July

Anta Baku, The Cell Phone Towers of Elfland. Reread. Upbeat serialized fairy tale fantasy with contemporary twist, now collected into one volume and readable in that format, so I did. Not my Richard III but basically still always glad to see Richard III.

Victoria Bates, Making Noise in the Modern Hospital. Kindle. An interesting survey of what has made which kind of noise in hospitals over the last hundred years, how people have tried to address that and what problems they’ve created in the process. Deals with both the objective sense of how much sound there is and the subjective sense of how bothersome it is.

Peter Dickinson, The Blue Hawk. A children’s book of speculative theology and falconry, more or less–Tron (this predates the movie of that name) has an evolving relationship with his gods is not always convenient to the other humans around him. I was not as charmed by this as some other people in the book club for which I read it, nor as I have been by other Dickinson books, but it was a quick read.

Emma Goldman, Living My Life. I put off reading this because autobiographies of people who have lived colorful lives don’t always have the best prose, but I was wrong to do so, the prose is very readable and this long volume goes quickly. And man, you can see how she was willing to piss off everybody here and say basically whatever. Love to see it, honestly. You don’t read Emma Goldman to agree with every word, you read Emma Goldman for the WOW SHE WENT THERE factor, both literally and figuratively.

Isabella Hammad, Enter Ghost. This is a novel about an Arabic translation production of Hamlet being put on in the West Bank, and about a Palestinian-British actress returning to Palestine and having massively complicated feelings about her own history, family, identity, work, and everything else. I really liked it.

Alix E. Harrow, Starling House. Discussed elsewhere.

Kat Howard, A Sleight of Shadows. The consequences of trying to save a world that doesn’t want to be saved. You’ll want the first one in this series first, but for that tag-line it really isn’t a downbeat book in the end, it’s just–more implication, more ramification, more fantasy from the generations of us who are not content with “power just is, don’t worry about where it comes from” as an answer in our magic.

Jac Jemc, Empty Theatre. I was disappointed in this. I was promised “over-the-top social satire,” and for 19th century German-speaking monarchs this was…very far under the top. Nor was the satire particularly biting, and no, I am very sure I didn’t just miss it, it was just…a rather blunt instrument. I’d also like to warn that there is a lot of what I’m sure is quite historically accurate depiction of disordered eating, but it is nevertheless depicted in great detail to not a lot of purpose. Meh. Too much Wagner, not enough Bismarck, and yes, I’m aware that could also be said of Ludwig of Bavaria’s life, but really. So much meh.

Margaret Wade Labarge, Medieval Travelers. This is very focused on the uppermost classes (not a lot of merchant travel here, not a lot of thought about economic migrants) and on the most obvious places in western Europe, so it ended up being unsurprising if you’ve done any level of thought about this topic. Not really recommended, alas.

Ian R. MacLeod, Snodgrass and Other Illusions: The Best Short Stories of Ian R. MacLeod. Kindle. Some of these short stories were absolutely gorgeous and some were not for me, and the great thing about a short story collection is that you can just stop on the ones that aren’t for you and go on to the next thing. I haven’t read any of his long form stuff in a while, might be time again.

Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway, The Big Myth: How American Business Taught Us to Loathe Government and Love the Free Market. This was depressing but interesting. It’s an accounting of who funded what propaganda to make the magical action of the unfettered market look like it works in ways that it doesn’t and had never been proven to do. It’s just astonishing how often economists get to make claims without backing them up. “Does it, though?” ought to be the first question every time someone says, “the market does blah de blah” and yet here we are, dammit. Naomi Oreskes is a treasure. I’m glad I know these details. Also: ughhhhh.

H. G. Parry, The Magician’s Daughter. I do like it when I can say “best yet!” about an author’s latest publication, and this is one of those. It’s an Edwardian fantasy that’s another in the sub-genre of fantasy that’s thinking about where power comes from and who pays for it, and the way it handles both familiars and family went really well for me. Excited to see what Parry does next.

Sarah Pinsker, Lost Places. An absolutely lovely collection of recent Pinsker stories, many of which I’d already read but it was nice to have them in the same place, and I had managed to miss a few all the same.

C.L. Polk, Witchmark and Stormsong. Rereads. Here’s another thing I meant by “another in the sub-genre of fantasy that’s thinking about where power comes from and who pays for it.” I really love how Cee does this. I picked up Witchmark for a book club and am just going on with the reread a bit at a time. On the second go-round I really liked what a mirror Grace is of how all of us sometimes only want to fix the parts of what’s wrong with the world that are personally inconvenient to us, how we sometimes have to grump and stumble into doing more.

James Tynion IV and Rian Syngh, The Backstagers Volume One: Rebels Without Applause, Volume Two: The Show Must Go On, and Volume Three: Encore. Comics where high school backstage crew kids at an all-boys’ high school find doors to weird stuff in their backstage areas, have theater nerd adventures together. I read these because there are teens in my life who are 100% the target audience and have birthdays coming up and yep, they’re getting them, they’re absolutely getting them as gifts.

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Starling House, by Alix E. Harrow

Review copy provided by the publisher.

It’s hard to think of something that’s less “my jam” than very Gothic, very Southern fantasy. (Is it Southern Gothic if it’s Gothic in the sense of a doomed romance between a girl and a creepy house, and also is Southern? I am not clear on that part. It’s sure got the decay and the poverty and–fantastic nightmares, they say? Yes, it has those. Okay. Southern Gothic turned up to eleven.) And yet this is so beautifully done. I kept running around telling people, “I have never seen a better use of Tractor Supply in a fantasy novel.”

Opal has been raising her brother Jasper the best she knows how, out of a shabby motel room in a town that has seen better days but honestly not that much better. She manages to get a job cleaning the enigmatic Starling House, which is beyond filthy and beyond mysterious. Its sole inhabitant, Arthur Starling, is a little bit Byronic hero, a little bit college junior living in way more squalor than he wants to admit to. The rumors about him are intense, the rumors about the house even more so. And rightly so, because this house wants Opal. What Opal wants is tuition to get Jasper to school somewhere far away and better than this. This is the town that killed their mother, and she doesn’t want it to eat her brother too.

She’s not paying a lot of attention to whether it gets her.

Luckily, Jasper and Arthur are. And they’re not the only ones. Over the course of the book, the secrets of Starling House reveal themselves a little at a time, and so does the siblings’ place in the community, which is not quite what Opal had always assumed–except for the places where she’s absolutely, belligerently right. This is acutely observed about small town relationships, families, and the ways we sometimes take care of each other better than we take care of ourselves. Its squalor is purposeful, its decay sure-handed. If ever you want a creepy magic house story from the near South, oh, this is the one. If you think you don’t…you still might.

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Books read, late June

Jess Armstrong, The Curse of Penryth Hall. Discussed elsewhere.

Jane Austen, Mansfield Park. Reread, Kindle. I say reread because I know I read this as a teenager sometime before I started the booklog, but I don’t know precisely when, and my memory of it was rather more general than specific. I like that it was a novel of close calls, and I particularly like Susan at the ending, I like that one of the close calls was that of becoming the sort of person her aunts were, who just forgot what her poor relations were like. Susan was the part that made me happiest.

Geoffrey Bownas and Anthony Thwaite, eds., The Penguin Book of Japanese Verse. A friend slipped this into my hand as a random gift, a used copy of a mid-century compendium. The translations held up remarkably well, and it contained a surprising number of contemporary-to-its-publication poems, a surprising number of poems that were not on “nice” topics. The editors seemed a bit bemused by them in the introduction, but they pressed on all the same, bless them. Useful to have about the house.

Chaz Brenchley, Mary Ellen–Craterean! Chapters 15-17. Kindle. Some things being wrapped up and others started, catching up on the installments of this serial as I was doing a lot of Kindle reading.

Vincent Brown, Tacky’s Revolt: The Story of an Atlantic Slave War. Analyzes a particular uprising in Jamaica through the lens of the pre-enslavement military experience of the enslaved persons in their lives in West Africa, particularly in the Bight of Benin area, really interesting about how those experiences likely informed the way they resisted enslavement intelligently and strategically.

Deva Fagan, The Mirrorwood. A fast, fun children’s fantasy whose heroine considers herself under a curse (and so do the people around her). Her allies and enemies are not always who they seem, and neither are the monsters, necessarily–but there sure are curses and monsters to travel around figuring out.

E.M. Forster, A Room With a View. Kindle. What I really like about this–and what really contrasted to reading Edith Wharton the next day–was that Forster’s characters could see that their social strictures weren’t working for them, and they did something about it. They were willing to make a total mess of things–to run off to Greece, to make mistakes, to make themselves miserable, to play the piano badly in a mood–in hopes of something better, or even not in hopes of something better, but to dodge something intolerable. I don’t know if I was supposed to think that the clergyman and another gentleman were gay from the remarks about people who were better off without a connexion? (perhaps, because I am a sophisticated married woman artist rather than an innocent young girl who knows not of life?), but I’m just going to go with that all the same, nice gay clergyman who only likes young girls if they’re interesting musicians, sure yes, swimming naked in a suburban pond with random young Socialists you’ve just met, honestly how did people ever think this era of literature was stuffy…well, read on, it’s because Edith Wharton convinced them. I’m going to sit over here by Ed.

Cyril Hare, With a Bare Bodkin. Kindle. Wartime workplace mystery, somewhat fluttery, not particularly outstanding to my mind.

Gulchehra Hoja, A Stone Is Most Precious Where It Belongs: A Memoir of Uyghur Exile, Hope, and Survival. This was a very strange thing to read, because it was clearly propaganda, and its position was not particularly nuanced, and also…also I didn’t really feel like its position needed to be more nuanced, and I agreed with its propaganda claims, which are that genocide is bad and attempting to wipe out the Uyghur people and their culture is bad. For all that we incline toward nuance, professionally, I feel like when someone points out genocide, “let’s hear whether this might be fine actually” is not actually where we need to go. Hoja manages to also talk about some of the Uyghur cultural traditions she particularly values, which is nice in context. I hope this gets attention among people who don’t know much about the Uyghur people. It’s not very long and quite personal and readable.

S.L. Huang, The Water Outlaws. Discussed elsewhere.

T. Kingfisher, Thornhedge. Discussed elsewhere.

Nicole Kornher-Stace, Flight and Anchor. Max’s blurb on this book compares it to the Boxcar Children, I think amusingly but fairly. Two military-industrial-complex-modified children break out of their complex and try to make a life for themselves, in a novella prequel to Firebreak. Cat-and-mouse with their captor ensues.

Ken MacLeod, Beyond the Hallowed Sky. Space opera about the discovery (time loop discovery?) of FTL, Venus cloud habitats, androids and spies and differently-fragmented/differently-unified Earth politics, and…yeah, this is just the kind of immersive weird crunch I want from MacLeod. We believe in the same kind of nerd conversations, is I think one of the things that makes it work particularly for me–this is how nerds talk politics, I’ve heard them.

Rosamond McKitterick, The Frankish Kingdoms Under the Carolingians, 751-987. A lot of ground I’ve covered before, not a bad introduction if you haven’t, different conceptual areas highlighted under different eras.

Dorothy Sayer, trans., The Song of Roland. I think one of the things that’s astonishing to me about this is how fast Charlemagne passes into the realm of weird legend. Suddenly he’s a 200-year-old man! He was around just 200 years ago! How is this supposed to work! Doesn’t matter, on with the tale.

Margery Sharp, Britannia Mews. Kindle. The plot elements that were the risk of a generation before–marrying your drawing master, oh no!–are the reality of this book, and how they unfold is hilarious in spots, poignant in spots, horrifying, an entire beautifully done range of human emotion. And it’s a book with temporal range as well, Victoriana all through the Second World War. A lot of the Sharp books I’ve read before are smaller, more lapidary, in both what emotion they mean to cover and what time frame they mean to do it in. This is a different beast entirely. Once I realized what I was in for, I liked it quite a lot.

Adrian Tchaikovsky, And Put Away Childish Things. This is an absolutely beautifully done example of how making something darker of things you loved in your childhood doesn’t necessarily mean making something nihilistic or horrid. There’s portal fantasy in this, and reference to children’s books, and it goes some pretty scabrous places–and also the pandemic is a real thing with effects on people’s lives, gasp, go figure–but it is neither hopeless nor mean-spirited, well done that man. Quite a lot of ground to cover in a novella, and he does it neatly.

Anthony Trollope, The Last Chronicle of Barset. Kindle. I was in JFK this week, okay? I was in JFK this week, and when I am in an airport going through the throes of horror that a) contemporary airports often go through and b) that particular airport sure was going through a lot this week, what I want is to not have to think about whether my book is going to get me through this trying time, I just want there to quite a lot of be long sentences that are slightly anxious about things (money! and social change!) that I am not personally going through in that very moment, but that will mostly come out okay, except where they don’t. I love reading Trollope in airports, I can’t see why they don’t have big stacks of his books next to the bottled water and the Mets shirts. If you want a Trollope novel, this sure is one. All sorts of people face financial ruin! Some of them are pure of heart! Sometimes in opposite directions! Some people are very sure of their own rightness and are wrong! Lots of people are incredibly stubborn, a bunch of them are clergy, it’s like one of my family reunions up in this thing. One of the interesting points is that Trollope has more sympathy for one of the characters, Mrs. Proudie, than he expects his readership to have, and he admonishes the readership about it. But I have more sympathy for her as well, even though she behaves spectacularly badly in places and only doesn’t ruin some people’s lives by a combination of chance and a lot of work on other people’s parts. But I see how her life options were limited by her society and so does my boy Tony. So that’s why we’re here, right? That’s why we hang with him still. Because he could see that even then. (Even if the bits where he’s scolding his other readers about it didn’t strike me as particularly likely to work at the time.) I also found this one really interesting because he had nothing like a framework for mental health and neurodiversity but he clearly understood that some people’s brains worked very differently than the standard and that you couldn’t expect it to not go like that, it didn’t make them bad parents or bad people or bad at their job, he didn’t have the words for it but he knew that they did not do it the same as the guy next to them and that was going to have to get worked out somehow. (“But WHY is he like that?” people keep asking in this book, and the answer they have at the time is, “Dunno, but he sure is, that’s how he does, and there’s no other way he can do.” Could do a lot worse, honestly.)

Martha Wells, City of Bones. Discussed elsewhere.

Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence. Reread, Kindle. This is another reread from my teens when I remembered almost nothing about it, and gosh I hope I remember to never read it again. I feel like Wharton feels like she’s more removed from these people than she looks from this distance. She’s the one who chose to center miserable, conventional rich people; she’s the one who put the interesting women on the outskirts of a book that could have been about them. Shouting out Middlemarch was a dangerous power move here, because it pointed out how many of the same things Wharton was doing and how much worse she was doing them. And then there was the fatphobia. “Look at how convention binds us, look at how ignorance and innocence are conflated, bound, forced together”: fine yes, I’ve looked, let’s do something else now.

P. G. Wodehouse, Jill the Reckless. Kindle. This is my new favorite Wodehouse. It’s got musical theater! It’s got a parrot! It’s got all sorts of lovely shenanigans. It doesn’t have as much of the sympathetic servants as one would like, but it’s got some. And it’s got Jill herself and she’s lovely. I feel sorry for the poor man next to me on the plane, because I kept laughing and he was trying to sleep. On the other hand it was the middle of the afternoon so there was no particular reason to think the person next to you on the plane wouldn’t be laughing at her book.

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Short stories (and poems) I’ve enjoyed this spring

Notable Escapes, Leah Bobet (Strange Horizons)

“At the Heart of Each Pearl Lies a Grain of Sand,” Marie Brennan (Sunday Morning Transport)

“What I Remember of Oresha Moon Dragon Devshrata,” P Djeli Clark (The Book of Witches)

“John Hollowback and the Witch,” Amal El-Mohtar (The Book of Witches)

The State Street Robot Factory, Claire Humphrey (Apex)

“Catechism for Those Who Would Find Witches,” Kathleen Jennings (The Book of Witches)

Better Living Through Algorithms, Naomi Kritzer (Clarkesworld)

Still Life With Slain God and Lemon, Anne Leonard (Translunar Travelers Lounge)

Steve Irwin and the Unicorn, Theo Nicole Lorenz (Strange Horizons)

“So Spake the Mirrorwitch,” Premee Mohamed (The Book of Witches)

A Chronicle of the Mole-Year, Christi Nogle (Strange Horizons)

Little Apocalypses, Aparna Paul (Reckoning)

There’s a Door to the Land of the Dead in the Land of the Dead, Sarah Pinsker (The Deadlands)

“Amrit,” Kiran Kaur Saini (F&SF May/Jun)

Blooms, Grace Seybold (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)

“Drained,” Sonya Taaffe (Not One Of Us #74)

Construction Sacrifice, Bogi Takács (Lightspeed)

“The Cost of Doing Business,” Emily Y Teng (The Book of Witches)

She Blooms and the World Is Changed, Izzy Wasserstein (Lightspeed)

“Manic Pixie Girl,” AC Wise (The Other Side of Never)

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City of Bones, by Martha Wells

Review copy provided by the publisher.

This is a re-release of a novel first released in 1995. The promotional copy notes that this is the author’s preferred text; I don’t have the original edition, so I can’t make comparisons between the two and say what has changed and whether I like it better or worse than the original. In some senses the question is moot for me. This is the edition in front of me; this is what I’m reviewing.

The titular city is one of desert wastes and technological fantastika. This is a world past its golden age, a world full of relics and mysteries. Khat is from a race of humanoids often not considered fully human though deeply humane in his own instincts; Elen is a Warder, powerful in her own sphere but unable to penetrate some important areas to retrieve artefacts of interest. Together they–well, there appears to be more committing than fighting of crime, from some points of view. But together they muddle through. Get double crossed. And find themselves an unlikely team in the face of a still more unlikely threat.

The role of relics and their forgeries in all of this was the strongest part of the book for me. It’s an engaging enough science fantasy but not my favorite of her works–but then, that’s a pretty high bar to clear at this point, and not a choice anybody should be pushed into making.