Books 2014: 186-208
186-187. Laurie R. King, To Play The Fool
and With Child
. Picador, 2014 editions.
The second and third installment in King's Kate Martinelli series. The interesting thing about these novels, I realised as I read her standalone books - discussed next paragraph - is how much more King is interested in character, in suffering, in relationships, than she is in the intellectual puzzle of whodunnit
. Crime might be the frame, but it's not the focus. Which makes these novels fairly powerful examinations of emotions and relationships and characters.
188-190. Laurie R. King, A Darker Place
, and Keeping Watch
. Various publishers, various years.
These are King's standalone contemporary novels - though Folly
and Keeping Watch
are loosely connected - and it's here where I noticed her concern with character rather than mystery most strongly. A Darker Place
ends on an unfinished note, but it's a study of one woman's guilt and obsessions and drive, a drive that leads her into danger again and again; Folly
is concerned with one woman's struggle to rebuild her self and her life while struggling with a heavy burden of grief and mental illness - she's a mother, a grandmother, an artist: her sickness places heavy burdens upon her relationships but doesn't, ultimately, define her - while Keeping Watch
is about how one man's experiences in Vietnam (and his addiction to adrenaline) shaped his entire life. They are brilliant, fascinating novels, and well worth reading.
191-195. Mary Balogh, One Night For Love
, A Summer To Remember
, The Proposal
, The Escape
, and The Arrangement
Formulaic historical romance. Diverting, but not really engrossing. Did not hit nearly enough of my narrative kinks.
196. Catherine Asaro, Undercity
. Baen, 2014. Review ecopy courtesy of the publisher.
Read for review for Tor.com. My strongest feeling about this book is "meh." It's good enough, it does what it sets out to do, but it's not stylish or innovative or particularly gripping. It has not enough flare and joie de vivre
. I found it hard to say much about it in my review.
197. Sarah Zettel, Palace of Spies
. Harcourt Brace & Co., 2013.
Read for inclusion in SWM column. An excellent and intelligent YA novel. Much recommended.
198. Liane Merciel, Dragon Age: Last Flight
. Tor, 2014. Review copy courtesy of the publisher.
By far the best written of the Dragon Age
tie-ins to date: it manages to tell a full and complete story without feeling like someone's write-up of their roleplaying campaign, and does it smoothly. Interesting characters, solid BOOM. Would read more in this setting by this author.
199. Gail Simone et al
, Legends of Red Sonja
. Dynamite, 2014.
I said of Gail Simone's first Red Sonja
volume that it reminded me in the best possible way of Xena: Warrior Princess
, a compilation collecting efforts from Simone and a variety of other authors, including Kelly Sue DeConnick, Tamora Pierce, and Marjorie M. Liu, feels very much like it too - without Xena's
levels of whimsical ridiculousness, but still. I really enjoyed this, and recommend it very much.
200. Erin Lindsey, The Bloodbound
. Ace, 2014.
Red for inclusion in SWM column. Meh. Tone and concerns remind me a little of Mercedes Lackey or Tamora Pierce, though without their particular brand of... didactic feminism is not quite the term I need, but it may be close. Armies, threats to nations, heroine bodyguarding king. Briefly diverting, but not exactly compellingly great.
201-206. Anthony Riches, Wounds of Honour
, Arrows of Fury
, Fortress of Spears
, The Leopard Sword
, The Wolf's Gold
and The Eagle's Vengeance
. Hodder & Stoughton, various dates.
Discussion of narrative pattern of sexual violence follows.
Feeling low and brainless, I read through all of these in a single night and day. They are, to use a term of art vouchsafed to me, "Roman bollocks," set during the reign of Commodus (the Commodus of whom Dio gives us such a lovely picture beheading ostriches in the arena). A Roman of good family takes service with an auxiliary cohort in Britain under an assumed name because his family has been condemned for treason, rapidly becomes a centurion, hack slash march curse shield-bash male homosociality. Details of military equipment and the political landscape are well-researched; details of the Roman social world and the Roman mindset, rather less so: Riches has imported the mindset of a more gleefully brutal modern infantry regiment into Roman clothing. (Hack, slash, march, curse, march.)
An interesting pattern emerges over the course of six books. Riches has chosen to deal with a primarily masculine world, that of the Roman army on campaign, but in Wounds of Honour
he introduces Felicia, a Roman married woman of good family with medical training who will be the Only Notable Named Woman for three books. (And one of Damn Few for the next three.) Not only does Felicia take up with a centurion after her first husband dies, she doesn't even bring a female servant with her, or acquire one. Most of her time on screen is spent being menaced by rape, only to be rescued at the last moment - at least once, and sometimes more often, in each book.
In book four, The Leopard Sword
, Riches introduces a second notable named woman, Annia. Guess her profession. I'll wait.
If you guessed "prostitute"
, top marks, well done. A presumably successful businesswoman, Annia is victimised regularly by her business partner, who is the local equivalent of an underworld kingpin, and does not seem to realise that the men who work for him as her guards could turn on her at his order. Annia is also threatened with rape in the course of this novel! But instead of one of the last-minute rescues experienced by Felicia, she gets to have the completed experience. She is rescued from death but not from penetrative violation.
The nice mostly-respectable Roman matron, in the course of six books and multiple close calls, has not experienced a completed rape. The woman who has made a career out of selling her body, on the other hand?
Hmmm. Hmmm. *side-eyes*
In the fifth book, to round off the well-rounded array of female characters, we're introduced to an Evil Woman Who Manipulates Men Through Sex, by the way.
So that's an interesting pattern of sexist thinking and unexamined sexism on display. nonfiction
207. Adam Clulow, The Company and the Shogun: The Dutch Encounter With Tokugawa Japan
. Columbia University Press, 2014.
A fascinating and immensely readable account of how the Dutch East India Company (the VOC) was stymied in its attempts to treat the Tokugawa Bakufu like the other nations and kingdoms the VOC succeeded in dominating in South East Asia. The VOC ended up, in fact, using the rhetoric of a vassal of the shogun, and being called upon to perform the duties of a vassal. It's far from my period, but it feels like solid research - although I'd have preferred more emphasis on how the Japanese conceived of the Dutch.
208. Judith Herrin, Margins and Metropolis: Authority Across The Byzantine Empire
. Princeton University Press, 2013.
A collection of essays on various aspects of Byzantine authority from across Herrin's long career. Interesting stuff.This entry was originally posted at http://hawkwing-lb.dreamwidth.org/622628.html. There are comments there. Comment where you like.