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Where has the year gone? it seems like New Year was only yesterday and here we are at the end of March, nearly Easter, and it’s time for Carl’s annual Once Upon a Time challenge, now in its seventh year. My record in recent years has been a bit poor but it’s such an interesting area of reading to be diving into that I always want to have a try even though I might not read as much as I would like.
So I’m aiming to take part in the general reading category which doesn’t commit me to any specific number of books. But I have still pulled together a bit of a reading list to help, accessing the Book God’s collection of Fantasy Masterworks:
- The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia A. McKillip – I actually started this for last year’s challenge and found the writing rather to ethereal for my taste, but I’ve decided to have another attempt at finishing the book
- Fevre Dream by George RR Martin – the Book God pushed this in my direction partly because, despite my love for the TV adaptation of Game of Thrones, I’ve never read any of his work and this comes highly recommended
- Peace by Gene Wolfe – shamefully I have also never read (as far as I’m aware) any of Wolfe’s work so really looking forward to this one
- The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson – I had good fun with another of Anderson’s books in an earlier OUAT challenge and this sounds lovely and Norse
- The Land of Laughs by Jonathan Carroll – another author I’ve wanted to read for ages
I’ll also be taking part in the Stardust read-along which I talk about here. So let’s see how I get on. It will be fun, I’m sure.
As part of Carl’s annual Once Upon a Time Challenge (more of which tomorrow) he has delightfully set up a group read of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust and although my record on read-alongs (I refer you to the Wolf Hall debacle) I am going to have a go because it is a short and hugely enjoyable (and did I say short?) book.
The schedule for the group read will be:
- April 1-9th: Prologue through the end of Chapter 5.
- April 10th: Discussion over first half (roughly) of the story
- April 10th-16th: Chapter 6 through the Epilogue.
- April 17th: Discussion over the second half of the book and wrap up.
I’m then going to try to watch the film version which I have had for ages but not got around to watching.
Should all be great fun.
I’ve been using the same theme since I started my blog back in 2007 and decided it was time for a change. New theme is the same as the one I use for Bride of the Screen God so nice to have them joined in that way. Not sure about the header photo but it will do for now (it’s a bit of Falkland Palace for those who might be interested). Let me know what you think.
Seeing Redd is the second volume in Frank Beddor’s Looking Glass Wars trilogy (my thoughts on volume one are here), and expands on Alyss Heart’s story now that she is (Spoiler Alert) back in charge of Wonderland having defeated her Aunt Redd and regained her Queendom.
Of course, things are not going smoothly as she tries to consolidate her rule, not only having to contend with those members of her kingdom who supported Redd during her rule but with the machinations of King Arch from a neighbouring kingdom (who doesn’t believe women should rule) and her growing attraction to her now-grown-up childhood friend Dodge.
This is very enjoyable but I didn’t find it quite as compelling as the first book, although it still has many things of interest: Redd’s wonderful dress made of living toothed roses, her assassin The Cat (yes, that cat), and the rather nasty sidekicks of Arch (especially Blister) and the whole concept of The Millinery. Redd’s appearances on Earth are also very spooky and disturbing.
I think it suffers a bit from being the middle volume of a trilogy; if builds on the outcome of the first but is clearly designed to set us up for the big finish in the third volume. Still enjoyable and I do want to know how it all works out.
I don’t believe in guilty pleasures, I think people like what they like and should celebrate that, but if I did have a guilty pleasure it would be fashion. So having missed the exhibition of ballgowns at the Victoria & Albert Museum I was really keen to get a hold of the catalogue from the London Library so I could feast my eyes on the wonderful dresses.
The book is of course visually stunning but the articles and background information were just as fascinating. My favourite quote is about the peculiarities of the British couture client as experienced by John Cavanagh in the 50s and 60s:
One titled client chose a dress from his collection and requested that her own fabric be used: some eighteenth century golden-yellow Chinese embroidered wall hangings then arrived a the atelier. Another client would choose several designs and then have fabric samples sent to her home to ensure she didn’t clash with her furnishings.
Designing around heirloom jewellery was also often required, and once a designer had to match a particular shade of satin to “a set of aquamarines the size of gobstoppers”.
How the other half lived! Green with envy.
So having finally finished Wolf Hall at the second attempt I was so absorbed in the story of Thomas Cromwell that I immediately picked up the sequel, Bring Up The Bodies. This turned out to be a wise decision as it was equally as well written as its predecessor though potentially darker in tone and with a slightly different style which I can’t quite put my finger on.
This picks up from the end of Wolf Hall, with Henry VII divorced from wife one, married to wife two and casting his eye around at other women in the court, with a particular fancy for Jane Seymour whom we know will become wife three. Although he now has Anne in his possession she id pregnant and the King needs female companionship. It’s also becoming clear even at this early stage that he is becoming tired of Anne as a personality; Mantel portrays her as manipulative and unforgiving and her behaviour will sow the seeds of her inevitable downfall when she fails to provide a male heir. She does of course produce Elizabeth I, my great heroine of which I will say no more other than that her rare appearances as a baby and toddler in the book are rather sweet.
This reads like a thriller and I tanked my way through the second half in a single sitting. Once its clear that no son is forthcoming Henry starts casting around for reasons to get rid of Anne and Cromwell, with his informants everywhere and his growing attachment to the Seymour family , helps pull together the evidence required to have her executed for treason. I found the portrayal of Anne really compelling; I’ve always felt she was hard done by, and I know Mantel is taking a particular position here but I have to say that her descriptions of Anne’s alleged behaviour shows her to be at the very least a foolish woman who overestimated her power and influence over the King.
The role of families in court politics is also fascinating, the way fathers and brothers effectively pimped their women folk to royalty for land and power and influence is remarkably dismaying but, of course, par for the course over many centuries.
I still like Cromwell. His attempts to help Katherine, Mary and Anne to give the King what he wants and needs while allowing them to retain some form of dignity are admirable but doomed. Pride is a very important commodity for these women, and for Henry himself, who comes across as rather more petulant and self-serving in this volume. Still can’t stand the man though.
There will be a third book which will take us up to Cromwell’s death; not sure when that will appear but I’m already looking forward to seeing how my favourite Henrician queen, Anne of Cleves, is handled. Wonderful stuff.
I started to read this as part of the read-a-long hosted by Coffee and a Book Chick; the launch post explaining why it has taken me so long to get to this book is here. And I started with the best of intentions but, you know what sometimes happens, you aren’t really in the mood for that sort of book at that time, or other distractions come along, or you get into a bit of a reading slump. So I stopped.
But I always intended to go back to Wolf Hall; I must have done because I swept up the sequel in hardback when it came out, and I’m not daft enough to do that if I don’t intend to do the whole thing, am I? (Rhetorical). And this year, because I’ve been in a good place in terms of my reading I picked it up again and was hooked. I got, at the second time of asking, why so many people love this and why it won the Booker. It is simply magnificent.
I’ve said elsewhere that I’ve got a bit of a girl crush on Mantel, since seeing her interviewed in a BBC profile. That doesn’t mean that I believe that she can do no wrong. The recent controversy over what she may or may not have said about the Duchess of Cambridge was entirely manufactured by some elements of the press, but she did set herself up for it whether deliberately or not its difficult to tell. (By the way I thought her speech, which I read in the London Review of Books, was thought-provoking and I was very cross indeed with the personal nature of some of the attacks on her which largely proved her point.)
But back to Wolf Hall. This is the first in a projected trilogy which covers the life of Thomas Cromwell, an adviser initially to Cardinal Wolsey and then to Henry VIII himself, who assists the King in his divorce from Katharine of Aragon who has failed to give him a surviving male heir, and his subsequent marriage to Anne Boleyn. I shall declare an interest which I’ve mentioned elsewhere I’m sure that my degree is in modern history and the sixteenth century is my thing (my dissertation was on Philip II of Spain as King of England during his marriage to Mary Tudor). So I always read fiction set in the period with a tiny wee bit of trepidation. Of course here I needn’t have worried. The factual stuff is all accurate and the speculation is plausible and convincing, so I was very happy being swept up in a convincing recreation of the period.
Mantel has made Cromwell a sympathetic of not wholly likeable person and the sadness in his private life gives a real insight into family life at the time, when illness and sudden death were all around. And it’s good to see someone finally having a go at Thomas More – never liked him and always thought that previous portrayals left out a lot of the unsavoury elements of his behaviour. I’m not going to say that I felt any increase in sympathy for Henry himself; I’ve always thought he was odious, a tyrant and a cruel man, but Mantel does give some clues as to how he may have turned out that way.
Fascinating and compelling and I am glad I persevered.
2312 is exactly the kind of sic-fi novel that I adore; lots and lots of hard science, detailed techie details and complex societies explained at length. I was absolutely in my element reading this as part of Carl’s sci-fi experience and its up there with Jack Glass as my favourite reads of the year so far.
So, those of you who know Kim Stanley Robinson will be aware that apart from the stuff I’ve mentioned above he is brilliant at world building and deeply concerned about what humans are doing the planet. All of those themes are on show here but expanded away from Earth to the other planets and moons of the solar system which humanity has colonised. We are many years into these developments, so Mars, Mercury and so on have been bio-engineered, have their own social structures in place and people have altered themselves in many different ways so gender is a complicated matter. As is the politics, which is the thrust of the story – terrorist attacks (or are they), alliances and rivalries at individual and planetary levels. The role of artificial intelligence is also a big issue – can we trust the technology used to smooth things along, can we really hide things from the implants in our heads and so on.
This is a terribly rambling description of the book and doesn’t really describe the plot terribly well. Against this messy background is basically a love story between Swan and Warham, the former from Mercury and the latter from Titan, physiologically very different but a couple who come together during the course of the story as they try to work ou what’s really going on. I really liked them both and found their relationship convincing and rather lovely.
One of the most interesting things about the book is the structure, which intersperses the main plot developments (which are often described in terms of the main relationships within each of those sections) with extracts from relevant documents and lists of, well, stuff. I love lists so not at all unhappy with this but I think these interjections do slow the pace of the story, and I occasionally got a tiny wee bit impatient.
Reading this through again I feel I haven’t really captured what the novel is about but that’s not surprising. When the Book God asked me what 2312 was about while I was reading it I simply couldn’t describe the story in any coherent way. All I know is that I had a ball reading it and wonder if there will be a sequel because if there is I will so be there!