Copperhead, by Tina Connolly

Review copy provided by Tor.

The first book in this series, Ironskin, was a fairly close Jane Eyre recasting. If Copperhead is an equally close retelling of anything, I’ve missed it. It’s temporally a fairly close sequel but in structural terms not at all close–the main character changes from Jane to her younger sister Helen, and I think it could be read on its own fairly easily.

The main problem I had with Copperhead is that it’s in a clearly alternate universe, but I wasn’t clear how alternate–so how much it was supposed to refer to the Civil War Copperheads was not clear to me for most of the beginning of the book. And frankly they strike me as a pretty important historical element, so the fact that ultimately they don’t have much in common with the Copperhead movement in this book was not in general a plus.

However, I really liked the shift to seeing from Helen’s point of view–rather similar to the most recent Mary Robinette Kowal book, Without a Summer, which, while it did not shift viewpoint character, did give a far more nuanced and interesting picture of the beautiful and flighty younger sister character. Helen found ways to make a difference–even in the resolution of the book–that were true to her personality and skill set, rather than having to become a more standard-issue fantasy heroine in order to make her mark. The fact that she, for example, paid closer attention to the lives of the servants than many heroines seemed of a piece with both her past and her personality. And the gigantic funnely fey-related machine…was both fascinating in its inception and in its climax. And that’s all I can really say there without spoilers. But the endings all did feel earned, I can say that much, whether they fit the standard mold or less so.

Books read, late June

Leigh Bardugo, Siege and Storm. Too much boyfriend, not enough sea serpent. (Seriously not enough sea serpent. Even if you have more patience for teenage relationship dynamics than I do. Sea serpents! They’re awesome! Not to be squandered!) I will still go on and read the sequel, but the balance of elements is not really what I would prefer.

Alfred Duclos DeCelles, The ‘Patriotes’ of ’37. Kindle. Random Canadian history, filling in the gaps. Various placenames in Montreal now have additional reference points for me.

R. Austin Freeman, The Case of the White Footprints. Kindle. Old mystery. I did not see some elements of this coming because, “Hey, I bet this will have random racial implications!” was just not something I thought of. It was not quite as jarring as running into Josephine Tey using ethnic language, but it was pretty jarring. However, it seemed more like an artifact of his time than the constant essential fact of Freeman, so I will probably try some other stuff when I’m in the mood for old mysteries and free is the right price.

Edward P. Kohn, Hot Time in the Old Town: The Great Heat Wave of 1896 and the Making of Theodore Roosevelt. This book badly needed a copy-editor, or possibly the author needed to have his stet stamp taken away. Not sure which. It was kind of a hot mess (yes, you saw what I did there), and it would more reasonably have been described as the Fall of William Jennings Bryan than the Making of Roosevelt. The heat wave information was interesting, a good counterpoint to more dramatic historical narratives and to people who act like everything in the days before a particular modern convenience (in this case AC) was Just Fine Dammit, rather than resulting in 40-100 dead babies in one city per day. But the text was marred by such howlers as misplacing the Mississippi River by several hundred miles (hint: it is nowhere the boundary between Iowa and Nebraska, folks) and spelling the same person’s name multiple ways in one paragraph. Probably not recommended unless you’re really interested in WJB, New York history, or non-standard natural disasters.

C.M. Kornbluth, The Adventurer. Kindle. Random Golden Age short on my Kindle, not very memorable.

James Michener, Space. Grandpa’s. This is one of the worst books I’ve read in a long time in terms of bigotry, and it was in some ways made even worse by the fact that you could watch him trying. And still failing so very badly. But when you write a slam on Jerrie Cobb and her cohort gratuitously into your book when you could have ignored them (or, y’know, treated them reasonably, but let’s not get crazy here), the fact that you have a “lady lawyer” is not going to appease me. And the stuff around non-white people in the space program…just stop, Michener. Just stop, and go write about moon rocks. You do fine with rocks. Tell us more about the rocks. HONESTLY.

Robert Sheckley, Bad Medicine. Kindle. This is one of the “classic” SF stories that has created its own cliches, but at the time I don’t think it was.

Walter S. Tevis, The Big Bounce. Kindle. The original flubber story. Too serious to call it flubber or involve basketball.

Abigail A. Van Slyck, The Lady and the Library Loafer: Gender and Public Space in Victorian America. Kindle. Reading rooms! All sorts of things about reading rooms. Short and interesting.

Helene Wecker, The Golem and the Jinni. This was the big win of the fortnight, highly recommended. It’s a turn of the (19th/20th) century New York setting, with a golem who works in a bakery and a tinsmith jinni. Beautifully written, great characters and setting. Hurrah for this book.

S.M. Wheeler, Sea Change. Discussed elsewhere.

P.G. Wodehouse, A Man of Means. Kindle. Wodehouse of a fairly standard type.

Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple, B.U.G. (Big Ugly Guy). It was apparently golem time in Mrissaland this fortnight, but this had a completely different tone than the Wecker. It’s a middle-grade or YA (not sure where it’s being shelved, actually) book that has a klezmer-jazz-pop-rock fusion band at its heart, a group of misfit kids who come together against bullies and their own worse impulses. There are important things about adolescence and power between the lines of this book, and sometimes in the lines themselves. I really liked this.