Books read, early October

Stephanie Burgis, Masks and Shadows. This is a fun fantasy about Habsburgs and opera singers and alchemy. There are masked balls and banquets and all sorts of court intrigue of the sorts that I think a lot of my friends find fun to read about, and yet I don’t remember hearing this book talked about when it came out–I only saw that there was another in the world with Congress of Secrets when I looked at Stephanie’s webpage to see when a couple of other things were coming out. And I’m glad I did.

Agatha Christie, Murder on the Links. Kindle. This is an early Poirot mystery, and when I was sick it was a fine light read. I think she was still realizing how much it was going to be a series at that point, with the second volume, but it was fun, and some of the things that bother me about the TV series were completely the opposite in this book (though it would be a spoiler to say what, so if you want to talk about what, email me).

Aliette de Bodard, The House of Binding Thorns. This is the second in its series, and it’s full of ramification and implication, so I recommend reading the first one first. Angels and dragons and Paris! Illness and childbirth and addiction and trickery! So much skillfully interwoven here.

George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss. Kindle. Knowing what I do about George Eliot (Maryann Evans) and her actual life, this was a beautiful and heartbreaking book and I wanted to travel back in time and kick her brother in the shins and hug her and invite her and her partner and stepsons to Christmas dinner. This is a passionate story of a nerdy, unconventional young woman and how much she loves her rules-driven brother and craves his approval, and how she basically can never, ever have it. And the ending made me cry, and yet also I think that trying to give it to high school students who don’t have a really strong basis in Victorian cultural mores and this author in specific is futile and likely to make them hate her. But when it’s on your own hook, with the right background…oh, I loved reading this.

Elizabeth Hand, Errantry: Strange Stories. These are, indeed, strange stories; they are slightly off to the side of the main thrust of genre structure and expectation, often with less of a linear plot focus than a lot of genre-central manuscripts and more focus on mood evocation.

Laurence M. Hauptmann, Conspiracy of Interests: Iroquois Dispossession and the Rise of New York State. I was a bit disappointed on how much this focused on the white people who dispossessed the Iroquois, but on the whole it was an interesting additional set of data about the Erie Canal, the power elite of New York State, and the various ways that the Iroquoian people found to remain a force for their own culture and self-determination in the face of overwhelming odds.

Rose Macaulay, Potterism. Kindle. This is a novel about how easy it is to fall into the ruts of the conventional even when your life is dedicated to opposing them. It does not, itself, generally fall into those ruts as often as one might fear; there were several points in its short length at which I blinked and said, “Well, I didn’t see that coming.” Some of it is frothy and witty, some of it portrays staggering amounts of anti-Semitism directed at one of its most wholly positive characters, and while it is not approving of that anti-Semitism, you can’t really brace and say, okay, we’re done with that bit now, no more anti-Semitic slurs will pop up here. Similarly sexism: Macaulay is quietly, bitterly, wittily furious at some of the sexism she has encountered and uses it as fuel for this novel, but there it is, if you don’t want to read about it today, don’t read this book today. Aside from that, though: she doesn’t turn conventional pieties in a mirror by insisting that the conventionally pious will get their comeuppances instead of the conventionally impious–she understands the world differently than that, and that was…good but also frustrating but generally quite good.

Eduardo Jimenez Mayo and Chris N. Brown, eds., Three Messages and a Warning: Contemporary Mexican Short Stories of the Fantastic. These were mostly quite short and, like the Hand above but in a completely different direction, very focused on evocative mood and language. I’m glad these stories were translated and compiled, as I found them very much worth reading and will probably return to this anthology for a reread.

Lindsay Smith, Max Gladstone, Cassandra Rose Clarke, Ian Tregillis, and Michael Swanwick, The Witch Who Came In From the Cold (Season 1). This is a compilation of a serial, so it has the pacing of a serial, which is to say, sometimes rather slow. The thing it’s doing where Soviet vs. US and the two kinds of magic don’t map to each other made me very happy, though, and if you’re also a sucker for spy stories, you won’t want to miss it.

3 thoughts on “Books read, early October

  1. Does the name Weiser show up in the Iroquois book at all? Because that’s an ancestor of mine, and I have been comforted by the fact that as far as I know, he didn’t do anything particularly egregious (or didn’t translate anything of same; I’m not sure what his role in treaty-making actually was).

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