Books read, early August

Kenneth Andrien, Andean Worlds: Indigenous History, Culture, and Consciousness Under Spanish Rule, 1532-1825. This title is a bit misleading: there is not nearly so much of the culture and consciousness as a person might want. And this period is mostly the post-mummy period. Still, moderately interesting stuff.

Maria Belozerskaya, The Medici Giraffe and Other Tales of Exotic Animals and Power. This was pretty disjointed. It was basically “zany rich animal collectors in history: some cool stories about them.” Which is fine as long as you’re not looking for something more, more thesis, more throughput of narrative.

Chaz Brenchley, Being Small. Kindle. Discussed elsewhere.

A.S. Byatt, The Shadow of the Sun. This was just horrifying. It was Byatt’s first novel, and the introduction alone is enough to curl your hair, that weird period when women, women we actually know now and still have around like A.S. Byatt, had established the right to an education but God forbid they should use it for anything simultaneously with doing anything else in life. And this novel deals with the weirdness of that period, only it does it from the inside, so there’s all sorts of stuff that you look at and say, “Uh…Antonia dear…uh…did you mean that to be a terrible creep show for which everyone needs slapping?” And it’s really nice to have read the things she’s written since and know that she doesn’t still need to stay in the guest room and eat soup and detox from the 1950s and early 1960s because MY LAND OH HONEY.

Rae Carson, The Shattered Mountain. Kindle. Fun novella backstory for one of the characters in the trilogy that starts with The Girl of Fire and Thorns, which I recommend you start with instead of this; this is a good time but will be better when you have more of the context of the world.

Carrie Harris, Sally Slick and the Steel Syndicate. A kids’ steampunk novel featuring racing tractors and a girl who can fix nearly anything except possibly her family dynamic. So that part spoke to me. It was rife with anachronisms, some of which seemed deliberate and others less well-considered, and that was less great. So…some hit and some miss here, depending on how much ill-considered anachronism sets your teeth on edge.

Jill Lepore, New York Burning: Liberty, Slavery, and Conspiracy in Eighteenth-Century Manhattan. Jill Lepore is pretty much always good stuff. This time it’s about a supposed slave uprising in 1741 Manhattan, how a fire got deemed a slave conspiracy and dozens of people got executed for it. Oh, eighteenth century, I love you, but you are destructive and horrible and really awful sometimes. Lepore has a fascinating theory about the rise of conspiracy theories in the early eighteenth century to replace everything being Providence, because people remain really crap at “sometimes bad things really do just happen.” Lots of large and small things I did not know about colonial America per page here. (Possibly less revelatory to New Yorkers, who might be better educated about how their home state treated slaves and suspected crypto-papists in this period. Then again possibly not.)

H. C. Erik Midelfort, Mad Princes of Renaissance Germany. Mark looked at this and said, “I’m surprised it’s not a bigger book.” Yyyyyes. This is an overview. It’s an interesting overview, some fascinating case studies on who got the medical treatment of the time (and what that was) and who got treated theologically and why. But in fact there was enough “madness” (and Midelfort discusses his deliberate use of that very vague term pretty carefully) in that region and period that it could have been a bugcrusher instead of the slim volume it was.

Nicole Pope and Hugh Pope, Turkey Unveiled: A History of Modern Turkey. Very chatty, very light, and this is the “post-WWII” meaning of the word “modern.” (I may be a bit biased towards the “post-Renaissance” meaning of the word, or at least the “post-Romanticism” meaning.) If you don’t know anything about 20th century Turkish history, which hey, I don’t, it seems like it might give you some framework, but I feel like it’s only a start, not at all a stopping point, and once I keep going I have a feeling I may recoil and go, “urghhh, that was…not really it.” Because this was not a particularly well-organized book. It was trying to go chronologically and then kept remembering things that happened later that interested the authors. It was like…talking to me personally about the 20th century in Turkey. Which, y’know, I can’t judge per se? Except that when I’m writing something at book length I make more effort to organize my thoughts than if we’re having tea and I’m babbling at you about some cool things I know. And I feel that this might not be an unreasonable thing to ask of other people too.

Greg Rucka, Bravo. This is a pretty good thriller. The one that came before it in its series, Alpha, is one of my favorite thrillers ever, so it’s really hard to figure out how to write about one that’s pretty good when my expectations for it were that high. There is a folie a deux in it, and those…really hardly ever work for me. (It’s not that I find them unbelievable, it’s that I don’t enjoy them.) And one of the major plot points just flat out does not work for me in the sense of “find unbelievable,” so…yeah. I enjoyed it while reading it, it went fast, and I liked Alpha a lot. It’s easy to sound far more negative than I actually feel about this book. I don’t want to do that. It was fine.

Charles Stross, The Rhesus Chart. This far into the Laundry series, I think one of the best metrics for how much I will enjoy them is how much Stross is doing something beyond just sending up the trope he’s sending up. In this case it’s vampires, and I think he did a really good job of consistently thinking another step beyond the obvious. This is one of the better Laundry novels, and I like the Laundry novels very well in general.

Theresa Urbainczyk, Slave Revolts in Antiquity. This does a beautiful job of what it says on the tin. In the introduction, Ubrainczyk talks about the people who tried to discourage her from writing this book. I dislike these people. They don’t want me to have nice things. Urbainczyk is also beautifully snarky about people who are Just Sure of what helots could not possibly have thought or done or wanted, while being very careful about what she does not have evidence that they did think/do/want. Hurrah Urbainczyk go team.

Genevieve Valentine, The Girls at the Kingfisher Club. This is an historical novel set in the Roaring Twenties, using the Twelve Dancing Princesses fairy tale as a framework. The Roaring Twenties are one of my favorite eras, and the Twelve Dancing Princesses are one of my favorite fairy tales, and this was just beautiful. Just a lovely book. (Straight-up historical, not fantasy. Family. Dancing. Things! Things! This book!)

Django Wexler, The Forbidden Library. Middle-grade fantasy with Readers as sorcerers, and sorcery as fairly nasty. I’m interested in where the nastiness in tone goes for kids this age, where the boundaries are. So that was interesting. This is very much a “first in a series,” not a complete story.

Laurence Yep, Dragon of the Lost Sea. This first in a series, on the other hand, told a complete story. Shapeshifter dragon and tricksy human child team up to attempt to restore her home to its former glory, and things…get complicated. I’m looking forward to more in this series. The dragon is awesome.

Jane Yolen, Cards of Grief. Kindle. Science fiction of a very anthropological type I don’t get enough of, multiple perspectives on the same story. Good stuff.

Sarah Zettel, Bad Luck Girl. Fun conclusion to this trilogy in Dirty Thirties Chicago, although the new allies for the conclusion felt…a little too new, for as important as they turned out to be in the third volume of a trilogy. Would have liked a little more sense of their import going in. Ah well, can’t have everything.

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