Books read, late March

I honestly don’t know how people who don’t read nonfiction do it. One needs such a lot of fiction to make up for it. I hope to regrow my ability to read nonfiction for fun in April, with some more rest, but in the meantime I am constantly surrounded by loads of good fiction, so I’m not actually suffering.

Lloyd Alexander, The Beggar Queen. Reread. I picked this up because it went with the “fantasies about countries dealing with not having a king any more but not really being over the concept” group I was reading. I love that he lets Sparrow and Weasel grow up. I love that the political realities of deposed monarchs are considered even when they’re personally awesome. This is probably my least favorite of its series, which still puts it very high on my all-time list. Always happy to discuss these books with whoever.

Alan Bradley, The Curious Case of the Copper Corpse. Kindle. This is a Flavia de Luce short story; it was entertaining, but mystery shorts tend to be a bit monofocus, so I don’t love it as much as I do the Flavia books. Still, though, 11-year-old chemist: hurrah.

J. Kathleen Cheney, The Seat of Magic. I think this is pretty dependent on having read the first series, but it does fun things with Portugal for a setting and all sorts of magic sea creatures I am not at all tired of at this point. And also race and class, in a way that’s integral to the story and its setting rather than tacked on as a message about ours.

James S. A. Corey, Cibola Burn. Simultaneously gross and grim and not gross and grim enough. (Seriously. Way more people should be dead at the end. WAY MORE. And not in the “I hate that guy” way, either.) Also the villain is very mustache-twirling. If you want very dudely space opera, well, this dudes like anything. If I was not starved for good space opera, I would not still be reading this series, but it’s reasonably written, and…well, I am, in fact, starved for good space opera.

Pamela Dean, Tam Lin. Reread. So very much of this is so perfectly, so exactly, resonant with my college experience. Some of that, of course, is that I read it before college, so in addition to having the moment where Janet is dealing with a particular kind of professor resonating, I remember that when I got my similar professor, I thought OH GOSH LIKE IN TAM LIN at the time. So many small perfect things. So lovely so lovely.

Ellen Kushner, The Privilege of the Sword. Reread. I think every Kushner fan has their Riverside book, and this is not mine, but it’s lots of fun anyway. Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge…well, the torture is mostly emotional. I really liked that Katherine ended up a swordfighter without having spent her whole childhood being That Girl. There should be room for all sorts of roads to swashing one’s buckles.

Terry Pratchett, Guards! Guards!, Men at Arms, Feet of Clay, and Jingo. Rereads. One of my questions, as I barrel towards my favorite Watch book and in fact my favorite adult Pratchett novel (Night Watch) is where people have to start to get the full effect of Night Watch. So far I have kept thinking that each succeeding volume would actually be fine as a place to start. Lois said that she thought you had to start with Vimes in the gutter to get his full arc, but Vimes in the gutter is fully implied by Vimes as he exists in each later book–you can see the trail it left–and Guards! Guards! is not deep stuff. It’s fun–it’s just not deep. Vimes is a cardboard cutout of a drunk copper–this is even more clear to me now that I’ve spent the last decade watching quantities of cop shows. And Lady Sybil is practically Honoria Glossop. (For the record, of all the toffs in those books, I expect I’d get along fine with Honoria Glossop if I was socially thrown together with her–we could talk about dogs and, when I was steady enough, go for walks–whereas nobody else in Bertie Wooster’s social circle would be worth talking to for more than five minutes. Well, possibly Gussie on the topic of newts. And Barmy for that whole [college friend’s name redacted] experience of never having any notion what was going to come out of his mouth next. I DIGRESS BOY HOWDY.) My point being: the characters add depth as the series rolls along, but not linearly with each paragraph. Yes. I think that’s what I was trying to say. But: I had forgotten how much “fantasies about countries dealing with not having a king any more but not really being over the concept” Guards! Guards! was, and in fact the other two directly after it too, so that was interesting.

Delia Sherman, Young Woman in a Garden. Lovely stories, just lovely. Most of them explicitly historical fantasy, variety of voices and settings. Did not skip a one. Recommended.

Delia Sherman and Ellen Kushner, The Fall of the Kings. Reread. Remember what I said above, about every Kushner fan having their Riverside book? This is mine. It goes with The Beggar Queen and the early Watch books in the “fantasies about countries dealing with not having a king any more but not really being over the concept” category, and it goes with Tam Lin and Caroline’s “of Magics” books (below) in the “academia fantasies” category. But I don’t love it for its categories, I love it for its lush precision. (Okay, I’m a sucker for its categories too.)

Caroline Stevermer, A Scholar of Magics. Reread. I want more fantasy inspired by this general era: the time when motor-cars were new and no one had fought a world war (but they might be thinking of it), basically. I chose this rather than the one before it because I hadn’t read it in awhile and had reread A College of Magics not long ago, and they’re very different for being so related to each other. Visiting scholar experience vs. undergraduate. Both with some cool world magic. Recommended.

Karina Sumner-Smith, Radiant. Lots of chewy interesting stuff in this, and it was also good fun to read. There is a minor plot element that…I don’t want to spoiler it, but there is a very small plot element that looks a lot like a trope I hate. But there is plenty of room for Karina to develop it in later books to have its own depth/complexity, so I was satisfied with that part. Also with the towers and the magic currency ideas. Next one went on my list right away.

Jo Walton, Farthing. Reread. This is almost the perfect inverse of the structure of Pratchett’s Vimes novels, which there is no reason to notice unless you’re reading them right next to each other, which I was, so. I have read more of the influences on this book since last time I read it, which only makes it better. Also, Jo is one of the best out there at actually managing theory of mind: that is, keeping it feeling reasonable when you know something and not all the POV characters do. Very hard in an ordinary mystery. Even harder with two very different POVs.

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