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Plessiez

Fourth Quarter 2020 Reading

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I finished Kate Elliott's Unconquerable Sun yesterday. 

I thought it was really good, and that it managed to have quite a bit more going on than the basic premise (of "Alexander the Great in space") would initially suggest.  None of the various space opera elements added is particularly original on its own, but all those different elements work really well together.  After a slightly slow start the plot moves at a pretty relentlessly fast pace too, jumping between two main POVs (one third person and one first, which I think shouldn't really work but does) and a handful of others.  Not sure it's the best book I've read this year -- I think that's still probably Kameron Hurley's The Light Brigade -- but it's definitely the book I've most enjoyed reading.  

It's the first in a planned trilogy but apart from a few sequel hooks I think it stands reasonably well on its own.

Now moving on to Ted Chiang's Exhalation

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I finished The Glass Hotel by Emilt St. John Mandel and found it underwhelming. The only thing it had going for it was beautiful prose. Everything else (character, story, plot, sense) was meh to rubbish.

I'm something like halfway through listening to The Buried Giant and really enjoying it. I don't know much about this time at all (I keep getting the Britons and Saxons confused) and the story is unfolding at a slow but steady pace with several really enjoyable characters. The only complaint I have is that the narrator is so slow. I'm listening to it on 2x speed and it doesn't even feel fast at all.

I also started book 2 of the Remembrance of Earth's Past trilogy, The Dark Forest. Well I say started, but I haven't even opened it yet, just downloaded it.

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Since the last time I posted on this thread, I’ve managed to read the following books:

The Castle by Kafka. Didn't care for this one that much. I was hyped to try a Kafka novel but this one completely threw me off. I found the characters to be forgettable and the plot was super slow/not that interesting. IDK, I was expecting something more atmospheric or inmersive. Did someone else have a similar experience? Should I try another Kafka novel in the future?

The Book of Night Women by Marlon James. Now this one I DID enjoy. It's the second novel by MJ that I read after reading John Crow’s Devil a few months ago and it was fantastic. I love the characters, the setting and how it was mainly written in Jamaican patois. It tells the story of Lilith, a slave in 19th century Jamaica as she comes of age in a brutal and violent enviroment, filled with complex and interesting characters. I was hesitant to start this one because I was afraid it was going to be hundreds of pages of people suffering, but MJ takes his time developing many characters and giving each one complex motivations, so when stuff is going down you feel completely tense and on edge. Not a single character (slave or slave owner) feels like you can narrow down to “good guys” or “bad guys”, everyone is shades of grey on this one.

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James. After finishing TBoNW I NEEDED to read more MJ and this one was even better than the last two books. It’s a weird mixture of crime, drama, thriller and historical fiction. On top of that you have a cast of hundreds of characters and many POV characters, in which all of them are written in a distinct language. It reminded me a bit of Abercrombie but way more experimental. We are talking about sentences that go on for three pages and a chapter written in verse. But it works because every time something like that happens it’s because the characters are going through a very specific situation (they may be drugged or in a life and death situation). It was a great read and as someone who lives in a third world country, it was fascinating reading how the Cold War affected Jamaica. As someone who grew up living with the consequences of Operation Condor, I couldn’t help being moved by the story of the Jamaican characters in the novel, and being frustrated (in a good way) by all the political machinations going on and how that affected the entire population of the country. 

The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin. This one was a disappointment for me tbh. I liked the characters and I enjoyed the twist even if you could kind of see it coming, it was fun to figure out. But IDK, I just don’t feel like picking up the next two books. I liked the setting and the premise, but I think I just didn’t like the writing. Not that I had a problem with the second person narrator, but I just wasn’t as “into” the story as I was hoping ? Don’t know if that makes sense, it’s like I was always aware that I was reading a book and it never really came alive for me. Still haven’t decided if I’ll pick up the other ones, I really wanted to like this one.

Now, I plan on reading Giovanni’s Room over the weekend and next week my copy of The Trouble with Peace will FINALLY arrive. After that I may read the only other novel by Marlon James I haven’t read (Black Leopard, Red Wolf). I’m excited on trying how MJ does in fantasy after being a huge fan of his other work! All three books I’m excited for, so I hope I’m not disappointed.

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18 hours ago, Plessiez said:

Now moving on to Ted Chiang's Exhalation

That was one of my favorite books from last year! I liked it a little bit better than Stories of Your Life, so I hope you have a great time with it.

I’ll look forward on reading your thoughts after you’re finished.

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I finished Joe Abercombie's The Trouble With Peace. I always enjoy Abercrombie's books in the First Law world and this one was no exception. It was a bit slow to begin with, which is a common side-effect of books with large casts of point-of-view characters where we need to catch up on what they've all been doing since the end of the previous book. However, the pace soon picks up once the paths of the different characters starts to converge. Abercombie has written some great battle scenes over the years and there is another one here. I think what works particularly well is showing the perspectives of both the people (nominally) in charge of the two armies and also what some of the ordinary soldiers on both sides are experiencing. This both gives a lot of specific detail while also allowing the reader to understand the overall progress of the battle (and have a better understanding than any of the characters themselves do). Away from the battle the is some good character development, particularly for Rikke and Orso, and while some of the plot developments have a lot of foreshadowing there are also a few surprises as well. The last chapters of the book also set up an intriguing plotline for the final book in the trilogy.

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I'm on annual leave from work for a whole week, coinciding with the local uni students launching a plague of COVID in the city so I've downloaded a few books to hunker down in my flat with:

 

A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik, first in the new "Scholomancer" series. Excited for this one, i've a hunger for a new magic school series since that place in my heart is tainted now.

 

The Trouble with Peace by Joe Abercrombie. I'm a little late getting around to this but certainly excited for it. I've avoided all spoilers so far so please refrain from quoting me and spoiling :P

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E Harrow. Late to this but heard good things.

pre-ordered The Once and Future Witches, again by Alix E Harrow. Sounds right up my alley, releases 13 October. Gives me time to get through some of the others.

 

i'll resume my Realm of the Elderlings reread once finished. Just finished Fool's Assassin yesterday, coming to the end. I'm not emotionally ready for this again yet...

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Finished Peadar's The Invasion this week.  Loved it possibly even more than The Call.  

I was afraid I would miss the chapters that covered each of the kid's calls, but I didn't.  I really liked that we got even more characterizations of Anto and Nessa.  I was pleasantly surprised to learn more about Aoife and Liz Sweeney.  I wanted more of both, but particularly Liz Sweeney.  I would take a whole book on her.

I am very intrigued by the Faustian promises of the Sidhe and liked how they obeyed a twisted kind of legal code.  I think there may be a whole missing genre of supernatural legal horror / drama.  Probably I would be the only one interested...

Spoiler

I loved Nessa's extended adventures in the Grey Land.  Really enjoyed the character of Father Ambrose, too.

Not sure what else to say except I wish the book was longer. 

 

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17 minutes ago, mushroomshirt said:

I am very intrigued by the Faustian promises of the Sidhe and liked how they obeyed a twisted kind of legal code.  I think there may be a whole missing genre of supernatural legal horror / drama. 

It is a theme that shows up quite a bit in stories about the Sidhe or their equivalents in other mythologies that they will absolutely stick to their rules even if they seem bizarre to us. I can think of similar things in Jeanette Ng's Under the Pendulum Sun, Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell or Naomi Novik's Spinning Silver.

23 minutes ago, HelenaExMachina said:

A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik, first in the new "Scholomancer" series. Excited for this one, i've a hunger for a new magic school series since that place in my heart is tainted now.

I'd be interested to hear what you think of this, I really liked Novik's previous two books but this one does sound significantly different to them.

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Downloaded Arthur Conan Doyle's Sir Nigel (1906), and The White Company (1851).

Both are set in the 14th century within the 100 Years War.  But the later published Sir Nigel takes place earlier in the war against the backdrop of the Bubonic Plague. The White Company, featuring the mercenaries, is the Black Prince's Spanish campaign, forced on him by his father, Edward III, which broke the Black Prince's continual winning streak, broke his finances (his own habits helped, of course), and destroyed his health, and began the decline of England's fortunes in France.

This is the campaign of the famous historical Battle of Nájera. This is the campaign where Geoffrey Chaucer, the great English poet, was present, at least at the start, during the organization and invasion.  It was a stupid campaign because Edward III was falling into dotage.  EdIII wanted the usurping but much saner and superior figure, the bastard Henry, thrown off the throne of Castile and replaces with the insane, corrupt, cruel legitimately birthed scion (the Black Prince knew all this), Don Pedro, given it back.  Disaster all around.  Also for England.  The Prince was never healthy again, which meant leaving the kingdom in England and France to an infant who grew up feckless and so we are all about the Wars of the Roses rolling afterward.

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12 hours ago, mushroomshirt said:

Finished Peadar's The Invasion this week.  Loved it possibly even more than The Call.  

I am very intrigued by the Faustian promises of the Sidhe and liked how they obeyed a twisted kind of legal code.  I think there may be a whole missing genre of supernatural legal horror / drama.  Probably I would be the only one interested...

  Hide contents

I loved Nessa's extended adventures in the Grey Land.  Really enjoyed the character of Father Ambrose, too.

Not sure what else to say except I wish the book was longer. 

 

@mushroomshirt Really pleased you liked it :) 

11 hours ago, williamjm said:

It is a theme that shows up quite a bit in stories about the Sidhe or their equivalents in other mythologies that they will absolutely stick to their rules even if they seem bizarre to us. I can think of similar things in Jeanette Ng's Under the Pendulum Sun, Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell or Naomi Novik's Spinning Silver.

Yes, I did not make this part up. It's present even in little stories like the Billy Goats Gruff. But if you think you'd really enjoy more fantasy lawyering, I think Max Gladstone has that market sewn up!

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Finished the The Trials of Koli (Rampart Trilogy 2) by M.R. Carey and I'm now looking forward to the final book of the trilogy. As the first two book were published this year it won't take long.

I also finished the Doors of Eden by Adrian Tchaikovsky. Great world building although the characters were a bit weak imo. I enjoyed how the story was resolved.

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Recently, I finished Finder by Suzanne Palmer.  It a fun caper where the main character tries to steal a spaceship.  Then, I read her novelette, which won a Hugo Award in 2018, called The Secret Life of Bots.  Currently, I'm almost done with the sequel to Finder, Driving the Deep.

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7 hours ago, Peadar said:

@mushroomshirt Really pleased you liked it :) 

Yes, I did not make this part up. It's present even in little stories like the Billy Goats Gruff. But if you think you'd really enjoy more fantasy lawyering, I think Max Gladstone has that market sewn up!

I was intrigued by This is How You Lose the Time War, but never picked it up.  I would like to try some more fantasy lawyering next, so if you have a suggestion on Mr. Gladstone's most lawyerly book, I will start there!

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13 hours ago, Zorral said:

Downloaded Arthur Conan Doyle's Sir Nigel (1906), and The White Company (1851)...

How did you like them?  It is interesting to read a fictional book about an historical campaign set during the late middle ages through the lens of an Edwardian author, and then compare that story to a similar sort of historical fiction written by one of our contemporary authors.

Just off the top of my head, Bernard Cornwell's Grail Quest books cover a similar time period, yet the viewpoint, worldview and language are so very different from ACD.

 

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Posted (edited)
10 hours ago, Wilbur said:

How did you like them?  It is interesting to read a fictional book about an historical campaign set during the late middle ages through the lens of an Edwardian author, and then compare that story to a similar sort of historical fiction written by one of our contemporary authors.

Just off the top of my head, Bernard Cornwell's Grail Quest books cover a similar time period, yet the viewpoint, worldview and language are so very different from ACD.

 

The historical fiction I've been considering most while reading these 14th century historical novels of Doyle's, is the historical fantasy 14th century trilogy by Leslie Barringer (associated with the Inklings), The Nuestrian Cycle. These were published more than two decades after Doyle's. They have remained at the very top of my list of favorite fiction since I first stumbled upon them in a weird mess of used books when an undergrad.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leslie_Barringer#The_Neustrian_Cycle

Next, how much it owes to the father of historical fiction, Sir Walter Scott, ns his Ivanhoe.  The romance tropes he initiated are in full view in the earlier section of The White Company.

While reading Doyle's books, though nearly 100% certain it didn't happen, I've been amusing myself with the idea it isn't beyond the realms of possibility at some point, Doyle, Kipling, Owen Wister, H.R.R. Haggard and Theodore Roosevelt had dinner together. Owen Wister was a life-long friend of TR's, who published about their friendship. TR knew Haggard and Kipling, quite well too, and like Wister, they even spent some time with him in the White House.  In the run-up to WWI TR and Kipling were in close contact -- both snapping their teeth to convince the politicos and the public that war with Germany was necesary.

Though he never did meet Arthur Conan Doyle, "When Doyle engineered his [Holmes's] return, Theodore Roosevelt sent word to him that a guest room awaited him at the White House."

https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-1993-11-07-9311070387-story.html

Edgar Rice Burroughs should have been there too, but maybe  he wasn’t of the right class? though he was of the right time. He certainly read TR's On African Game Trails (1910), on his own 1913 visit to Africa. "The New York Times made its first mention of Edgar Rice Burroughs on June 14, 1914, when the paper’s Book R, eview included Tarzan of the Apes among “One Hundred Books for Summer Reading...." 

https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2012/04/16/the-language-of-men/

The description of the book that follows would have been irresistible to TR except TR was engaged in his own hair-raising jungle adventure in 1914, in the jungles of Brazil, which damned near killed him and should have. One feels that only TR himself could have survived what he survived, with his pre-existing conditions, of a leg wound prone to re-erupting septically, recurrent malaria acquired in Cuba, overweight and hypertensive.

TR, frequently described as "a great boy" by everyone from his wife, to himself and other politicians, was well known for his love of what was called 'boys' books' of his time, including Tarkington's Penrod stories.   
 

Edited by Zorral

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I finished The Buried Giant, which I really quite enjoyed. It was a bit of a slow tale, but I thought that suited the rather melancholic theme. Certainly left me thinking a lot, and revealed a time in history to me that I knew next to nothing about. My first experience with Ishiguro, though I've had others on my TBR list for a while.

Next I'll be listening to the first book in a Lady Sherlock Holmes series, A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas. I like Holmes and the gender-bent idea seemed fun enough, so we'll see how it is.

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8 hours ago, mushroomshirt said:

I was intrigued by This is How You Lose the Time War, but never picked it up.  I would like to try some more fantasy lawyering next, so if you have a suggestion on Mr. Gladstone's most lawyerly book, I will start there!

I think you would want Three Parts Dead, the first book of Gladstone's Craft Cycle. The lead character is a lawyer/necromancer who is hired by the followers of a God who has unexpectedly died. In that world there are contractual relationships where Gods have agreed to provide some of their power to others in exchange for worship, and where there are contracts there are lawyers. It's a fun series, quite different to the normal epic fantasy setting.

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2 hours ago, williamjm said:

I think you would want Three Parts Dead, the first book of Gladstone's Craft Cycle. The lead character is a lawyer/necromancer who is hired by the followers of a God who has unexpectedly died. In that world there are contractual relationships where Gods have agreed to provide some of their power to others in exchange for worship, and where there are contracts there are lawyers. It's a fun series, quite different to the normal epic fantasy setting.

Thanks!  It is $2.99 on the kindle right now - I will read this next.

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Three parts dead is a very interesting book. It has very little to do with any traditional (or at least none I am aware of, maybe some aspects in Hinduism) religion but more with modern problems of energy supply and barely legal legal tricks. It was almost a bit to lawyerly for me as a total layman.

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7 hours ago, williamjm said:

I think you would want Three Parts Dead, the first book of Gladstone's Craft Cycle. The lead character is a lawyer/necromancer who is hired by the followers of a God who has unexpectedly died. In that world there are contractual relationships where Gods have agreed to provide some of their power to others in exchange for worship, and where there are contracts there are lawyers. It's a fun series, quite different to the normal epic fantasy setting.

That's the one!

For my next read, I'm trying to decide between David Mitchell's latest and The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro.

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