silverflight8: stacked old books (books)
I really wanted to like this book. It's about the Library, which is an organization set apart in time and space, which agents that go out into various alternate universes to retrieve books. Sometimes undercover, sometimes timetravelling. Irene is suddenly sent out to retrieve a dangerous item, accompanied by a rookie agent she's never met.


One thing any Librarian will tell you: the truth is much stranger than fiction...

Irene is a professional spy for the mysterious Library, a shadowy organization that collects important works of fiction from all of the different realities. Most recently, she and her enigmatic assistant Kai have been sent to an alternative London. Their mission: Retrieve a particularly dangerous book. The problem: By the time they arrive, it's already been stolen.

London's underground factions are prepared to fight to the death to find the tome before Irene and Kai do, a problem compounded by the fact that this world is chaos-infested—the laws of nature bent to allow supernatural creatures and unpredictable magic to run rampant. To make matters worse, Kai is hiding something—secrets that could be just as volatile as the chaos-filled world itself.

Now Irene is caught in a puzzling web of deadly danger, conflicting clues, and sinister secret societies. And failure is not an option—because it isn’t just Irene’s reputation at stake, it’s the nature of reality itself...

(from Amazon's blurb)


But oh my god, I think my doneness with steampunk is getting to me. )
silverflight8: Different shades of blue flowing on a white background like waves (Fractal)
9/10: I joined a book club (women read fantasy!) and so far I've really enjoyed it. I don't know why I didn't try finding one earlier! I used meetup.com. We read fantasy with the stipulation that the main character is a woman (female authors preferred but not necessary), and the book club members tend to prefer high fantasy, I think. Though I've disliked 2/3 of the books we've read so far - the last was Michelle Sagara's Cast in Shadow. That one was not a good book. Though I have to say, it's not completely terrible that the books are bad - it's fun to rip into them anyway. And there's good discussion when half the readers like the book and half don't.

Cast in Shadow )

8/10 Wonder Woman. There was bits where I was like "WWI DOESN'T WORK THAT WAY" but it's a superhero movie and a power fantasy, and anyway, all the superheros are a fantasy that one person can cut through intractable massive problems. I didn't realize I wanted this movie so bad until I saw it. Oh my god. It wasn't perfect but I loved it.

this got a bit long )

5/10 mango mousse cake. Batter not beat properly, lil lumps in the mousse. The mango bit was only a thin layer on top. Needs more mango. Still, better than nothing.

8/10 on Sound of Music (half way through). Uh, I discovered that Windows 10 cannot natively play DVD. WTF. I mean, I should have downloaded VLC from the start but really?

It's like consuming a capsule of pop culture references. If for nothing else I'd have liked the movie. I didn't know sixteen going on seventeen is a song! Kind of cute near the end seventeen-going-on-eighteen but not a huge fan. More to come.

3/10 ingress life at present. Six - count them, six - enemy agents came up in probably a car and smashed the whole of my farm while I was out at dinner, and now I'm sad. I'll go out and repair it in a bit. It was so nicely built up, dammit! I am slightly proud it takes so many to take out my stuff though. Sadly, it means I have to be careful for a bit about gear, because I won't have a base to farm stuff from, but it'll build up OK. We will rebuild!
silverflight8: stacked old books (books)
Uh, I've just discovered that Blofeld's garden of death exists. It is a garden at Alnwick Castle instead of in Japan, but nevertheless. I...would go visit that garden, actually. But the fact that they've had to put a bench in one part of the garden since people sometimes pass out from the smell of one of the flowers is slightly alarming.

book cover of The Wolf Hunt Anyway! I read The Wolf Hunt, by Gillian Bradshaw. It's based on Bisclavret, one of the twelve famous lays by Marie de France - it's a poem about a man who turns into a werewolf, and he's treacherously betrayed by his wife and trapped in wolf form.

Review under the cut. Spoiler: I loved it )bo
silverflight8: stacked old books (books)
I did approximately nothing all day except read Connie Willis' Blackout.

She ended on a cliffhanger and I don't have the stamina to turn around and plow through All Clear tonight, but OMG.

Update

Oct. 9th, 2016 12:14 am
silverflight8: watercolour wash with white paper stars (stars in the sky)
Well, I haven't posted for awhile and this time I have a legitimate reason - my computer crashed really badly and I have just agreed to pay a horrible sum of money to have it fixed. (A comparable new one would be three or four times more expensive D:) It auto updated to the anniversary edition of Windows 10. I don't regret updating to 10 - security, far more efficient space use - I think it was just really bad luck. I've never actually had a hard drive crash on me before.

Also the timing was rather bad -it was RuneScape's double xp weekend! I played only a little on the Saturday evening. Figures, hmph.

I read some O R Melling (don't remember it being so YA but I was actually in that age bracket then), finally Heidi again, though my friend has left Switzerland and is doing a thing in London, and am reading The Secret Country by Pamela Dean. Pretty good but the general bickering, constant simmering of unhappiness of like all the children is preventing me from simply eating it up. I also read The Gilded Age, wick is about Anita Hemmings, the first African-American woman to go to Vassar, and she did it by passing for white. I enjoyed it a lot (maybe I should read more boarding school stories), but I also feel like Anita was never angry. Kind of like how I feel I was sooo angry at her treatment compared to Fanny's own feelings in Mansfield Park.

Carmen at the opera - omg. I enjoyed it a lot, A+ would attend again. Sadly another modern update....as a young person who has not seen a ton of opera, I wish I could see more with original settings. This one was very gritty and the stage very minimalistic. I also was slightly disappointed with the habenera, which should really ooze sex appeal; it was all just sorta restrained. And it's not like the rest of the opera was restrained, which was weird. Maybe the Carmen just wanted a very different interpretation? Also, there was a lot of male nudity for a change! In addition to all the female nudity, more forgivable in this opera... It opened with a man in only his underwear running endless laps around the stage - at least thirty or forty, as punishment I think. The other characters just acted like he wasn't even there. Escamillo was amazing and wore the brightest yellow suit imaginable, and pulled it off. The children had clearly been told to sing at the tops of their lungs for Avec la garde montante and were pretty adorable.

I've also been doing a lot of Ingress and letterboxing. There's a very active ingress group locally and I made level 8 a bit ago, which isn't the highest level but the one where you get access to the best gear available. I like the urban exploration thing a lot (thus also letterboxing).

I did calligraphy with my log and decided to look at all my nibs:

20161001_213750.jpg



20161001_154613.jpg

I use all them except the Hunt globe and 102 and the speedball b nibs. OK, the 102 I use for touch up because the top is so fine it catches on everything and then ink splatter, the globe is inflexible and gives me no line variation, and the b ditto - the b all give really thick lines too and no line thickness variation. I used the c-2 for the cover page. I'm not sure I can even write consistently with the c-0, which is even broader - you need so much ink on it you practically have to redip after every stroke. And the line gets thinner as you go down!

I also carved my own stamp! I bought a few cheap pink erasers, scoured the internet for inspiration and guides, and used an exacto knife. Worked out pretty well but I'm not so good at stamping while outside without a table! It's been fairly addicting. I found 3 stamps today (failed to find 2) and really want to go tomorrow too. I have an ingress farm to go to tomorrow morning (almost completely cleaned out of gear - been destroying enemy portals a lot. Lots of fun. What's building compared to getting to smash my nemesis's portal?) But afterwards, more stamp collecting.

Fall is coming in slowly and I want the weather to hold so we get a nice pretty leaf show.
silverflight8: text icon: "Go ahead! Panic! Do it now and avoid the June rush!" (Panic!)
I finally finished it. I think my tolerance went up as I read it or it got less melodramatic (after that I no longer trust my judgement); I managed to get through to the end with a minimum of eye rolling.

Though when he started writing his suicide note addressed specifically to Charlotte saying basically "you're the cause of my death" and he thinks he loves her? I was more or less boggling while reading anyway, but that takes the cake. How wrapped up in yourself can you possibly be? Yes, obviously, he is not in a fit mental state, but that's amazing. (And then since he had no intention of immediately killing himself, he was obliged to add amendments to it...I assume, probably uncharitably, to twist the knife a little more. Whatever. Intentional or not, it would twist the knife. These things cannot be called love.)

I did not enjoy reading this. It's not even fun to mock because it's so self-pitying and melodramatic. There's bits where he bathes her hand in tears (I hope it was metaphorical; I am not reading it again to check). This is not how you treat someone you love. The condescension towards anyone of lower standing, perceived to be lesser, etc was constant and irritating, and Werther's naivete about children was grating (it's very much Romanticization - capital R and lower case r really - of childhood, which annoyed me when I first studied Romanticism and still annoys me.) There weren't even enjoyable rhapsodies about the landscape - which I still enjoy - because Werther would immediately have to inject his condescending social commentary or cry about Charlotte and his childhood again.

I've never liked woobies and I've never liked frail creatures. (Also I loathe the word woobie.) I've always preferred the hyper-competent people or the Scarlett O'Hara characters. Werther is pretty much the exact type of character I hate.

This is like the least helpful book review ever, but it's been a trying day.
silverflight8: watercolour wash with white paper stars (stars in the sky)
I read Games Wizards Play and I was disappointed, to be honest.

Plotwise, it's quite interesting. There's nothing epic or earthshattering this time; instead the Wizards' Invitational is on, a competitive event where young wizards demonstrate their projects to a jury - a big international science fair. They are mentored by older wizards who the Powers think can pass on knowledge. It's meant to be a opportunity to help younger wizards experience without the life and death consequences that errantry usually brings.

details )

I also read Edge of Worlds, by Martha Wells, which I enjoyed a lot more. It's about the Raksura, a shape-shifters groundlings/skylings in a world full of different sapient species. It's been a few (peaceful) turns since the last book, but the whole court has had a strange, premonition dream linked again to the Fell, shape-shifters that prey on other species. Moon and Jade and some of the other Raksura sail away with a group of strange groundlings to investigate an sea-bound island that the groundlings think that the Fell-and-Raksuras' forerunners might have built.

more under the cut )

Progress mostly stalled on Sorrows of Young Werther and Here Be Dragons. I am reading a biography of John's rule during my breaks, and it's going well. It'd be going better if people in medieval England had more than like, five names in circulation. I cannot keep track of everyone! The big names, like William Marshal I can remember, but sometimes it's disputes of William vs William.
silverflight8: stacked old books (books)
So I extensively read and re-read much of Martha Wells' Books of the Raksura over the past few weeks.

I read the second and third books of the Raksura - The Serpent Seas and the Siren Depths. They were tons of fun and I couldn't put them down though I wish she'd titled them somewhat differently. I can't remember which comes first or both titles!

The Raksura are a species of shape-shifters who can fly. Moon is a Raksura orphaned and trying to integrate into various groundling societies (mostly unsuccessfully). That's a terrible summary but the books are about him discovering the rest of the Raksura and his travels/adventures with them.

The fourth book comes out April 2016 and I'm so impatient. I want it, and I want it now!

About Raksura )

Then James Bond - several of them now. I read Moonraker and then On Her Majesty's Secret Service. (I have never seen the films, though I regret not buying the nail polish collection OPI put out for Skyfall. I have my priorities!) They have their weaknesses, but as good solid action/adventure novels they deliver, and I am emotionally invested in James Bond the character by this point. I keep going to the library and checking out every Bond book there is - which isn't very many. This library system is big on having duplicates and not on having variety - wrong way round, in my opinion. But anyway!

Moonraker is about the rocket the British government is building, which is being made with the assistance of Hugo Drax, a public war hero and now wealthy businessman. M feels something isn't right when the owner of the club Blades tells him that Drax cheats, and sends Bond to first see if he's cheating (yes - and then Bond dupes Drax into losing an enormous sum of money) and then posts him at the Moonraker to see what's going on. This is leading up to a test-firing of the rocket, so there is a great deal of tension and attention being paid - especially after there is a murder at the site.

Moonraker )

Then On Her Majesty's Secret Service! Bond is sent on the trail of Blofeld again, one of the major figures behind the creation of SPECTRE and one of Bond's greatest enemies. He is put on the tail of Blofeld when Blofeld puts a request through the College of Arms - he wants legitimacy, and wants it badly enough to leave somewhat of a trail. On the pretext of being one of the College of Arms' researchers, Bond goes off to Switzerland to investigate Blofeld, who appears to be running a very secretive clinic of some kind on top of the mountains, within a ski resort.

On Her Majesty's Secret Service )

Also I watched Pride and Prejudice (1995), season 1 of Sherlock plus the first two episodes of season 2, AND the first three episodes of Agent Carter season 2. More to follow! (All of them were great, in case you were wondering. In many different ways.)
silverflight8: stacked old books (books)
So in the past few days I've read three Agatha Christie novels (and have downloaded from the library about...let me count...fifteen of her novels?) Oh my god I love them. I had a fairly long dry spell of reading no new books and then all of a sudden I read almost one a day.

GREAT HONKING SPOILERS UNDER CUTS.

I read Cards on the Table first.
Cards on the Table )

Then Death on the Nile:
Death on the Nile )

Then The Hollow:
The Hollow )

I gotta stop because I like being surprised by mystery novels (I never do try too hard to solve them, I glance over the diagrams). So now I am putting a ban on the rest of the Christie novels sitting in my calibre library.

I ALSO just devoured Charmed Life and The Lives of Christopher Chant and that's why the Christie reviews are so short, I have to talk about these right now too.

Both novels )
More to come about DWJ I hope.
silverflight8: stacked old books (books)
I read The Sand-Reckoner the other day (the one by Gillian Bradshaw, not the one by Archimedes) and now I have all these feelings about Archimedes and Syracuse and Hieron.

The novel's about Archimedes as he returns from his studies at Alexandria - it begins with him coming home to a city on the verge of war, his father dying, and a sick sense that coming home will mean he must close off the part of him that lives and breathes mathematics, and do work he hates to support his family. Archimedes comes to the attention of Hieron, the king of Syracuse, as an outstanding and remarkable engineer - outstanding because he can devise new, original, and effective machines that work well from the very outset, because he can derive the basic principles from mathematics. With Archimedes is Marcus, his Italian slave, who looks after his absent-minded master despite conflicting loyalties. Marcus denies being Roman - the affiliation is dangerous - and Archimedes is too * and doesn't think it useful to press.

Like Island of Ghosts, which is about troops of Sarmatians - having been sent west as part of their treaty with Rome - settling into Roman Britain, this book is similarly more internal and character-driven. Which isn't to say there isn't external conflict; the book is set during the first Punic Wars (paging [livejournal.com profile] dhampyresa - though it's not really about Rome or Carthage so IDK if you're interested?) and Syracuse is caught between the two. Hieron is trying to avoid having to fight either or both of them at once, but needs siege engines to prevent either from eating his city. But he recognizes that Archimedes is brilliant - and also not an engineer by choice, merely to support his family; he knows Archimedes loved Alexandria and the Museum and Library there, and wrestles with how or if he can keep Archimedes in the service of his beloved city.

More discussion with spoilers )

Generally very recommended! I love Bradshaw's writing, the characters are all great and well-drawn (with human, sympathetic motivations), and is set in Classical antiquity if that's a selling point, though it doesn't rely on you knowing anything about it.
silverflight8: stacked old books (books)
I woke up to schadenfreude the other morning, and by schadenfreude I mean the voting results out of the Hugos. HA!

===========

I finished the last book of The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel and I have to make a post about it because the ending. Actually the whole thing made me feel like it was partly a retcon and I hate retcons. (See my objections to the Mistborn book - that third book was practically a giant retcon of the entire series, especially the last scene.)

This is the first actual review I've done in a long time I think. Though I am not synopsising this book, that will stall me out. I recommend the Wikipedia article! It is somewhat spoilery though.

One sentence summary: modern-day twins discover they are subjects of a prophecy, Nicholas Flamel and other immortals battle for control of them and their destiny.

Now: ALL THE SPOILERS )

I have even more things to say but I really need to just post this for now. STAY TUNED. Also, this is not meant to mean I disliked the books; on the contrary I'm still thinking about them (and feeling vaguely empty; I keep thinking that I'll read/listen to the next chapter and then realizing I finished the book...a couple days ago).
silverflight8: stacked old books (books)
Somehow I have internet. The technicians aren't even scheduled to be in till Friday, I wonder if it's something to do with having just disconnected only two weeks ago. Anyway, download speed is 1/3 of what it should be but I HAVE INTERNET. Of course it's the weekend so I don't even have time-sensitive email to answer, but hey.

Before the internet reconnected I finished three books in one day (it was a slow day and some of them were half-finished).

I finally took the plunge and started reading A Princess of Mars from the beginning instead of confusedly stumbling about because I'd only read it in very disjointed chunks. See, sometimes having books on your phone for when you have five minutes to spare is a good thing, and sometimes it's a I-don't-know-what-happened thing.

Thoughts )

I'm not sure if I want to read the next book; it was a fairly fun romp, but I don't really feel any attachment to any of the characters. Though, I do love books that take place on our solar system's planets where they're habitable, current astronomy be damned (or unknown at the time)--even things like Bradbury's Venus and rain story for all that it's horrifying (are there any Bradbury stories where children are nice/good?), I think it's so cool. I just wish I liked the characters more--felt for them more.
silverflight8: Different shades of blue flowing on a white background like waves (Fractal)
I reread Over Sea, Under Stone and actually really enjoyed it. I liked Will a lot better when I was a kid (Will has magic powers, Jane Barney and Simon don't) but the story is satisfying in a way I don't know how to describe. I really like the Drews, I think. And anyway, how could anyone not love a nice grail quest? I then read the Greenwitch really quickly--kind of a friction between the Drews and Will, understandable perhaps from Simon's point of view--and then the Grey King. Do you know what part I remembered, out of the whole book? The part where Bran (after explaining Welsh pronunciation) says that Will can't complain, English is full of things like dough and through and thorough. Caradog Prichard was scary; I don't remember him being so scary. It's his unpredictability and eagerness to resort to violence. I don't think he would have that much compunction about shooting humans either.

I know The Silver on the Tree's ending so this shouldn't be a surprise, but there really is a lot of fairly causal mind-wiping. There's the part in the Dark is Rising (when the rector and Paul are frightened out of their minds by the Dark howling outside), then the thing in the Greenwitch. The ending of SotT isn't comparable to the levels of AWFUL ENDING as say The Last Battle--a book I have never re-read because every time I think about it, I get angry--but the mindwipe thing. I hate that trope. It's so casual too. Will and the Old Ones are on the side of the light but Rowlands is right too--they may be "good" but it takes a long view and believes the ends justify most means.

--

I spent altogether too long yesterday and this morning trying to fix the problem of calibre hanging forever trying to get a list of books from my phone. Basically, it was trying to scan every item on my phone--and I have a lot of photos. As well as god knows what files that the various apps produce. It would take 15 minutes to scan through before I could do anything like transfer files. What fixed it in the end was I configured the settings so that calibre only scanned one single folder: the SD card Books folder. Not even the internal storage Books folder (that still made the job hang, for some reason). I'm so relieved. It now takes less than a second to scan through. VICTORY!

I also started finally assigning genres. I decided to use a hierarchical because I want to be able to pull up all the speculative fiction works or specifically high fantasy, which I nested into fantasy and then spec fic. And I gave in and created a Classic top-level category, which is only one layer deep (by language/country)--actually now that I think about it, it's mostly by language except for the English things, which are split British Isles-Canada-USA. Look, I split them up more because I read mostly English-language stuff, all right? (Also, I just can't sort too finely. It would be endless.)

email )

In other news, the insanity around the Hugos, which I am not even following but is going past my fannish view anyway, is making me cranky. Then there's the ongoing ??? with DA and EC. Aggh, things I don't want to know about the publishing/writing end! But as to the Hugos, no longer going to pick a book up because it has a Hugo.
silverflight8: stacked old books (books)
I recently re-read the Dark is Rising and was struck by the thought that the most compelling relationship is honestly the one between Merriman and Hawkins. They were so close! They trusted each other so much! Tragedy ;___; And I think when I first read the books I hadn't thought really how long Hawkins lived as the Walker--six hundred years of wandering, knowing he can't die or have peace until whichever of the last Old One comes to get the sign. I can understand his rejection of Merriman's plea.

The other thing that stuck out was morning of Will's birthday, when he wakes up and sees last night's snowfall--but it hasn't fallen on roofs and fields, but instead on a vast forest of trees, with branches reaching right up to his window.

I didn't talk about them, but I also read A Room With A View (ghghgh Cecil), Quantum Thief (good! less game theory than I thought it would have, should probably write about it in a post) somewhat recently. I'm now reading simultaneously several nonfiction books, including a good one on Czech history (from Přemyslids up, not just 20th century), and How Green Was My Valley and Over Sea, Under Stone. How Green Was My Valley is possibly one of the most beautiful titles I've ever encountered.
silverflight8: text icon: "Go ahead! Panic! Do it now and avoid the June rush!" (Panic!)
cover: arched domes and pyramids rising in distance, foreground people in colourful clothing This book was so bad. I read it all the way through because I wanted to figure out what was going on and partly because the worldbuilding premise and finally, because if a book is terrible and I'm 50% through I might as well finish it and pick it apart.

I really really wanted to like this book. Here is the back cover, but its premise can be summed up in the following words--"alternate-universe nineteenth-century Egyptian empire with spies and terrorist Otto von Bismark."

Lord Scott Oken, a prince of Albion, and Professor-Prince Mikel Mabruke live in a world where the sun never set on the Egyptian Empire. In the year 1877 of Our Lord Julius Caesar, Pharaoh Djoser-George governs a sprawling realm that spans Europe, Africa, and much of Asia. When the European terrorist Otto von Bismarck touches off an international conspiracy, Scott and Mik are charged with exposing the plot against the Empire.

Their adventure takes them from the sands of Memphis to a lush New World, home of the Incan Tawantinsuyu, a rival empire across the glittering Atlantic Ocean. Encompassing Quetzal airships, operas, blood sacrifice and high diplomacy, Ramona Wheeler's Three Princes is a richly imagined, cinematic vision of a modern Egyptian Empire.


This is such a cool premise and setting but it's botched because plotting was a mess, characterization painful and writing abysmal.

I did not like this book )

I am so bitterly disappointed. I love speculative fiction and I love alternate history--to describe this book as up my alley cannot describe how excited I was to read this--and it was just horrible on so many fronts. It was so bad that it lowered my opinion of Tor, who published this. It wasn't entertainingly bad, it was incompetent. Complete, sheer incompetence. I expected so, so much better.
silverflight8: text icon: "Go ahead! Panic! Do it now and avoid the June rush!" (Panic!)
I've decided that I want to add a custom column in Calibre for genre. Currently, I have a bunch of default columns--title, author, date added, language--as well as a few custom columns--series, and finished (yes or no, manually updated). Adding and maintaining the current columns is easy because there's just one answer for most of them and mostly I just have to manually massage a few things that import wrong--because I prefer to view authors LastName, FirstName as well as sorting them that way I have to fix incoming books--but it's quite easy because I do them as they come in, and it's in easy batches. Same with updating "finished". If it's unfinished, I just leave it blank--there are three options, yes no and blank. I just update to yes if it's finished. Sometimes I use no to indicate in progress, but it doesn't matter. And it's not like I finish several books a day, so volume is very manageable.

But I want to add genre. I'm paralyzed with indecision right now, because I have to think about how to catalogue things. I have googled lists of genres, I know how to do it in calibre, I just can't decide how I want to do it. The manual says I can even nest genres hierarchically (http://manual.calibre-ebook.com/sub_groups.html) so you theoretically can have infinite granularity of genres--sort of like speculative fiction > fantasy > epic fantasy > medievalesque fantasy > political fantasy and sort on any of the above. But this kind of flexibility means I can't make up my mind how to even begin. I mean, I can see so many ways to just rearrange the sequence of the hierarchy. Part of the problem is that I have more than 200 books in Calibre and will add more, and once done it's going to be a huge task if I want to rearrange it later. How do cataloguers do it? How did the creators of Dewey Decimal and Library of Congress do it?

Fortunately for me, there are genres I don't read much. Mostly this is horror (too scared), mystery/thriller (dunno why, just don't reach for them often), Literary Fiction, non-fiction. The problem is the granularity I can feel myself tempted to add for the genres I read a lot in.
silverflight8: Barcode with silverflight8 on top and userid underneath (Barcode)
This year I wrote one fic for Queen's Thief (Megan Whalen Turner), Rooftop Sneaking for morganstern, 1,500 words, about Eugenides teaching Eddis how to sneak around her palace.

I already recced my fic but I want to rec it again: Kushiel's Keys, by vibishan, 8,000 words, a what-if AU if Morwen succeeded in getting a child from Imriel and what would happen. Very very cool to see what might have been - lots of callbacks to the books' real chronology but also a lot of inventiveness that makes the AU great.

--

Stats about my novel reading in 2014!

brief rundown with mini-reviews of my favourite books this year )
silverflight8: stacked old books (books)
cover of Island of Ghosts, simple picture of Roman cavalryman on rearing horse
Island of Ghosts, Gillian Bradshaw

I swapped ebooks with [livejournal.com profile] weekend, who very kindly sent me a copy of Island of Ghosts. (We were talking about Gillian Bradshaw's Arthurian books, which are Hawk of May, Kingdom of Summer, and In Winter's Shadow. All of you should read these books! They are my favourite retellings of the Arthurian mythology. More historical and less fantasy, and they follow Sir Gawain, and completely heartbreaking by the end.)

Island of Ghosts is about three companies of defeated Sarmatians who are marched to Britain to form part of the Roman forces in the second century AD. The protagonist, Ariantes, is the scepter-holder of his company who struggles to make his new life in northern Britain.

A lot of his struggle is that all of them, the men he commands--and his peers, Gatalan and Arshak, both nobility--deeply distrust and feel contemptuous towards the Romans. Their customs are almost completely alien to each other. The Romans see the Sarmatians as barbarians, citing their custom of cutting and keeping enemies' scalps, their nomadic civilization, the various acts of war. The Sarmatians, who are now minorities in this new land, are unwilling to assimilate, afraid of losing their identities. The Sarmatians don't like the bread that are the Romans' staples; they refuse to sleep in the barracks indoors; they are all cavalry, no infantry at all, and value their horses enormously; they do not share a religion; they are horrified with the Romans' custom of burning their dead, believing it to destroy the soul. The novel begins with the Sarmatians nearly mutinying when they are told they have to go to Britain by ship: they are convinced the Romans are tricking them and that there is no land beyond the water, and they've been marched there to be killed.

Review )

Final verdict: do recommend! 8/10

NOTE: My classics history is very poor. (I'm really only good for medieval history, I'm afraid.) I think I have missed a lot regarding all the ranks (eg: how do legates and tribunes differ?) Clearly more reading is in order.

--

According to my kobo e-reader, which I have been using since mid-March, I have logged a total time of 389 hours and completed 53 novels on it. I'm a bit stunned. The kobo counts books as finished when you read cover to absolute end and does not count re-reads, halfway through, marked as read, etc titles. I'm sure the actual number of hours is a little smaller (sometimes I left it on while charging) but not by more than 10 hours. That's a lot of time I've spent reading, considering everything, and also there were the months of May/June when I was abroad and didn't bring it at all. I...yeah. You know what probably took up the most time? Les Misérables. God, there were so many hours burned on that book.

Also interesting are sometimes the page statistics. I'm currently reading Fragments du Passé which is a Dear Canada book from the perspective of a Holocaust survivor: they're books for young girls published by Scholastic. They're epistolary novels which are set in different points in Canada's history. When I was in elementary and junior high school I read a lot of them--there was that traumatizing one about the filles-du-roi (see, her husband dies of this poisoned mushroom and she screams and raves before accepting he's dead, and then she has to survive the Maritime winter by herself--terrifying, have you seen what the weather is like in the Maritimes?, she barely makes it--AND give birth by herself in the spring) and there's one about the Spanish influenza which introduced me to the prayer "if I should die before I wake" (atheist household so I never encountered this; I still think this is a horrifying prayer to teach kids), the one about immigration to the Prairies, the one about the Loyalists, the one about the War of 1812, I think I read the Plains of Abraham one too, probably more I'm forgetting. I grew out of them but man, I read a lot of them...they cover a lot of geographical ground and time and probably taught me more Canadian history than I ever learned in class. Anyway, I saw this one in the ebook library of the public library and decided to try one. My French isn't strong enough to take on the books I really want to read--they're just too long--so I decided to pick up this one. See: fondness for this series. Anyway, what I was going to say before I went on this long tangent--someday I should really put together a post about the Dear Canada books--is that usually the pages per minute count is 5-8 pages per minute, but it's all the way down to 1 on these. I only just realized Terry is not, in fact, a boy, twelve pages in. I don't know how I missed that.
silverflight8: stacked old books (books)
(well, I composed this entry back in October, so I might as well post it before it becomes December, good grief. November is a month that is exhaustingly busy. Hello, flist, my old friends! I've come to talk to you again.)

I've been looking at yuletide letters and it makes me laugh/cry that both letters for Shades of Grey both start with "I don't think hiatus will ever end" and that's why they're requesting fic. If I'd known Fforde was a serial WIP author, I'd have...well, I'd probably have still read the book, because concepts like colour hierarchy are catnip, but I would have known going in!

JASPER FFORDE, PLEASE.

--

In other news I read Peter Watts' Blindsight which I've had a copy of forever and had actually assumed was a self-pubbed book, which is possibly why I left it for so long (it was available free, the cover is, well) but it was really good.

It's a first encounter with aliens book, with a crew of five sent out to investigate. Narrated by Siri Keaton, who is there to record and interpret events, the crew is led by a vampire with faster-than-human reflexes and thought, and who can solve problems intuitively that humans can't. There is the Gang, a multiple personality/disassociative identity, all of whom are linguists; Isaac Szpindel, a biologist; and Amanda Bates, a military commander. All of them, including Siri, have been extensively modified. In his youth Siri had brain surgery to remove seizures, Szpindel barely has fine motor skills because he's almost more machine than human.

It was a really packed book with a lot going on, told out of sequence. There's Earth, which apparently is a post-scarcity world, and where people have chosen to be uploaded into Heaven, which appears to be a virtual reality, which says something about how far into the future it's set. Then one day "Fireflies" happens, which is like a massive meteor-shower canvassing every square inch of the earth, and Earth concludes it's some alien intelligence that has just taken a photograph of the planet. They send out Theseus, crewed by vampire Sarasti, to investigate.

Review! Spoilers. )

I am going to cut the review short here because I'll never finish if I go on, because I could talk about the post-scarcity economy (I admit I am having so much trouble trying to imagine a post-scarcity world), the idea of Heaven (download brain into virtual world), the various professions onboard the Theseus, the Theseus controlling reveal, the vampires angle, Keaton's terrible difficulty with relating to humans, how human society has changed, the biology parts (this was the coolest part and I definitely need to read more of Watts), the game theory (that was fun to encounter! I wonder if you can apply our human-centric payoffs to model alien behaviour? IS our model with its assumptions robust enough to deal with this? Does the preceding mean I have spent too much time studying game theory?), AND MANY OTHER THINGS, but basically I recommend this book, a lot. A lot, a lot, a lot. Especially if you like SF. Then again, if you like SF and you are not completely out of the loop like me you've probably a) read it or b) heard about it and decided not to. But in case you do want to, it is up for download legally on his website under a non-commercial license. In epub, pdf, HTML directly on the site. 10/10
silverflight8: stacked old books (books)
(this review has taken FOREVER to write. I finished reading this August 27 and it's now October.)

cover of Firethorn, a woman with red hair and haunted green eyes looking up
Sire Galan has forbidden his servant and lover Firethorn to follow him to war, but she disobeys. When the army of Corymb sets sail for Incus, she is aboard a ship of the fleet, gambling on Galan's welcome.

But the gods are as apt to meddle with the schemes of a lowborn mudwoman as the best-laid plans of her betters. The searing touch of Wildfire leaves Firethorn shattered, haunted, estranged from herself, and set apat from others.

She feels cursed, but others see her as blessed. Whores come to her for healing, and soldiers search her every utterance for hidden prophecies. Is she a charlatan or a true seer? Even Firethorn cannot answer that question. And Galan is wary of what Wildfire has made of her.

Synopsis from the book jacket.


This is the sequel of Firethorn, where the protagonist Firethorn, a mudwoman who fled the Kingswood manor, follows Sire Galan as he marches to war. There the armies of King Thyrse assemble, waiting for favourable winds and omens to depart.

Now in Wildfire the armies have decamped, and Firethorn is following in their wake. At sea, the ship encounters a huge storm and Firethorn is struck by a bolt of lightning. It nearly kills her, and when she recovers somewhat she discovers she has severe aphasia and can't read. When they land, they find that the vanguard has already successfully conquered the city of Lanx. Galan takes her in, but without being able to speak coherently she's not capable of doing things she used to. Without literacy she can't read the godsigns when she throws bones to divine; with her memory and voice shattered she can't act as a healer. Powerful men like the Crux and the priests of Rift alternatively use her confused words as an oracle, or suspect she's lying and a spy.

After Firethorn gets separated from Galan - she stays behind to help her friend Mai, another sheath, in childbirth - she is captured by the enemy, King Corvus. Corvus decides to take a risky mountain pass during winter after weeks of harassment from Queenmother Caelum's troops, and nearly kills his army doing so. They pass into Lambeth and Firethorn is sold as a bondswoman, then becomes one of the unclean, and then finally a whore-celebrant.

This review got very meandering because the book was so long and meandering itself, and does have spoilers. And some gruesome bits. )

I don't know how to recommend this book. It was very engrossing but also kind of painful to slog through (and to review, as you can see; the book was rambly and so the review is all over the place too.) I initially picked up Firethorn thinking it'd be a book on peasants in a medieval setting and I did not get that. I've been suckered into them, though, so I'll be checking once in awhile to see if there's ever any news about a third book. Wildfire is most definitely incomplete. 7/10

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