I meant to put this post up yesterday, but time ran away with me, so here it is today!
I’ve been home for a week now, and have been very much enjoying having the free time to read all the books I’ve been storing up for ages. Read on for mini reviews of what I’ve finished this week!
Biting the Sun – Tanith Lee
I found this quite difficult to get into to begin with, as it’s written in very dense slang which takes a while to understand. I found myself checking the glossary several times in the first few pages, but after a while the meaning becomes clear. This is an interesting science-fiction idea: the society our unnamed protagonist lives in has eradicated the finality of death. If someone does die, their personality is sent to Limbo, and they can design a new body. Also removed from this society are work, money, and seemingly most close relationships, which leaves only a life of luxury and idleness. Biting the Sun is the story of one girl who decides to break out of this boredom, and is a very interesting exploration of the importance of the body to existence, and the falseness of utopian society.
I really enjoyed this book, despite my hang ups on the slang. Tanith Lee is a powerful writer, who can make the reader invest in unusual and often unlikeable characters to the point of rooting for them. Biting the Sun is actually two (very short) books combined, and I enjoyed the first book more than the sequel – without wanting to give too many spoilers, there was more world-building in the first half. I would definitely recommend this to people who like speculative fiction rather than hard science.
Odalisque – Fiona McIntosh
I didn’t really enjoy this much at all. I had high hopes for Odalisque, because I find harem fantasy often has very engaging depictions of the machinations, networks and complex relationships amongst the women, which is where the real power lies. In this book, however, barely any characters beyond the main few were described in any detail, and these were, for the most part, caricatures of fantasy standards. The brave, calm warrior with a heart of gold; the precocious and beautiful young girl; the ‘mad’ dwarf jester; the boy king; the manipulative queen mother; the evil adviser. Yawn.
McIntosh tried to keep a parallel narrative going, with events in the present echoing events in the past, but the idea of reincarnation of key players in an earlier war of the gods into the present-day characters fell completely flat, due to a lack of information about the people being reincarnated. Perhaps if we knew the characteristics of ‘X the Conqueror’ or whoever, we might notice signs of his return in Y the merchant or whoever, but instead, the big revelations fizzled rather than sparked. I won’t be carrying on with this series!
Rubicon – Tom Holland
Almost every classicist has Tom Holland’s books, but I’m sad to say that they just kept slipping down my TBR pile. This is a very readable account of the fall of the Roman Republic and the career of Julius Caesar – nothing much else to say about it! A good introduction to the period.
The Ulysses Quicksilver Omnibus – Jonathan Green
In the interests of being honest, I’ll admit I only read the first book in this omnibus, Unnatural History. Unfortunately, that was enough for me! Ulysses Quicksilver himself was a bad hybrid of Batman, James Bond, and Victorian adventure heroes from books like She and The Lost World, and I found the steampunk setting (Queen Victoria, mechanically augmented, still ruling in the 1990s) to be poorly fleshed out to the point of just being a gimmick. Yes, there were still dinosaurs in the zoos, but only so that they could escape and Quicksilver could save the day. Add to this a bad Bond villain, a macguffin to find, and some atrocious, never properly explained psuedo-science, and this fell far short of good steampunk.
Man and the Sun – Jacquetta Hawkes
This little anthropological book would have been a fascinating exploration of humans’ relationship with the sun, if it weren’t for the fact that it was written in 1962, which meant that instead it was a fascinating exploration of how anthropologists saw the world 50 years ago. This smacks of colonialism, with views of ‘natives’ and ‘tribal culture’ that would be wildly inappropriate today! I also thought that the meshing of hard scientific evidence about the sun’s origins and existence with religious and mythological interpretations was a bit jarring. Fun to read, but for the wrong reasons!
The Quest for King Arthur – David Day
I’m not sure what to say about this book, because while I enjoyed it very much, towards the end one or two factual inaccuracies really marred what I had already read. Despite my doubts about its legitimacy, this is a much more detailed analysis of the components of the Arthur legends than I had expected, and there was a lot packed into quite a thin book. I’d say this was probably a good starting point for someone investigating the myths, but bear in mind that certain elements might need further research to corroborate them.
ElfQuest Volume Two – Wendy and Richard Pini
These comics are so lovely. I’d heard of ElfQuest through Piers Anthony’s Xanth books, but had never investigated them until my friend Rowan offered to lend them to me. They tell the story of a group of elves who, after a fire burns down the forest they live in, travel across the desert to seek out a new home. This second volume was more complex than the first, with multiple storylines, and I really raced through it, before going back to appreciate the art at a more leisurely speed. Very enjoyable, and I can’t wait to read the third one!
7 books off the TBR list this week!
Can you recommend me any good steampunk books? I love Gail Carriger’s novels, and quite like George Mann, but I just find that a lot of steampunk doesn’t explore the setting enough (as with Cherie Priest’s books).