ladyofastolat: (sneezing lion)
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Posted one day early, since I'm going away tomorrow and won't have finished my current book before then. Quite a lot of books this month, but a lot of them were short, quick children’s books.

Twice a Prince by Sherwood Smith

The second half of Sasharia en garde!, following on from Once a Princess, which I wrote about last month.

A Most Improper Magick by Stephanie Burgis
A Tangle of Magicks by Stephanie Burgis
A Reckless Magick by Stephanie Burgis

The (Un)ladylike adventures of Kat Stephenson. Children’s books by the author of the chocolate-loving dragon book which I really enjoyed last month. These are Regency With Magic – which seems to be a surprisingly large genre – in which magic is known about, but considered exceedingly ungenteel. The books centre on 12 year old vicar's daughter Kat, whose mother was – scandalously – a witch. But her mother, as Kat finds out, was proficient in a stronger, more secret magic than mere witchcraft and a member of a secret order, and Kat has inherited her skills. The plots revolve mostly around feisty Kat sorting out the various scrapes her older siblings get into, including villainous suitors, disapproving potential in-laws and bad company. Along the way, she also deals with French spies, highwaymen, smugglers, wild magic in the Roman Baths, and various society nemeses.

I was sufficiently entertained the read all three books, and found the third book particularly satisfying. However, considerable suspension of disbelief is required about the way 12 year old Kat is allowed to socialise with adults at balls and house parties, and the willingness of pretty much everyone – even people supposedly obsessed with propriety - to make public scenes. But I guess I can accept it – albeit a little grudgingly – since these are a children’s books, so the child lead character has to be in a position to Do Stuff. (And, beside, it’s AU, so can charges of historical inaccuracy be made with any justness?) Besides, I'm not the target audience. 10 to 13 year old girls will probably love seeing feisty Kat rashly hurling herself headlong into "grown-up" situations in order to defend her family, and will delight in seeing her get the better of disapproving grown-ups.

The Diabolic

YA science fiction, set in a future galactic empire. Many centuries ago, a new state religion declared scientific progress a heresy. Existing technology is still used, but the ancient spaceships increasingly often blow up in hyperspace, creating growing areas of "malignant space." Nemesis is a Diabolic, genetically created to be a devoted bodyguard to her bonded master, Sidonia, a heretical senator’s daughter. When Sidonia is summoned to court as a "guest" of the tyrannical emperor, her mother orders Nemesis to go in her place. Diabolics are seen as mere "creatures," but Nemesis must impersonate a human and negotiate the pitfalls of court politics. Soon the future of the empire itself will depend on her deception.

I found this perfectly readable, although I don’t think it will stay with me for long. Although it turned out to include just the sort of character I usually love – a clever schemer who is pretending to be a fool for Reasons – I never felt any real emotion drawing me to him, and felt that I was being told of their cleverness rather than feeling it. Despite the fact that Nemesis had always considered herself incapable of emotion, there was a romance. It would have been a better plot without the romance, I feel. I liked the depiction of a future that had turned away from scientific progress, while still remaining entirely "futuristic" in its technology, but the decadent and cruel imperial court felt like a pretty generic Corrupt Court. The book had a proper ending, but it looks like there will be sequels. I might read on, but I don't think I’ll be rushing to do so.

Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse by Chris Riddell
Goth Girl and the Fete Worse Than Death by Chris Riddell
Goth Girl and the Wuthering Fright by Chris Riddell

Children's books. Such pleasingly made books! These are compact black hardbacks, with shiny edges in rich colours, a proper cloth bookmark, and shiny skulls on the end papers. Chris Riddell is an illustrator, and the books are fully illustrated throughout. They recount the adventures of Ada Goth, daughter of Lord Goth, famous poet, whose fondness for riding through the grounds of Ghastly-Gorm Hall taking potshots at garden ornaments has earned him the reputation of being "mad, bad and dangerous to gnomes." That quote kind of says it all, really. Ada has a series of slight, comical adventures which are absolutely packed full of puns and in-jokes about Gothic literature and 18th/19th century literature in general. What on earth the target audience makes of all this, I have no idea. With large print and copious illustrations, the take barely 45 minutes each to read, and Pellinor and I both chuckled out loud a good few times.

A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab

Final book in a trilogy about a series of parallel Londons with varying levels of magic. I reviewed book one here, and book two here. This final book is a lot thicker than the previous two, and is set almost entirely in Red London, where the main characters are busy trying to save their world from the terrible threat that was unleashed in the previous book. It starts very much in media res, which caused me some confusion for the first few chapters, since I’d forgotten exactly how the previous book had ended. Once I'd managed to work out what was happening, I enjoyed the book well enough, but not as much as the second book.

In fact, it led me to a revelation, in that I have realised that I often like the final book in a trilogy least out of the three. The reason I liked the second book was that the overarching World In Peril plot was pushed to the background, allowing us to get to know the characters better as they got on with less urgent matters. This book was all rush rush urgency panic angst pain mustsavetheworld rush rush rush, and apparently I find such things less interesting than magic users going incognito in order to compete in a magical Olympics. Judging from online reviews, I am alone in this.

Frogkisser! by Garth Nix

Another children’s book. This one concerns Princess Anya, who just wants to spend her time in the palace library. However, when her evil stepstepfather transforms her sister's latest suitor into a frog, Anya is told by the oldest palace dog that she must go on a Quest for the ingredients for the transformation reversal lip balm . Anya doesn’t really want to go on quest, let alone a Quest, but palace dogs are wise and her evil stepstepfather is getting particularly threatening, so she sets off, accompanied by a young dog called Ardent, the transformed frog, and, soon, several other transmogrified creatures. As her Quest proceeds, encounters with such people as the Responsible Robbers and a Good Wizard lead her towards a fresh understanding of her future and her role in the world.

This was light-hearted, with some laugh out loud moments, but it wasn’t just a series of comic encounters and fairy tale parodies. There's a plot there, too, and character development and a heart (and, yes, a moral, which some might find annoying.) I liked it a lot.

Augustus by John Williams

Novel about the Emperor Augustus, told mostly through letters, with added dispatches, memoirs, diaries, poems and the like. Part one covers his rise to power, recounted mostly by his friends and allies, and felt rather more like straight history than a novel – albeit history told through the fictional letters of real people. Part two centred on his daughter, Julia, and had more heart and personality in it. The final, shortest part - the first time Augustus got to tell his own story – had Augustus looking back on his life. The book grew on me. Initially I felt it was too much like narrative history to be a novel, yet too untrue to be history. Part two, though, I liked a lot more, and by the end, I found it rather moving.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (reread)

Much-loved classic: the diary of 17 year old Cassandra Mortmain, who lives with her eccentric family in genteel poverty in a crumbling castle in the 1930s. The story centres on the changes that befall the family when a pair of American brothers arrive in the area, having inherited the neighbouring great house. One of my favourite books, thanks to Cassandra’s distinctive, amusing and very readable narrative voice.


Ramble On by Sinclair McKay

This purported to be a history of walking as a hobby in Britain. It kind of was, but it did so in rather a rambling fashion. Each chapter was based around one of the author’s own walks in a specific place in Britain, which were used as a lead-in to some relevant history (the Kinder Trespass, for example) or some musings about an aspect of walking and its appeal. There was some interesting stuff, but I found it all a bit too rambly. It also irritated me that although the author complained about the tendency of some walkers to disapprove of other walkers who Did Walking Wrong (e.g. wearing the "wrong" clothes), he frequently did just the same himself.

Now reading Map Addict: a tale of obsession, fudge and the Ordnance Survey by Mike Parker. Perhaps it's a bit silly to complain about the rambling, meandering nature of the above book and immediately start reading another rambling, personal, meandering non-fiction book, but I'm finding this one a lot more engaging. The author has been obsessed with OS maps since the age of 7, and his enthusiasm shines out of every page. I'm only a few chapters in, but have already learnt many fascinating facts about British maps, with many more – I hope – still to come.

Date: 2017-03-30 01:14 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Map Addict sounds like the sort of thing my Dad would like. (He's similarly obsessed with maps.) Since he's hard to buy for, I'll try to remember this when it comes to buying him Christmas presents.

I often wonder when I see them if the 'professional' walkers wearing the "right clothes"(almost all of whom seem to come from towns and cities) are aware that when they go out on walks in their Professional Walking Attire (all bright colours and artifical fibres, uber-prepared for Himalayan conditions, even though it's a sunny day on a gently-sloping hill in Devon) are being laughed at behind their backs by the locals in scruffy old jeans and trainers...

Date: 2017-03-30 02:20 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Since I've not finished it, I'll probably be bringing Map Addict with me tomorrow, should you wish to take a closer look to see if it's a suitable present.

When I was out on the Downs in brightly coloured cotton trousers and a bright t-shirt, with no rucksack, I did notice that people I met were less inclined to say hello. I think it's because they didn't know what category to slot me into. I was clearly not a dog-walker, and I was by myself, so wasn't a Normal Person out for a sociable stroll, but I had no rucksack and I had silly trousers, so clearly I wasn't a Walker, either.

Date: 2017-03-30 05:11 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
"mad, bad and dangerous to gnomes."

Heh! Oh, that sounds excellent!

I'm doing a bit of time travel with a re-read of Kage Baker's Company books. It's amazing how quickly visions of the future that were extrapolated from current trends start to date.

Date: 2017-03-30 08:04 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
You convinced me of the quality of the last book when you mentioned "fudge".


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