Books in brief: King, Balogh, Lindsey, Asaro, Merciel, Zettel, Simone, Clulow, and Herrin

Laurie R. King, To Play The Fool and With Child. Picador, 2014 editions.

The second and third installment in King’s Kate Martinelli series. The interesting thing about these novels, I realised as I read her standalone books – discussed next paragraph – is how much more King is interested in character, in suffering, in relationships, than she is in the intellectual puzzle of whodunnit. Crime might be the frame, but it’s not the focus. Which makes these novels fairly powerful examinations of emotions and relationships and characters.

Laurie R. King, A Darker Place, Folly, and Keeping Watch. Various publishers, various years.

These are King’s standalone contemporary novels – though Folly and Keeping Watch are loosely connected – and it’s here where I noticed her concern with character rather than mystery most strongly. A Darker Place ends on an unfinished note, but it’s a study of one woman’s guilt and obsessions and drive, a drive that leads her into danger again and again; Folly is concerned with one woman’s struggle to rebuild her self and her life while struggling with a heavy burden of grief and mental illness – she’s a mother, a grandmother, an artist: her sickness places heavy burdens upon her relationships but doesn’t, ultimately, define her – while Keeping Watch is about how one man’s experiences in Vietnam (and his addiction to adrenaline) shaped his entire life. They are brilliant, fascinating novels, and well worth reading.

Mary Balogh, One Night For Love, A Summer To Remember, The Proposal, The Escape, and The Arrangement. Ebooks.

Formulaic historical romance. Diverting, but not really engrossing. Did not hit nearly enough of my narrative kinks.

Catherine Asaro, Undercity. Baen, 2014. Review ecopy courtesy of the publisher.

Read for review for My strongest feeling about this book is “meh.” It’s good enough, it does what it sets out to do, but it’s not stylish or innovative or particularly gripping. It has not enough flare and joie de vivre. I found it hard to say much about it in my review.

Sarah Zettel, Palace of Spies. Harcourt Brace & Co., 2013.

Read for inclusion in SWM column. An excellent and intelligent YA novel. Much recommended.

Liane Merciel, Dragon Age: Last Flight. Tor, 2014. Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

By far the best written of the Dragon Age tie-ins to date: it manages to tell a full and complete story without feeling like someone’s write-up of their roleplaying campaign, and does it smoothly. Interesting characters, solid BOOM. Would read more in this setting by this author.

Gail Simone et al, Legends of Red Sonja. Dynamite, 2014.

I said of Gail Simone’s first Red Sonja volume that it reminded me in the best possible way of Xena: Warrior Princess. Legends, a compilation collecting efforts from Simone and a variety of other authors, including Kelly Sue DeConnick, Tamora Pierce, and Marjorie M. Liu, feels very much like it too – without Xena’s levels of whimsical ridiculousness, but still. I really enjoyed this, and recommend it very much.

Erin Lindsey, The Bloodbound. Ace, 2014.

Red for inclusion in SWM column. Meh. Tone and concerns remind me a little of Mercedes Lackey or Tamora Pierce, though without their particular brand of… didactic feminism is not quite the term I need, but it may be close. Armies, threats to nations, heroine bodyguarding king. Briefly diverting, but not exactly compellingly great.


Adam Clulow, The Company and the Shogun: The Dutch Encounter With Tokugawa Japan. Columbia University Press, 2014.

A fascinating and immensely readable account of how the Dutch East India Company (the VOC) was stymied in its attempts to treat the Tokugawa Bakufu like the other nations and kingdoms the VOC succeeded in dominating in South East Asia. The VOC ended up, in fact, using the rhetoric of a vassal of the shogun, and being called upon to perform the duties of a vassal. It’s far from my period, but it feels like solid research – although I’d have preferred more emphasis on how the Japanese conceived of the Dutch.

Judith Herrin, Margins and Metropolis: Authority Across The Byzantine Empire. Princeton University Press, 2013.

A collection of essays on various aspects of Byzantine authority from across Herrin’s long career. Interesting stuff.

Books in brief: Csordas for research; Greenwood, Unnatural Habits; Anderson, Bitter Angels, Pegau, Rulebreaker, Caught in Amber, and Deep Deception

I am immensely behind in logging my reading.

Thomas J. Csordas, The Sacred Self: A Cultural Phenomenology of Charismatic Healing. University of California Press, 1997.

Charismatic healing among Catholic Charismatics in the USA in the 1980s. Cultural phenomenology. Interesting theoretical frameworks. If this is your thing, you will like this book. If it is not, you will bang your head against the nearest table and moan.

I enjoyed it after I got used to it. And left it full of sticky notes.

Thomas J. Csordas, ed., Embodiment and Experience: the existential ground of culture and self. Cambridge Studies in Medical Anthropology, Cambridge University Press, 1994.

A collection of interesting papers, some of them baffling, some of them working from referents with which I’m not familiar. But some of them really fascinating. Likewise full of sticky notes.

Kerry Greenwood, Unnatural Habits. Poisoned Pen Press, 2012.

The latest entry in the Phryne Fisher series. Hilarious and bitingly upfront about horrendous bits of 1920s society by turns: a much tighter entry in the series in terms of the logic of its scattered mystery-plot than the previous entry.

C.L. Anderson, Bitter Angels. Spectra, 2009.

Anderson is an open pseud for Sarah Zettel, and this is an interesting, complex work of science fiction. Brilliant characterisation and fascinating set-up, but it loses track of its loose ends a little too much to come off as a wholly good book: would’ve been, perhaps, better as a somewhat longer work with more room to breathe and develop (a trilogy, perhaps).

An interesting failure, though, and well worth reading.

Cathy Pegau, Rulebreaker, Caught in Amber, and Deep Deception. Ebooks, courtesy of the author.

Will probably end up talking about Rulebreaker and Deep Deception as lesbian skiffy romance elsewhere, I think. Pegau writes decent (if short) romance. Unfortunately, lacking in each of these stories is the eyeball-kick feel of science fiction: change a handful of references, and the basics of the background plot could carry on in any time during the second half of the 20th century. There’s not nearly enough what-if: it doesn’t feel nearly as science-fictional as the shit that pops up as news in my daily life. (“Natural nuclear reactor on Mars,” for example.) If one is going to take some science-fictional setting in which to set one’s romance plot, it helps an awful lot with the SF part if the skiffy is both integral and frontloaded, not just set dressing. SF is metal and flash and bang and futureshock.

More lesbians, please, but more flash and BOOM and (sod it though I hate the term) “sensawunda,” too.