I admit that I feel strange to like this book. Mostly, I suppose, because there was so much I didn't like. Guards called gray-backs that made me think...moreI admit that I feel strange to like this book. Mostly, I suppose, because there was so much I didn't like. Guards called gray-backs that made me think of silverback gorillas every single time I read it. Some of the wizardly goofiness that felt so cliche. Maybe goofy isn't the right word, but it was just very typical in that respect of the fantasy novels I read when I was younger. I was fine with the plague, save for the name. Really, I understood that it was the bubonic plague, but in a fantasy novel, can't it be called something other than the black death (and red, which I don't think was particularly explained, unless that was supposed to make it different; but honestly, I kept thinking of the middle ages.) I have no idea why there's a calendar in the front of the book. Really, I could figure out the seasons, months, and festivals to whatever gods by simply, well, reading. A small dictionary of different languages would have been more help. Why make up words if they're not going to be defined? Not that all of them were hard to figure out, but geez. Oh, and all of the uses of Wizard (oh, yes, capitalized which annoyed me to no end) made me think of Peter S. Beagle's Molly Grue saying, "I'll slit your wizard" in The Last Unicorn.
It's a book that reminded me why I read so little fantasy and that which I do tends to be particular. It was, with this book, the title that drew me. (And this cover makes me think of Charles de Lint's Onion Girl, but it's not the same. I keep thinking I know it from somewhere, the illustration, but can't recall where now. Still, one more thing to drag me away from the book, with plagued gorillas and whatnot.)
It was a fast read, but slow in the telling. It took a long time for it to become particularly engaging in the idea of plot (generic, but not completely so). However, for all of that, the characters are engaging, expect with the tedious question/answer session that were needed, I guess, to move things along but dragged action. The ending is obviously a lead in to the next book, but wow, will it take two hundred pages for that to become interesting?(less)
I absolutely adored this. The way it's set up, with the different transcripts, letters, email and so on reminded me a good deal of House of Leaves. Th...moreI absolutely adored this. The way it's set up, with the different transcripts, letters, email and so on reminded me a good deal of House of Leaves. The idea of seeing something and not being able to unsee it brought to mind China Mieville's story Details, which always brings to mind Lovecraft. Though the title alone makes me think of Shadows Over Innsmouth. That it's about an asylum only added to the Lovecraft feel. It is disjointed in the idea that records and letters aren't always following a linear timeline, which I think follows Marsh's descent into his own madness and obsession while telling himself he'd trying to figure things out for his patients. The story didn't scare me, but it did give me the creeps and it was a compelling read that took less than a day to finish. It might not be for everyone, but it was certainly a fun read for me.(less)
Ah, I must look into Hickman's other book which is escaping my mind. Daughters of Britain, or something like that. She certainly hooked me with Courte...moreAh, I must look into Hickman's other book which is escaping my mind. Daughters of Britain, or something like that. She certainly hooked me with Courtesans.
I couldn't say when my interest in this subculture of women began or why it evolved. Partly research, I imagine, for things written at various points, and just a kind of wonder at the lives that women have lead throughout history. For while we're modern, looking back at the five women Hickmen presents it wasn't that long ago that what we take for granted was considered brash and bold and more than a little daring and usually a lot wicked. Goodness, the idea of being independent and carving a niche for oneself indeed. The very thought.
The five presented are all remarkable in their own way. Some have similar backgrounds (such as coming from the theatre), some have shared interests in why they climbed as high as they could England's demi-monde as well as France's. Some hoped and found love, others found it lacking, but they all shared, I think, a streak for determined independence, a desire to rise above station and constantly toe the line of court and courtesan.
I can't imagine how dualistic their lives must have been. To be queens in a shadowy realm lit brilliantly at night, kept from "proper" women and genteel thought and to be forever found lacking despite their intelligence, their money and their connections to some of the most powerful men in the realm. Hickman shows through the letters of the women and their patrons how difficult the balance was. Also the desperation that they went through to keep their chins above water.
It's an intriguing read and well worth the time for anyone interested in gender studies, in the 19th century, or anything of that sort. Fantastic for research as well, I should think.(less)