In the 1940s, Louisa, a young New York City hotel maid who lives alone with her father, meets Nikola Tesla, who has been living in the hotel for some...moreIn the 1940s, Louisa, a young New York City hotel maid who lives alone with her father, meets Nikola Tesla, who has been living in the hotel for some time. The narration shifts back and forth between Louisa's tale, Tesla's past, and bits of Tesla's memoirs, which Louisa finds and reads. All of it is wonderful, and I don't want to say anything else about the story lest I give something away. However, I will mention that the historically minded may be pleased, as I was, to find end notes pointing to sources for the historically accurate parts of the book.
I like this book quite a bit. It's not as great as Pyle's Robin Hood (the best!) or his fantastic Book of Pirates, but still good fun. A young lad com...moreI like this book quite a bit. It's not as great as Pyle's Robin Hood (the best!) or his fantastic Book of Pirates, but still good fun. A young lad comes of age in the 14th century, becoming a great knight along the way. Includes some fine plates with Pyle's illustrations, black-and-white except for the frontispiece. (less)
The entertaining and gripping tale of Belisarius, a fifth-century general of the (Eastern) Roman Empire under the emperor Justinian. And yet, it's not...moreThe entertaining and gripping tale of Belisarius, a fifth-century general of the (Eastern) Roman Empire under the emperor Justinian. And yet, it's not really historical fiction, as there's a science-fiction twist that significantly changes things. Technically, saying more about the twist would be a spoiler; however, it's mentioned right on the front cover (at least of the paperback edition I have), so it's not exactly going to be a surprise for most readers. Still, try not to read the outside of the book first; I think not knowing would be more fun.
I didn't realize when I started it that it was the first of a series. Sometimes I'm annoyed by the discovery, because I wasn't planning to make a trilogy's worth (or in this case, five book's worth) of investment. But this book made me happy, because the authors didn't try to wrap this huge story up in one volume, and I have every reason to expect I'll enjoy the remaining ones just as much.(less)
Hmm, I meant to mark it currently reading last week. Now that I've finished it, I need to take it down a star, for a couple reasons. But first the goo...moreHmm, I meant to mark it currently reading last week. Now that I've finished it, I need to take it down a star, for a couple reasons. But first the good things....
This is a gripping supernatural thriller, set in Spain during the Inquisition. The main character is the Infante Real - the heir to the Spanish throne, and son to a king who was cursed - before the son was born - but the was to fall on "the heads of the innocent", so the Infante has always been told, and has always believed, that he himself had a curse. Over the course of the book, the Infante learns, as we do with him, just what the nature of the curse is, and he struggles to deal with it, keep its secret from his father, his enemies, his loved ones, and the Inquisition. Meanwhile an ambitious priest, a jealous bastard brother, and others all have their own agendas, which seem to require the Infante's destruction. This is great.
What bothers me about it is repetition: over 390-odd pages, we probably read 100 passages about how Spain is bleak, overly serious, and controlled by the Inquisition. Yes, mood is important, but after the first few times we know that everyone except visiting foreign nobility wears only uncomfortable black clothing, that everyone has to watch what they say because the church has spies and informants everywhere, and that Rolon (the Infante) is serious, moody, and not well liked. For the first half of the book I was able to put up with this easily enough, but it got to be irritating by the end.
The other problem is the ending. For a while the build-up to the big climax seems to really be rolling, everything is fantastic, then it makes a huge veer into what feels like left field at that point, and ultimately concludes in a not-very-satisfying way. Although apparently there's a sequel, and simply knowing it exists changes a lot about how the end events need to be interpreted - although the ending feels somewhat better with that information, I'm not sure that's a good thing in itself.
Big, interesting novel about a handful of people who don't age - they can be killed, but otherwise will stick around indefinitely. The first chapters...moreBig, interesting novel about a handful of people who don't age - they can be killed, but otherwise will stick around indefinitely. The first chapters are all about separate individuals, some of whom are really fantastic characters, while others are pretty annoying. Later chapters have the main characters meeting each other and doing things together. Each chapter comes chronologically after the previous ones, so the book spans a long time period - ~300 BCE to far in the future.
Strangely, the historical chapters (the last of which starts in 1975) were a lot more interesting to me than the final (long) future chapter, which is all about various theories of why we never hear from aliens if they exist, and how far-flung galactic "neighbors" might ever learn about each other. So it's some really cool bits of historical fiction (4 or 5 stars), with a more-or-less tedious sci-fi coda (2 stars).(less)
Powers nails it like he always goes, once again building up a world just a splinter away from our own. This time his jumping off point is the lives an...morePowers nails it like he always goes, once again building up a world just a splinter away from our own. This time his jumping off point is the lives and poetry of Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, and John Keats. Each chapter begins with an epigraph from a poem or letter (sometimes including Swinburne, Milton, Housman, or another) that very strongly hints at the fantastic events that follow. Masterful stuff.(less)
This is some groovy stuff! It is, all at once, a historical mystery, a chess mystery, and a contemporary thriller. Julia is an expert restorer of pain...moreThis is some groovy stuff! It is, all at once, a historical mystery, a chess mystery, and a contemporary thriller. Julia is an expert restorer of paintings, and she is hired to prepare for sale a study by an old Flemish master of two men playing a chess game. She discovers a (period) inscription under the paint that hints at a murder. She starts to investigate, learns that the chess game in the painting seems to contain vital clues, and then people start dying.
I don't think it's a spoiler to say that, while this description could suggest that this is another The Da Vinci Code, it's really not. It's much better than that.
I'll caution that there are some bits I found jarring, perhaps because of translation, or perhaps only because Spain in 1990 was a very different place from Seattle in 2012. Not really a problem for me, but if you are bothered by sexism, homophobia, or chain-smoking, you may want to stay away.(less)
So: there is a truly fantastic story here, starting from a neat question. What if the events of Bram Stoker's Dracula, except for the ending, were tru...moreSo: there is a truly fantastic story here, starting from a neat question. What if the events of Bram Stoker's Dracula, except for the ending, were true? What if, in the end, Dracula won? Well, as it turns out, he would go on to woo, and win, the heart and hand of Queen Victoria, turning her to a vampire, and wedding her as Prince Consort. Other vampires would come out of hiding and flock to England, where they'd create an increasingly large number of new-born vampires. The vampires would spread through all levels of society, gradually taking over. The survivors of Stoker's tale continue in this world, managing their existences however they can. And meanwhile, a madman has begun to brutally murder vampire prostitutes in Whitechapel. By page 20 I was completely hooked.
But: this marvelous story is nearly ruined by the most ridiculous, over-the-top pastiche of every single 19th-century figure the author has heard of. Vampires (Lord Ruthven, Countess Bathory, Kostaski, ...), adventurers and villains (Alan Quatermain, Colonel Sebastian Moran, Rupert of Hentzau for goodness sakes, ...), detectives (Mycroft, Mackenzie, ...), and more all get parts in the players, or at least brief mentions; even Gunga Din gets a nod, and John Merrick makes a brief appearance. Fun is fun, but by page 30 I was groaning aloud, and by page 50 I was saying "You've got to be kidding!". I don't know, perhaps if you've never read something like this before, it'll seem delightful and wonderful. But if you've read any significant amounts of Phillip Jose Farmer (e.g., Tarzan Alive, Doc Savage, The Other Log of Philias Fogg), you'll be familiar with, and probably a little tired of, this kind of excess. And by this book's standards, Farmer was a model of restraint!
Don't get me wrong; I liked this book, and I found it very hard to put down. But it sort of felt like the HBO adaptation of Game of Thrones: with every gratuitous nude scene (random literary reference), I'd just sigh and say "Oh, HBO" ("God. Really?"). It was distracting, at best.
Final note: Geneviève Dieudonné, one of the main characters, is an old (older than Dracula) female vampire, and she is a delight in more ways than I can describe. I gather that this book has sequels or prequels in which she figures prominently; I intend to read them, even if it means I have to subject myself to another 500 random literary or historical references.(less)
I found a free Kindle download for Allan Quatermain, this novel's sequel, and started reading it. When I realized it was a sequel, I dug this off the...moreI found a free Kindle download for Allan Quatermain, this novel's sequel, and started reading it. When I realized it was a sequel, I dug this off the shelf it's been on for years and years, and finally gave it a read. And wow, was it fun! It's also completely surprising that it works: The narrator and main character, hunter Quatermain himself, is 55 years old at the start of the book, and describes himself at various point as "rather timid", "abhorrent of violence", and "a bit of a coward". But despite that, he leads Sir Henry Curtis and Captain Good, two chance-met British companions and a crew of hired natives into the heart of Africa, in hopes of finding Curtis's brother, who'd gone off some time before in search of a vast, rumored treasure. A marvelous pulp adventure is the result.
This book was written over 100 years ago, so it's inevitable that some of its assumptions and attitudes won't sit comfortably with modern readers. But I that that, for it's time, it's actually quite progressive. The white colonials develop respect for, and genuine friendship with, one of the natives with whom they travel. There's even an interracial relationship, to which Quatermain objects, but only for the trouble it would cause were the couple to return to England.
I kick myself for not reading this years ago. It was a true delight.(less)
This is a well-plotted historical mystery, in which the detectives race against time to find the people responsible for several murders before the tow...moreThis is a well-plotted historical mystery, in which the detectives race against time to find the people responsible for several murders before the town's midwife is burned for having committed the crimes via witchcraft. The tension keeps things taught throughout, each setback for the heroes causing a groan of frustration, each delay of the midwife's trial a sigh of relief. The principal characters are complex and believable, too, although many of the minor ones are little more than sketches. On story alone I'd rate this at four stars.
The book loses a star for me, however, due to some narrative annoyances. Apparently the author does not believe that his readers can remember which neighborhood is the good one (where the rich people leave), or why it's good (it's far from the tanners' sheds and similarly stinky trades), and has to remind us each time someone goes there. We likewise must be reminded, every time it appears on scene, of the impressive size and quality of one character's library. There are similar issues throughout, giving the impression that the author doesn't expect much intelligence or engagement from his readers; a shame, really, since those moments were the primary things that disengaged me from the book, and there were a couple points at which I just set the book aside for a day or two to let the annoyance fade.
Still, on balance it was worth a read, and I'm looking forward to reading the next one in the series.(less)