The Restoration of Rome - Peter Heather The period covered by this book is quite a lengthy one, stretching from the end of the Roman Empire in the 5thThe Restoration of Rome - Peter Heather The period covered by this book is quite a lengthy one, stretching from the end of the Roman Empire in the 5th century through to the 10th century and the various descendants of Charlemagne. Alongside the political ambitions of three distinct individuals - Theoderic, Justinian and Charlemagne himself - we get an interesting look at the papacy even before that term was used for the first time and just how it came to such pre-eminence.
The whole period is absolutely fascinating, with self-styled emperors up against popes who are a pale shadow of the clerics we come to know in the middle ages and beyond. This is a time when just who gets to decide anything in respect of Christendom (at least Western Europe) was very much up for grabs, with Charlemagne in particular seeing himself as being in charge of everything, secular and religious alike. One particularly nice turn of phrase the author uses describes the Pope at the time as being 'vice president of prayer' and Charlemagne certainly viewed himself as divinely-appointed and therefore destined to take a more pre-eminent role than any clergyman.
Each of our would-be successors to Rome subsequently fell apart, for one reason or another, and it's here that the author pushes his hypothesis - that in the end it was the papacy which would be the most successful of Rome's heirs, but mostly because of pressure from elsewhere in Europe to take on that role, along with the authority required to make it stick. This is a very readable book, making sense of a complicated time, and I may well also end up reading the author's previous book, The Fall of the Roman Empire, at some point as a result....more
Range of Ghosts - Elizabeth Bear I read a lot of SFF and so I end up reading a lot of books that are in trilogies (or more), to the point where I nowRange of Ghosts - Elizabeth Bear I read a lot of SFF and so I end up reading a lot of books that are in trilogies (or more), to the point where I now take a lot of persuading before starting a series that I know hasn't been finished yet. Hence, I hadn't got around to reading this book, which is the first in the Eternal Sky trilogy until well after the third book was published.
Again, as someone who reads a lot of fantasy, the genre is stuffed full of 'farmboy discovers he is actually a king' stories and this isn't one of those. Nope, of our main characters one knows he is the grandson of the Great Khagan and therefore a prince (though he doesn't really seem overly into it till circumstances force him to be) and the other used to be a princess. Both have been through massive trauma - Temur has survived what ought to have been a killing blow on the battlefield, Samarkar has chosen to have her reproductive organs removed because she might be a wizard, so escaping being married off again for the benefit of her people.
Much of the fantasy written, until recently at least, was very much cod-medieval Europe with a bit of magic thrown in if needed, which is all well and good in itself if written well but that doesn't always seem to be the case. This series is set in something like Central Asia about a century after the death of this place's equivalent to Genghis Khan, with his various grandchildren vying for power and not doing the greatest job of holding onto it once they have it. One major difference from our world (other than the obvious addition of magic and the ability through it to control ghosts etc.) is that the skies above a certain place are different depending on who is in charge of that area, a concept I've seen some reviewers really struggle with.
Anyway, the first of a trilogy, all in all really excellently written and strongly-drawn characters. I do have a very minor issue about something that happens right at the end of this book but it's still a book I would wholeheartedly recommend to anyone bored with farmboy-kings. I hope the rest of the trilogy is as good and I'm just waiting for the library to call to say they have the copy of Shattered Pillars I ordered....more
The Black Count - Tom Reiss I'd been meaning to read this book for a while, partly because of seeing it mentioned after watching the BBC series of TheThe Black Count - Tom Reiss I'd been meaning to read this book for a while, partly because of seeing it mentioned after watching the BBC series of The Musketeers (in which, for anyone who doesn't know the show, a Black actor plays the part of Porthos in recognition of Dumas' own ethnic origin - the central figure in this book is the author's father, General Dumas). Although I'd studied this period of history at school, many years ago, that had very much focussed on what was going on in France and I don't recall any mention of the events alongside the Revolution in its colonies.
What this book does well, I think, is talk about a period of time where briefly France was a place of massive contradictions - on the one hand, someone like General Dumas could succeed (for a time at least) regardless of where he came from, while on the other hand the country was allowing slavery to exist in some of its colonies and abolishing it in others. The rise of Napoleon to power made life even more difficult for those former residents of the French colonies living in France itself, with Dumas himself having to plead for the right to remain where he's living, on the outskirts of Paris.
Prior to his arrival in France as a teenager, Dumas is 'pawned' by his father and then reclaimed later; his siblings and mother are sold and never heard of again, with no mention of Dumas himself making any effort to locate them (though of course he was in the middle of a war at time, but still it seems an omission on his part). And that's where this book doesn't cope so well, that it doesn't really give us much of an idea of Dumas as a man, not helped by what seems to be very little source material for the author to work with.
I was also surprised and a little disappointed by the lack of any photographs or illustrations (bar a few maps, focussed on the location of places concerned rather than battle movements, for example) in the paperback edition my library sourced for me. Towards the end of the book, the sorry state of a statue of the General that stood for some years in Paris is mentioned, but a photograph would have been even more poignant, I think. I get the feeling the author did the best with what he could - he talks about being allowed as little as 2 hours with the contents of a particular safe in a local museum - but there were clearly limitations and those affect the book as a whole....more
The Bullet-Catcher's Daughter - Rod Duncan As I've been reading more SFF, I've discovered there are certain publishers whose books I keep coming backThe Bullet-Catcher's Daughter - Rod Duncan As I've been reading more SFF, I've discovered there are certain publishers whose books I keep coming back to - Angry Robot is one of those companies and often seems to publish things I'm going to like, with The Bullet-Catcher's Daughter being no exception to that rule.
Essentially, it's a steampunk story, but one where the UK has been divided in the mid-19th century by a line drawn between the Wash and Wales. South of that line, in the Kingdom, indentured servitude is still legal but women can own businesses in their own right; north of the line, in the Anglo-Scottish Republic it's the other way around.The only agency with power in both is the International Patent Office, whose jurisdiction is worldwide.
Born in the Kingdom, the daughter of a circus ringmaster, Elizabeth Barnabus was forced to flee north when her family was bankrupted by a corrupt landowner, and now she works as a private investigator just north of the border between the two countries. Because of the legal set-up in the Republic, she is forced to pretend to have a brother and disguise herself as him to do business, living essentially a double life.
A case brings Elizabeth into contact with the International Patent Office and also back into the circus, before taking her south once more and back into danger. The Bullet-Catcher's Daughter benefits from both solid world-building and the uniqueness of its setting - for once we're in Leicester and the surrounding countryside, rather than London (at least for most of the book) and that's a positive change from the norm. At one point in the middle of the book the pacing of the overall story lags a little and the main male character (and likely potential love interest) is a little two-dimensional for now, but these are minor issues.
The series continues with Unseemly Science, which has just been published, so it'll probably be a while before I catch up with it but I definitely intend to do so......more
This is one of those books which I'm glad I persevered with, considering that it's quite literally a solid piece of work (very small type too, which dThis is one of those books which I'm glad I persevered with, considering that it's quite literally a solid piece of work (very small type too, which doesn't help) but it doesn't quite do what it says on the cover. It's not so much a history of the druids as a history of what people thought and wrote about the druids and why/how that changed over time.
Considering that the first chapter is all about how little we actually know and can prove about the druids in the first place, I suppose there wasn't really much else for the author to do, either in this book or in his previous one. Perhaps that one (The Druids: A History) was the one I should have read instead, though this one certainly introduced me to a wide variety of folks with varying degrees of scruples about making up history out of whole cloth if it didn't exist previously or didn't quite say what they wanted to hear.