This book was horrifying, terrifying, horrible, emotional, wonderful, amazing.
At twice the length of previous novels in this series, this one definiteThis book was horrifying, terrifying, horrible, emotional, wonderful, amazing.
At twice the length of previous novels in this series, this one definitely had something to say. It said it eloquently and with a passion that cannot help but stir.
Jane and Vincent travel to the Hamilton Estates in Antigua after learning of the death of his father. Trapped there by circumstance, they come face to face with the harsh realities of the slave plantations of Britain's distant Caribbean holdings and quickly become caught up in the life of the estate.
This was a novel that stands solidly on the strength of the previous novels in the series. Any gentleman or lady of the time who believed in abolitionism (as Jane and Vincent did) would have been shocked by the true situation in Antigua - and indeed, as it is pointed out in the book, many abolitionists had allowed themselves to believe that simply by banning the sale of slaves, they had in fact eradicated the evils of slavery - something that was definitely not the case.
However it is the character building that has taken place over the last three novels, the sense of justice and compassion that we have already seen displayed by the main characters and Vincent's experiences both with Vincent's father and the Napoleonic forces, that makes their response so believable and the story so wonderful. They are truly horrified by what they see and feel a deep compassion. Not merely "compassion for fellow humans", that weaker but still important emotion that led the abolitionists in London to fight the slave trade, often without any personal experience or stake in it. But rather, a deep personal compassion that leads them not only to seek to improve conditions of the local slaves, but to acknowledge and accept as family those who, by resemblance alone, obviously were just that.
It was this extensive background work that also leant credence to the idea that slaves in such a position might come to respect and trust the main characters, Jane who's health condition and actions draw sympathy from the female slaves, and Vincent whose scars mark him as one who has suffered, if not in the same way or as badly as the slaves (as he himself points out), at least in a way they can understand.
The story is powerful and sensitive, it treats its subject with respect and yet pulls no punches, draws no veils over the abuses that took place on estates such as the one described. It can be an emotional roller coaster at times, drawing both tears and anger in ways that few books I have read can manage.
It is easily the greatest novel I had read this year, perhaps in quite a few years, and without a doubt the best novel in a series that started in real style and has only gotten better since....more
Once again, Kowal has shifted the type of novel she is writing with the fourth book in her award winning series. If the first was an Austen Regency RoOnce again, Kowal has shifted the type of novel she is writing with the fourth book in her award winning series. If the first was an Austen Regency Romance, the second Austen crossed with Bernard Cornwall and the third a more purely historical novel filled with politics and family, then this fourth novel was equal parts historical regency novel and Oceans 11.
Robbed and conned out of everything they own, Vincent and Jane find themselves confined to the island of Murano, with no friends and no resources. Without even a place to sleep they first have to see to their immediate needs, and then they need to fight back.
What follows then is the best heist story i've read since the Lies of Locke Lamora. The scheme is clever, fun and involves a group of nuns, a puppeteer and a particularly roguish English poet.
It's difficult to discuss the plot at all without giving away details and the true fun of this novel is the twists, the revelations, and the way the heist plan comes together in unexpected ways. We'll just leave off by saying if you enjoyed the previous three books (and if you didn't, why would you be looking to read the fourth?) you wont be disappointed by the latest installment....more
After reading the first novel in Kowal's Glamourist Histories series, I was concerned that the following novels didn't seem to have anywhere else to gAfter reading the first novel in Kowal's Glamourist Histories series, I was concerned that the following novels didn't seem to have anywhere else to go. The first novel was very much in the style of the regency romance, and in such novels the pairing of the main character and her chosen is usually the end of the story. I have never been so happily mistaken.
The second novel gave us the continent, and the return of Napoleon from Elba as our key action sequences. This novel keeps us closer to home - London, and a tension filled charge of treason.
In previous novels we have heard of Vincent's poor relationship with his overbearing father. This relationship, and the character of the two men in contrast, is very much at the center of this story. We see the strength of Vincent's character far more strongly in comparison with his father's scheming, and his petty minded nastiness that shocks against the mores of the time.
The central conflict of much of the first half of the book is powered by a series of misunderstandings, in true romance novel fashion. I don't much enjoy this particular plot device, however the misunderstandings are all understandable in their way, follow quite naturally from what we have learned of the characters over the series, and are themselves followed by a series of events both powerful and believable. In the final, tension filled scenes the characters acquit themselves with style and are rightly vindicated.
Acting as both a plot device and a backdrop against all of this is the changing London of the times. Poverty is rife in city, fueled by the early starts of industrialisation, such as the introduction of looms and weaving machines, and further exacerbated by the discharge of thousands of soldiers and sailors no longer required now that the Napoleonic wars have drawn to a close. Additions brought in by the magical side of the world-building are also revealed, such as the specialised glamourists called coldmongers whose guild is comprised primarily of young boys, complement and fit in with the history beautifully.
All of this historical background is woven into the story with a deft hand, so much so that it is absorbed almost without notice - a skill that is often sadly overlooked when performed well, but woefully obvious when absent. Kowal is remarkably good at this, never once in any of the three books does anything jar the reader out of enjoyment of the scenes with exposition or awkward devices designed to pass this information on.
The first book was compared to Jane Austen by many readers and reviewers, and indeed it was not an unfair comparison to make with regards to either style or substance. The second novel took a long step away from this with a plot focused on war, the military, and the tragedy that befalls both Vincent and Jane as they get swept up in it.
By this third book, the comparison is being made perhaps out of rote, rather than with any real feeling, and is no longer fair or valid. The charm of the Austenesque prose remains, as does the regency setting, however the series has now evolved into something entirely different. Kowal has made something of her own here, unique and beautiful and a pleasure to read.
I could write more, but I am anxious to move on to the next one....more
Much like the previous book in the series, Glamour in Glass starts slowly in Kowal's charming, Austenesque way, and builds to a page-turning, action fMuch like the previous book in the series, Glamour in Glass starts slowly in Kowal's charming, Austenesque way, and builds to a page-turning, action filled climax.
The title of this book refers to experiments in recording a glamour in glass, much the same way as sound can be recorded on wax cylinders or records. One of the truly stand-out aspects of these books are the attention to detail paid to the world building, to the extent of inventing terminology and scientific (within the context of the world) reasonings and theories as to how the fantastic element, glamour, works. This book does an excellent job of introducing this material without ever becoming dry or boring, and using that world-building in the later, most action-packed sections of the book.
The stage this time is Belgium; Brussels and a small town nearby. It is set not long after the previous novel, following a successful commission for the Prince Regent, and occurs during the time of Napolean quitting his exile on Elba and attempting to retake his empire - leaving our heroes caught between Napolean's revived army and the army of the Duke of Wellington, just prior to what would be, in our own history, the battle of Waterloo.
What begins as another charming Austen-like tale gradually evolves into something much more, involving espionage, politics and the horror of being a foreigner in a country at war with itself. It does this without ever losing the regency style, despite the subject matter being far from anything Austen herself ever put to paper. There is real pain and tragedy in this novel, far more emotionally striking for its context than much of the overdone violence and grimness so prevalent in recent modern fantasy. If the first novel were a fun, relaxing romp through regency romance, this one is both something more and less. It gives up that relaxing lightness but in return delivers something very real, very human, and very affecting.
Kowal is a breath of fresh air and has, I think, brought something quitedifferent and original to the corpus of fantasy fiction with this series. I cannot recommend it highly enough....more
The 5th edition player's handbook gets 3 stars for the rules system and the flavour material in the book itself, and an extra star for being an absoluThe 5th edition player's handbook gets 3 stars for the rules system and the flavour material in the book itself, and an extra star for being an absolutely beautiful book. For a long time now i've collected Roleplaying books as much as works of readable art as for the games within, and the new edition of the oldest RPG of them all doesn't disappoint in that regard - the binding is tight, the paper is good quality, and the artwork is superb - particularly the full-page art spread throughout the book.
The system - with 5th edition, WOTC have definitely taken a step back and "gone back to the roots" so to speak. The rules have been streamlined significantly, much of the complexity that was a hallmark of 3rd edition, for good or bad, is gone. Even character progression is seriously streamlined, with very little choice to be made level to level. One notable exclusion now is the lack of skill levels - every skill you possess you are equally competent with, and that base competency rises consistently are character levels do.
I'm not sure i'm entirely comfortable with just how streamlined it is, as it does flatten the game out a lot mechanically and lead to it being difficult to differentiate between two characters of the same class in many cases.
On the flavour and narrative side, they have abandoned Greyhawk as the default D&D setting and the game is now set firmly in the Forgotten realms by default. I think this makes sense, as the Forgotten realms is certainly the most well known setting, and the setting of 90% or more of the computer games (now a massive part of the brand) and I suspect, the setting of their most popular novel lines. If they had to pick just a single setting to focus on, the Forgotten Realms is a safe choice, being well known, popular, and consisting of enough diversity to allow games of all different kinds to be run.
It's not difficult to see, after the fairly lacklustre reception 4th edition recieved, why 5th edition has sparked so much excitement and debate. There may be a lot i'm not yet comfortable with, but there's a lot to love about it as well. Time will tell....more
At first blush it's difficult to know what to make of this book, Shades of Milk and Honey, by Mary Robinette Kowal. The tagline description I read somAt first blush it's difficult to know what to make of this book, Shades of Milk and Honey, by Mary Robinette Kowal. The tagline description I read somewhere that originally inspired me to give the book a look is probably still the best descriptor I could come up with myself: It's the book Jane Austen would have written, had she written fantasy.
That isn't mere hyperbole either, everything about the novel from it's beautifully rendered setting to the elegant prose, to the plot line focused on the romantic lives of two sisters living in an entailed estate with a father worried for their inheritance, none of it would shame Jane Austen herself.
Added to this mix is magic. Not the magic of fireballs and lightning, which would seem not only out of place but discordant in the environment, but glamour, the magic of illusion, which fits into the setting like a velvet glove and a blushing young lady.
What results is an absolutely charming romance story, with proper gentlemen, roguish cads, glamour-focused artists (glamourists) and even a pistols-at-ten-paces duel of honour. It is sedate for the most part, picking up pace towards the end.
The characters and plot bare similarities to period novels of the same type, such as Pride and Prejudice or even Little Women, however Kowal brings them to life with a wonderful freshness.
In the end, it's a perfect relaxing read, and for me an enjoyable alternative to my more usual fare. Highly recommended to anyone looking for something without the grimness that seems almost mandatory in current science fiction and fantasy....more