One of the things that is really pleasing about the Temeraire books is how, while I see some smaller plot developments coming, Novik sets up huge unex...moreOne of the things that is really pleasing about the Temeraire books is how, while I see some smaller plot developments coming, Novik sets up huge unexpected reversals of stakes, and does it so far in advance you have to admire the craftsmanship as well as the effect. This book goes in quite an unexpected direction from the last one, and takes us out of the Napoleon tunnel vision we might have been settling into.
I admit I was trepidacious when I realized the characters were going to Africa. Some otherwise charming historical fantasies I've read have fallen down when they've taken their Western European characters to the Middle East or Africa. It's very difficult to write believably period characters who stay likeable, while being honest about colonialism. To be honest I've seen authors fall into Orientalism and patronizing cliché more often than the reverse. Novik, though, did an admirable job, I thought. She depicted the ignorance and misunderstandings of the Europeans, gave enough imagination and empathy to our heroes to allow them to understand other perspectives, didn't manufacture or force common feelings, forgiveness, etc...and of course, it is incredibly cool to see an African superpower in a fantasy novel!
Novik really thinks through the implications of her worldbuilding, ethically, economically, historically -- and this book is not the first time she's taken a potential hole or question in her setup straight on and made it plot. It's satisfying and well-done.(less)
The mystery plot was a little tighter in this second book in the Medicus series, In general the plotting was quite well done: little bits of foreshado...moreThe mystery plot was a little tighter in this second book in the Medicus series, In general the plotting was quite well done: little bits of foreshadowing, necessary information and so forth were woven quite invisibly into the fun, interesting setting and the characters I care about. I especially appreciated some of the tension Downie created between Ruso and others even when I was chafing desperately against it -- so it must have been good!(less)
This book suffered a little from rereading: there were clues in people's behavior on the night of the murder that were inexplicably not followed up fo...moreThis book suffered a little from rereading: there were clues in people's behavior on the night of the murder that were inexplicably not followed up for chapters, despite multiple mentions. There were a few leaps of logic, and at least one plot point I would have suggested editing out. I'm no expert on British law of the period, but some of the courtroom rulings seemed a little capricious or unlikely to me. Monk's retracing of his past seemed occasionally irresponsible in the face of his other duties. And let's not get into the 9 instances of the word "aquiline" that I counted.
However, it still works both as a mystery/courtroom drama and a rather searing commentary on Victorian society. I enjoy the Monk books partially for their flawed, human main characters and partly for the courtroom aspect. In these, Perry continues the story into the potentially frustrating and unjust world of Victorian law, with satisfying dramatic results. In general, I enjoy Perry's nuanced characterizations -- almost no one is fully innocent in her books, and most guilty parties have reasons, passions, ample humanity mixed with their turpitude. In this one, the drama comes from untenable situations as well as flawed and floundering humans, and I still found these compelling the second time around.(less)
It's hard to rate this because it was stellar, lovely in every sentence and page, but also so very brief. I am astonished to see the page counts, and...moreIt's hard to rate this because it was stellar, lovely in every sentence and page, but also so very brief. I am astonished to see the page counts, and would like to see the wordcount sometime to convince myself it isn't a novella.
It's primarily an adventure story, and excels as such: like a good adventure story often does, it makes you care about the people as well as the plot. The classic idiosyncratic friendship of the gentlemen and their very different bonds with Filaq are well sketched and convincing. The novel briefly and vividly transports the reader to a very cosmopolitan past, an age and place not familiar to most readers in English. For this, for its philosophical flourishes, its beauty of line, its humor, its swashbuckling, and its elephants, I loved it.
Audiobook note: Andre Braugher did a good job, especially with the dry humor.(less)
Mary excels at imagining a world thoroughly, so that the bright threads of her fantasy are truly worked into the fabric of life. I was engaged and del...moreMary excels at imagining a world thoroughly, so that the bright threads of her fantasy are truly worked into the fabric of life. I was engaged and delighted. I could, I believe, expand further on some of the clever things she does in this, but to do so would be to engage in that upon which Mr. Vincent twits Miss Ellworth: picking apart art instead of enjoying it. Therefore, I will merely say: I enjoyed it!(less)
Decent little mystery. Christmas incidental to the proceedings.
I didn't feel that this Runcorn was familiar from the Monk books -- as if his character...moreDecent little mystery. Christmas incidental to the proceedings.
I didn't feel that this Runcorn was familiar from the Monk books -- as if his character had to shift a bit in order to make him an acceptable Perry protagonist. One of the character actions seemed predictable and preposterous (both!) Other than that, a good little plot, with fewer twists and turns than usual because of the length.(less)
Another excellent Aubrey-Maturin book, one of the more Stephen-focused volumes. Highlights for me include a volcanic encounter and Stephen's explorati...moreAnother excellent Aubrey-Maturin book, one of the more Stephen-focused volumes. Highlights for me include a volcanic encounter and Stephen's explorations in the Andes, but there are many other exciting events, including some near-run things in the naval battle line.(less)
Another book that left me with mixed feelings. This is a multi-point-of-view fictional narrative based on a real series of events that happen...more3.5 stars
Another book that left me with mixed feelings. This is a multi-point-of-view fictional narrative based on a real series of events that happened in Communist Czechoslovakia.
One of the problems I have in assessing this story is that it didn't read like a novel. It has some remarkable strengths. I loved the two main viewpoint characters: Emil, a charming scientist from a privileged background who is secretly anti-Communist; and Amina, a somnambulist factory worker who becomes very attached to the captive giraffes. I found the setting fascinating -- I've never read anything set in Czechoslovakia before, let alone Communist Czechoslovakia.
I thought the prose was very fine. It employed a certain amount of repetition, which I rapidly became fond of. There are certain phrases and images that appear over and over: "the Communist moment", people sleepwalking through Communism, Czechoslovakia's lack of wind, rivers as veins, humans and giraffes being "vertical creatures". These repetitions gave the story a dream-like quality, so that the reader enters into the somnambulism of the setting and accepts the recurring images, the similarity of events in Africa and Europe, the way different people's internal lives can rhyme.
However, there were some problems. It had very slight conflict, and passive characters. I find that acceptable, but some would hate it. The end is rather unsatisfying, though an argument could be made for that being the point: the author communicating the meaninglessness of events rather than trying to give them meaning through his work. Also, a lot of characters seemed to be interested in long, discursive discussion of thematically related material, such as the history of captive animals in Czechoslovakia. I'm willing to accept, even embrace, two main characters who are introspective, dreamy and ruminative. But several supporting characters who spout paragraphs of historical research? Not so much.
My biggest problem with the book was some of the points of view. I found the initial section, from the main giraffe's perspective, a trifle overwritten and sometimes encumbered with human knowledge and concepts. Any animal POV is a big risk, one I think you need to take all the way -- writing animal sections throughout or exclusively -- or not take at all. I also didn't think we needed the butcher's point of view at -- he added nothing to the artistry of the story, repeated events we already understood. His only essential role was to connect to the last, foreign correspondent's POV and thus explain the existence of the book. I didn't like the foreign correspondent, I didn't think his POV added anything, and I don't need the existence of the book explained. In fact, given its ethereal charm, I'd almost rather it went unexplained.
In short: a beautiful, enigmatic book I enjoyed listening to. The events are troubling and there's not much resolution, but it's a quick read, so if you want to be challenged and transported, give it a try.(less)
This was a decent, solidly written mystery with an interesting historical context (this time, a trip from France into Germany while Louis VII is rampi...moreThis was a decent, solidly written mystery with an interesting historical context (this time, a trip from France into Germany while Louis VII is ramping up for a Crusade) but I felt it wasn't one of the best Catherine LeVendeur books. I've never been entirely sold on the large number of viewpoints in these books, and in this one particularly, I felt that Catherine's voice had been lost in the multitude. One or two of the new characters seemed hurriedly developed, as well.
The central mystery plot itself was fine, although the reader's knowing so much more than the sleuths makes for less exciting revelations. (Some of the later character-in-peril parts were much more gripping.) The violence that has been brewing in the Europe these books depict was vividly and disturbingly portrayed -- although it would be hard-put to be quite so grim and bloody as Cursed in the Blood, the previous book in the series. I was satisfied with some of the ongoing character arcs and conflicts that resolved here, although there were some unanswered questions, especially about Catherine's reaction to events.
Notes on audiobook narration: This book had a different reader than the others I've listened to, and I really didn't enjoy the change. The French names are no longer given a French pronunciation (in French, you know, "Agnes" sounds quite beautiful), and the narration is rather monotonic. Some dialogue was whispered so softly (in comparison to the other lines and narration) as to be inaudible, and many characters, including our heroine, sounded inappropriately petulant.(less)
Fabulous political intrigue and the very satisfactory conclusion of a long-sustained narrative conflict. While much of the middle of the book is conce...moreFabulous political intrigue and the very satisfactory conclusion of a long-sustained narrative conflict. While much of the middle of the book is concerned with Maturin's machinations in the Sultanate of Pulo Prabang, there are also some exciting nautical occurrences in the then largely uncharted South China Sea.(less)
This series has been disappointing for me in general. We Shall Not Sleep shares some of the small, consistent flaws of the whole -- overuse of the sam...moreThis series has been disappointing for me in general. We Shall Not Sleep shares some of the small, consistent flaws of the whole -- overuse of the same details to establish place and atmosphere, overwrought characters -- but has some others as well.
This book takes place at the end of World War I, and I found various characters' extreme prescience hard to credit -- their easy predictions about the European economy and the probability of Germany becoming belligerent again struck me as anachronistically accurate. There's also a sort of plot discontinuity at one point where one character is cleared of suspicion and another is elevated to prime suspect all at once, in summary rather than in scene. It's never made clear why this one character, out of a group of men with similar characteristics and a shared alibi, is considered the obvious culprit (besides that it drives the plot).
The end struck me as discordant with the values of the whole, and I was left with the impression that the peace talks were going to be hunky-dory -- no sense of the punitive sanctions that would in fact burden and embitter Germany and set the stage for Hitler's rise to power.
The book contains a decent mystery and was interesting enough to finish -- especially after having invested time in the whole series -- but I really don't recommend it or this series. If you want a good historical mystery, pick up the author's Pitt or Monk books.(less)