Throw your expectations out the window, because this is a different kind of romance novel. Having read and loved Butterfly Swords, I expected a pluckyThrow your expectations out the window, because this is a different kind of romance novel. Having read and loved Butterfly Swords, I expected a plucky heroine adventuring in an exotic time and place with a hero who has a heart of gold. I got something much better.
Our heroine, Suyin, was the emperor's concubine. Her weapons are beauty, poise, secrets and intrigue. Our hero is a ruthless warlord who has turned against his master more than once. These are sophisticated characters who are cynical about life and love. The result is a mature romance that tugged at my heartstrings because it wasn't the story of two people coming together for high-minded reasons, but two battered souls, two grim survivors, given a chance at redemption.
The ending of the novel seemed to change abruptly in tone, from a darker story to something lighter, trickier, and slippery. Almost dreamlike. As if it was how the characters wished it might end, instead of how it might have really happened. I'm told there are cultural reasons for this, and in truth, this novel does seem more exotic than its predecessor.
This is a beautiful book. There's a cinematic quality to the novel; I was able to visualize Dynastic China in beautiful little glimpses. If I close my eyes, I can imagine our heroine wearing her blue silk, standing between the stone guardians of her lover's fortress, hoping he will come home alive. I can vividly imagine the heroine submitting herself to her lover's ink, letting him leave his mark on her.
The love story built slowly, so that when our heroine declares that she will die without her lover, I believed her. And I was so glad she got her happy ending. ...more
Uh, wow. You're not going to find a better overview than this one. Very detailed and thoughtful study on the way an ancient empire fed itself. One cavUh, wow. You're not going to find a better overview than this one. Very detailed and thoughtful study on the way an ancient empire fed itself. One caveat though--if you're looking for a micro-economic examination rather than a macro-economic one, this isn't going to be of much help. This is a big picture overview; it's not going to tell you much about the individual farmer trying to get his crop to market....more
This was hugely informative, but it was organized in such a fashion that it was sometimes hard to follow. For that reason, I have to say that I enjoyeThis was hugely informative, but it was organized in such a fashion that it was sometimes hard to follow. For that reason, I have to say that I enjoyed Anthony Barrett's other biographiers a smidge more. That said, this is a wonderful book for those interested in how a woman might become ruthless....more
I'm really torn on how to review this book. Do I compare it to other books? In which case it's brilliant and stands head and shoulders above the rest.I'm really torn on how to review this book. Do I compare it to other books? In which case it's brilliant and stands head and shoulders above the rest... Or do I compare it to other Ken Follett books? In which case, it's not my favorite. I didn't enjoy it quite as much as I enjoyed Pillars of the Earth or World Without End, in part, because I could smell the author's flop sweat in this novel.
I think Mr. Follett had to work hard for this one, and there were points I felt him struggle. The novel starts brilliantly. I learned so very much and I was totally entertained throughout. However, my initial comments about this book--namely that it should be taught in every high school in America--may have been premature.
The novel is mostly elegant, but occasionally gets bogged down by the history--as if the author were writing in terror of rabid WWI enthusiasts hunting him down and berating him for leaving out a single factoid. Less focus on the battles and more focus on the fascinating characters might have helped.
Billy and Ethel were very sympathetic. Grigori was a Bolshevik to fall in love with. And Lev, he was a rogue I couldn't seem to hate, as much as I wanted to.
I liked all the characters in the novel, but didn't love any of them. I didn't even know who I was supposed to hate. (I've come to enjoy a good comeuppance in Follett novels, so the subtlety threw me.) They weren't as tightly entwined as the characters in the medieval saga, so I missed that sort of woven tapestry. But the author's job is much bigger in this novel--and I will be curious as to see how it unfolds in the next. Especially if I should be reading this novel as essentially Act One.
In spite of these issues, I'm giving it five stars. I mean, you can't go wrong with a Ken Follett novel. I will definitely be getting this one for my dad because it's chock full of fascinating information that's dramatized in an interesting way. Still a Ken Follett fan forever....more
I loved this book--even more than I loved The Pillars of the Earth. Considering that the bulk of the book is about plague, church politics, bridge buiI loved this book--even more than I loved The Pillars of the Earth. Considering that the bulk of the book is about plague, church politics, bridge building and the lives of citizens living in medieval Kingsbridge, you might expect a dry academic read. However, the twisted soap-opera lives of the characters made this book riveting. It also moved quickly for such a long tale and had wildly unexpected twists and turns.
As I was reading, I felt as if I was in the hands of a master storyteller and I was sad when I finally finished it because I knew I had to say goodbye to characters who had become friends. I can't recommend this book highly enough for those of you who love sagas you can sink your teeth into.
Well, there's a wealth of information in this book, but it's not presented with any kind of scholarly rigor. I actually found myself wondering, at sevWell, there's a wealth of information in this book, but it's not presented with any kind of scholarly rigor. I actually found myself wondering, at several points, if the writer was a native English speaker. Herod was a very complex man and unfortunately, this presentation was even more complex. That said, it was a nice starting point for a number of subjects I need to research....more
Even though this story didn't allow Philippa Gregory to show off her talent at portraying sociopaths, I enjoyed it immensely. It has a strange start,Even though this story didn't allow Philippa Gregory to show off her talent at portraying sociopaths, I enjoyed it immensely. It has a strange start, all bound up with Joan of Arc and alchemy. This had all the makings of historical fantasy because our heroine does possess magical powers.
The author flirted with that line hard and I loved it.
But I enjoyed this most because Jacquetta is a woman of agency. She orders her life. She isn't a passive bystander. History does not just happen to her.
What's strange about this book though is that I thought I was quite a Yorkist but my sympathies now veer sharply to Margaret of Anjou. I really don't care that she led a marauding army into England because she appears to have been pushed into it by those upstart Yorks. I think any mother fighting for her son's rights would do the same. What exactly was she to do? Fade off into the good night?
I found myself as torn in my loyalties as our heroine was, and that's excellent writing.
Given the warnings I received about this book, I expected to be upset by the unconventional romance, adultery, the non-consensual sex, or the way theGiven the warnings I received about this book, I expected to be upset by the unconventional romance, adultery, the non-consensual sex, or the way the book defies genre rules. (In truth, it's the fact that it is a blend of historical fiction and fantasy that drew me to it.) In the end, I wasn't upset by any of these things and yet, this was still an emotional reading experience for me.
Ms. Gabaldon has a way with words. The way she turns a phrase, the consistency of voice, the vivid descriptions...these make me green with envy. The characters are extremely memorable. The scope of the story is epic. I will not forget this novel easily. And though the story started off very slowly, I was eventually captivated.
That wasn't always a good thing, however, because my riveted attention was sometimes directed to things I would rather not think about in such detail. The romance was unusual, yes, but I enjoyed it quite a bit. The sexual abuse was often important and thematic, so my knickers aren't in a bunch over that either. It was actually the violence, the torture, the pure unadulterated destruction of the human body, that gives me reservations about recommending this book to others, in spite of its unquestionable quality.
As I quite loved Kushiel's Dart, a novel that actually fetishizes violence and sadism unapologetically, it surprised me to find my stomach churning over what seemed to be gratuitous descriptions of increasing horror in this novel. Moreover, I'm a big fan of dark fiction like A Game of Thrones, so one might expect the relatively happy ending of Outlander might traumatize me a little less. I'm not sure it did! I'm now very curious about the future of these characters--I quite like James Fraser--so clearly I'm going to need a stronger stomach!...more
This was a little less of an emotional roller-coaster than The Greatest Knight, but I still learned a tremendous amount about the time period and in aThis was a little less of an emotional roller-coaster than The Greatest Knight, but I still learned a tremendous amount about the time period and in an entertaining fashion. The relationship between William and Isabel was lovely--truly a model of how romance can be portrayed even after the happy marriage. Beautiful narrative voice, funny, and deeply insightful into human character. Chadwick idolizes William Marshal a wee little bit too much, but who cares. He was truly a knight in shining armor, so more power to her, and to him....more
So, I've been reading a certain kind of book lately. All women's historical fantasy woven with classical mythology. This should come as no surprise toSo, I've been reading a certain kind of book lately. All women's historical fantasy woven with classical mythology. This should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me. I thought that this book would be a lot like Lavinia. I was wrong. At first, I was actually kind of put off by Atwood's irreverent voice. It didn't seem to fit the story. It wasn't until chapter 24 that the whole thing finally snapped into place for me and I realized that I wasn't really reading women's historical fantasy at all...I was reading a very clever literary exercise. Very clever. Very thought-provoking. Very elegant. I leave this book with a wry smile and a little bit of awe so I have to give it five stars even though it might not normally be my cup of tea....more
This was a thoroughly entertaining journey through Restoration England--an experience akin to thumbing through a scrap book. The story is told in bitsThis was a thoroughly entertaining journey through Restoration England--an experience akin to thumbing through a scrap book. The story is told in bits and pieces. Letters, diary entries, recipes, pamphlets, invitations and other tidbits of the time period are woven together to make a lovely tapestry of the time period. The downside to this eclecticism, however, is that it lacked the strong storytelling coherence of a straightforward narrative.
I enjoyed this read as a thought experiment, as something new and different from a very talented author, but I'm not eager to repeat the experience. I'm left craving more intimacy with Nell Gwynn, something deeper of the woman and less of an overview of the time period. I look forward to seeing what Ms. Parmar can do using a more traditional style of storytelling, because she does her homework and she's got style.
If you're tired of the usual first person enumerative drudgery of some women's historical fiction, though, this is the book for you....more
This novel is based on the true life story of William Marshal, who served at least four kings--three of whom were the sons of Queen Eleanor of AquitaiThis novel is based on the true life story of William Marshal, who served at least four kings--three of whom were the sons of Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine. While William is a Dudley-Do-Right Knight with altogether too few flaws and a stoicism that keeps him at an arm's length from the reader, he's not without his charm. His story is so full of twists and turns, one might feel tempted to accuse the author of making it up out of whole cloth, but sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. The characters are interesting, even if it's still difficult to wrap one's head around a royal family that gets together at Christmas time, but goes to war with each other in the off seasons. The dialog in this book isn't quite "Lion in Winter" but it was almost always enjoyable and sometimes brilliant.
As for the author, I envy her talent--and her restraint. The temptation to sensationalize some of the salacious details of William's life must have been a siren song, but she seems to prize understatement. For some, that might make this book a dull chronicle of someone's life, but I set aside my love of melodrama and found it quite enjoyable.
I learned quite a bit about this period of history in a pleasant way, which is the highest praise I can give. I'll be looking for the next books in the series, since William is remarkably long-lived given the danger of his life and times, and seems to have his thumb in everything. ...more