So that was...a book. I suppose. Just kind of a mess. Some interesting notions and concepts, but all tumbled together with no particular unifying tone...moreSo that was...a book. I suppose. Just kind of a mess. Some interesting notions and concepts, but all tumbled together with no particular unifying tone. I didn't care about any of the characters - probably because the book wanted me so, so badly to care about them, and to care about them just so - and even less for the world/threat/big bad/coming war/something. (I don't really know what was going on. Due to not caring.) Also, Morgan - at least here - is extraordinarily bad at doing that basic thing which is a touchstone of the subgenre, the gradual reveal of both ancient and immediate world history along with the character's backstories. It's just a mess here. Maybe I wasn't paying attention, but I haven't the foggiest of who did what in what war and who that war was fought against and who's coming back where and so on and so forth. Given all that, the point where it finally picks up and stuff stars happening and dramatic reunions are had and mysteries are revealed and so on was just a lot of whatever. (less)
It's funny, this genre mixing business. Sometimes it ends up being overwhelming, and sometimes, you kind of end up with nothing much. In this instance...moreIt's funny, this genre mixing business. Sometimes it ends up being overwhelming, and sometimes, you kind of end up with nothing much. In this instance, it's a sort of pulpy noir meets pulpy sword-and-sorcery, but it's not terribly noir, not terribly S&S, and not even terribly pulpy.
Oh, don't get me wrong, the building blocks are all there - roads are dominated by random bandits who die really easily, the hero has a secret murdered-girlfriend past, bands of child-thieves dominate murky alleys, buying someone a drink at a tavern is the best possible form of intelligence gathering, all women are jaded yet salacious, and prostitution appears the be the chief economic activity of the entire planet. Sadly (sort of) all of it remains a little sketched-in and lifeless. To rise above utterly bland this kind of thing needs to be turned up to 11 with the pulpiness, or have something going for it with the genre juxtaposition or something, which this is really far too tame to deliver.
Part of it might be that it's really a little flimsy, plot-wise. Kind of feels like a computer game: travel to location A. Kill the monster and find the hidden scrolls that lead to location B. Repeat. Still, it's short, it moves along, the prose won't kill you and the use of totally modern language ("dude") and stuff (gay interior decorators) in a kinda-maybe technologically medieval society is occasionally novel, in a breathmint-in-the-morning sort of way. (less)
An analysis of the role of what we think of as "special ops" in Medieval warfare. That is, the use of variously sneaky and underhanded tactics to achi...moreAn analysis of the role of what we think of as "special ops" in Medieval warfare. That is, the use of variously sneaky and underhanded tactics to achieve military (or political) aims, without having two armies politely show up and fight each other. Of course, I say sneaky, but really this kind of thing actually usually got things done with less bloodshed, and usually only the blood of the noble jerkwads involved, so theres something to that.
Anyway, theres a thesis bit with like academic theorizing and stuff, which is kind of interesting but not particularly memorable (that is, I read it last year and I don't remember it.) The meat of the book is an analysis of seven special-ops campaigns, from the Crusades and France. These pretty much rock.
Harari is just not above spinning a good yarn then way sheep are not above being woolly. It's all wacky cloack-and-dagger, buckle-and-swash, derring-do with a touch of stupidity so magnificent it still shines after all the centuries. Assassinations, betrayals, disguises, divorces, marriages, lies, princesses put in towers, princesses rescued from towers, (one instance of a princess rescuing herself from tower,) midnight rides, many gates and walls climbed over, etc, etc. It's great.
If anything, theres a little too much political and historical context some times - who cares why they were doing it, just tell me how. Harari is also pretty good about analyzing the sources and mentioning their likely biases and contradictions (which are pretty interesting themselves.) Mostly, it's just a bunch of the kind of weird detail and personal stories I wish dry history books (then the king did this. Then the duke did that. NO THEY DIDN'T. They didn't do anything. Some soldier did that. What was it like?) had more of, that give some a sense of the day-to-day way wars were conducted.
The Middle-East chapters were slightly more interesting then all the French stuff, but I really just think the material there is better - bickering Crusaders who can't swim and Assassins and sun-worshiping Armenians and things. The French and the Burgundians are positively reasonable by comparison, as the entire Levant in the 12th century comes off like a giant collection of sociopathically violent frat boys playing murderous pranks on each other.
Better than the first one. Very readable. Still a little tepid somehow. Everyone is much too sensible and believable. It seems to be deliberate - and...moreBetter than the first one. Very readable. Still a little tepid somehow. Everyone is much too sensible and believable. It seems to be deliberate - and realistic - that they only inhabit their roles, heroic, selfish or villanious, rather than really being them. The downside is that it does make the whole plot seem like a series of unfortunate misunderstandings that could really be solved if everyone just got together for a nice cup of tea and realized that they'd really all like to be friends. Sometimes it manages to hit a nice tragi-farcical note, other times, it just leaved everything a little bland. Some nice developments at the end though. Looking forwards to the next one. (less)
If I recall correctly, this was honestly pretty boring. History as some-dude-did-this, then-some-other-dude-did-that, but on a beach. Tedious accounti...moreIf I recall correctly, this was honestly pretty boring. History as some-dude-did-this, then-some-other-dude-did-that, but on a beach. Tedious accounting of increasingly inbred marriages. No Mameluks. Not nearly enough Ottomans. Didn't finish. (less)
1.The Work of Work - serfdom/labour in language, literature. Class theories.
2.Desire, Descendants and Dominance - rape and slavery, gender conflics,...more1.The Work of Work - serfdom/labour in language, literature. Class theories.
2.Desire, Descendants and Dominance - rape and slavery, gender conflics, marriage as commodity, legitimacy. Post modernisms.
4. The Labour Structure of Aelfrics Colloquy - language, analysis of educational text (?) - occupations with lower marginal value of workers (farmers, shepherds, hunters vs. cook, merchant, craftsmen) justified due to inherent utility. "Total servitude is indeed useful to everyone but its preformers, so there is great incentive to preserve it." Natural structure supporting the labour of the monk - prayer. (Lots of untranslated Latin. I don't know Latin! (language of the occupation.) (less)
Is it an adage that the extraordinary and calamitous is what tends to make it into the historical record? This book, therefore, is somewhat filled wit...moreIs it an adage that the extraordinary and calamitous is what tends to make it into the historical record? This book, therefore, is somewhat filled with collapsing roofs, corrupt abbots, pregnant nuns, criminal monks, hallucinations, suicides, things catching fire and a really extensive collection of unpleasant illnesses. Its a bit of a puzzle to piece together what was actually ordinary daily life, not to mention finding the gap between the rules of what was supposed to go on (nothing leavened by singing) and what actually went on in the regular course of things (shenanigans!)
Particularly striking for me, aside from the amazing love for for drawing blood (who came up with that?!) was how deeply god was in everything to them. Nothing was ever mere chance or plain unrelated, in a way that sounds frankly like wishful thinking pretty often, but maybe illuminates how deeply incomprehensible everything, from the weather to the body, must have been. A world without explanation or coincidence.
Interesting throughout, and with refreshingly straightforward, clear and accessible writing, especially for a fairly academic work. Not sure how thorough it is or where it fits into the scholarship of the subject, but perfect for my needs in fleshing out a praxis for a character in a fantasy book ;-).(less)
Awesome! May everyone who never returned books to me be devoured by killer pigs of the Rhine!
It does give a sense both of how inacessible information...moreAwesome! May everyone who never returned books to me be devoured by killer pigs of the Rhine!
It does give a sense both of how inacessible information was then, (a library might consists of...two volumes) but also of the way society did tick along, with systems in place for copying and borrowing books, complete with etiquette, convention, humor, frustration, etc. (less)
Not bad but a bit too much on the Sword & Sorcery, pulpy side for my tastes. The setting, which was something of the selling point, doesn't really...moreNot bad but a bit too much on the Sword & Sorcery, pulpy side for my tastes. The setting, which was something of the selling point, doesn't really work, unfortunately. It starts off well and theres the occasional arresting image (I liked the man with the robe that is never clean) but doesn't ever build up to a really solid sense of place. The older characters work well and give the book a bit of weary self reflection, but the young'uns are just annoying. The plot has a nice kind of retro D&D sillyness on at times - fighting the palace guard! secret passages! - but mostly it doesn't add up to much and theres only so much of that kind of thing one can take before it gets dull.
Important stuff comes a bit out of nowhere and while the brisk pace was one of the books redeeming features, it might have been a bit too brisk - the political players could have stood to get a little more development and nuance. Finally, this just barely avoided my ideologically-annoying tag for it's reflections on violence - theres definitely an attempt to examine it's influence and the rightness of the heroes, but it never goes far enough, never actually takes the step of making the heroes in the slightest at wrong to the reader, and so the ultimate effect, for me at least, was that self doubt is something that just needs to be gotten over.
This is that book people keep asking for in Fantasy, but secretly wonder if they'd actually want to read: the one about small things happening to comm...moreThis is that book people keep asking for in Fantasy, but secretly wonder if they'd actually want to read: the one about small things happening to common people and not about the high king and the fate of the world.
As it turns out, it's a page turner. I think there must be a kind of temptation, when writing this sort of story, to broaden the scope, give the characters more power, make the story more extraordinary, but Micklem resists and the book stays tightly focused on the psuedo-domestic (as much as possible in a war camp, anyway) sphere despite the epic war brewing in the background.
In some ways, the characterization - of everyone except the first person narrator - feels somewhat thin, but viewed through her perspective, makes sense - the reader is left with the same powerless uncertainty about others - their character, their honesty, their feelings and motivation - that she herself has.
Another really strong point is in the smooth mix of religeon and superstition woven into the worldbuilding in a way that dodges the fantasy tendency to give characters basically modern mindsets.
re-read - yup, even better. Only complaint is that it should have been longer. It's actually amazingly economical - things I remember as bein...moreNot bad.
re-read - yup, even better. Only complaint is that it should have been longer. It's actually amazingly economical - things I remember as being these enormous, detailed stories - Tyrion on the river, Daeneryn in Meereen, Asha in the snow, Theon in Winterfell, Bran under the hill, Arya, Cercei, Griff - are actually only one or two chapters, in most cases. Only Jon on the Wall really gets enough room to breathe. (less)
For a rather twisted book, all about necromancy (and often graphic necrophilia) its also rather funny and ultimately life affirming, even happy. A few...moreFor a rather twisted book, all about necromancy (and often graphic necrophilia) its also rather funny and ultimately life affirming, even happy. A few of the minor characters could have stood to get a bit more development, and some rather important elements seemed to come out of nowhere, but those are somewhat minor quibbles for a largely fun book with some interesting, disquieting currents running through it. (less)
I can tolerate constant, graphic sexualized violence if it has some point. I might also let it pass if it rounded out an actual good novel. Theres not...moreI can tolerate constant, graphic sexualized violence if it has some point. I might also let it pass if it rounded out an actual good novel. Theres nothing here under the rapes and the murders and the excrement. Characters are flat, plot is boring and incomprehensible, writing bland.(less)