After I read Doomsday Book a couple of years ago, a bunch of people told me that this one was much lighter in tone, and funny, but I didn't realize itAfter I read Doomsday Book a couple of years ago, a bunch of people told me that this one was much lighter in tone, and funny, but I didn't realize it would be an almost straight up farce at points.
To Say Nothing of the Dog takes place two years after the events of Doomsday Book, but either book can be read on its own without regard for the other. Oxford historian Mr. Dunworthy is the only character of any note who plays a role in both books. But whereas in that book, the focus is on a terrible plague (which they call the Pandemic in this book), this one is focused on the seemingly impossible quest for an inscrutable historical object, the bishop's bird stump. (I had no idea what the hell a bird stump was, either, don't worry about it.)
In the year 2057, time travel has long been discovered, and because it cannot be used to plunder history of valuable items and thus cannot be used to make money, it has been relegated for the use of historians only. The time-traveling historians of Oxford have lately been co-opted by the will of a wealthy donor named Lady Schrapnell who has put all the powers of her considerable personality into rebuilding the Coventry Chapel that was destroyed in 1940 during an air raid, and she intends to rebuild it in exact detail, right down the bishop's bird stump, which no one can find.
Enter Ned Henry, who we first meet as he's suffering from the worst case of time lag anyone has ever seen (symptoms include difficulty distinguishing sounds, a tendency to maudlin-sentimentality, fatigue and disorientation). Lady Schrapnell has been sending him on drop after drop going to historical jumble sales, all in search of the bishop's bird stump. He's finally sent back to 1888 supposedly to recover for two weeks where she can't find him, but really he's also on a mission to correct a time incongruity. Only, he's so befuddled by time lag when he's given the mission, he has no idea what's going on, and he ends up blundering from one encounter to the next.
All that blundering about is the reason it took me so long to get into the book. Ned was confused and befuddled, and so was I. But then as it went along and I got the flow of it (and got more in the mood for the ridiculous comedy of manners, farcical nature of it) I really did start to enjoy myself. Especially when Verity (another time-traveler), Princess Arjumand (a cat), and Terence and Cyril (a contemporary Oxford undergrad and his intense bulldog) enter the picture.
I'm really glad I stuck with this book, and will definitely be reading the next two books in the series (a duology, also safe to read without reading the first two). What I really want now, pretty badly, is a filmed version of this book. I would loooove to see befuddled Ned wandering around Victorian Oxford like a dum dum, and all the other stuff that happens afterwords (including a little romance)....more
I love the way Kingston talks about stories and metaphors and Chinese culture, but the second half of the book is all about old women freaking out inI love the way Kingston talks about stories and metaphors and Chinese culture, but the second half of the book is all about old women freaking out in American culture and becoming useless and for some reason I can't deal with that. It's my least favorite part of Amy Tan's work as well....more
I never actually wrote a review of this book the first time around, just a few quick sentences. I don't remember why. I was probably just being lazy.I never actually wrote a review of this book the first time around, just a few quick sentences. I don't remember why. I was probably just being lazy. This is what I wrote back in December 2010:
"I'm still waiting to be knocked off my feet by this series, but this book was still pretty fun. Also, Susan was way less annoying, ditto for Gentleman Johnny Marcone. The best part was when Thomas offered to high-five Ortega right before the duel. There needs to be more Thomas."
I still hold to what I said about Thomas, but oh man, re-reading this was unexpectedly pleasurable. I knew going into this re-read of the whole series that I would most likely enjoy the first three books more (which did happen), but I didn't really think about how I would feel about the ones after that. I guess I just assumed I would feel the same about them, maybe catch a few pieces of foreshadowing, that sort of thing. But there was just so much stuff in here that has later relevance, and I didn't care about ANY OF IT the first time through.
Stuff that happens in this book:
•A priest hires Harry to find the Shroud of Turin, yes THE Shroud of Turin, after it was stolen by a group of thieves. •A man is found dead with evidence showing he was killed by multiple fast-acting diseases at the same time, many of them (like the Black Death) long gone from the world. •Susan shows back up to collect her things and quit her job, and to say goodbye to Harry in a more permanent fashion. •One of Johnny Marcone's thugs tries to kill Harry outside of a television studio. •Harry is challenged to a duel by a Red Court vampire. Said vampire, Count Paolo Ortega, wishes to stop the war with the White Council (most likely to start it up again in the future when they have more resources), and killing Harry is the only way to do it. •Demonic beings called the Denarians start showing up all over the place. They used to be human, but have been possessed by fallen angels (The Fallen, as the characters call them) through coin talismans. There are thirty silver coins, each a piece of the thirty silvers Judas received as payment for betraying Jesus. And they are after Harry. Not to kill him, but to turn him. •Michael and his two fellow Knights of the Cross (Shiro and Sanya) are also faffing around, since killing Denarians (or, prefereably, saving the humans enslaved by the Denarians, is like, their main bag). •Probably some other stuff, too. It's a lot.
Spoilers for this book and for the rest of the series below, so proceed with caution.
(view spoiler)[First, let's talk about Susan. What I was responding to in regards to Susan in that original review was that she takes a more active role here, and her character does something beyond being something Harry is obsessed with. Granted, she still largely fulfills that function, but she's also marginally more interesting due to her constant battle against becoming a full Red Court vampire, and in her association with the newly introduced Fellowship of St. Giles, a society whose members are all humans fighting against becoming vampires, who have dedicated their lives to taking down the Red Court. She is instrumental in helping Harry with both of his "cases" this book, saving him from himself and from others. What's still frustrating about her is that all of this is seen through Harry's POV, and he's more interested in being sexually attracted to her, and being sad they can't be together, which results in her still being a flat character I know almost nothing about.
Thankfully, we won't hear from her again until Changes, and at that point, I'm much more favorably inclined towards her because of what's going on. Which reminds me, the first time through this, I was really put off by the sex scene. It seemed random and weird, and because I didn't care about Susan at all, seemed like Butcher just wanted Harry to get laid. Which, fine. But now knowing that their little tryst resulted in the birth of Maggie, I am more than fine with it. Harry's daughter entering his life is one of my favorite plot points of this series. Oh my God, that scene in Skin Game. URGGG TEARS.
Here is a list of stuff that takes on way more significance now that I've read the whole series:
•I really didn't like the Denarians the first time through. No idea why. Perhaps they've grown on me now that they show up every five books. Also, their existence (and that of Lasciel) begets another favorite plot point, namely Harry's brain being pregnant with a spirit of intellect. •I also wasn't a huge fan of anything to do with the Red Court/White Council war, also no idea why. Maybe I only like it now because I know how it ends (and oh, does it end). •Thomas. Initially he was just a spot of humor and brightness, supposedly offered as a second by the White Court as some sort of insult to the Red. But it's clear, now that I know Thomas is Harry's half-brother, that Thomas was there very much of his own free will, with an eye to protecting Harry. He was probably pretending to be drunk. Thomas is way smarter than he acts. •Hints about Harry's mother (and other family, not Thomas) that totally flew over my head the first time. •All the stuff with Harry and the Denarian coin, and Harry questioning who he is and why he does what he does. Why DOES he allow himself to live in near poverty, shunned by his peers and the public alike? Will he ever come to terms with those darker urges? (Answer still forthcoming.) •We meet Mortimer Lindquist the medium, a throwaway character who turns out to play a large role in Ghost Story. •Harry's relationship with the Carpenters. He and Charity very much do not get along at the moment, but the seeds are planted for his future master/apprentice relationship with Molly. •Harry and the Knights of the Cross. Though he isn't worthy to wield a sword himself, Harry will be tied to the Knights (and their swords) for the remainder of the series. •Butters. (I mean, WHO KNEW WHERE THAT WOULD GO?) (hide spoiler)]
I mentioned in my review of Summer Knight that a lot of the series mythology really go going there, but really it was only the faerie half. The other stuff comes in Death Masks. You just don't know any of this will be important as you're reading it. Butcher certainly has issues as a writer*, but worldbuilding and knowing how to effectively use continuity is not one of them.
*WHY CAN'T HARRY JUST HAVE A "SAVING PEOPLE" THING INSTEAD OF A GROSS "SAVING WOMEN" THING. WHY. IT WOULD HAVE BEEN SO EASY)
In summation, this is one of those series that's not only better as it goes along, but that's better on re-read. I understand there are people who don't want to waste time giving a series more than a couple (or one, or not even one) chances, or who don't re-read (I don't understand that one at all). But if I would have thought like that, I would have missed out so hard on a series that, for the most part, gives back way more than the effort I put in. Sometimes it's worth it to be patient....more