On this last day of 2011, I'm trying to catch up on my book posts. I've read some good ones this year, but life hasn't given me time to post about them in the detail I would have liked. So, here's the first of a few "books read" posts I hope to make today.
15. Heartless by Gail Carriger
In Lady Alexia Maccon's latest adventure, she is exceedingly pregnant (a fact that the book deals with in the series' usual droll way), and she is doing her best to make sure that a assassination attempt against the Queen that she got wind of from a couple of quickly disintegrating ghosts doesn't come to pass.
In the process, she dogs up some very interesting invofmation about her husband's old pack and the assassination attempt that drove him to leave them all for Woolsey all those years ago. What she finds out changes everything, and says a lot about how werewolf packs work and the lengths that members will go to in order to ensure the continued survival of the pack.
Then, there's the matter of every vampire in London wanting Alexia's baby dead, a giant octopus-shaped automaton tramping through the city, and the accidental relocation of the entire Woolsey pack. Alexia's life, while sometimes shocking to her sensibilities, is never dull.
16. Among Thieves by Douglas Hulick
This was my Comic Con line read this year, and it was good enough to have me reading bits of it in bed after a long day at con.
The story concerns Drothe, a thief/spy who has a niggling sense of honor he just can't shake and a whole lot of people trying to kill him for what they think he knows about a very old book with information that might bring down the entire empire. (Whether or not that would be a bad thing is left up to the reader's own judgment.)
The nature of loyalty and oaths and friendship and promises in a world where distrust and backstabbing are so commonplace is delicate at best, and the author does a good job balancing it. Drothe's very real concern for Cosima and her family, Fowler and her 'gang,' and Drothe's friendship with Degan were all very well done. He doesn't want to care about any of them, but he does, and given the opportunity to do the right thing, he takes it. He can't let it pass him by, even if it means giving up some of the things that mean the most to him.
This book screams "first in a series," and I'd gladly read the next one.
17. Ahab's Wife, or, The Stargazer by Sena Jeter Naslund
Moby Dick has never been a favorite work of mine, but this novel that attempts to embroider the story with a feminine perspective that is missing from the original text does so in such an enjoyable fashion that the story of Una, (Ahab's wife), is as interesting and personable as any tale that didn't already have a connection to a landmark American novel.
Una is a smart, independent narrator, and through her eyes we see American in the first half of the 19th century. Questions and development that were central to the period all wind themselves into her life—the whaling industry, the question of slavery, religious movements like Unitarianism, and the spirit of scientific discovery are all very much at the center of her story.
After reading this novel, I feel like I have a much clearer idea of what life was like during the period it describes. This was a big, expansive read, one that had me utterly engrossed in the lives and minds of the characters, and in the unique voice of its narrator. Una's voice, whether she is describing a seaside cottage, the back woods of Kentucky, or the deck of a whaling ship after a kill, rings true.
18. On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers
I picked this book up because of its association with the most recent PotC movie, and because I've heard good things about the author.
First, let me say, it was nothing I expected. That being said, it was a dark, terrifying sea story best read with a fire burning high and a cup of rum at hand. At the center of the story is Jack Shandy, who only wanted to go to Haiti to claim his inheritance from an unscrupulous relative. On the way, though, he got pressed into service on a pirate ship, helped in the destruction of a vessel belonging to the Royal Navy, and got a crash course in some of the creepiest magic/voudou I have every come across in fiction. (Not to say that all magic is coded as "bad," here. Though many of the entities and magicians are corrupt, not all of them are. Blackbeard's menacing patron, The Baron, is balanced out by Jack Shandy's encounter with Maitre Carrefour, who comes off as benevolent and wise, if a bit inscrutable.)
The classic pirate story questions of Old World vs. New World, civilization vs. wilderness, bureaucracy vs. freedom are all in play here. For instance… the reason that magic doesn't work in old world Europe any more? As "civilization" has spread, it has brought with it that enemy of magic familiar to anyone with a passing acquaintance with fairy lore: too much cold, worked iron.
All in all, I thought it was worth the read as a fan of pirates stories and fantasy stories.