More Books

IdesofMarch

It was good while I was reading it. I enjoyed it. But in the end it did not leave much of an impression on me. This seems to be less a story than a character study of Julius Caesar, following him through the last months/weeks of his life in epistolary (letters, diaries, etc.) form. Historically, it’s a bit of a mess, the timing of some events have been shifted for more dramatic structure (I guess) and some characters are alive when the real people, who potentially should have had more of an effect on what was happening, were not. One gets the sense that this was Wilder’s pet project, his ode to Julius Ceasar, rather than a fully structured and more accurate historical novel. But as an ode, as a character study of Caesar himself at that point in his life, of why he was so disregarding of his safety, it is excellent and worth the read.

 

IronKing

To my shame, I had never heard of Druon or “The Accursed Kings” series until I got this novel cheap off Bookbub. And what a delightful surprise it is. The Iron King is historically accurate, its characters fleshed out and fun to read about, the drama intense in a story that, yet again, Hollywood could not have invented.

This book is the first of the series about the downfall of the Capetian Dynasty. This book is the beginning of the end. When Phillip of the Fair arrested the Templars in order to seize their treasure, he burned the leaders when they refused to sign confessions to the usual trumped up charges of heresy and sodomy wrung out of them after years (seriously, seven years) of torture. Druon uses the legend (not proven, but it started circulating shortly after their burning) of the Templar curse; that supposedly the Grand Master cursed Phillip and his family unto the 13th generation, his Keeper of the Seal (who trumped up the charges) and his puppet Pope in Avignon to give the novel the extra kick and create the theme. Hence “the Accursed Kings.”

But the truth is everything was in place for Phillip’s downfall before the Templars burned. The downfall of society when the worst aspects of “courtly love” were acted on by the brides of Phillip’s three sons. They committed adultery (or at least two of them did, enabled by the third), and were outted by Isabelle, Phillip’s daughter and consort of Edward II of England. (It has been noted that after that incident, the romances of the troubadours pretty much vanished from the landscape.) Obviously, this throws the characters and the country into some serious personal and political turmoil.

Which of course is always fun. I loved it, and am looking forward to reading the rest of the series.

 

Smoke

I have known of the YouTube series, “The Order of the Good Death” and her very funny and informative videos for years now. I did not discover she had written a book of her experiences in the mortuary industry until very recently. Of course, I immediately bought it.

This is fascinating book that swings easily from the rude realities of death to humorous anecdotes to poignant moments to pondering and personal insights and revelations.

Doughty is not merely a good storyteller, she also asks some of the “big questions” without harping on them or trying to “sound deep” herself. Often they come up in the course of the weirdness of her job. She is self effacing, acknowledges her initial naivete and mistakes, and guides us through the odd world of those who handle the dead.

It’s not anymore overtly “graphic” than a CSI episode, so if you can handle that, you can handle this book, which is definitely worth the read.

 

ArtinBlood

A decent mystery marred by the fact that Sherlock is seriously off his game. Sherlock is allowed *one* “Oh, I have been so stupid!” moment, not three or four of them. This means the mystery was actually not good enough to keep the character truly occupied, so the writer was reduced to PIS (Plot Induced Stupidity) to keep it going. However, the characterizations were good and enjoyably carried the story.

So it’s not bad, but it’s not great either.

 

Rescue Artist

One could almost call this the companion book Hupt’s The Museum of the Missing. In fact, the current front cover of the paperback for Hupt book is a picture of the crime scene of the case the Rescue Artist is constructed around: The 1994 theft of Edvard Munch’s The Scream. (Or one of them, at least.)

This is the police’s point of view, particularly how one detective who had become very experienced in recovering stolen art. This is how he infiltrated (for the umpteenth time) the world of stolen art and recovered The Scream. During the course of telling that story, we learn how this officer got into the game of recovering stolen art and the cases he was involved in. We learn about the odd world of stolen art, the mindset of the thieves (not nearly as meticulous, complex or even thinking long term as Hollywood imagines), to the odd places great works of art can end up (such as being used for currency in a heroin deal in Turkey). The existence of the fabled Thomas Crown/Dr. No connoisseur who would steal for their private enjoyment is debated. The stereotype is dismissed by the cynical police, but not by people in the world of art itself.

It’s a fascinating look into the world of stolen art from the people’s point of view, including interviews not only from police and members of the art dealing world, but criminals involved in art theft. (There is also a good, short, biography of Munch, his mindset, and how he came to paint The Scream.)

Restoree

So obviously as you can tell from the cover, not exactly hard SciFi here. It’s an interesting story of a human suddenly thrust into the political machinations of the ruling class of a different world. Taken at face value, it’s an entertaining, enjoyable book.

However, the characters were a bit flat and there were some parts that irked me. First, how the heroine is suddenly transformed from Plain Jane into the most beautifulist alien ev-VAR! At this jaded point, it’s a kind of sexist cliché (See: Twilight series). Second, the sexist world, bordering on neanderthal, she’s had fallen into and was perfectly happy in. Don’t get me wrong, she does have a vital, pivotal role in the story and plays it ably, especially considering her complete lack of cultural knowledge. But one can’t get over the fact that women are “claimed” by men practically on sight and their reason to exist in this society is to crank out kids. And the heroine is fine with that, because the man who claimed her is hot and sexy.

Now, I don’t define a “strong heroine” as necessarily one who has a sword in her hand. A strong woman can be a strong heroine without being an action hero. But when you looked at the overall picture of the world she just fell into by chance, *yeek*.

McCaffrey’s world building is interesting; what parts of society have advanced and what have not. She explains the advances by saying they were borrowed from their conquerors, though that doesn’t explain the medical advances or why someone who has undergone reconstructive surgery after injury is considered horrible. I mean, they’re still writing with stylus on permanent slabs of metal, but have extremely advanced medical technology? *head quirk*

But if you do not spend too much time pondering the deeper implications, it’s still an enjoyable romp.

 

I’ve also been reading Pirot mysteries in the interim for some light reading; some fantastic (Murder on the Orient Express, Cat Among the Pigeons), some not so much (One, Two, Buckle My Shoe-the ending for that came completely out of left field, she didn’t incorporate any, or at least enough, clues into the story).

 

 

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Why I love Raphael Sabatini

From The Life of Casare Borgia:

Without entering here into a dissertation upon the historical romance,
it may be said that in proper hands it has been and should continue to
be one of the most valued and valuable expressions of the literary art.
To render and maintain it so, however, it is necessary that certain
well-defined limits should be set upon the licence which its writers
are to enjoy; it is necessary that the work should be honest work; that
preparation for it should be made by a sound, painstaking study of the
period to be represented, to the end that a true impression may first be
formed and then conveyed. Thus, considering how much more far-reaching
is the novel than any other form of literature, the good results that
must wait upon such endeavours are beyond question. The neglect of
them--the distortion of character to suit the romancer's ends, the like
distortion of historical facts, the gross anachronisms arising out of
a lack of study, have done much to bring the historical romance into
disrepute. Many writers frankly make no pretence--leastways none that
can be discerned--of aiming at historical precision; others, however,
invest their work with a spurious scholarliness, go the length of citing
authorities to support the point of view which they have taken, and
which they lay before you as the fruit of strenuous lucubrations.

I have been reading his Historical Nights Entertainment, Parts 1 & 2, which are collections of vignettes of famous historical moments in a novel-like narrative. (Many of them were originally published individually in magazines.)  Scholarly and scrupulously honest, he prefaces each collection by what sources he could find and the choices me made in how he portrayed it.

And it is wonderful stuff.

BWA-Hahahahahaha!

Lady Danger by Glynnis Campbell

Deirdre of Rivenloch — a beautiful female warrior — has never had trouble turning away men, but when she marries the powerful Sir Pagan Cameliard to save her sister, Deirdre soon finds herself losing the battle over her heart…Born to the blade and raised to fear no one, Deirdre of Rivenloch never shies away from a fight and never turns her back on a threat to her land or her family. But she’s never met a man like Sir Pagan Cameliard, the bold and powerful knight who comes at the king’s command to make a marriage alliance with Rivenloch. To save her younger sister, Deirdre tricks Pagan into marrying her instead, and now she faces a new kind of enemy who crosses swords with her by day and lays siege to her heart by night.

First of all, “Deirdre” is an Irish Name. Irish and Scottish are NOT the same thing. Deirdre and Naoise or “Deirdre of the Sorrows,” is a famous and incredibly tragic Irish legend that would later (probably) become the template for Tristan and Isolde. (I was almost named “Deirdre” and my father nixed the idea because he did not want to curse me with that legacy.) According to the Amazon description of the novel series, Miss Rivenloch has sisters named “Helena” (Latin) and “Miriel”…which is fucking Tolkien Elvish! (Miriel was the wife of Finwae). “Meriel” was the form of “Muriel” in Scotland.

Secondly, no. No female warriors in early Medieval Scotland.

I get the fun and socially-necessary role breaking of the female warrior archetype. But it has become so common I begin to worry that society is losing sight of the idea that one does not have to wield a blade (and one could say take on a traditionally, stereotypical male role) in order to be “strong.” There were many strong women in the Middle Ages; Eleanor of Aquitaine, Hildegarde of Bingen, Margery Kempe, Isabella of France, Christine de Pizan, Joanna I of Naples. They just did not go onto the battlefield, even Scottish women. And the very rare ones that did, such as Eleanor’s daughter, Joan of England or Nicolaa de la Haye, did not actually swing a sword but led through strategy and tactics. Women, and men, do not have to be violent in order to show strength.

Three, no Cameliard. That’s the mythical kingdom in Wales or Cornwall that Arthur’s Guinevere came from.

But at least make him Sir Pagan OF Cameliard since it’s a place, not a family name.

(Of course, when I see that name, a small voice says “Canard” and “Sir Duck.”)

“Pagan” was actually a medieval male given name that survived until the 17th century when the term become loaded with its anti-christian implication.

Four, why would a Scot marry his daughter to an Englishman, thereby losing the family land to the English upon his death?

In short, I will not be reading this novel. The description alone was entertainment enough.

Side note: I was going to include a “marriage trick” in my novel (and I had a couple wonderfully funny scenes written…o.k., they were funny to me), but now I see how cliche’d it is in the historical romance genre, including horrible ones. I think I will kill that darling.

History, It’s Not What You Want It To Be

As I mentioned yesterday, I read Hild on my trip home (you can see the review on my Goodreads feed to the right) and while poking around to see if any historians had taken issue with it (none have that I can find),  I stumbled across this blog post.

“But it’s also going to be a discussion of historical fiction and how historical fiction is also speculative fiction and shares much more with science fiction and fantasy than may be immediately apparent….And to move back to my other point about historical fiction being speculative fiction: in the absence of working time machines, we can never truly know everything about the past.”

They are NOT the same thing.

“Speculative fiction is an umbrella term encompassing the more fantastical fiction genres, specifically science fiction, fantasy, horror fiction, weird fiction, supernatural fiction, superhero fiction, utopian and dystopian fiction, apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction, and alternate history in literature as well as related static, motion, and virtual arts.”

SciFi is about what might be. Fantasy is about what never was.

History is about what was.  Historical fiction writers (good historical fiction writers), base their work in a world and eras that actually existed. They know it existed because they have done the research. And while we may not be able to know *everything* about our more distant past, the historical and archaeological record provide a great deal of information.

Sure there are crap “historical fiction” writers that write about 18th century women who own businesses, carry swords and freely carry on with attractive gentlemen, but they are looking for the easy way out and show the problem the public has with approaching history, which is the idea that it can be whatever you want it to be.

Unfortunately, that creates a distrust in history itself. “Well, you don’t really know.” When yeah, we do. “You don’t really know George Washington would have been against political parties.” Yeah, we do.

You think reshaping history to suit one’s fantasies is not a serious issue? Where do you think propaganda comes from?

America was founded as Christian nation!

No, it wasn’t. Not only are the many of the Founding Fathers’ antipathy toward the Christian church and the possibility of it dominating a country’s government well documented, “God” only appears once in the Declaration of Independence where it is called “Nature’s God” (so if anything, the U.S. was founded as a Pagan nation!…I keed) and is equated with the very vague term of “Creator.” The divine does not appear at all in the U.S. Constitution. Notably, “Christ” appears in neither. Moreover there is 1797 Treaty of Tripoli which was voted in unanimously by Congress while containing Article 11: “As the government of the United States is not, in any sense,  founded on the Christian religion…” Sure, Christianity as a provider of founding general principles was *discussed* by some in the Federalist Papers, but all attempts to inject as a controlling force into Federal and State law were rebuffed. Many Founding Fathers were Christian, but they understood the dangers of letting a religion rule the people and set up the wall of separation between church and state to protect the rights of all.

So as you see, despite it being classed as a “liberal art,” History is a science which deals in provable facts in the contemporary historical records and in the acid test of the Archaeological record. Do historians fill in the gaps in those facts sometimes? Yes, but with hypothesis and theories drawn from existing evidence. They do not make it up wholesale.

A historical fiction writer may fill in the dimensions and details of  a distant culture or a real person from the historical record, inject fictional characters minor roles and add minor events such as private discussions that might have taken place, but they are basing those characters and their story in the real world that was.

So unless you want to class ALL fiction as “speculative fiction” Historical fiction is not speculative.

As an addendum, the sad truth is too many people learn history from fiction (films, TV and fiction books) rather than non-fiction. Altering it to suit a desired narrative eliminates history’s vital role in our lives, here and now: To teach us the mistakes of our past that we may avoid them in our future. So while we understand the need of certain mediums to compress events to fit in a certain time frame (films for instance), the Arts have a duty to the people to get the essential facts right.

See further comments in the Footnotes.