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between4walls

"I was always a mad comet..." Wilfred Owen

 

Publishers Weekly reviewer.

Eastern Approaches- Fitzroy Maclean

Eastern Approaches (Penguin World War II Collection) - Fitzroy MacLean

A tripartite memoir of intrigue, travel, and military adventure, relating the author's experiences as a diplomat in the 1930's USSR, as a member of the early SAS (part of the UK Special Forces) in WWII North Africa, and finally as an important liaison to the Partisans in Yugoslavia, his two previous experiences providing the background for this capstone mission.

 

The early part of the book is largely concerned with his travels in Soviet Central Asia. This section was probably much more interesting when the area was largely closed to foreigners; his descriptions are fairly stereotypical, though as someone who knows little about the area, they had some interest. Maclean can be quite the stereotypical Englishman himself in his generalizations and attitude to foreigners, at one point saying he's always found it helpful to shout when there's a language barrier. However, this isn't so bad as it could be, as he is genuinely interested in the culture and history of the areas he visits throughout the book.

 

This first section is the dullest, but it does show two strengths that continue throughout the book- his descriptions of logistics, of how to get places, dodge pursuit, and carry supplies, and his capsule histories of the individuals he meets on his journeys, which are interesting and telling. It also has a great set-piece description of the Trial of the Twenty-One and Bukharin's confession. It's clear from the narrative why it was this particular speech that inspired Darkness at Noon, though given that the novel came out before this book, I wondered if there was some retrospective influence on Maclean's conclusions. Either way, it's a tense, atmospheric piece of writing.

 

The second section was surprisingly interesting to me as a person who has little interest in the military. It mainly describes two raids on Benghazi (a city which a few years ago was a lot less famous!). He shows the truth of the old proverb that combat is ninety-percent waiting and ten-percent sheer terror. The amount of preparation and travel time behind brief and unsuccessful or narrowly successful raids is amazing, as is the way in which missions that fail in their original goals can still contribute positively to the larger strategy. This is the most fast-paced, absorbing section.

 

The final section is the most detailed and interesting. Maclean parachutes into Yugoslavia as an envoy to the Partisans (as an Italian, I'm accustomed to calling all resistance groups "partisans," and so find the Yugoslavia usage in which it refers to a specific, Communist-led group confusing), and helps persuade the British to switch support from another, less-effective resistance group, the Chetniks, to the Partisans (though according to Wiki, intel from decoded signals was the main factor in the switch in support). He then coordinates a massive support effort for the Partisans, staying in Yugoslavia with them for most of the time till the fall of Belgrade. This section is fascinating for obvious reasons, though it's clear that Maclean idealizes the Partisans and especially Tito (understandably given the circumstances under which he interacted with them). The descriptions of the Balkans are also a bit stereotypical. There's another interesting set-piece on the history of Yugoslav dynastic rivalry, with lots of dry humor. The earlier thread about logistics becomes deeper and the capsule histories of various Yugoslavs he meets add interest ("It was an exaggeration," complains a passed-over prince about the scandal that knocked him out of the line of succession, "to claim that he had killed his valet."). This section is a bit slower than the previous one, being about a long, slow build-up rather than a specific mission. But it serves as an appropriate culmination for the entire book, what all the previous elements had been leading up to.

 

The book is well-written and well-structured, with the ending bringing the story full circle. Its main weaknesses are that the least interesting section comes first, that Maclean's descriptions can be overly stereotyped or idealizing and thus less interesting, and that there isn't much "character development" (in quotes as this is nonfiction) with it being hard to keep track even of recurring characters. It's clearly a personal memoir rather than history with an attempt at objectivity, but in general I find memoirs more interesting. I wouldn't reread this book and it didn't live up to my high expectations, but I'm glad I read it and recommend it to those interested in irregular warfare and in WWII resistance movements.

upcoming hiatus + new year's resolution

I will not be blogging much, if at all, for the rest of the year. So here's what's up, reading-wise.

 

Continuing my journey through Elizabeth Bear's backlist, I just finished her excellent debut, Hammered. I'll review the trilogy it begins as a whole when I've read the other two books.

 

As far as current reading goes, I'm not really reading Bitterblue at the moment, and am finding Hild a slow read, but fully intend to finish it this year. Frederica should be finished fairly soon, and then I think I'm taking a break from Heyer- there's a point where they blur together and can't be enjoyed as much as they deserve.

 

Unread but next on the deck are Scardown (the sequel to Hammered), Fitzroy Maclean's Eastern Approaches, Julius Fucik's Report from the Gallows (I had a lot of trouble getting ahold of the less common, uncensored edition of this, as well as avoiding giving money to the publishers, whose politics I don't share, but have finally managed to order a secondhand copy with the assistance of a relative in the UK), and Ippolito Nievo's Confessions of an Italian/The Castle of Fratta (which may end up being read next year, but which I am looking forward to a great deal/flipping through in my spare time).

 

My big New Year's resolution is to read War and Peace. Being a Russian major, I probably should have done this already, and I generally like big thick novels (Les Miserables, The Brothers Karamazov, and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix are all favorites), and I've seen two movies of it and skipped around a lot in the book (Andrei's parts are interesting), but somehow I never could just sit down and read it straight through.

 

So come the New Year, I will be blogging my way through War and Peace. Watch this space.

The Russian Revolution 1917/ Notes on the Revolution- N. N. Sukhanov

The Russian Revolution, 1917; A Personal Record - N. N. SUKHANOV

"Revolution!- highly improbable! Revolution! -everyone knew this was only a dream- a dream of generations and long laborious decades...I repeated after them mechanically:
'Yes, the beginning of the revolution.'"

 

This is a very, very good book.

 

Sukhanov was a Marxist journalist in pre-revolutionary St. Petersburg, and when the revolution began, he became part of the Executive Committee of the Petrograd Soviet and spent several months at the heart of the revolution. This account is abridged from his over-two-thousand-page, as-yet-untranslated account, Notes on the Revolution. It still runs to 668 pages, and is consistently interesting through all of them. And consistently sarcastic, as he has a low opinion both of the liberals and their socialist allies like Kerensky (whom he really has it in for), and of the Bolsheviks. Even when he clearly admires a person, such as the Menshevik leader Martov, he still has an almost too keen eye for their weak points. This all makes him an excellent observer.

"Miliukov began to speak animatedly, and apparently with complete sincerity.

'And for that matter- you surely don't think we are really carrying on some kind of bourgeois class policy of our own, that we are taking a definite line of some kind! Nothing of the sort. We are simply compelled to see to it that everything doesn't go to pieces once and for all...'

Miliukov, recognized by Europe as the head of Russian imperialism....one of the inspirers of the World War, the Russian Foreign Minister...Miliukov, a highly cultivated man, a great scholar and a professor- didn't know he was speaking prose!"

[A reference to Moliere's The Bourgeois Gentleman. "Good heavens! For more than forty years I have been speaking prose without knowing it."]

 

On the other hand, he can be quite condescending toward a long list of people- women, soldiers, peasants, the liberal intelligentsia, the Socialist Revolutionaries (at the time, the largest political party in Russia). This is grating, and it is amusing in light of the general condescension toward women that his wife was letting the Bolsheviks hold important meetings in their flat without his knowledge.

 

He has a very keen eye for detail- are the trams running? What was the weather like? Who was trying to get hold of whom on the telephone? Where could a person snatch a few hours of sleep in the midst of momentous events? (Answer: in a gallery of the White Hall, on a fur coast laid out on the floor.) Reading his account, you feel as if you are living through the events, or at the very least receiving detailed letters from a regular correspondent as they go on.

 

It helped my enjoyment of the book that the main points of his analysis hold up quite well, though the book was written in the late 1910's and early 1920's - that World War One was a catastrophe and that those liberals and socialists who wanted to continue it were criminally irresponsible, and that the Bolsheviks, while right on the war, were lying about everything else and using the slogan "All power to the Soviets" to seize absolute power for their Central Committee. However, sometimes it is very hard to understand what he means by socialism or what kind of program he supported, as he tends to assume the reader knows what he means by "Marxist" and "anarchist" in reference to different policies.

 

There are a number of hilarious anecdotes in the book, whether in his descriptions of the hypocrisy and stupidity of various politicians, the habits of the local anarchist group, or the confusion that can occur in a revolution. For example, the story of how the Menshevik Dan convinces a pro-Bolshevik regiment to defend the Mensheviks and SR's (then the majority in the Soviet) during the July Days, when the soldiers had come to overthrow these groups.


"The regiment, of its own free will, had performed a difficult march to defend the revolution? Splendid! The revolution, in the person of the central organ of the Soviet, was really in danger....And Dan personally, with the cooperation of the officers of the 'insurrectionary' regiment, poster some of these mutinous soldiers as sentries...for the defense of those against whom the insurrection was aimed. Yes, such things happen in history!"

 

My only regret about this book is that the rest of it is untranslated. It was really a fascinating and highly educational read. When it came out, even those who disagreed with its point of view (the Communists, for example, since it quite openly points out their dictatorial qualities) acknowledged its importance. If you're interested in the Russian Revolution, it's a must read. Otherwise, it's a good guide to any author writing about a revolution, showing the day-by-day improvisation of the people who suddenly find themselves in charge, the machinations of politicians, and the shifting mood in the street. Absolutely full of telling details.

 

"'Let's sit down at the table,' said the Ministers, and sat down, in order to look like busy statesmen."

SPOILER ALERT!

King John- William Shakespeare

King John - William Smallwood,  R. L. Shakespeare

For one of the less-beloved histories, this was quite funny and entertaining. It was a lot less dull than Henry VI Part I and moved along briskly. The Bastard is a fantastic character and Hubert and John himself both interesting. The supporting characters, from Constance to Arthur to the Dauphin to to Salisbury to Pandulph, are consistently and distinctly characterized.

 

One thing that I think people miss is that the first half of the play (everything up till John suborns Hubert to kill Arthur) is hilarious, and deliberately so. The whole business with Angiers and the papal legate should have the audience rolling on the floor, to say nothing of the Bastard's antics. The play takes its cue from him- capable of seriousness, but always with an edge of humor.

 

Highlights include anything with the Bastard (who banters with Eleanor of Aquitaine in his first scene!), Hubert and John's interactions, anything where John is a blatant hypocrite, and Constance's "I am not mad. This hair I tear is mine" speech. And the bit where the Bastard stops the lords from murdering Hubert and then turns out to wrongly suspect Hubert himself.

Not top-grade Shakespeare but not as bad as its reputation either, and not the worst of the histories.

 

The New Penguin edition was annoying in that it had endnotes instead of footnotes, requiring constant flipping back and forth. It only cost a dollar secondhand, so I couldn't say no, but if you have a choice, go with Signet instead.

Angel Eyes- Nicole Luiken

Angel Eyes (Violet Eyes) - Nicole Luiken

This is the third book in the series that began with Violet Eyes and Silver Eyes. Each of the books stands alone in terms of plot (I started with Silver Eyes, book two), but not in terms of character or worldbuilding. The plots involve claustrophobic battles of wits as Angel and Mike, genetically engineered superhumans, figure out the puzzles set up by their antagonists and end up one step ahead of them by figuring out their intentions as well.


The first two books were published by Simon and Schuster, but they must have dropped the series as, after a long gap, Angel Eyes was self-published. Unlike the other two books, it included Mike's point of view as well as Angel's. This allowed for some interesting effects, such as the tense gap between Mike getting the information that would let Angel figure out who the bad guy is and Angel getting that information. It also allowed Mike to have more of a character arc. However, it also lessened the intensity and tautness by comparison to previous books, where we were stuck in Angel's point of view as she tried to figure things out. While the multiple points of view worked really well with the plot of Angel Eyes, I felt that this meant it was missing something by comparison to the other two books.

 

Another problem was that the stakes were lower- in previous books they were playing for identity, sanity, memory, and all sort of existential stakes. Here, they're fighting for their lives, and even the introduction of clones and VR doesn't bring the identity issues to the same level as the other two books. Generally, I thought it would have benefited from professional editing, but I would rather have a self-published sequel than none.

 

There were also many positive elements. I really liked revisiting some of the secondary characters from Violet Eyes, such as Angel's rich friend Maryanne, fighting to prove herself, and Angel and Mike's rivals/fellow superhumans Leona and Vincent, who share an intense but platonic bond. The puzzles were clever and I enjoyed watching Angel beat the system and help others do the same. Also, the lower stakes made sense in that part of the plot is about Mike and Angel's relationship. Having endured serious traumas before, can they deal with the day-to-day stressors of different career choices, suspicions of cheating, and lengthy separations? It's not a surprise that they can, but it explains the different focus of the story.

 

The pacing is fantastic- I finished it in 24 hours and was in suspense the whole time. It also ties together the two previous books, which were very different in their settings. Finally, the secondary characters had plenty of surprises and one who had seemed villainous turns out to be an interesting character dealing with a tough situation.

 

Their were times when I got an almost Objectivist feel from some elements- Angel worries about others stealing her work, villains want to bring down the superhumans because they can't compete with them, Angel wants to be left alone to start a business, and the character who rejects the superior Angel's guidance is annoying and loses- but this is mainly from Angel's point of view, and considering both the identity of the villains -hate criminals and

a billionaire entrepreneur

(show spoiler)

 

-and emphasis on the unfairness of a system of debt peonage, the ultimate message is way more complicated than that. Especially since Angel shows quite a bit of altruism.

 

Apparently there might be a fourth book and if so, I hope be get more Leona and Vincent, as they fascinate me and I was happy to see them again in this book.

If you read and liked the previous books and want more Angel and Mike, read this. If you haven't read the others, try Violet Eyes, which is a suspenseful, creepy, wonderfully intense little novel.

SPOILER ALERT!

The Wicked and the Just- J. Anderson Coats

The Wicked and the Just - J. Anderson Coats

YA historical novel- reads like a combination of Karen Cushman's Catherine Called Birdy and Donna Jo Napoli's Hush: An Irish Princess' Tale. I'd recommend it to kids ages 12-15, both if they're interested in medieval times and if they're interested in more modern issues of colonialism.

 

The language is beautiful, a combination of modern imagery and archaic words and ways of marking time and space. Half is told from the point of view of a self-centered, motherless English girl, Cecily, who moves to Wales after her childhood home is lost in a lawsuit. Her father is attracted by the opportunities privileges given to burgesses (free townspeople) in Wales, but these same privileges grate on the Welsh, who plan rebellion as they see English settlers monopolizing trade and power. Some of how this is shown is very well-done, such as the way the English force everyone to trade in their market and fine anyone who trades outside, but at other times the division is too Manichean- no mention is made, outside of the historical note, of Welsh landowners, for example, only English ones, and the English of the town sometimes come off as cartoonish in their villainy. On the other hand, the story draws some very interesting parallels with modern colonialism and also shows the feudal system beyond the simplified serf-lord aspect.

 

The other half is told from the point of view of the fierce, vengeful Gwenhwyfar, who works as a servant in Cecily's household. Her father died fighting the English and so her family lost their land. Gwenhwyfar resents Cecily, worries about her younger brother and ill mother, longs for revenge, and rejects her former fiance's ideas of trying to gain access to the privileges. Said fiance is a very interesting character, though the way even the Welsh rebels seem to agree with his idea that eventually the English will return and the Welsh should try to get the same privileges bothered me. What kind of rebels assume while they're winning that they have no chance in the long term?

I at first disliked how the voices were differentiated by Gwenhwyfar dropping the word "I" from her sentences, but it paid off when the rebellion comes and suddenly Gwenhwyfar uses the word "I" again, feels like a full person again.

The girls' grief for their long-dead parents and later for the loss of their remaining parents- Cecily's father is lynched by rebels for his role in enforcing the millers' monopoly and Gwenhwyfar's mother dies of her illness- is specific and devastating, and from the rebellion onward, the book is very intense. The parallels and contrasts between the girls and between the English and the Welsh are too neat and some characters are unrealistically clairvoyant about how the situation between the Welsh and English will resolve in the long-term. But both the medieval social/feudal situation and the lives of women are explored with unusual subtlety, and the setting and conflict are an unusual and interesting choice.

 

Edit: I forgot to add that if you're interested in the spinning/sewing/women's work/clothing being more valuable in those days, there is a lot here about sewing as work, as a means of self-expression, and as a social activity, and about the value of cloth and clothing.

Cry Murder! In A Small Voice

Cry Murder! in a Small Voice - Greer Gilman

A novella for Elizabethan/Jacobean drama nerds. The language is deliberately difficult, and in the second half I was frequently unsure what exactly was happening, and the ending was unsatisfying, but this was still a fascinating read. Lots of Shakespeare, and a surprising number of Marlowe references ("...his Lucan still unfinished, plays unthought of. Overtaken: and would never now be thirty. Zeno's poet. An were I that witch of Thessaly, I'd conjure Kit and say, translate me."). Even before I read the acknowledgements, the influence of Sonya Taaffe (author of the marvelous poem "Lucan in Averno") was clear. Everything is better with Pharsalia references.

 

But this is the Ben Jonson show, as Ben goes up against the Earl of Oxford, with a stopover in Venice, in a fight that appeals to the grieving father in him. The reason the ending bugged me is that it had nothing whatsoever to do with the protagonist, but his storyline and character arc are wrapped up nonetheless.

 

The story is chock-full of period allusions, in-jokes, and references (for example, the secondary antagonist named Nightborn is pretty clearly a twist on Edward II's Lightborn). It's also full of wordplay, and replicating Elizabethan wordplay is certainly no easy task. Those aspects, as well as Ben Jonson as a fully realized point-of-view character, make it well worth the price of admission for fans of Renaissance drama.

The Just City- Jo Walton, The Philosopher Kings- Jo Walton

The Just City - Jo Walton The Philosopher Kings - Jo Walton

These are in draft (thus the blank green covers), so I'm not reviewing them, but I cannot possibly sum them up better than the author did:

Book 1- "Incarnate Olympians, in Plato's Republic, on Atlantis, with robots!"

Book 2- "Who stole the head of the Winged Victory of Samothrace?"

 

Intrigued?

 

Shattered Pillars- Elizabeth Bear

Shattered Pillars - Elizabeth Bear

Before I discuss this books specifically, I want to give some context. Elizabeth Bear is one of my favorite contemporary authors, and I've read and loved many of her books, including two of her previous fantasy series, The Edda of Burdens and The Promethean Age. Shattered Pillars is book two of a trilogy, The Eternal Sky, book three of which comes out next year.

 

I bought book one, Range of Ghosts, on the strength of Bear's previous writing. It garnered an unusual amount of acclaim, but I just couldn't get into it. Literally couldn't get past the first page, and nothing I saw skimming through really interested me. I was disappointed that this book, which seemed to be getting the most attention of anything the author had written, just didn't interest me.

However, after reading a preview chapter of Shattered Pillars, featuring the coronation of one of the characters as queen of a deathly kingdom, I decided to buy it, and read it without reading book one.

 

Some of the same problems remained- main characters Timur and Samarkar, particularly Samarkar, just don't interest me as much as they did most reviewers. Unlike previous protagonists of Bear's books, I didn't feel an emotional connection with them and felt I was learning more about their world than their characters. Also, where the first book lost me with long journeys, this one sometimes bored me with repeated assassination attempts (a hazard of basing the villains on the historical Assassin cult) that came to nothing and weren't really suspenseful. After the umpteenth time our heroes fended off attackers who far outnumbered them, I was annoyed, though a reveal at the end provides an interesting explanation of why they always escaped.

However, there was a lot to like and enough to make me eager to read book three next year. Number one is Edene, made queen of the poisonous, abandoned realm of Erem as she flees her kidnappers. Wandering into a place where time loses its meaning and where life is nocturnal as the sun kills, she becomes a strong fairy-tale queen, clothed in "'armor,' she said, 'and flame.'" But it remains unclear how much of this was intended by her kidnappers. Edene and Erem are what makes this book stand out, magic-and-plot-wise, from other epic fantasies.

 

The Asian-inspired setting has been much remarked on as something unusual in the field of epic fantasy, but much less remarked on is the fact that the Central-Asian-equivalent hero, Timur, is half-African-equivalent, a bold choice. This is also very much a book that remembers that the Middle East is a part of Asia. Though I generally prefer less obvious real-world inspiration in secondary-world fantasy, Bear has clearly done a lot of research to create a world with a vivid geography and material culture. I'm not the target audience for the focus on material culture or long descriptions generally, but it's definitely an important and well-done component. Some of her twists on our world are interesting, such as an Islam-equivalent that reveres a female God and prophet but is still used by many to justify misogyny. However, I hope that in either book one or book three there are more Rahazeen (one of the sects of that religion) who are not Assassin-equivalents, as the subtext is weird given real-world sectarianism. I am pretty confident that this will happen in one of the other two books.

The writing is beautiful, and if sometimes the copyediting was sloppy or the author was too clearly straining for an unusual or unique sentence (the word "lofted" popped up over and over again), it made the many descriptive passages a pleasure to read, in contrast to many other writers. Her style is especially well suited to describing the eerie realm of Erem, the uninhabited Shattered Pillars of the title, or the citadel of the Assassin-equivalents.

 

Finally, while I didn't find Timur and Samarkar's thread that interesting until near the end, a subplot involving a plague and political intrigue in Samarkar's home city, involving a different set of characters, definitely gripped me. It catered more toward my own narrative preferences (more plagues and politics, fewer hit men). The point of view of the twins Saadet and Shahruz, antagonists to our heroes, are also included, and Saadet was the only character besides Edene whom I was really invested in. I liked the way these subplots and the Erem subplot were threaded throughout the book and how everything came to a head at the end, promising a packed and fascinating book three.

 

I can't wait to see how everything ties up in book three, especially with Edene and the mysteries of Erem, as well as how the twins' plotline resolves, but I don't know if I'll try to finish book one until I've seen how the trilogy ends.

SPOILER ALERT!

Sylvester, or the Wicked Uncle- Georgette Heyer

Sylvester: or The Wicked Uncle - Georgette Heyer

I find myself without a lot to say about this book as a whole, just some scattered points.

1. The idea that a father could leave a kid to someone other than the kid's mom, and people are happy about this since anyway kid's mom is not a very good parent and rather stupid, and the actually more disturbing aspect that kid's mom cannot live with kid if she remarries, is all fascinating in a sick way (and presumably historically accurate).

 

2. I've read two reviews that doubt that the main couple, Phoebe and Sylvester, will "do anything but bicker" or that suggest their relationship probably won't work out. I think quite the reverse- Phoebe baits Sylvester because she isn't afraid of him. This is explicitly set up in terms of the shrinking violet she is around her abusive stepmother. She argues with Sylvester because he might actually listen- unlike her weak and uncaring father, with whom she quickly gives up the fight.

 

3. Sylvester's mom is a great character and her scenes with her son enchanting. The transition from Sylvester wanting above all to find a girl who will please his mother to wondering how on earth he should know what his mom would think of his beloved is clearly saying something, but I'm not sure what. Especially since his mother finally does the wooing for him. There's something a bit Freudian going on, highlighted by the fact that both Sylvester's mother and Phoebe are writers (and the only people who see his big flaw). However, Phoebe is totally different in her lack of poise and her bluntness where the mother tiptoes or delicately manipulates. Finally, there's a contrast to Phoebe's dead mother (whom she takes after) and her abusive stepmother. All in all, I didn't fully understand what was going on with this narrative thread and parallel, but I enjoyed it.

4. The ending reveal of why Sylvester is as reserved and cool as he is and the subtle continued grief over and repercussions from the death of Sylvester's brother are very skilfully handled.

 

5. I also liked the friendship between Phoebe and Tom, and the way having a best friend of the opposite sex in a context where unmarried men and women aren't supposed to interact unsupervised much is explored.

Under Western Eyes - Joseph Conrad

"The man who says he has no illusions has at least that one."

Joseph Conrad, Under Western Eyes

SPOILER ALERT!

Faro's Daughter- Georgette Heyer

Faro's Daughter - Georgette Heyer

I picked this up after reading Mari Ness's review, and am quite glad I did. It's a slim book (~280 pages) which doesn't flag for a minute.

The plot: Deb, who works in a gambling house, is the object of the naive Lord Mablethorpe's affections. His cousin Ravenscar tries to bribe her not to marry him. Deb never intended to do so, but outraged by Ravenscar's assumptions, she decides to pretend she will as revenge. Deb and Ravenscar's battle escalates to blackmail and kidnapping as the two prideful and combative antagonists gradually come to respect one another.


I really liked both protagonists, though Deb is a little flighty for my taste, with her wild threats of boiling people in oil and her lack of an actual plan to restore the family finances, though she definitely knows what cannot be honorably done to restore them. But the way she both overawes and takes care of the younger characters, rescuing a young girl from a forced marriage, shows that she has some real substance.

 

Of course, being a romance heroine, she can't actually like her work in a casino, but this actually makes her look better compared to her overspending brother, who looks down on the casino while spending its money. She frequently quotes Beatrice ("Oh would that I were a man") as she wishes to fight Ravenscar, thus backing up my (unoriginal) theory that the romance genre is descended for Much Ado About Nothing.

 

The main pair make stupid decisions as they become increasingly caught up in their contest, in a very recognizable way. They ultimately prove a match for each other in both cunning and honor, with Deb actually gaining the final victory, though Ravenscar shows enough magnanimity to be a worthy opponent.

 

Ravenscar himself is a jerk, but a principled jerk who doesn't much care what others think of him, and he does his best to protect his cousin and sister without spying on them or curbing their freedom. His cool, sarcastic defiance when Deb kidnaps him hits my narrative sweet spot.


The side characters are all entertaining, from Ravenscar's playful and flirtatious sister to young Mablethorpe to Deb's older friend, the unsavory but loving Lucius Kennet. I was slightly disturbed by the ending of Kennet's thread- Deb is once again mad at him for overstepping the bounds of honor after she basically gave him a blank check to get revenge, and we don't see an interaction between them on the subject as the book ends a few pages after Deb learns what he's done. I hope they stay friends as while he's a slippery character, he clearly cares for Deb and his misdeeds are mainly in the service of her feud. As well, I was somewhat uneasy with the way Deb leads Mablethorpe on just to get revenge on his cousin, though she makes sure it turns out for the best for him and he's amused and relieved when he finds out what she did.

 

It's nice to see such vividly defined and unconventional women. Ravenscar's sister flirts recklessly with multiple men and is not ruined. Though she needs some guidance from her brother, she retains a sense of fun even as she becomes more mature and proper. Deb gets to rescue of the book's damsel-in-distress, and while said damsel falls in love with the man who helped rescue her, the readers know who was really responsible for her salvation. And the main romantic pair combine a fierce competitive urge with an appealing magnanimity.

 

Highly recommended.

 

Lord Byron's political snark

"'God save the king!' It is a large economy
In God to save the like; but if he will
Be saving, all the better; for not one am I
Of those who think damnation better still:
I hardly know too if not quite alone am I
In this small hope of bettering future ill
By circumscribing, with some slight restriction,
The eternity of Hell's hot jurisdiction."

Lord Byron, The Vision of Judgment

Clockwork Prince

Clockwork Prince (Infernal Devices) - Cassandra Clare

Just finished Clockwork Prince; surprisingly excellent. This is definitely a book two that does not suffer from mid-trilogy problems. The protagonist, Tessa, is oblivious for romance-plot reasons, and rather characterless by comparison with Will and Jem, but those two are quite vivid and likeable, and the Lightwood brothers become interestingly sympathetic. Loving the Swinburne quotes!

 

So far, The Infernal Devices is a far better series than The Mortal Instruments, which I gave up on after book three.