A triumph of imagination and dedication, Dreaming the Eagle is the first novel in a historical fiction quadrilogy on Boudica, warrior-leader of the Eceni tribe. Beginning at age twelve, we watch the young Breaca transform into Boudica, the warrior-queen, as she and her tribe weather the storms of the world they have known being reshaped under their very feet by Roman invaders. While keeping rituals, searching dreams for guidance, and honoring their gods of land and fauna these pre-British tribes struggle against challenges none of them could have predicted. Violent battles. Gruesome wounds. Treachery. Deaths. Torture for Roman captives. Bloodshed is regular and I would class it as mild to moderately graphic. Infrequently the violence is directed at children. If you are not troubled by that, then the writing is lyrical and descriptive, the characters richly complex and the whole story will have you flipping pages as fast as you can. The peoples of pre-Roman Britain live again in Scott’s words.
Briggs plumps up her Alpha & Omega series with another offering readers will want to devour in a day. We rejoin Charles and Anna Cornick keeping an eye on their werewolf pack while the leader, Bran, Charles’ father, is away sorting out some other troubles. Trouble stops in to visit when the volatile, fragile wolves living on the edge of the pack for the support and comfort Bran brings them are targeted by mysterious kidnappers. Anna and Charles rally the pack to defend the vulnerable wolves, but they also need to piece together who could even know about these wildlings, as they are called, let alone what this ineffable someone wants them for. As fast-paced as ever, Briggs keeps the action humming until the last page. As is fairly standard with Briggs, there is minimal, somewhat descriptive violence, and brief mentions of sexual assault and violence towards a child.
Exciting isn’t quite the right word to describe this book, but it was certainly difficult to put down. It starts with Jonas, just days before his idyllic community will hold the yearly December Ceremony marking all of the children turning a year older; this year Jonas will be partaking in the Ceremony of Twelve and receiving his Assignment. He will be informed of the career that has been selected for him and embark upon a regime of training. Jonas is different. He is chosen as his community’s new Receiver, a mysterious position few know anything about. When he begins his training with The Giver, he soon begins to see his community in a new light. To see the things it is lacking. And while his work with The Giver and his Assignment introduce him to capabilities he never suspected, when the unexpected happens and he has to try to save someone he loves, will he be strong enough?
The unhappy ending to every story ever written. Because this time we are talking about the women who’ve been refrigerated, a term coined by Gail Simone to refer to the trope of destroying a female comic book character to further the plot-line of the male protagonist; which started a discussion about how when “bad things” happen to male superheros they are frequently returned to their original status but female superheroes are not, and about how women characters are being used as plot devices for male protagonists instead of fully-rounded characters in their own right. Valente has created a book where we finally hear these women telling their own stories. She weaves all of these tropes, all of these classic deaths, into new tales and has the woman tell her own story, about her dreams and aspirations and wants and rage over being demoted from the protagonist in her own story to the supporting cast in someone else’s. At being “food for a super hero.” (144)
Comes with the a milder dose of the standard selection of comic book violence: murders, mentions of rape, abuse, and assault, and the death of a child.
When nineteen year old Charlie St. Clair finds herself momentarily unattended by her mother as they dock for an overnight stay in England on their way to a clinic in Switzerland at the end of World War II, she seizes the moment and her freedom and boards a taxi for 10 Hampson Street, Pimlico, London. It’s the address of one Evelyn Gardiner, the last person to have information on the whereabouts of Charlie’s beloved cousin Rose, who disappeared while in France during the Second World War. Eve was part of a network of female spies embedded in German occupied France during the first world war, feeding tidbits of information to British brass and trying their best to turn the tide of the war. Now she lives alone in London, trying to drown her nightmares and bitterness in alcohol. Charlie succeeds in persuading Eve to help find Rose and the two of them set off for France. Quinn alternates chapters; one narrated by Charlie and set in 1947 will be followed by one narrated by Eve and set in 1915. It’s very well constructed and not difficult to keep track of the plot despite bouncing around in both time and space. There won’t be time for you to forget what happened in the previous chapter, because you won’t want to put this book down until you’ve turned the very last page. Quinn has crafted an enthralling, fictionalized account of the real-world, women-run spy network that existed during World War I, with just enough romance and intrigue stirred in to lighten the darkness of the wartime passages. It’s a great book.
Sensitive readers should be aware that there are instances of violence, torture, mentions of rape and coercive sex, slut shaming, abortion, drug use, and gun violence.
Combining powerhouses of Gothic literature Radcliffe and Walpole with the insightful parody of the Gothic tale that is Austen’s Northanger Abbey, this helpful text could stand proudly alongside any English Literature coursebook, while being dramatically more engaging. I had been wanting to read each of these books for quite some time; seeing the three of them in one volume at the library seduced me to depart from my themed reviews and I am delighted to have seized the opportunity. Here’s a brief overview of the separate novels:
Only the linear nature of time prevents The Castle of Otranto being the bizarre lovechild of Shakespeare’s A Comedy of Errors and every haunted castle story every written. This weirdly comic tale of an ambitious family whose oversized birds finally come home to roost can’t quite decide if it wants readers to laugh or cry, so it mooshes together mistaken identities with murders and aims to achieve both at once. I’m hoping Walpole was inventing the Gothic genre when he wrote this.
My one disappointment in this collection relates to The Mysteries of Udolpho: space constraints necessitated the version included here be abridged quite heavily. The full story runs 300 000 words over four volumes; about half the length of War and Peace or Atlas Shrugged, roughly as long as Middlemarch, and about six times the length of Fahrenheit 451. Pruning was justified, but disconcerting. If you pay attention to the tiny printing on the cover and the specific chapters that make up each individual volume, you will notice when something has been omitted. If, like me, you are bellyflopping into the body of the text, you are presented with a choppy, confusing story that changes countries and secondary characters in the time it took you to flip a page. We meet the St. Aubert family in their bucolic cabin in the French countryside, and saunter along with Monsieur St. Aubert and daughter Emily as the duo travel to the seaside in the hopes of restoring St. Aubert senior’s flagging health. The wheel of fortune turns and Emily is deposited unceremoniously with the unscrupulous, mendacious Montoni family deep in the Apennines, in the secluded, crumbling Udolpho castle, where who knows what creeping horrors await her? Certainly not us, that part got edited out. The editors smoosh on an ending of sorts, but if you’ve never read The Mysteries of Udolpho before, this chopped up offering may leave you unsatisfied.
Northanger Abbey is a delight. Our staunchly average heroine, Catherine Morland, adores Gothic novels (she’s reading The Mysteries of Udolpho) and hopes with all her heart to have a Gothic adventure of her own one day. When she joins her friends Eleanor and Henry Tilney at their home, her determination to see an eerie portent in every cabinet and a mystery down every well-lit hallway brings her sharply up against good sense and rationality as Austen subverts the genre. It’s an excellent conclusion to this collection of Gothic works, and yet another example of Austen’s genius.
An incredible book. Walker has crafted a heart-breaking, heart-filling story that captivates you from first page to last. Despite assaults and abuse from parents and husband, Celie stands “bloody, but unbowed” throughout her childhood, unwanted marriage, and finally sees the slow growth of her own heart from a forgotten seed into a magnificent tree. Despite this being a story built around child abuse, domestic violence, sexual assault, and the millions of everyday griefs that filled a black woman’s life in the early 1900’s, Walker has presented us with a work is not just uplifting, but redemptive. If you are in a place where you are able to read books that deal with the content warnings I’ve listed, then I can not recommend The Color Purple strongly enough.
Two women are missing. Private eye Philip Marlowe is hired by the wealthy husband of the one, Derace Kingsley, to track her down after he goes a whole month without hearing from her. The other, Muriel Chess, falls into Marlowe’s lap, so to speak, when her husband chances across her body in the lake of the remote mountain village where they live. Muriel Chess and Crystal Kingsley were both last seen in the same place and on the same day, but beyond that and their passing acquaintance with each other there is nothing tying these two women together. Chandler’s stripped down writing and simple sentences drag Marlowe through the morass he’s landed in and by the end of the story there are crooked cops, a crooked doctor, and a truly hideous scarf of green kidneys on an egg-yolk yellow background. It’s classic noir fiction, and Chandler doesn’t disappoint.
Nero Wolfe reminds me of Mycroft Holmes: a brilliant mind, but he hates to leave his house. Any sleuthing that can’t be done from a comfortable chair is done by proxy, via his “perambulatory man-about-town” Archie Goodwin. Stout drops us into a well-established partnership; Goodwin spinning references to other cases he and Wolfe have solved in amongst his mullings of what the solution will be to the Fer-de-Lance. The mystery and quandries are broken up with descriptions of Wolfe’s stunning and enormous collection of orchids, one of the few things he cares for. Hours not spent masticating or ruminating are spent petal-gazing. Fer-de-Lance opens with a friend of a friend coming to Wolfe with a favour; her brother has gone missing and, mainly because they are immigrants of scant means, the police cannot rouse themselves enough to be interested. (The story was written and set in the 1930’s, so there are some slurs.) While her brother turns up, he is revealed to be connected to the sudden death of a well-off university professor, in the middle of a friendly foursome of golf. But how? Why? The two men never met or knew each other, and it is Wolfe’s job, with Goodwin’s legwork, to determine how the disappearance of the one could possibly be related to the other. Not a bad tale to while away a weekend with.
Anne Rice has crafted a thrilling and fast paced novel around the auto-biographical account of a vampire living in the States in what is probably the 1970’s. He is dictating his life story to an unnamed boy interviewing him, and it all starts on an indigo plantation in the swamps of Louisiana in the 1700s, when our hero Louis is turned – by the vampire Lestat – into a vampire. Lestat moves in with Louis onto the plantation and the two of them commence trying to hide their vampirism from the slaves, educate Louis about the finer points of vampire life, arguing about almost everything, killing rats and small animals for food on the part of Louis, and killing humans on the part of Lestat. A lot of humans. Interview with the Vampire is on the lighter side of violence for a horror book, but on the heavier side for a generic fiction selection. But the plot is utterly enthralling, and the events in Louis’ life make the book hard to put down until you turn the last page.