I’ve finished several books recently, but I was holding off on writing about them not just because I had other stuff to do, but because it seems like I don’t do much else besides book reviews these days. Oziana isn’t a book, of course, but it’s still literary material. Anyway, I’m going to try to clear out the backlog here.
The Raven Spell, by Luanne G. Smith – This is sort of a historical fantasy murder mystery. A private detective investigating a case in London finds himself knocked out and missing memories. He consults two sisters who are witches, one of whom is able to take and restore memories. A serial killer turns out to have magical assistance in his murders. It had some engaging ideas, but it didn’t really stick with me that much.
Gilded, by Marissa Meyer – The author who wrote the Lunar Chronicles returns to fairy tales with a take on Rumplestiltskin. Instead of taking place in a science fiction themed future, however, this is set in old pagan Germany, with mentions of some old Germanic gods. It’s a combination that works well. Serilda, a miller’s daughter, is an accomplished storyteller who has a habit of telling tall tales. She lies about being able to spin straw into gold not just to the local king, but to the Erlking, leader of the Wild Hunt, who inhabits a haunted castle that had long since been abandoned by humans. And the Rumplestiltskin character is Serilda’s love interest, although he still requires payment from her for his magic to work. He has no knowledge of his past, but Serilda manages to piece parts of it together, partially due to her skill that at least some of her stories come true. There’s going to be a sequel to this one soon, and it looks like the name of the little man will be significant.
Constance Verity Destroys the Universe, by A. Lee Martinez – The final book in the trilogy about a superheroine who’s constantly having adventures of many different sorts and spanning many different genres, and her attempts to have some semblance of a normal life. One interesting thing about these books is how so much of this happened offstage, so we’re introduced to a whole lot of strange characters Constance knows from past adventures, but only bits of what these adventures actually were. The Caretaker, who’s considering marriage to her boyfriend and adopting a kid, learns of a prophecy that she’ll destroy the universe, and becomes the target of those who hope to prevent it by doing away with her.
Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, by Ibram X. Kendi – This was a recommendation by somebody I haven’t talked to in a while, but I only just got around to checking it out and reading it. It’s a complex take on racism in American history, based largely around the premise that it isn’t just the outright racists who cause problems, but also moderates who go along with prejudicial ideas even while not fully buying into them. It’s sort of like Martin Luther King’s criticism of white moderates, which is certainly mentioned in the book. There’s also a lot of focus on how many different excuses have been used for racism, and how antiracists sometimes utilize racist premises in their arguments. It goes back to the beginnings of slavery, and how supporters of it found a way to convince people it was God’s will, something that certainly wasn’t taken for granted by everyone at the time. One popular idea was that slavery was a way to civilize primitive Africans, and that idea continued after slavery was abolished. Kendi addresses the concept of “uplift suasion,” that of Black people being polite and cultured to set a good example for white people, part of the larger issue of victim-blaming. One abolitionist argument was that it was slavery itself that made people unfit for society. There was also an ongoing call for Black people to either move back to Africa or to some other colony set aside for them by the United States. There are a few different figures whom Kendi particularly focuses on: Cotton Mather, the preacher who popularized the defense of slavery and racism; Thomas Jefferson, who admitted slavery was evil while taking advantage of it himself; William Lloyd Garrison; W.E.B. DuBois, the sociologist who supported civil rights while still holding some misguided ideas; and Angela Davis. The title comes from a speech by Jefferson Davis. I was also interested in how Kendi interpreted various movies, including King Kong and Planet of the Apes, to be about white fear of Black people. It was a fascinating but very disturbing read, especially considering how many of these issues still remain at large.
The Chaos Curse, by Sayantani DasGupta – The last book in the Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond trilogy sees the heroine trying to prevent a marriage between her father, the evil serpent Sesha, and the Demon Queen Pinki. She learns of a plan to merge all stories into one, and hence comes across beings from Greek and Norse mythology, children’s books, and nursery rhymes. There are even some Winged Monkeys in there. Other cultural references include Kiran tricking somebody with a scene from The Princess Bride. There’s also an educated tiger and lizard that sends messages, and time and dimensional travel. DasGupta manages to tie a lot of it to the immigrant experience and multiculturalism. The illustrations by Vivienne To do a good job of representing both the mythology and folklore aspect and that of the ongoing parody of the media and commercialism. One story mentioned in the book, that of a woman escaping from a predatory animal in a rolling gourd, is one for which I remember a variant from my childhood where it was a lamb in a drum trying to get away from a wolf. And I still have to wonder if media personality Twinkle Chakraborty’s accent, where she replaces various vowels with “oo” sounds, is based on anything real. I just today checked out the last book in the Aru Shah series, and it kind of seems like Kiranmala has the same relationship to it that Dreamworks used to have with Pixar, using the same basic idea for a movie but putting it out first. But obviously there’s a lot to work with when it comes to Indian mythology and folklore, and DasGupta’s work is more specifically Bengali and has its own style of humor. It also made me interested in reading the Thakurmar Jhuli, the source for many of the characters in the series, and there apparently is a fairly recent English translation.
The Brightest Fell, by Seanan McGuire – The eleventh book in the October Daye series has Toby’s mother Amandine suddenly showing up to demand that she find her other daughter Torquill. To make sure Toby does this, she kidnaps her boyfriend Tybalt and her fetch’s girlfriend and traps them in their animal forms. To solve the case, Toby has to team up with August’s father Simon Torquill, the same man who turned her into a fish. There’s a bit about how knowes are created, and an exploration of how pixies work in this version of fairy lore. The edition I read also includes Of Things Unknown, a novella about the cyber-dryad April O’Leary trying to bring her mother back to life.