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Search tags: Historical-Fantasy
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review 2018-05-22 19:14
A Curious Beginning / Deanna Raybourn
A Curious Beginning - Deanna Raybourn

London, 1887. Veronica wields her butterfly net and a sharpened hatpin with equal aplomb. She thwarts her own abduction with the help of an enigmatic German baron with ties to her mysterious past. Promising to reveal in time what he knows of the plot against her, the baron offers her temporary sanctuary in the care of his friend Stoker—a reclusive natural historian as intriguing as he is bad-tempered. But the baron is murdered before he can reveal her secrets. Suddenly Veronica and Stoker must flee from an elusive assailant, wary partners in search of the villainous truth.

 

I can hardly wait to meet this author in August at the When Words Collide conference here in my city! I really enjoyed this novel and have already requested book two from my public library.

I appreciated the main character, Veronica Speedwell, a great deal. It’s very much the trend now, to rewrite female characters during the Victorian era, giving them bigger ideas and more autonomy. I think of The Lie Tree and Jane Steele, both of which I have also enjoyed a great deal. I’m also reminded of the Amelia Peacock character in Elizabeth Peters’ series, about a feminist female archaeologist in the Victorian era (this series began in 1975, so it could probably be considered the grandmother to this current batch of novels). Veronica is determined to remain single and support herself through providing natural history specimens to collectors. She is also enamoured with foreign men, enjoying dalliances while abroad to collect those specimens.

Stoker is a very attractive love interest for Miss Speedwell, despite the fact that she has decided against marriage and has rules about not getting involved with Englishmen. (Actually, her pursuit of sexual liaisons while abroad seemed the most unlikely part of this novel, for me, there being no reliable birth control during that period). He is bad tempered, less than cleanly, and often surprised by Veronica’s sass. He also sports tattoos that make him a little too 21st century to be entirely believable, but I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt because I enjoy his character. Plus, he has great potential to clean up well.

There are plenty of twists and turns in the plot, but I don’t think I am alone in thinking that the very slow-burn romance between Veronica and Stoker is the best aspect of the book.

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review 2018-05-08 16:18
Dragonfly in Amber / Diana Gabaldon
Dragonfly in Amber - Diana Gabaldon

For twenty years Claire Randall has kept her secrets. But now she is returning with her grown daughter to Scotland's majestic mist-shrouded hills. Here Claire plans to reveal a truth as stunning as the events that gave it birth: about the mystery of an ancient circle of standing stones ...about a love that transcends the boundaries of time ...and about James Fraser, a Scottish warrior whose gallantry once drew a young Claire from the security of her century to the dangers of his ....

Now a legacy of blood and desire will test her beautiful copper-haired daughter, Brianna, as Claire's spellbinding journey of self-discovery continues in the intrigue-ridden Paris court of Charles Stuart ...in a race to thwart a doomed Highlands uprising ...and in a desperate fight to save both the child and the man she loves....

 

Not a bad historical fantasy, but I have some issues with it. I kept putting off my reading until close to its due date at the library. Even when I got started and the deadline was approaching, I kept looking longingly at other books on my library book pile and had to force myself to keep reading this one.

First, the book starts with Claire returning to Scotland (in the 20th century) with her grown-up daughter Brianna. They meet a charming young Scotsman, Roger MacKenzie, and sparks fly between Brianna and Roger. Well & good, I am interested in this new plot line. But does Gabadon stick with it? No, everything takes an abrupt left turn, back into the past and we’re back in time with Claire & Jamie. And there are HUNDREDS of pages between appearances of Roger & Brianna.

The historical fantasy isn’t bad, as historical fantasies go, it just wasn’t what I was interested in. Claire & Jamie, blah blah, blah, Bonnie Prince Charlie, blah, blah, blah, Battle of Culloden, more blather. The manuscript is padded with all kinds of vignettes which do absolutely nothing to move the action along and only bogged me down (when Claire & Jaime discover the cave paintings, anyone?)

And this is going to sound very pedantic, but she mentions birds in the course of the book four times and only gets it right once. In the very beginning, chickadees are referenced. Well, there aren’t any chickadees in Scotland—they have related birds, the tits. If Claire had seen/heard Blue Tits or Coal Tits, that would be accurate, but not chickadees. At another point, Claire is woken by a mockingbird. No dice, there aren’t mockingbirds in France. Claire hears a meadowlark—impossible! Maybe a Skylark, but there aren’t meadowlarks in Europe. At least when Jamie feeds crumbs to some sparrows, she just leaves them as generic sparrows and doesn’t assign a species. I even hauled out my Birds of Europe with North Africa and the Middle East just to check that I hadn’t lost my mind, but it backed me up. If you want accurate historical fiction, you can’t just go sticking North American birds into a novel set in Scotland and France!

Okay, bird rant over. I can tell how un-involved I was in the story that I’d be counting and evaluating the appearances of birds in the text.

One thing I did enjoy was the prominence of genealogical research in the plot line. Turns out that Claire’s 20th century husband, Frank, fortuitously counted some of the characters in this narrative in his family tree and had made a big enough deal of it that Claire was aware of these details. She spends a fair bit of time convincing the 18th century husband, Jamie, not to kill these relatives too soon, to ensure that Frank will be born. There’s more talk of the paradox of time travel in this novel, and I enjoyed those speculations.

Book number 283 in my Science Fiction and Fantasy Reading Project.

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review 2018-05-08 14:57
The Lie Tree / Frances Hardinge
The Lie Tree - Frances Hardinge

Faith Sunderly leads a double life. To most people, she is reliable, dull, trustworthy - a proper young lady who knows her place as inferior to men. But inside, Faith is full of questions and curiosity, and she cannot resist mysteries: an unattended envelope, an unlocked door. She knows secrets no one suspects her of knowing. She knows that her family moved to the close-knit island of Vane because her famous scientist father was fleeing a reputation-destroying scandal. And she knows, when her father is discovered dead shortly thereafter, that he was murdered.

In pursuit of justice and revenge, Faith hunts through her father's possessions and discovers a strange tree. The tree bears fruit only when she whispers a lie to it. The fruit of the tree, when eaten, delivers a hidden truth. The tree might hold the key to her father's murder - or it may lure the murderer directly to Faith herself.

 

The May selection for my real-life book club. The verdict? We liked it a lot. As one member said, it started out kind of depressing with all of the women seemingly held back and held down by a repressive society and the men in their lives. But as the story progressed, I realized that just like weeds, the women of the tale were strong enough to find their way to some control by growing up through the cracks!

There’s a fair amount of darkness and duplicity in the work. I guess with a title like The Lie Tree that is unavoidable. Faith Sunderly demonstrates that peculiarity of human nature—she cares much more about the opinion of her odious, abusive father than for her mother who she despises as “less than.” And in doing so, she despises herself for being that ultimate “less than,” a girl. She believes in her father’s uprightness until she discovers his special possession, the Lie Tree. A plant which feeds on lies and the more people who believe them, the better the plant grows.

When her father is killed (and her family is due to be disinherited because he is believed to be a suicide), Faith takes matters into her own hands—she tells the tree what it wants to hear and it grows much more luxuriantly that it ever did under her father’s care.

I loved the book for Faith’s realization of her worthiness and intelligence and the resilience of all the women to resist the patriarchal control in their society. I’m looking forward to reading more by Frances Hardinge.

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review 2018-04-05 20:11
Now I Rise / Kiersten White
Now I Rise (The Conqueror's Trilogy) - Kiersten White

She has no allies. No throne. All she has is what she’s always had: herself.

After failing to secure the Wallachian throne, Lada Dracul is out to punish anyone who dares to cross her blood-strewn path. Filled with a white-hot rage, she storms the countryside with her men, accompanied by her childhood friend Bogdan, terrorizing the land. But brute force isn’t getting Lada what she wants. And thinking of Mehmed brings little comfort to her thorny heart. There’s no time to wonder whether he still thinks about her, even loves her. She left him before he could leave her.

What Lada needs is her younger brother Radu’s subtlety and skill. But Mehmed has sent him to Constantinople—and it’s no diplomatic mission. Mehmed wants control of the city, and Radu has earned an unwanted place as a double-crossing spy behind enemy lines. Radu longs for his sister’s fierce confidence—but for the first time in his life, he rejects her unexpected plea for help. Torn between loyalties to faith, to the Ottomans, and to Mehmed, he knows he owes Lada nothing. If she dies, he could never forgive himself—but if he fails in Constantinople, will Mehmed ever forgive him?

As nations fall around them, the Dracul siblings must decide: what will they sacrifice to fulfill their destinies? Empires will topple, thrones will be won…and souls will be lost.

 

4 dark, twisted, stabby stars for Now I Rise.

I think it was a genius choice to feminize the Dracula historical character! I love Lada Dracul and her hard, violent little heart! It gives an interesting torque to the facts and makes a fascinating tale even more engaging.

This is the second installment in a trilogy, and I’ve really enjoyed them both. The first book (And I Darken) is the April book for my real-life book club and I’ve chosen to read the second book rather than re-read the first. I’m so glad that I’ve continued on!

For those of you who are really interested in the time period and have the fortitude to withstand a lot of torture and impalings, I would also recommend Vlad: The Last Confession by C.C. Humphreys. It is an exceptional rendition of the historical Dracula story.

Both versions highly recommended.

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review 2018-04-05 19:35
Vlad : the Last Confession / C.C. Humphreys
Vlad: The Last Confession - C.C. Humphreys

Dracula. A name of horror, depravity and the darkest sensuality. Yet the real Dracula was just as alluring, just as terrifying, his tale not one of a monster but of a man... and a contradiction.

 

His tale is told by those who knew him best. The only woman he ever loved...and whom he had to sacrifice. His closest comrade...and traitor. And his priest, betraying the secrets of the confessional to reveal the mind of the man history would forever remember as The Impaler. This is the story of the man behind the legend...as it has never been told before.

 

Once again, Chris Humphreys has written a captivating book—the tale of Vlad, Prince of Wallachia, told retrospectively as a confession to a Church functionary by his mistress, his closest frenemy, and his confessor. Vlad, who is Prince, hostage, crusader, lover, ruler, friend, steadfast enemy, and, of course, the Impaler. As Humphreys points out in his afterword, the man is still honoured by the Romanian people, for whom he is synonymous with just (if brutal) rule and honour.

I have to point out that this is an intense book. About half way through, I had to set it down and go read something less gruesome. And yes, many people are tortured and/or impaled, so if you have a weak stomach for that sort of thing, you may want to give this book a miss (although I would absolutely recommend that you try some of Humphreys’ other offerings, as he is a fabulous writer). This would definitely qualify for Grim-Dark and most of it is semi-verifiable history. Humphreys visited many of the sites where the action happened, so the environmental descriptions are evocative. As an actor, I think he brings a unique way of understanding the behaviour and motivations of the people he is writing about, giving a very visceral feel to the actions of his characters.

I must say that I am also reading a YA series set in the same place/time (Kiersten White’s The Conqueror’s Saga) and although I have really enjoyed both of them, there is no comparison. White’s series makes Vlad into a woman, Lada Dracula, and it is also well worth reading. By contrast, Humphrey’s version very much deserves an “Adult” rating, as it is much darker & grittier.

If this time period interests you, if you enjoy well-written historical fantasy, or if you have a yen to learn more about the man who served in some small way as the template for the modern vampire mythos, this is definitely the book for you.

 

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