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review 2017-03-25 04:08
Of Giants: Sex, Monsters, And The Middle Ages - Cohen Jeffrey,Jeffrey Jerome Cohen

This incredibly dense read would not have been finished had it not been on a required reading list for my class on monsters in Medieval literature. Each chapter required intense concentration in order to understand the complexities of Cohen's observations in relation to the psychology behind beasts and the society who created them.

 

Cohen goes into great detail on the pre-history of England, how colonization fed the imagination of many, and as a result tales of giants came about in order to illustrate the invasive forces unleashed upon the British Isles. Gogmagog and his herd of kin are examples of this prodigious influence; ultimately the giants are killed, allowing the Christian man to rise above the militaristic enemy, offering a symbol of hope and representing the new England that would rise from the ashes that is subjugation (and the fact that England did in fact recover to become a powerful country is indisputable).

 

Perhaps the least convincing elements of Cohen's collection of essays was his inclusion of Freudian psychology, in particular his focus on phallic imagery as a means of expressing masculine dominance in England's pre-history, but drawing penises is hardly an antiquated way to show how territorial men can be-- it's rather a familiar habit of men even now. In short, there were many fascinating points although some seemingly based on conjecture and some questionable psychoanalytic psychology.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-03-24 03:58
The Lais of Marie de France - Marie de France,Glyn S. Burgess,Keith Busby

This is my first experience with lais, brief romances written in verse. I've been a fan of medieval literature chiefly for its outlandish plots and the obscene imagery that consistently seems to contradict the Christian standards of the period. In this particular collection I noticed a popular theme of the "sexual test" where most commonly a man is given the option to refuse the advances of a mystical creature or give into temptation. In almost every account the man fails, giving way to lust. It's interesting that the moral framework of the day does not apply to its literature. In the romantic genre a knight can prove his faithfulness to the Lord AND copulate with a fairy. Really, the best of both worlds. There were so many instances while reading that I questioned the general logic of the characters' actions. For example, two women in two separate tales were detained in a castle, but after years of imprisonment one day they jump to escape, never having realized the whole time that that was a possibility? Or perhaps the strangest is the random appearance of a weasel with a magical flower that revives a princess who later decides that instead of reuniting with her long lost love, she'll become a nun instead. How can it be called the Dark Ages when we're given so much...interesting...material?

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review 2017-03-19 21:33
The Errant Prince by Sasha L. Miller
The Errant Prince - Sasha L. Miller

king's guardsman Myron, sent out to find and bring back a missing prince Tam, finds him in an enchanted cottage. They talk, they work, they play school of magic, where Tam spends pages and pages on teaching Myron some spell, they smooch, they cook and clean and so on. Nothing significant happens up until 45% of the book.

Then the prince suddenly decides to return to the royal castle to see his brother, the king. Tam magically transports Myron and himself to the king's quarters. Catching up with the brother and an ex-lover, kiddie scenes, more frigging spell teaching (hey, anyone needs beaming up? I have the manual! *waves "The Errant Prince" in the air*) ensues.

There is a minor issue of arranged marriage, but everyone plays nicely, even the evil ex, and as a result Tam and Myron live happily ever after.

The book is very nearly angst free. I was waiting for a conflict with the ex-lover, but the guy was decent, he apologized and said all the right words, even went an extra mile to teach Tam's new lover new spells. I really felt for the guy and Tam acted like a "bad dude" to him.

2 stars.

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review 2017-03-17 23:30
No luck of Irish here
Irish Hope (Irish Eyes, #8) - Donna Fletcher

 

It is not until 60% into the story the hero realizes the 12yr old boy he is traveling with and has a great friendship with is a woman and only because he is told. 

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review 2017-03-11 20:52
An Unholy Alliance
An Unholy Alliance - Susanna Gregory

A Matthew Bartholomew Chronicle, Cambridge, England, 1350

 

He inserted a chisel under the lid and tapped with a hammer. The lid eased up, and he got a good grip with his fingers and began to pull. The lid began to move with a great screech of wet wood, and came off so suddenly that he almost fell backwards. He handed it up to Michael, and all five of them peered into the open coffin.
Bartholomew moved back, gagging, as the stench of putrefaction filled the confined space of the grave. His feet skidded and he scrabbled at the sides to try to prevent himself from falling over. Jonstan gave a cry of horror, and Cuthbert began to mutter prayers in an uneven, breathless whisper. Michael leaned down and grabbed at Bartholomew's shoulder, breathing through his mouth so as not to inhale the smell.
'Matt!' he gasped. 'Come out of there!'
He began to tug frantically at Bartholomew's shirt. Bartholomew needed no second bidding, and scrambled out of the grave with an agility that surprised even him. He sank to his knees and peered down at the thing in the coffin.
'What is it?' breathed Cymric.
Bartholomew cleared his throat to see if he could still speak, making jonstan jump. 'It looks like a goat,' he said.
'A goat?' whispered Michael, in disbelief. 'What is a goat doing here?'
Bartholomew swallowed hard. Two curved horns and a long pointed face stared up at him, dirty and stained from its weeks underground, but a goat's head nevertheless, atop a human body.

 

An Unholy Alliance is long, and it is slow, but if total immersion in mid-fourteenth-century Cambridge appeals to you and you are in no hurry to return to the modern world, this is your book.

 

Dr Matthew Bartholomew, our hero, teaches medicine at Michaelhouse to students who, in the years immediately following the Black Death, are desperately needed in the community but are mostly either less than gifted, or less than committed, or (as in the case of the Franciscans among his students) less than convinced about his unorthodox methods; for Bartholomew is a scientific practitioner before his time and is forever clashing with bigots and in very real danger of being accused of heresy. A nice typical touch comes at the beginning of the book when he notices a film of scum on top of the holy water in the stoup:

 

Glancing quickly down the aisle to make sure Michael was not watching, he siphoned the old water off into a jug, gave the stoup a quick wipe round, and refilled it. Keeping his back to Michael, Bartholomew poured the old water away in the piscina next to the altar, careful not to spill any. There were increasing rumours that witchcraft was on the increase in England because of the shortage of clergy after the plague, and there was a danger of holy water being stolen for use in black magic rituals. […] But Bartholomew, as a practising physician, as well as Michaelhouse's teacher of medicine, was more concerned that scholars would touch the filthy water to their lips and become ill.

 

The Michael referred to here is Bartholomew's sidekick, the gourmet Benedictine monk with an eye not only for a tasty dish but for a beautiful woman – as when he and Bartholomew call on "Lady Matilde", a well-known local prostitute, in the course of their investigation:

 

Matilde answered the door and ushered them inside, smiling at their obvious discomfort. She brought them cups of cool white wine and saw that they were comfortably seated before sitting herself. […] 'How may I help you?' she said. She gave Michael a sidelong glance that oozed mischief. 'I assume you have not come for my professional attentions?'
Michael, his composure regained now that he was away from public view, winked at her, and grinned.
'We have come to give you some information,' said Bartholomew quickly

 

A lovely scene, and beautifully written – though you must read the whole thing.

In fact, the book opens with the death of a prostitute, her throat cut in a churchyard as she makes her way home in the darkness, and this turns out to be but one in a series of murders, not all of prostitutes and some by garotting rather than throat-slitting, though there is a link: the small red circle painted in blood on the victim's foot.

 

This circle is the sign of a mysterious "guild"of devil-worshippers who meet in a local church, abandoned and decommissioned since the Black Death, one of a host of such cults that sprang up in the wake of the plague, when many had lost their whole family and God seemed to have abandoned his people and there were almost no priests left to minister to them.

 

But what apart from the circle on the foot is the link between the various victims? And who is organising this guild? What is his aim in all this? (Or her aim. A rather intimidating woman called Janetta is always there hovering in the background surrounded by a band of thugs.) Is it really satanism, or is he – or she – simply cashing in on people's helplessness and gullibility?

 

Slow, as I say, but memorable, and well worth the time spent reading it.

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