[reading] What have you read recently?

Maddz

Rune Priest
The Invisible Library series, by Genevieve Cogman.

An Alternate Universe romp. Basically, the premise is that there are 2 poles to the multiverse - Order, ruled by the Dragon Monarchs, and Chaos, ruled by the Fae. Humanity, represented by the Invisible Library, is caught in the middle. Where neither Order nor Chaos predominate, humanity is it's own master; the Library does it's best to ensure neither faction predominates. In a high-chaos world, the Fae rule, and humans are supporting cast to the Fae archetypes. In a high-order world, dragons rule, and humans are at best servants in a Confucian order world. Neither faction sees humans as equals.

The Library sits outside the worlds; they are human - neither Fae nor Dragons find it easy (let alone possible) to enter. They hold the balance, and actively work to ensure specific worlds don't fall into either faction. They do this by stealing stories - generally by stealing books, but a copy is all that's needed. However, the story needs to be unique (or at least only known on a handful of worlds).

1. The Invisible Library
We are introduced to the librarian Irene Winters, and her mentor, Coppelia. Irene is saddled with an apprentice, Kai, and sent to a Victorian-alternate world to retrieve a version of Grimm's Fairy Tales with a unique story. Here she meets Lord Silver, a Fae with a libertine seducer persona, and Peregrine Vale, a Sherlock Holmes style detective. Complicating matters is the librarian Bradamant, a sometime mentor of Irene's (who doesn't seem to keep apprentices for very long), and the renegade librarian, Alberich, who has allied with chaos and is seeking to destroy the Library. In the course of the story, we discover Kai is a dragon prince.

2. The Masked City
Kai has been kidnapped by Lord Guantes and his wife, and taken to an alternate 17th Century Venice to be auctioned off. Irene is forced to follow to prevent this, aided reluctantly by Lord Silver (who stands to loose too much to Lord Guanted, a some-time rival of his should this be successful). Peregrine Vale follows as well (unbeknownst to Irene.) In the course of the rescue, Irene aids The Horse to break free from The Rider, and allies with some junior Fae, notably Sterrington and Zaytanna.

3. The Burning Page
Alberich is back, and this time has made his move on the Library. He's doing this by destabilising the links between worlds that the Library has created, and is killing Librarians as well. Aided by Kai, and reluctantly by Zaytanna, it falls to Irene to discover Alberich's lair and stop him. In the course of this, many unique stories are destroyed when Irene sets fire to the lair. Zaytanna dies in the course of this; it seems she had been suborned by Alberich and her loyalty ensured by a metaphysical choke-chain.

I'm sure I reviewed them before, but it must have been when we were on UKRoleplayers, and I never transferred the reviews to LibraryThing.

4. The Lost Plot
We're back in the worlds of the Invisible Library: Irene Winter is meeting with a family of vampires resident in Yorkshire to make an exchange of books. Unfortunately, the vampires have other ideas and try making her an offer she can't refuse. In the course of which, we are told that Peregrine Vale (the Sherlock Holmes analog in this parallel) is part of a rival vampire family - which will no doubt lead to complexity further along the series. Escaping from the vampires, Irene falls in with a dragon who also makes her an offer she cannot refuse. Unfortunately for the dragon, Irene is well aware that she must refuse as accepting will break the Library's neutrality between dragons (scions of order) and Fae (scions of chaos). The offer she was made was to locate a book for the dragon which was part of a political contest between two dragons. It was claimed that the other dragon had secured the services of another Librarian to do so.

Returning to the Library, Irene was given a mission to find out what was going on, and locate the other Librarian and bring him in for questioning. Oh, and to locate the book (a version of The Journey to the West replete with political satire) and make sure neither dragon got it - not that the Library needed another copy anyway. Irene and Kai (her dragon apprentice) travel to a Roaring Twenties analog of East Coast USA with a tight deadline...

The usual fun and games ensue; we learn more about dragon politics, fae assassins, and Kai has to retire from his position with the Library to prevent further political complications - but not from Irene's life. This instalment felt lighter in tone than others in the series. It seemed to me that this book would have worked as a stand-alone; I suspect it's going to be a bridging volume between the initial Alberich story-arc and a subsequent story-arc.

This got posted at LibraryThing, but it seems I didn't post it here for some reason.

5. The Mortal Word
Reviewed earlier: https://www.gamingtavern.eu/index.php?threads/what-have-you-read-recently.30/post-7031

6. The Secret Chapter
The Fae/Dragon Treaty is now in effect. Irene is sent to obtain a book from a non-aligned Fae. However, he wants a quid-pro-quo; Irene and Kai are asked to help steal The Raft of the Medusa from an alternate Vienna.

As a whole, the series comes across as a bit uneven; the characters can come across as cardboard (especially the Fae - it's how they define themselves), and the Dragons are a bit full of it, but it's pretty readable. I expect I'll get the next instalment when it's out.
 
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Maddz

Rune Priest
Tithe, by Holly Black (Modern Tales of Faerie 1)

Holly Black’s fae are sparkly, and anything but nice. Reminiscent of Sylvia Townsend Warner’s fae, these are monsters (even the Seelie court) living in the cracks of the human world.

16-year old Kaye lives on the road with her singer mother, Ellen. When another band member attacks her out of the blue, the pair return to the decaying New Jersey seaside town they had left for Ellen to follow her dreams and stay with Kaye’s grandmother. Here Kaye renews her friendship with some solitary fae, and becomes embroiled in Court politics - the Tithe is due, and Kaye is the chosen victim. The catch - Kaye isn’t human, she’s a changeling, a pixie under a heavy duty glamour; if she pays the Tithe, the pact is broken, and the solitary fae are free of Court control for seven years.

An interesting YA book where the otherness of the fae are suitably monstrous and things aren’t what they seem.

Recommended.
 

Maddz

Rune Priest
The Winter of the Witch, by Katherine Arden (Winternights Trilogy 3).

The conclusion of the story begun in The Bear and the Nightingale. Vasilisa Petrovna is outed as a witch to the populace of Moscow following the events of The Girl in the Tower. The disasterous fire she was responsible for when she freed the firebird sees her condemned to the stake.

Escaping to the country of Midnight, she makes allies of the wild spirits of Russia, and brings to an end the destructive emnity between the twins Medved and Morozov. She also plays a pivotal role in Dmitri Ivanovitch’s victory over the Golden Horde.

An interesting take on Russian historical fantasy. Recommended.
 

Maddz

Rune Priest
All The Plagues of Hell, by Eric Flint and Dave Freer (Heirs of Alexandria 5).

An alternate historical fantasy set in a version of Renaissance Italy.

Following from the trip to the East, the focus shifts back to the West. Count Mindaug has escaped the doom of his latest patron, and now wants to find somewhere quiet where he can settle with his library. Adopting the persona of a bookseller, he travels through Hungary via The Holy Roman Empire to Italy, specifically Milan where Duke Visconti has been deposed by Carlo Sforza. Along the way Mindaug acquires a peasant couple as servants.

In order to legitimise his rule, Sforza marries the bastard daughter of the last Duke. Unfortunately, she has made a pact with the demon Orkise to let the plague of Justinian loose again.

This is again something of a side note to the main storyline, but is closer to the main action in Italy although not the main characters. The focus has shifted to previously minor characters, one of whom was never on the side of good (at least previously).

Well written, and seemed to hang together, but possibly one for completists.
 

Maddz

Rune Priest
Sapphire Flames, by Ilona Andrews (Hidden Legacy 4)

Following Nevada Baylor’s marriage to Connor Rogan, she has reluctantly stepped back from her rôle as head of House Baylor and her sister Nevada has taken over. House Baylor’s grace period as a new house is about to expire and Nevada (against advice) involves House Baylor in an investigation into a house fire which killed the mother and sister of a school friend. Complicating matters is Alessandro Sagredo who was Catalina’s tester when her status was tested; he is attracted to Catalina.

Urban fantasy for gun bunnies; I enjoy it because female characters have agency and their decisions have consequences. The romance plots in this series aren’t overwhelming, and sex scenes are kept to a minimum. The violence at first sight is overdone; but in fact is visceral and not air-brushed cinema as it is in many books of this type. My main objection to the series is the gun porn - but this is because I am European; I expect US readers think it perfectly normal.

Recommended.
 
Poland by Adam Zamayoski, a short history of the titular nation. Learned a lot of things I didn't know before e.g it was one of the first constitutional monarchies in Europe, with an elected king. I've always admired the Polish people's resilience in the face of adversity, doubly so now. Any nation that can survive the worst attentions of Hitler and Stalin, plus numerous other foreign tyrants, can only be described as exceptional.

Spy Story by Len Deighton. Possibly continuing the adventures of "Harry Palmer", only now known as Pat Armstrong, and working for a naval wargames organisation. He finds it difficult to put his old espionage career behind him. The story's a little too opaque for its own good, but told with a Chandleresque wit that actually made me laugh a few times.
 

Dom

Administrator
Staff member
I tracked down the Game, Set and Match series on YouTube; must rewatch that sometime soon. I know Deighton didn't like the portrayal of Samson, but it was my hook into his books.
 

Maddz

Rune Priest
The Isle of Glass, by Judith Tarr (The Hound and Falcon Trilogy 1)

A historical fantasy set in the reign of Richard the Lionheart.

Brother Alfred (‘Alf’) is a humble monk and theologian at the monastery of St Rhuan in Ynys Witrin. He came as a foundling and as been there for nearly 70 years and still looks like a youth of 17. During a storm, he slips out and returns with an injured traveller; he was on an embassy to a Marcher Lord who tortured him instead.

Nursing the traveller back to consciousness, Alf discovers the Marcher lord is trying to provoke war. The Abbot sends Alf on a journey to the North to meet King Richard and warn him of what is happening.

The story is Alf’s journey from the sanctuary of the abbey to the world - which he doesn’t know at all. Along the way, he comes to understand what he likely is - one of the Fair Folk, for all he only world is that of the monastery.

Recommended.
 
I tracked down the Game, Set and Match series on YouTube; must rewatch that sometime soon. I know Deighton didn't like the portrayal of Samson, but it was my hook into his books.
Ian Holm is miscast ( I always think ray lonnen from the sandbaggers is a closer physical match for Samson) but he is such a good actor I don't think it matters. One of those series I can watch again ad infinitum.
 

Maddz

Rune Priest
Alamut, by Judith Tarr (Alumut Duology 1)

A historical fantasy set in the reign of Baldwin IV of Jerusalem. It falls between books 1 and 2 of The Hound and the Falcon.

Prince Aidan of Caer Gwent (one of the Fair Folk) has come to Outremer to take the cross and to visit his sister’s son. He has been assassinated; his wife, Lady Margaret, is a member of the House of Ibrahim and Sinan of Alamut has decided the House would be useful to their cause. In pursuit of this, he also murders Lady Margaret’s son by her first husband and threatens her daughter.

Swearing revenge, Prince Aidan escorts her daughter to Aleppo, and draws out the assassin - the Slave of Alamut - who is one of the Fair Folk herself.

This is the story of Prince Aiden’s quest for revenge and the two women he comes to love - Joanna, Lady Margaret’s daughter, and Morgiana, the Slave of Alamut.

Recommended, but note there are some OCR errors in the text (which don’t detract from the story).
 

Maddz

Rune Priest
The Dagger and the Cross, by Judith Tarr (Alamut 2).

As it happens, the Alamut Duology is a prequel to The Hound and Falcon Trilogy. A historical fantasy set in the Kingdom of Jerusalem around the Battle of the Horns of Hattin.

Prince Aiden and his beloved, Morgiana, have received their long-desired dispensation to marry. However, there are those who decide that Morgiana is a threat to the Kingdom and create a forgery - the dispensation has been changed to an anathema.

Morgiana and Aiden quarrel, and she flees the Kingdom. War intervenes, and then the disaster at Hattin.

Recommended, but again a few OCR errors in the text.
 

Maddz

Rune Priest
The Golden Horn, by Judith Tarr (The Hound and Falcon Trilogy 2).

After leaving Anglia, Alf and Thea go on pilgrimage to Jerusalem and eventually decide to visit Thea’s family in Nicea. Unfortunately, they all died of the plague shortly after Thea left years ago. Quarrelling, Alf and Thea split up; Alf falls into the hands of a Byzantine noblewoman and is taken into her household in Constantinople. The City is under siege by the Fourth Crusade.

The story centres on Alf and Thea’s developing relationship, Alf’s friendship with the Alkestos family, and the sack of Constantinople.

Recommended.
 

Maddz

Rune Priest
The Hounds of God, by Judith Tarr (The Hound and Falcon Trilogy 3).

Alf and Thea have returned to the Kingdom of Rhyanna where he has risen to the position of Chancellor. However, the Pauline Order has raised an inquisition on the Kingdom, and is preaching crusade against the kindred. On the eve of the Legate’s arrival, Thea is delivered of twins and they are wrest away along with Anna Akastas into the hands of the Order in Rome. Trying to defend them, Prince Alun, the heir to Rhyanna is killed.

Alf, Nikki and Jehan travel to Rome to retrieve them and lift the Interdict and Crusade. The price is perpetual exile from the world.

Recommended.
 

Maddz

Rune Priest
Shadow of a Lady, by Jane Aiken Hodge

A historical novel set during the Napoleonic Wars.

Helen Trefail is the daughter of a naval officer; accompanying her invalid mother on board ship, she is raped by another passenger during an engagement at the blockade of Toulon. The inevitable happens, and she enters into a hasty marriage.

Settling in Naples, she gives birth to a son, who is grudgingly accepted by her husband. She and her husband are friends with Lord and Lady Hamilton, and she is a witness to the start of Emma Hamilton’s affair with Lord Nelson.

An interesting read.
 

Maddz

Rune Priest
A Reputation Dies, by Alice Chetwynd Ley (The Rutherford Trilogy 1)

A historical murder mystery set in the Regency period, specifically after the Cochrane affair.

In the course of a ton party, a society wasp is murdered after making pointed remarks about someone named Thompson. Bow Street soon realises that one of the guests must be responsible; one suspect is an old friend of Justin Rutherford who undertakes to clear him.

A very enjoyable murder mystery in the vein of Annabel Laine. The society background is well handled and I confess the eventual murderer was not the person I thought it was.

Recommended.
 

Maddz

Rune Priest
A Fatal Assignation, by Alice Chetwynd Ley (The Rutherford Trilogy 2)

A historical murder mystery, the sequel to A Reputation Dies.

Sir Aubrey Jermyn, a member of the Carlton House set goes to meet his latest inamorata. Unfortunately, he doesn’t return and is eventually found in a pauper’s grave.

Justin Rutherford is asked by Lady Jermyn to investigate his disappearance, and subsequently his murder.

These have been an unexpected delight; Alice Chetwynd Ley is better known as a romance writer, but she turned more to mysteries later in her career.

Recommended
 

Maddz

Rune Priest
Masquerade of Vengeance, by Alice Chetwynd Ley (The Rutherford Trilogy 3)

The last of Chetwynd Ley’s books, and the third in the Rutherford trilogy. A historical mystery set in the Regency period. During the course of a house party during the York races, a murder is committed. In the course of the investigation, it becomes apparent that the roots of the crime are in a fifteen-year old attempted robbery for which a man was transported for 14 years.

A nicely-plotted mystery which kept me guessing to the end.

Recommended
 
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