[reading] What have you read recently?

Just finishing reading The Coming Storm, the first book of the Red Cow campaign for HeroQuest Glorantha. It's great read, been put off before due to the amount of detail provided, but glad I've finally got round to it.
I use bullet point notes and improvise so it doesn't help anyone else if they are trying to run or understand the game. Not deliberately, just the way I run games, mostly making it up as I go along. In fact looking at the folder for the game(s) I find I have 10 pregen PC's, a txt file with the starts for an Equoid and that's it.


Rune Priest
I did. It was good. It read quite a bit like Len Deighton, which might be why Merchant Princes may be a bit off, I think Stross is channeling 60s US authors.
Well, the first few in the series were Lovecraftian pastiches of various spy authors.


Rune Priest
Just finished Dirty Weekend by Helen Zahavi. Feminist vigilante tale, turned into a film by the author and Michael Winner as mentioned elsewhere on the forum. Very much a first novel in many ways: It's wildly excessive in terms of violence and stylistic quirks. However, it's fairly short and doesn't outstay its welcome. I'm not in a big rush to read any of Zahavi's other books, but if the opportunity arose I wouldn't necessarily say no.
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Rune Priest
I suppose I ought to post what I've been reading: in short, not a great deal. Oddly, I feel as though I've been reading less, and what I have read has usually been re-reads of old favourites.

I've done a bit of online reading, mostly short stories, but I'm finding I'm not concentrating as well. I suspect it's as much the effects of the lock-down as my statutory deadlines. I've started a few books, but just haven't had the energy to finish them - and I really ought to. I'm behind on my review reading, but I'm completely stalled on one book. Instead, I've been doing a fair amount of library management, I'm busy cross-referencing my Calibre library with my LibraryThing catalogue. I have a bunch of Project Gutenberg downloads replacing various print books (which I may or may not have got rid of), which I must catalogue correctly.


Tales from the Folly, by Ben Aaronovitch.

A collection of short stories from the Rivers of London series. It includes all the 'Waterstones Editions' shorts, along with various other shorts and 'moments' from The Folly. I had most of these already, and it was nice to have them in a single collection at long last.



A Brother's Price, by Wen Spencer

Not available as an ebook, but I've had the paperback for a long time.

A stand-alone in an interesting alternate universe with a wildly skewed gender imbalance. Female births outweigh male births by 90%, and the 'Lords of Creation' aren't lords, but Ladies. Males are protected and kept at home until they marry into another family or enter the 'cribs'. At first glance, it looks like a Western novel written by a feminist who has completely swapped gender roles around and not gone any deeper than that. It's a bit deeper than it seems - the hero of the book is basically a feminist - except he's a male. It would be interesting to read more in this world - there's intriguing hints of the dominant religion - the worship of Hera, and the novel appears to be set in North America with six guns and paddle steamers. However, if it is North America there is no mention of a Native American population.

It's somewhat similar to Patricia Wrede's Frontier Magic series, except there we are explicitly told that the first settlers in North America found no human population, only the magical mega-fauna. It's a little romance-y, but it doesn't detract from the story of the brother who is about to hit marriageable age - this idea is that he will marry well enough to bring his sisters a decent husband.

Recommended if you can track down a copy.

Endless Blue, by Wen Spencer

A stand-alone science fiction novel. Humanity is at war with an alien species, and for many years warp ships have been disappearing. This has generally been put down to mis-jumps in combat; until a warp engine from one of the missing ships turns up at a space station. Encrusted with coral, and with odd modifications, a crew is sent to follow it back - and try and solve the mystery. What they find is bizarre beyond belief; but they manage to return to 'normal' space and at the same time, bring the war to an end.

This was one of the first Spencers I read. It's available as an ebook, but I still have my paperback copy.


Eight Million Gods, by Wen Spencer.

A stand-alone cross between an urban fantasy and the X-Files, set mostly in Japan. I didn't like it as much as her other books I own, but I liked it enough to keep my paperback. It is available as an ebook. I suspect I didn't enjoy it as much as I'm not that keen on manga culture.

I thought it OK enough to keep, but it's rather light.


The Guvnor
Staff member
the Catch by Mick Herron
a teeny novella about Slough House and the incompetent heroes round a bout. 7/10 because it's very short and therefore over priced.

The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula Le Guin
I know, I know, the gaps in my reading, eh? This is very good, very subtle and yet very odd. This could have been a Philip K Dick story, but in LG's hands it becomes humane and quite uplifting. 9/10
I'm working my way through Alastair Reynolds' space operas, in order of publication (I think).

Revelation Space had a lot of interesting ideas, but the dialogue jars a bit - people don't talk like that - and it was hard going. I stopped reading Reynolds for a number of years, until a friend persuaded me to give him a second chance.

Chasm City was excellent, a thriller where literally no-one is who they seem to be. My favourite so far.

Redemption Ark felt like the second part of a trilogy, in that much of it made no sense unless you had read Revelation Space, and the plot threads are left open at the end.

I'm currently about halfway through Absolution Gap, which picks up after Redemption Ark and looks like it will finish off the plot threads. We'll see. Parts of it are heavy going, and I confess I have fallen asleep while reading it several times. That could be because I read late at night, though.

One thing that intrigues me is that several times - Skade and the boss First Contact Swimmer whose name I have forgotten, for two - characters die offstage, or fail to do so when one was led to believe they had, and there is no explanation of what or how; the reader is left to work it out from clues. I'm not sure whether to be annoyed or flattered by that.

Another is the hyperpigs, genetically engineered pig/human hybrids. As I often do, I am toying with the idea of statting them up using what I'm playing at the moment (Savage Worlds) and they're not likely to be a playable race. Usually, SF races are bigger, faster, stronger, smarter, or in some other way so superior to humans that it's hard to give them enough disads to balance them against humans. Hyperpigs are the opposite, they have so many disadvantages that it's hard to find enough bonuses to balance them; slow, dim-witted, social outcasts, poor senses of vision and hearing, All Thumbs (minuses on using tools and in one case literally breaking one because the little trotter hands are so unsuited). Poor pigs.
Finally got round to completing the first Lyonesse* book by Jack Vance. The first 1/3 to a half is a real slog, but it starts becoming great fun afterwards. Now just started Lyonesse II - The Green Pearl which is a great read from the outset.

* Was inspired to carry on reading after playing in a Lyonesse game at the Owlbear and Wizards Staff convention and finally getting the setting.


The Guvnor
Staff member
Another is the hyperpigs, genetically engineered pig/human hybrids. As I often do, I am toying with the idea of statting them up using what I'm playing at the moment (Savage Worlds) and they're not likely to be a playable race. Usually, SF races are bigger, faster, stronger, smarter, or in some other way so superior to humans that it's hard to give them enough disads to balance them against humans. Hyperpigs are the opposite, they have so many disadvantages that it's hard to find enough bonuses to balance them; slow, dim-witted, social outcasts, poor senses of vision and hearing, All Thumbs (minuses on using tools and in one case literally breaking one because the little trotter hands are so unsuited). Poor pigs.
I had the same thought, in fact I was probably playing Savage at the time as well.
I imagined that a session at a con where everyone was a hyper-pig.. and let them be the underpigs..


Rune Priest
Fingers crossed, I'll start reading more regularly again. I just haven't had the urge to read - between work projects and home projects, my time has been limited, and what I've read, I haven't reviewed.

Anyway, what recent reads I've actually read through rather than dipped into:

24 Hours in Ancient Rome & 24 Hours in Ancient Athens, by Philip Matyszak
I picked these up last month - 3 of the books in the series were in the monthly deal at 99p, and Ancient Rome was priced at 99p too. Fairly straightforward, and they don't seem to shy away from dealing with controversial subjects like slavery. I would say they are aimed at older teens if not young adults, but do seem to act as a reasonable introduction to life in ancient times. If others come out in the series (beyond Egypt and China which I have yet to read), I'll pick them up if they are reasonably priced.


Fellowship of Fear, by Aaron Elkins (Gideon Oliver #1)
I have never found this in print at a reasonable price - all the others I have. When it popped up in my eReaderIQ notifications, I grabbed it quickly. It's the first Gideon Oliver book and is very different in tone to the others in the series. Gideon is hired as a visiting lecturer to the US forces in Europe and mysterious things happen as he travels around various bases. The anthropological osteology background is alluded to, but doesn't form the centrepiece to the story like the rest of the series. It reads more like a Cold War thriller - which in fact it is. The mysterious events are linked to a spy ring and Gideon is caught between the spies, and two lots of counter spies.

I would say it's for completists - the series is completely different after this one, so if you like those, you probably won't like this.

Emerald Blaze, by Ilona Andrews (Hidden Legacy #5 - or #6 if you include the novella between #3 & #4)
The pregnant Nevada Barr has stepped away from the Family business, joining her husband's Family business instead. Her sister Catalina has taken over. Working for the Warden of Texas, she is assigned to investigate a death among a business partnership between 3 Families; she is dogged by the scion of a European family who was her tester at the trial to determine her status. She's fallen in love with him, and it seems he has fallen in love with her but he keeps dropping out of sight for reasons...

A bit less gun-bunny than the others, but a decent read.

There's been some other online reading from the FadedPage (mostly magazine short stories), but I've been doing a huge amount of library management. A lot of my PD books I have (or originally had) in hardcopy, and I didn't log any ebook version as a separate edition - I just appended an ebook tag to the hardcopy record. This has meant that things got rather badly out of sync between paper copies and ebooks (especially when they are wildly different editions. e.g. translations with different translators), so I've done a major overhaul of my LibraryThing catalogue and correctly logged the various individual editions. I can now start going through the attic stash with a view to de-cluttering, plus all the non-SFF paper copies in the bookcases in the living room.


Rune Priest
Peregrine: Primus, by Avram Davidson (Peregrine 1)
This historical fantasy has been in my library for a long time, along with the sequel. It's been long enough since I read it (sometime in the 1980s) that I had pretty well forgotten the storyline. About the only thing I remembered about the story (and that only after I read it) was the ending.

The eponymous Peregrine is one of the many bastards of the last pagan king in Europe. Coming of age, he is banished from the kingdom so as not to muddy the waters for the legitimate heirs. This is the story of his wanderings, at first aimlessly, later following his older half brother who had been banished a few years previously.

It's written in a picaresque style, replete with classical allusions. I can see it being of interest to gamers, especially Ars Magica players, as magic is very much alive (albeit in retreat before Christianity) so it could form the background for a Dark Ages Covenant.

Probably not to everyone's taste, but I like it. Recommended.
Peregrine: Secundus, by Avram Davidson (Peregrine 2)

The continuing adventures of Peregrine.

Very enjoyable. I don't think I'd ever got around to reading this one in paper copy, although I recall the ending of the first. These, and the Vergil Magus series, and possibly Ursus of Ultima Thule seem to be set in the Dark Ages history of The Triune Monarchy of the Dr Ezsterhazy stories.

Very picaresque and somewhat whimsical in tone, I see parallels with Lord Dunsany (but not as much forsoothery).


The Magdalene la B√Ętarde Mysteries, by Roberta Gellis
  1. A Mortal Bane
  2. A Personal Devil
  3. Bone of Contention
  4. Chains of Folly
  5. A Confusion of Sins
The last book is not generally considered part of the series. It seems to have been completed by her son Mark, but is, in fact the last book.

Set in the early years of King Stephen's reign, Magdalene is a Southwark whoremistress running a very superior establishment (formerly a priory guesthouse), catering to a wealthy clientele. Given a farthing is the going rate for a session with a common drab, her price of 2 pennies (or 5 pennies to stay all night) is eye-watering. The 5 books are set around the events of 1139, starting with Henry of Winchester's appointment as Papal Legate.

There's a certain amount of insta-lust when Magdalene meets Sir Bellamy of Itchen, one of Winchester's knights, but it's not the focus of the books (although I shall avoid her historical romances set in the same time period). As a feme sole, Magdalene is keen to keep her independence, but suffers from the stigma of her profession in that she would automatically be deemed guilty of any crime.

The murders weren't graphic, although there was a certain amount of gore, and the motivations did seem in keeping with the period. To a certain extent, they compare with the Cadfael mysteries, in that they rely on wits not science to solve the murders. Sir Bellamy is familiar with the aftermath of violent death, although he relies on the local infirmarers to confirm his observations.

Historically speaking, they seem fairly accurate. Gellis held a degree in Medieval Literature, and unlike later authors was able to get into the medieval mindset.

Not bad, although fairly light and a little too much romance for my taste. I think I prefer Gellis' other mystery Lucretia Borgia and the Mother of Poisons (sadly not available in ebook).