Book Review- Prince Rupert: The Last Cavalier by Charles Spencer

RupertIt has been a while since I enjoyed a book and its subject so thoroughly. I found myself dawdling through the last chapters, sorry that it was nearly over. I picked it up on a whim, since it was available to lend through Amazon Prime, read a chapter, and promptly hit the “buy” button. It very nearly counts as research for the series I’m working on, although not quite. It’s definitely given me a concrete idea for a second series, and a direct sequel to this one. For some time now, I’ve been thinking that if I finished writing five million words about a fake Thirty Years War and still wasn’t sick of the time period, I could continue with a fake English Civil War. Now I’m nearly positive I’ll do that. I even have a fake Prince Rupert already. It was clearly meant to be.

Anyway, this book was awesome, one of my favorites this year, and probably in first place for nonfiction reading. Spencer (Princess Diana’s brother, no less), is an engaging writer and thorough, even-handed historian. And Prince Rupert is a completely fascinating subject. Born in 1619, to Frederick V, King of Bohemia (the Winter King) and Elizabeth Stuart, (yup, MY Frederick and  Elizabeth), he was the fourth of their thirteen children.

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Book Review: History of the Thirty Years War- Friedrich von Schiller

SchillerThis book was pure joy for me to read. I’ve been a fan of Schiller since reading some of his plays in college and I wish i had read this years ago. I’ll probably hunt down a German version soon, because even though he wrote in the 18th century, his prose is so clear and vivid, it’s not very difficult. If you’re looking for a detailed, unbiased, chronological account of the Thirty Years’ War, this is not it. I’ll repeat myself again and direct you to C.V. Wedgwood’s history, or Peter Wilson’s if you’re feeling masochistic.

I don’t really know how to describe this except maybe as historical literature. The narrative flow is superb, and it feels like you are being told a story, rather than a dry retelling of events. Writing in Germany, barely a hundred years after the war’s end, Schiller’s approach is very passionate. Repercussions of the events he describes were still very real, and it’s clear that opinions on the war and its major players were still pretty divided in Europe. It’s an orderly progression and is easy to follow if you already have some familiarity with the events. I’m assuming it’s going to be a tougher read for someone who hasn’t read any of the more contemporary histories.

Schilller also had no compunction about taking sides. Continue reading

Book Review: The Mirror Empire- Kameron Hurley

We spent much of last week in Florida, which on the surface, sounds awesome. The reality is, I kind of hate Florida. It’s hot, muggy, and smells funny. Plus, I seem to be allergic to much of the state. So, I spent several days lolling around, trying to fend off an asthma attack and breathing shallowly. On the upside, I had more time to read than I normally do. So, I was able to blast through Kameron Hurley’s epic fantasy in fairly short order.

the mirror empireI approached The Mirror Empire with mixed feelings. I’m already sort of a fan of Hurley’s. I enjoyed her Bel Dame Apocryhpa series- though I’m not sure that “enjoy” is quite the correct term to apply to any of my readings of her work. Let’s face it- her books are a challenging read. I found The Mirror Empire a bit easier to get into because I think there was a bit more descriptive set-up of the world.

But with something like ten POV characters (and here I thought I was overdoing with 4-6), the book is still a pretty wild ride. In fact, trying to create a coherent review is a bit of a challenge. I don’t even know how to begin to describe the world and the plot. Suffice it to say, Hurley has created something pretty original here, and I feel like a few years down the line, people will point to this book as a possible game-changer in the genre.

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Book Review: World-Building for Beginners by Karla Erpenbeck

worldbuildingAfter several other fantasy authors praised this book to the skies, I thought I’d give it a try. I’ve pretty much already built my world, but I’m always open to some new tips and advice. The first few chapters were probably the most helpful in a general sense, although not for me personally. It was all about building a world from scratch, and the things you have to consider about climate and geography. The author also has a cool trick for figuring out where to put rivers and mountain ranges using dice and string. Since I’m not building my world from scratch and simply pasting it over Early Modern Europe, with perhaps a few slightly magical variations, it wasn’t altogether useful to me.

If you need help with maps though, there are a lot of good tips and tools and it’s probably this book’s greatest strength.

Beyond that, I ended up skimming over most of the rest of the book. Partly because it wasn’t relevant to me- I’m not creating completely new flora and fauna- and partly because of the way the information was conveyed. A lot of it was done in a list form: “do this, then this, then this,” but not really formatted well, so it wasn’t easy to read. Maybe it was just the ebook version, but the book was overall poorly formatted and put together, and there were a lot of typos and errors. If the author is a professional novelist, I hope she puts a lot more care into the finished product than she did in this one.

If your story involves a lot of magical creatures and spells, there might be some useful information there. I was more interested in setting up realistic battle scenes, but there was little to no help in that direction. There was a laundry list of medieval weaponry and the demonstrably false statement that “collateral damage back then was much like it is today,” at which point I stopped reading that chapter.

So, this book was a combination of a poor fit for me, simply because of what I’m writing and where I am int he process, and overly general, poorly presented information that at most should inspire someone to research further on their own.

Book Review- Europe’s Tragedy: A New History of the Thirty Years War- Peter H. Wilson

If you’re looking for a readable pop history version of the Thirty Years War, do not read this book. I started this back in April, so it may very well have set a record for book that’s taken me the longest to read. In my life. Previously, my go-to Thirty Years War history was C.V. Wedgwood’s  influential work, but I thought it might be a good idea to  try something more up-to-date. As it turns out, I don’t need anything more up-to-date for my purposes.

europes tragedyDifficult as it was, it wasn’t a waste of time, since I gleaned a ton of useful information from it. In fact, it was packed with facts of all kinds, just not presented in a very readable form. Wilson takes a good 300 pages just to get to the beginning of the war. This isn’t entirely unreasonable, because the reasons for the war are highly complex and have their roots in the structures and institutions of the Holy Roman Empire and in the Reformation. For the American reader who is used to a more Anglo-centric version of history, the central European set-up is extremely bewildering. Unfortunately, Wilson does nothing to mitigate that. If anything, I was more confused by the political-religious situation after reading than before.

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Book Review: Chalion Trilogy- Lois McMaster Bujold

I guess it’s just my luck that I finally find a completed series, only to learn that it’s not truly a series. The three books take place in the same world, and the first two share a few characters, but that’s about it.That’s not a bad thing, since they each stand on their own, and don’t leave you with any annoying loose ends. This trilogy has been on my to-read list forever, since a number of my fellow Game of Thrones/Dune/Lord of the Rings fans have recommended them.

Overall, I liked, but did not love. The world- a kind of fantasy Renaissance Spain- was pretty intriguing, and the protagonists of the first two books were very compelling. The writing was good, though the pace was rather slow and it took me quite a while to get into each book.  I have a high tolerance for slow pacing (I’ve been known to read Henry James and like it- mostly), so if you’re looking for non-stop action, you probably want to look elsewhere.

the curse of chalionThe Curse of Chalion follows the adventures of Cazaril, a warrior who is at the end of a very difficult period of his life. His fortunes seem to turn around when his is appointed tutor to the teenage Royesse Iselle, a bright young woman just a few heartbeats from the throne of Chalion. Cazaril quickly develops an intense loyalty to Iselle, not least because of her very appealing lady-in-waiting Betriz. Thirty-five-year old Cazaril lusting over 16/17-year-old Betriz was a bit creepy, but at least Cazaril knew he was being creepy, and was pretty convinced she’d never be interested in him. So of course, he’s wrong. Continue reading

Book Review: Firethorn Series- Sarah Micklem

firethornTo continue in my current tradition of reading unfinished fantasy series, I picked up the beautifully titled, covered and written Firethorn, Sarah Micklem’s debut novel. Luck is an orphan who was fortunate enough to be raised in the household of the Dame, a noblewoman who taught her weaving and herblore. When the Dame dies, Luck runs away rather than deal with an oppressive new master. She spends a year alone in the woods, and nearly dies of exposure and starvation. In desperation, she eats the poisonous berries of the firethorn tree, but doesn’t die. Instead, she has a kind of revelation that leads her to believe she’s become a servant of the gods and change her name to Firethorn.

Upon returning to civilization, Firethorn meets Sire Galan, a young knight on his way to war. They become lovers and he takes her along with him as his personal camp follower. Even under his protection, it’s a tough life for Firethorn. The society of her world is extremely stratified, and as one of the “mudfolk,” she is the lowest of the low. Her relationship with Galan is fraught with conflict, and just when she thinks she might feel safe with him, he does something incredibly foolish that places both their lives in jeopardy. Even though they’re not yet at war, Firethorn finds herself fighting for her life as well as her integrity.

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Book Review: Steerswoman Series- Rosemary Kirstein

Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of fantasy. I must be cursed, because I choose only unfinished series to start. Maybe it’s karma for all of the angry thoughts I’ve harbored towards George R.R. Martin, or my devious plan to find out where he lives, become his neighbor, “befriend” his wife so I can hover anxiously in their kitchen and nag him about getting back to writing. Yes. Surely I’m being punished for all of that.

The Steerswoman
The Steerswoman

On the plus side, I’ve read some pretty good stuff lately, and this series was one of them. First published in 1989, The Steerswoman gained a small but devoted following. These poor people had to wait ELEVEN YEARS between books two and three, so I should probably quit whining.  Published as ebooks in 2013, they seem to be gaining in popularity, as well they should.

Rowan is a steerswoman, a guild of navigators and seekers of knowledge:

If you ask, she must answer. A steerswoman’s knowledge is shared with any who request it; no steerswoman may refuse a question, and no steerswoman may answer with anything but the truth.

And if she asks, you must answer. It is the other side of tradition’s contract — and if you refuse the question, or lie, no steerswoman will ever again answer even your most casual question.

And so, the steerswomen — always seeking, always investigating — have gathered more and more knowledge about the world they traveled, and they share that knowledge freely.

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