Elizabeth Schaefer (ed.), From a Certain Point of View: The Empire Strikes Back (2020)

Author: Elizabeth Schaefer (ed.), multiple authors

Title: From a Certain Point of View: The Empire Strikes Back

Format: E-book

Pages: 544

Series: Star Wars: From A Certain Point of View #2

From a Certain Point of View: The Empire Strikes Back is a collection of 40 short stories commissioned for the 40th anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back memorable debut in an era long gone. It’s a second such venture, after a collection of stories centered around New Hope met with fans’ enthusiasm and quite solid approval – and we all know what a rowdy and unruly and spoiled bunch SW fans usually are 😉.

I haven’t read the first collection, but buoyed by the fond recollections of the Anderson’s anthology Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina and seeing as The Empire Strikes Back remains my favorite SW movie of all times (not that it had any real competition recently), I decided to give this one a chance. There is a solid representation from well-known authors, such as Martha Wells and Django Wexler to Seth Dickinson, Catherynne M. Valente and S.A. Chakraborty, as well as a whole slew of authors completely new to me. This collection, apart from the strong nostalgia factor and a big dose of curiosity topped by healthy mistrust of anything SW-Disney 😉, represented a chance for me to check out some new names and their writing chops.

However, as simple listing of the authors and their stories’ titles has taken me nearly 300 words, I decided to review them in a slightly different than usual mode: as with short stories collections, I will give each story a rating – but this time, I will endeavor to describe every story in 5 words or more (well, usually more, as you’ll see). So, without further ado, here we go:

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The Guilty Reader Tag

Piotrek: Back in October we’ve been nominated for this tag by the illustrious Orangutan Librarian herself! A set of dangerous, exhibitionist questions designed to reveal our bookish sins. Lets see how sinful we are, then, within the limits of our honesty 😉

Ola: Mea culpa, mea culpa… I’m getting in the mood 😀

Have you ever re-gifted a book you’ve been given?

Piotrek: I wanted to start this survey with a resolute “NO”, but I think I actually did commit this sin, years ago. There was a book I had two copies of, as I first bought it myself and then received as a gift. I got invited to a birthday party on a very short notice, and did not arrange to buy a joint gift together with other friends, as we used to usually do those days. I gave this book, which was actually much more suited to my taste than the giftee… not a very proud moment. After that, I always either sold such books on Polish equivalent of eBay, or gave them away to strangers.

Ola: I remember I entertained that thought but ultimately didn’t. Said book, which I hate with a passion and know it would’ve been better received by someone else (Carlos Ruiz Zafon, The Shadow of the Wind, for those interested) still burdens my shelves.

Have you ever said you’ve read a book when you haven’t?

Piotrek: Do high school lit classes count ;)? Because I’ve been an avid reader since the age of seven, but some of the stuff we’ve been told to read just failed to resonate with me. In one case I admit I was probably wrong and should go back to the book. In a few others – I’m unrepentant.

I don’t remember doing so in recent years. What would be the point?

Ola: Yes, you should revisit this book!!! It’s great, and shame on you! 😀

I don’t think I did… though I might’ve mixed up a comic or two and said I read one meaning the other, and realize that only after the fact.

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Hilary Mantel, The Mirror & the Light (2020)

Author: Hilary Mantel

Title: The Mirror & the Light

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 883

Series: Thomas Cromwell #3

“We have all read the sermons. We could write them ourselves. But we are vain and ambitious all the same, and we never do live quiet, because we rise in the morning and we feel the blood coursing in our veins and we think, by the Holy Trinity, whose head can I stamp on today? What worlds are at hand, for me to conquer?”

The Mirror & the Light, the grand finale of Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell trilogy, is, like the two previous books, a precious and unique tour de force. I say this without hesitation: to me, this trilogy constitutes the best of what Western literature of the last several decades has to offer. It’s a true modern classic; a required reading that I cannot recommend highly enough. I have read Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies before this blog was even an idea, so I haven’t written reviews for them and I doubt I will anytime soon – definitely not before a reread, and these are books that require a lot of effort and attention to be fully appreciated 😉; what I can say here is that all three deserve the highest praise as rare masterpieces.

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Max Gladstone, Empress of Forever (2019)

I’m a fan of Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence novels. They are not perfect, but they have incredible worldbuilding. He created an amazing system that connects religion, magic and economy that make his world go round in a way that is imaginative, entertaining, but also, I believe, tells us something interesting about our world. One of the definitions of great genre fiction…

So, when the time came to spend one of my Audible credits, and I learned that Gladstone’s new novel is available, I decided to go for it. It’s not part of the Craft Sequence, but it was long (I always try to get a long listen for my credit 😉 ) and I was in a mood for a nice space opera.

Author: Max Gladstone

Title: Empress of Forever

Format: Audiobook

Narrator: Natalie Naudus

Length: 19 hrs and 38 mins

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Olivier Barde-Cabuçon, The Inspector of Strange and Unexplained Deaths (2020)

Author: Olivier Barde-Cabuçon

Title: The Inspector of Strange and Unexplained Deaths

Format: E-book

Pages: 384

Series: The Inspector of Strange and Unexplained Deaths #1

The Inspector of Strange and Unexplained Deaths, from now on TISUD for the sake of me finishing this review this year and you ever reading it in full, is the first instalment in a 7-book series, a recipient of a Prix Sang d’encre for 2012, and the only Barde-Cabuçon book currently translated to English. Published by Pushkin Vertigo imprint in their series of non-English mysteries and crime novels, it had earlier existed on the market under a probably less sellable but more faithful to the original title, Casanova and a Faceless Woman. So, if you’ve read Casanova, TISUD is not a sequel, but the same exact book, just republished 😉. Ooof. Since this book is about mysterious, mistaken and hidden identities, the whole affair with the English title is simply delightfully ironic.

TISUD is a historical crime novel, and a very peculiar one at that. It takes place in 1759 in decadent Paris, somewhere between the shiny halls of Versailles ruled by debauched Louis XV and his cohorts, and the dirty, dangerous hovels of Parisian suburbs inhabited by the desperate poor. The social climate is the most compelling character in this novel, as the general population of Paris is seething with resentment, misery and anger, and seems on a brink of revolution, while the decadent elites seem oblivious to both the inequity and the inherent risks (and since it’s historical fiction, TISUD gets this part to a t).

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