Leigh Bardugo, The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic (2017)

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Author: Leigh Bardugo

Title: The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic

Pages: 288

Format: Hardcover

A collection of fables set in Bardugo’s Grishaverse, The Language of Thorns first came to my attention through Trang’s review on Bookidote. As a novice to Bardugo’s writing, without any reading experience in Grishaverse, but with rather better knowledge in the areas of myth, fairy tale and fable, I can conclude that Language of Thorns is an inventive, pleasurable read, which pleases the eye as much as the mind, owing that to wonderful illustrations by Sara Kipin. Though it would certainly do better without the lengthy and slightly cheesy subtitle, I think I understand the sentiment, especially that this book is advertised to an audience slightly younger than me ;).

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William Golding, The Inheritors (1955)

I’ve read Sapiens by Harari recently, and it rekindled my interest in the earliest history of our species. Shortly after that, a review of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Shaman on Weighing a pig doesn’t fatten it led to me reading that novel and I was very happy it did. Robinson managed to create a believable impression of the culture of people who lived long before anything could be written down. Scientists use the pieces they find to speculate and search the furthest corners of the world for tribes that continue to live the lives of hunter-gatherers… but only a novelist can make me feel a sense of connection with people from so long ago!

In the discussion below his review, Bart mentioned William Golding’s The Inheritors as one of the sources of Robinson’s inspiration, and I was curious. Golding is one of my favourite writers, Lord of the Flies one of the books that influenced me the most. He left his mark on how I think about the nature of evil, its presence in society and individual, the fragility of civilization, and of religion. I’m slightly less pessimistic on these issues now, but I hold Golding in high esteem.

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Tim Powers, Declare (2001)

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Author: Tim Powers

Title: Declare

Pages: 517

Format: Hardcover

Thy story is a marvelous one! If it were graven with needles on the corners of the eye, it would serve as a warning to those that can profit by example.

A Cold War era spy thriller/horror/love story, centered around the life of the infamous Soviet spy Kim Philby, where French, American, British and Soviet secret services are viciously fighting for access to a supernatural power – djinn, or nephilim, or fallen angles, residing in remote wildness of Arabian deserts. And the famous Mount Ararat. So, in short, if you want to know why USSR fell in 1991, read Declare ;).

Tim Powers did it again. He found a nexus of happenstance, coincidence, inexplicable historical facts, and, diligently digging around through archives and his own subconscious, created an improbable, but inherently logical explanation to it all. One that involves Thousand Nights and One Night, T.E Lawrence, British Secret Service, Mount Ararat and Dead Sea scrolls, as well as baptism in Jordan River, a disgraced nun, an inhabited fox, the vagaries of Heaviside Layer and a colony of djinn.

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A Slip of the Keyboard: Collected Non-Fiction of Terry Pratchett

Summer continues, I’m actually starting my vacation tomorrow afternoon, and it’s going to be 2,5 weeks! But blogging requires some regularity, and so I decided to write a few words about a very special book. Terry Pratchett is a very special author, one I’ve been reading for over 20 years. I’m now in the middle (at book 16, to be precise) of the systematic re-read of the entire Discworld and I appreciate him even more.

I prefer to learn about writers’ ideas through their novels, but Pratchett is important enough to me, and his untimely demise started my slow – and now accelerating – re-read of his books, and motivated me to learn more about the man himself. There is a very moving documentary from BBC, Terry Pratchett: Back in Black, the story of his life featuring Pratchett just before Alzheimer took him, a master of language struggling with simple words, but still a powerful, wise figure. He says, at the beginning:

They say your life flashes in front of your eyes before you die.

This is true. It’s called living. But nobody’s really dead until all the ripples they have created on Earth have completely died away, so as long as my words and my stories are still sploshing around the planet, there’s life in the old dog yet.

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Recently bought, or a short summertime post.

It’s a very hot August in Krakow, Poland, and if you escape to the mountains on the weekend – you better start your hiking very early to avoid the scorching Sun. The caves were very cold though, yes – but muddy. So, I was supposed to write something around the last weekend, but I just couldn’t, and I have a book I want to review that will have to wait at least a week… I decided to just write a few words about my latest book-buying spree.

I buy a lot, about 2/3 used – 1/3 new. This year I decided to slow down a bit in 2018, so I’ve only bought 70 books, versus 135 last year (that is, during the entire 2017). It’s August already, so that is a slight progress 😉 Maybe I’ll even succeed in staying under 100? I’ve started my spreadsheet in 2003 and… let’s agree, it’s a costly addiction. Not as costly as cigarettes, but its objects do not go up in smoke, they occupy more and more space in my flat…

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Brian McClellan, Wrath of Empire (2018)

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Author: Brian McClellan

Title: Wrath of Empire

Pages: 656

Format: Hardcover

A sequel to Sins of Empire, Wrath of Empire picks up where Sins ended. General Vlora Flint leads her Riflejacks turned mercenary army away from Landfall in a doomed effort of protecting refugees. I say “doomed”, because two Dynize armies literally race each other to finish her off more quickly and efficiently, and a Fatrastan army on the other side of the river wants her imprisoned and tried for treason. Mad Ben Styke accompanies Vlora with his own unit, reborn from the ashes of old Mad Lancers, and ponders the difficult dilemmas of vengeance, while Michel Brevis, still in his role as a Gold Rose Blackhat, smuggles families of other Blackhat members from the occupied capital city. Sounds tough, but that’s only the beginning: they all will soon face even greater dangers and more impossible tasks, because, as usual in McClellan’s books, the neck-breaking pace of action doesn’t relent for even a moment.

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Wrath of Empire can be described as an impressive string of pitched battles, deadly ambushes and duels, balanced with a huge amount of politics, internal struggles of various factions, torture, and betrayal. I’d go as far as to say that the military part of the book is the lighter one. The dark, underground maze beneath Landfall, in which insurgent/terrorist cells of Fatrastan Blackhats are hiding and from which they plot bombings and assassinations, is an apt metaphor of McClellan’s vision of politics. It’s as off-putting as it’s dangerous, and yet it remains an integral part of the life of the city above, connected to it through various hidden tunnels and cellars. McClellan seems to maintain a romantic view of war, full of heroic acts of selfless bravery and beautiful cavalry charges, miraculous deliverances in the last second and improbably lucky coincidences. In contrast, there is nothing romantic in the image of political struggle he paints in the Wrath of Empire, where even heroic, selfless deeds are met with suspicion, allegiances change with the speed of light, while the final goal seems at best unattainable and at worst non-existent. Yet more than the pitched battles I enjoyed the descriptions of  tangled politics of the Dynize occupying force, and really appreciated the complexity of the Dynize image, who weren’t portrayed as universally bad guys. Having Michel operate in the midst of the occupying force served very well as an opportunity to show all shades of personalities also among the notional enemy.

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Edward Luttwak, The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire from the First Century AD to the Third (1976)

P1020388Author: Edward Luttwak

Title: The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire from the First Century AD to the Third

Pages: 255

Format: Hardback

I really enjoyed our last post and first excursion into non-fiction, and so now I follow with another one, this time less controversial and something every epic/military fantasy fan can safely read. My original idea for how to select non-fiction books for Re-enchantment was to find tomes that could be used to better enjoy genre fiction. I’m a great believer in context, in building up one’s general knowledge to see the broader picture. It’s crucial for every serious reader of historical novels, but with fantasy, so deeply connected to the medieval and ancient history of our planet, it’s just as useful. There were never any wizards nor dragons on this Earth, but we had knights, and legions, and empires that had to rely on primitive (when compared to our) technology – and if we read a bit about them, we can judge – and appreciate – the worldbuilding of genre masters so much more.

The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire… by Edward Luttwak was a book I mentioned before, while criticizing a semi-historical novel I did not like, but Luttwak is not a starting point for people interested in Roman history. For that, go to /r/history, they have excellent sections for book and podcast recommendation. Books I’ve read are in Polish and 10-20 years behind latest research. Luttwak wrote a book on strategy of an ancient empire and whatever historians of antiquity might find in his arguments, it’s a great way to further your understanding of how difficult it was to defend a large state without modern communications and logistics. It definitely should be read by every genre author with worldbuilding ambitions.

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