Week 1 – 2018

1. This is one of my favorite novels, especially to read aloud in the car. Scheria and Permia are countries that have a restless peace between them, and a team of Scherian fencers are sent to Permia for a goodwill tour. But wherever they go, people keep dying, and not just because here they fight with messers, God help them. One of the team members is probably a spy. Sharps by K. J. Parker is easily his greatest standalone novel.

There’s so much to love about this book, the way that each scene is a power struggle, the way that the fencing and fighting is beautifully described, the way you really know each of the fencers–Suidas Deutzel, Scherian champion with PTSD; Addo Carnufex, son of the general who decimated the Permians; Giraut and Iseutz, two somewhat ordinary nonprofessional fencers; Phrantzes, the retired champion team coach. And then, in the end, the way you really don’t know any of them. Every page is funny, and the ending is spectacular.

2. The fourth book in The Raven Cycle, The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater, was bewildering and unsatisfying. The book suffered from a complete lack of normal characters. Blue, Gansey, Ronan, and Adam, the four protagonists, each over the course of the series acquired or realized some sort of supernatural skill; by the end of the story, the skills were so entangled with general magical strangeness that it was unclear who could do what. The ultimate battle against a demon? to save a mystical forest? was so impossible that it was even narrated from the point of view of the character least involved, who was extremely closely involved.

But that seemed to be the main problem, a lack of perspective or distance. The narrator at the beginning of the series, an ordinary girl in a house full of psychics, turned out to be one of the most extraordinary, making her unsuitable to tell the story. And since none of the raven boys would do, nobody normal was left. The great promise of the first two installments completely fell apart for me in the latter two, alas.

3. The third book in the Vatta’s War series, Engaging the Enemy by Elizabeth Moon, on the other hand, continues to deliver the Ky Vatta one expects–doubted by most but vindicated in the end. The hunt for vengeance continues, and complications arise when Ky finds some unexpected tension between herself and her cousin Stella. As Ky attempts to recover Vatta property, address the piracy problem, and avoid accusations of piracy herself, she must confront a growing suspicion about the renegade Vatta whose ship she now commands. Ky continues to do exactly the right thing, which can get tiresome, but it’s a fun middle book that I mainly expect to convey the narrative toward the major confrontation.

And every Aunt Grace scene is a joy, so there’s that to recommend it.

4. I’ll be using my new Five-Year Diary to record my books read. I’m excited to see my reading patterns as the years go on. Next up, of course, will be The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare. I am the type of nerd who is looking forward to reading the critical preface.

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