Wednesday, November 21, 2018

The Templars: The Rise and Spectacular Fall of God's Holy WarriorsThe Templars: The Rise and Spectacular Fall of God's Holy Warriors by Dan Jones
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A great treatment of a truly spectacular legend/horrorshow.

The story of the Templar Knights is gloriously varied, complex, courageous, insane, praiseworthy, mysterious, and tragic. It's primarily a history about the five Crusades and chivalry, but it becomes a harrowing monstrosity by the time King Phillipe enacts his vendetta against the Order.

I simplify. There's two hundred years worth of fascinating and edge-of-the-seat crusader action going on here as well as a farce of a trial that cut the head off of the first International Bank that the Templars had become for the sake of stealing its wealth.

Of course, all the Templars COULD have been telling the truth after years of torture in dungeons extracting confessions that they were kissing bejeweled bearded heads and penises before and after spitting and trampling across the cross. But... Yeah... That's reasonable.

Dan Brown does a damn good job with the narration, adding bright anecdotes wherever he could.

My only complaint is the summary single-line dismissals in the epilogue for ALL "What Happened Afterward" theories. Whole popular books like Holy Blood, Holy Grail: The Secret History of Jesus, the Shocking Legacy of the Grail, The Da Vinci Code, and even Umberto Eco's satire Foucault's Pendulum were given nothing more a few words equivalent to a spit and a trample.

The first was a genuine investigation that might not have panned out with further study, the second was a popular novel that leaves the decision to believe on us, and the third was a funny, sharp-as-nails tongue-in-cheek satire making fun of ALL conspiracies while being erudite at the same time.

Dan Jones could have just kept his history focused on the actual history rather than mentioning, rather dismissively, a rather enormous library of works devoted to the mystery of the Templar Knights and "What Happened Afterward". His opinions in the epilogue are just that. Unsubstantiated opinions. Literally. Single-line dismissals. It mars what was otherwise a fantastic recounting of factual history, even if a lot of the history remains mysterious and missing.

History does require a narrative for us to make sense of it. What Jones left out was the immense amount of learning, from science to history, the exchange of cultures between these two Holy War combatants across the centuries. We are also missing any possible deeper significance to what amounts to the bankrupting of whole nations to retake the Holy Land during a time of plague. It reads like nations preparing for the Olympics or a bloody Football League. WHY would so many resources be thrown at this Search for the Holy Grail?

Oh, wait, see what I did there? I used a metaphor for the whole purpose of the Crusades to illustrate that for a lot of the people there, it was LITERALLY the Search for the Holy Grail.

Narrative. See? Skip the narrative and all you have are a bunch of Monks With Swords aiming to get killed for the Glory of God. Nothing more. It doesn't exactly inspire my imagination. I'm sure the motivations were as varied among the Templars as they would be across any person alive.

Anyway. lol

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Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Red ClocksRed Clocks by Leni Zumas
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sorry, SF fans, this one isn't SF no matter how it might be billed that way. There is ONE alteration to reality and it's only a legal one. Abortions are outlawed. The rest is, as they say, history.

Enter into a novel about vaginas. Names are missing because it's popular to write about real people as only their roles.

Other than that, it feels like popular fiction, complete with disgruntled housewives, teachers who dream of having children but are denied, little girls who get pregnant and must suffer all kinds of horrors in this realistic world of insanity. Just roll back the clock a little. Or roll it forward. Roe VS Wade is HISTORY.

All in all, this novel *is* a what-if. It says nothing more than what I already believe, that women should not have to suffer, either economically or legally or socially, for the desire NOT to be saddled with a real and true burden. Not unless they're able and willing to take care of said burden.

And yet, what makes this novel popular is the fear that this little freedom will soon go away. In real life.

Horrible? Yes.

It's a subject that should not be shot, burned, ostracized, locked-away, or otherwise relegated to dirty street corners with coat hangers.

As a novel, however, it's okay. I might have liked it better if the more fascinating Biographer had an actual name. A lot of the details of the characters' lives were more interesting than their Roles would have them be. Is it on purpose? Undoubtedly. Did it work the way it should have? Not sure, but I'm leaning toward no.

It wasn't bad tho and I support the attempt.

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Monday, November 19, 2018

Vengeful (Villains, #2)Vengeful by V.E. Schwab
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It has been a while since I read Vicious, but that didn't stop me from fully enjoying this sequel.

Aftermaths are a bitch.

A quiet few years of dying over a hundred times isn't all that it's cracked up to be. Of course, one death is bad enough for all the specials who get their powers through a close call, but I have to say our main anti-heroes have it bad. It's all torture. Their whole lives.

Fortunately, friends make all the difference. It's all about strengthening your weak points and putting together a team that's impossible to beat. Or in Eli's case, laugh as his heart is cut out. Repeatedly.

I had a great time reading this. Every character is vivid as hell and the story is deliciously dark and twisted. No one is unabashedly good and most are frankly terrible people. But most of them have great super-powers and motivations that run the full range, so what the hell! This tale is as juicy as a still beating heart. :)

After reading so many of Schwab's books, I have to say that her adult fare is probably my favorite. Still. :)

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The Bird KingThe Bird King by G. Willow Wilson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Set in 1491 Grenada, most of this novel reads like a devoted historical novel where the Muslim world is mixed with the Christian at a time when the Spanish Inquisition is running strong and the last Emirate is about to fall.

Fatima, the last concubine, and her friend Hassan, a mapmaker with the ability to open up doors to the Other, transforms this novel from a strict historical to an outright fantasy. But it happens slowly. The historicity of the world is rich and lush and it introduces the world of the Jinn and magic in pure magical realism style, later becoming an outright adventure to find the Bird King.

The old world has died. The only course now is survival. Perhaps happiness. But mostly, it's just finding a place to survive, and if it is with the help of the Jinn and all the creatures under Allah, so be it. Allah made all.

I liked the message at the end of the book.

I also happened to like G. Willow Wilson's Alif the Unseen a lot more. But that being said, there's a lot to love right here.

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Sunday, November 18, 2018

DichronautsDichronauts by Greg Egan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

For fans of multiple world-time-lines and especially for fans of Christopher Priest's The Inverted World, welcome to Dichronoauts.

Walking one way brings you to the future, the other, to the past. But space is still space and time is still time. Thanks to the little creature attached to the people here, we've got a cultural/exploratory thing going on that is the spiritual godchild of Priest's classic novel. Just look at the cover to get an idea. That's a picture of the Earth. As in, the Earth, to these people, is shaped like an hourglass. That makes EVERYTHING pretty messed up. :)

So let's explore! And the characters barely know anything more than us, so we're introduced to many theories that may sound absurd, but the Earth is ALREADY absurd... because time and alternate worldlines are as easily traversed as walking across a field.

As a LITERAL worldbuilding novel, almost all the fun is in exploring and visualizing the world they inhabit.

The rest... well... as okay. Not overly special. The chasm was pretty cool. Bits and pieces elsewhere. But overall, I was not overly invested in any character.

Win some, lose some. The cool aspects are VERY cool, however. :)

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Saturday, November 17, 2018

Alif the UnseenAlif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A clever mashup of equal parts efreet fantasy and golden hackers in a Big Brother Muslim state seems like a winner at first glance to me. I love everything about the first two and the addition of throwing it into a Muslim culture MAY or may not have been a winning move. Sometimes it can come off strange or cheesy or uncomfortable.

Fortunately, Wilson's strong writing and respectful nature carried a number of complex and interesting characters into a great tale with romantic elements, stronger hackereze, and a massive David and Goliath take-down that rove right into the Unseen world of the spirits of air and fire.

How does this work?

Well, as a matter of fact.

Combining the mystical permutations of Allah with quantum computing is as natural as breathing. Has anyone seen Pi? ;)

So, this book mashed all my buttons. I didn't even care it was YA. I'm a fan.

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The Monster Baru Cormorant (The Masquerade, #2)The Monster Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Remember the Red Wedding scene in GoT?

That sense of horror and disgust and shock and the feeling that everything was NOT going to be all right ever again?

That's how I feel now, having read Monster Baru Cormorant.

Sure, sure, I kinda felt that way at the end of Traitor Baru Cormorant, too, but this is the real deal. The Game is set up and all the pieces are on the board. No side trusts her and yet, no one KNOWS, and yet she still manages to keep everyone doubting. Is Baru with them? Against? Is she fighting and scheming against the Masquerade? For it?

Even she doesn't know. She's betrayed so many people, thinks of herself as a monster, and yet she is still having an issue between wearing a mask for doing the right thing or just doing the right thing because it's right, with no calculation.

It's obviously a journey novel, but she knows all the islands in this fantasy realm. She's the one gaining ever more power. But pushing aside the deeply dark bits, it's more about identity. Being a lesbian, being feared, finding real connections with others, and making absolutely impossible decisions... regularly.

The novel juggles all of it brilliantly, and more. The islands and cultures are amazing. The depth of worldbuilding is as good or better than almost any Fantasy novel I've read. And the author doesn't stint when it comes to economics, politics, science, medicine, and even the mythological ramifications of a world rich with uranium (and how it poisons the people here).

Every character is smart. Almost everyone wears a mask between official beliefs and keeping an open mind, between faith and mistrust. But best of all, the journey Hits Hard. *shiver*

Well worth the wait.

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