Tag Archives: historical fiction

Bookhunter

Bookhunter / Jason Shiga

Cold open

The metropolitan library system is divided into two equally important groups: the Librarians, who facilitate access to information and the Library Police who investigate crimes against it. This is their story.

(Gavel sound)

The Library Police have finally tracked down the individual responsible for the disappearance of multiple copies of Judy Blume’s Forever. While preparing to break into the criminal’s apartment and recover the books they discover that the fiend is holding the books hostage. Thanks to the quick thinking of the inspector and the creative use of a shotgun, the books are retrieved unharmed. But this is only the beginning…

(Opening credits)

(Commercial break)

Law

(Dramatic glasses removal)

A Caxton Bible on loan to the main branch of the public library has mysteriously disappeared without triggering any of the security systems.

(Dramatic glasses return)

The Library Police are called in to investigate the case.

(Dramatic glasses removal)

They must discover the source of the replica currently in the display case, how the culprit managed to get the book out of the library without triggering the security system, and what

(Commercial break)

(Gavel sound)

(Dramatic glasses removal)

the villain’s ultimate goal is. They’ll use the most up-to-date technology to track down the culprit and retrieve the stolen book … by any means necessary.

(Gavel sound)

Continue reading Bookhunter

The three musketeers

The three musketeers / Alexandre Dumas, père

Seeing as how it’s been quite a while since I did something that wasn’t 20th century sf, I figured I’d go back to the classics and take a look at The three musketeers.

Spoiler: it’s not particularly faithful to subsequent adaptations

Brief plot summary

D’Artagnan is a hotheaded would-be musketeer. Armed with an ugly horse, his father’s sword, a letter of recommendation, and instructions from his father to fight as many duels as possible, d’Artagnan leaves his native Gascony and heads for Paris. Adventure, espionage, and “romance” ensue.

Continue reading The three musketeers

Cryptonomicon

Cryptonomicon / Neil Stephenson

Going to break things up now for a book that is (arguably) not sff at all.

Cryptonomicon is really two books in one. The first book is a story about cryptographers during World War II, while the second book is set during the 1990s and features the descendants of the characters from the first book as they attempt to set up a data haven.

The two stories are connected in many ways but Stephenson leaves it to the reader to figure out what those connections are.

Plot summary

See the previous paragraph.

So how is it?

It’s pretty good if you can get through it. I’ve read it several times and each time I’ve enjoyed it for different reasons.

Both stories are largely about highly intelligent but socially awkward people. The book does a good job of being about technical issues without reading like a tech manual (I’m looking at you, Kim Stanley Robinson). There’s one section that features a couple of pages of code, but it’s not necessary to have any understanding of what that means. 

Most of the technical stuff is techbro in jokes and in no way integral to understanding or appreciating the book.

The World War II segments are funny and present a side of the conflict that frequently goes unnoticed. Alan Turing appears, as does Reagan and MacArthur. It’s kind of a Forrest Gump situation. It’s a fun story featuring viewpoint characters on both sides of the conflict.

The 1990s segments are a little trickier. They are considerably less focused and at times it seems like a serie of unconnected events. There is a coherent narrative here but it’s mostly buried under an exploration of 90s techbro culture.

I initially felt like the 90s half of the book was an extended paean to techbro types. There are plenty of swipes at academics and others who “don’t get” technology and/or engineering. It’s somewhat off putting and the stereotype of the effete bleeding heart professor who tries to save the world but is incapable of understanding people who do “real” work is so tired it needs a bottle of. Klonazepam and a couple decades of sleep.

So on my second read through I really didn’t enjoy the 90s segments. The third time around I saw them in a different light, as the dotcom heroes aren’t exactly portrayed entirey positively either. What’s interesting is that the forerunners of a lot of modern techbro culture are here: weird love of guns, technocratic ideals, naïveté about the groups most likely to invest in a data haven, even nofap shows up.

So I enjoyed those segments more when I viewed them from that angle, that they were foreshadowing a lot of the coming problems with the tech industry. The caricaturization of academia is still somewhat grating but bothers me less now than it did then.

The ending comes out of nowhere and draws on a minor plot point mentioned early on and then never referenced again. It’s a mess but the rest of the book is pretty good.

Recommendation

This is a good crossover novel. Historical fiction aficionados will like the WWII narrative and sff fans will appreciate Stephenson’s obvious geek cred and affection for the community.

I still hesitate to recommend it sometimes because of the number of stories I’ve heard about people struggling to finish it. It’s also a book that gets better with a second reading. 

So I recommend it to patrons who like all those war stories since it’s the closest thing I’ve read, an occasionally recommend it to parents of teenagers frustrated that their kids won’t read “real” novels.

It’s length is intimidating, which is the book’a biggest stumbling block. It’s a great vacation read and a go to for fans of Dan Brown and Clive Cussler. It’s less intellectually dishonest than the former and less racist than the latter.

Lord of the silver bow

Blergh.

Lord of the silver bow is the first book in David Gemmell’s Troy series, which is more of an alternate history version of the Trojan war than it is a reimagining of the Iliad, which is how I frequently see the series portrayed.

Brief plot summary

Tensions are rising between the Greeks and Trojans.

Aeneas and Odysseus  are close friends, despite being allied with opposing poweres. Aeneas is in love with Hector’s fiancée, Andromache. There’s a lot of complicated interpersonal relationship drama, coupled with the fact that the heroes on both sides of the conflict are basically pirates.

The actual plot is fairly convoluted and there are enough surprises that it’s hard to reveal much else here.

Continue reading Lord of the silver bow

Thomas the rhymer

Thomas the rhymer / Ellen Kushner.

Thomas the rhymer is a fictional take on the quasi-historical figure of the same name. The Thomas the rhymer ballad shares a decent amount, historically, with the ballad of Tam Lin.

Brief plot summary

Thomas the rhymer tells the story of the minstrel Thomas, his seven yeras of captivity in Faerie, and his eventual return to the mortal world. Taken in by an elderly couple both before and after his imprisonment, each segment of the story is told from the point of view of a different character.

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Montmorency : thief, liar, gentleman?

Montmorency : thief, liar, gentleman? / Eleanor Updale

And now for something completely different

To contrast with my recent posts, now I’m going to go back to historical fiction and books for younger readers.

Brief plot summary

Montmorency is a thief lurking in the streets of 19th century London. Captured by the police and gravely injured in the process, he is taken in by an eccentric young doctor who is going to use his success in treating Montmorency to secure his position in the London Scientific Society. Montmorency makes a discovery at one of these seminars that will inspire him in the greatest heist of his career.

Continue reading Montmorency : thief, liar, gentleman?

Under the jolly roger

Under the jolly roger / L.A. Meyer. First published 2005.

After my previous post I figured it was time to move on to something different. Under the jolly roger is the third book in the Bloody Jack series. It features a return to the naval novel-style adventures of the first book after the school story interlude of Curse of the blue tattoo.

Brief plot summary

Having made her way back to England aboard the Pequod, Jacky immediately attempts to track down her sweetheard Jaimy. After an encounter with his mother’s classism and a romantic comedy-esque Hilarious Misunderstanding, Jacky finds herself press-ganged into service on the HMS Wolverine.

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Scaramouche

Scaramouche / Rafael Sabatini

“He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad.”

I think I’ve used that quote before on this blog, no?

Scaramouche is one of the all-time classic swashbuckling novels. Like Dumas, Sabatini has a gift for infusing exciting adventures with intense emotional depth. Scaramouche, a book set in France during the Revolution written by an Italian author, was originally written in English and so bleeble blop blorp blonk.

Brief plot summary

Andre-Louis is the illegitimate child of an unknown, probably noble, father. Traines as a lawyer, he was raised in Brittany with his godfather. When the local marquis kills his best friend in a duel, Andre-Louis decides to seek justice for the murder. A series of misadventures results in Andre-Louis becoming a wanted man for (perhaps unintentionally) inciting revolution. Going undercover with a group of Commedia dell’arte players, he takes on the guise of the stock character Scaramouche.

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The club Dumas

The club Dumas / Arturo Pérez-Reverte.

“He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad”
-Scaramouche

The club Dumas is a bibliophile’s adventure novel, and was the basis for the film The ninth gate starring Johnny Depp. It’s also one of my favorite books of all time.

Originally published in Spanish, I read the English translation. Pérez-Reverte is very picky when it comes to his translations (he originally did not allow his books to be translated into any language but French) and the English edition of The club Dumas is very well done.

Brief plot summary

Lucas Corso is a rare book dealer hired to authenticate a previously unknown manuscript of a chapter from Dumas’s The three musketeers. At the same time, he is commissioned to discover which of the remaining three copies of the book De umbrarum regni novem portis is the only genuine, non-counterfeit copy.

Lucas’s journey takes him all around Europe where he is joined by a mysterious American tourist in a series of incidents bearing a more than passing resemblence to the plot of The three musketeers.

Continue reading The club Dumas

The curse of the blue tattoo

The curse of the blue tattoo / L.A. Meyer. Originally published 2004.

The curse of the blue tattoo is the second novel in the Bloody Jack series. Like the rest of the series, the setting departs considerably from that of the previous novel while still maintaining its wit and sense of adventure. It is in equal parts school story, fish-out-of-water comedy, and murder mystery.

Brief plot description

(minimal spoilers for the previous installment)

Bloody Jack ends with Jacky Faber, her gender having been discovered by her captain, being dropped off at an East Coast bording school for young ladies. Jacky is then forced to contend with a minister named Mather, “old money” types, and strict teachers all while trying to figure out how to be reunited with her Jaimy, her One True Love.

Continue reading The curse of the blue tattoo