I have not been able to stick with a single book this week, and I don’t know why. After finally getting through Abundance the week previous, I finished re-reading The Oracle Glass several days ago. Since then, I have started A Factory of Cunning (which I accidentally left at my sister’s house last Thursday), Lord John and the Private Matter (the first chapters of which proved uninteresting), and A Conspiracy of Paper (tolerable so far). I also received a new copy of Black Alibi by Cornell Woolrich, which I am looking forward to as I’ve not yet read that one.
I did finally catch up on reviews for Abundance and The Oracle Glass, though, which is good, as I hate a backlog. This week, I hope to fnish at least ONE of the three I started, and I might start Villette by Charlotte Brontë for July’s reading.
The Oracle Glass by Judith Merkle Riley
Fawcett Columbine, 1st printing, 1995
Genre: historical fiction, fantasy, romance
Synopsis & Review: Born ugly and crippled, Genevieve Pasquier is abandoned to a crèche by her mother, only to be rescued five years later by her father, who had been told that she’d died at birth. Precocious and thoughtful, Genevieve is reviled by her mother and doted upon by her philosophy-reading father, who tutors her in the Stoics and logic. Both Genevieve and her older sister Marie-Angelique grow up sheltered in the House of the Marmousets, gazing out upon Paris while they read Roman philosophy and romance novels, respectively. When her beloved father dies suddenly, Genevieve’s mother locks her up and interrogates her about a mysterious fortune overseas, but knowing nothing of it, Genevieve cannot provide any answers, and is beaten and abused until she wishes to die. Fleeing her home, Genevieve is preparing to throw herself into the Seine when her soon-to-be benefactress, the mysterious La Voisin, stops her. La Voisin is willing to take Genevieve under her wing, granting her safety and revenge, for Genevieve possesses a rare and marvelous talent, the ability to read the future in water.
Under La Voisin’s tutelage, Genevieve is transformed into the mysterious Marquise de Morville, a beautiful hundred and fifty year old widow, and in Louis XIV’s France, fortune-telling, alchemy, and diabolism are all the rage, consulted by Frances finest men and women. La Voisin is Queen of Paris’ occult underworld, sponsoring occultists, abortionists, and poisoners amid the burgeoning scandal of the Affair of the Poisons, and Genevieve becomes deeply enmeshed in her world. While the nobility cavorts and occultists to a roaring trade in aphrodisiacs and inheritance powders, Police Chief de la Reynie and his Inspector Desgrez hound the Marquise de Brinvilliers through Europe before turning their eyes on homeward. Rising in power from La Voisin’s web, Genevieve struggles to find her own identity and happiness in the realms of the Sun King and the Shadow Queen. click here for more about The Oracle Glass
Abundance by Sena Jeter Naslund
Harper Perennial, 1st printing, 2007
Genre: historical fiction
Synopsis & Review: 7 May 1770, and on a small island in the middle of the Rhine, the Archduchess Maria Antonia became Marie Antoinette, Dauphine de France. Abundance follows Marie Antoinette from that tiny island to Versailles, recording her inner dialog as she adapts to the customs of her new country, doing her best to convince the French that Austria has sent them an “angel.” She struggles for the approbation of the King and his court, and that of the Dauphin, and that of the people. After seven long years of balls, gowns, gambling, and diamonds, Marie Antoinette and Louis finally consummate their marriage and begin a family. However, the fiscal collapse of the state, predicted at the start of the century, is nearly complete by the time Louis and Marie assume the throne, and it is they who shall reap the whirlwind. click here to see how I liked Abundance
As she puts it:
So! In my Official Capacity as a writer of science fiction and fantasy, I hereby proclaim June 23 Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Day! A day of celebration and wonder! A day for all of us readers of science fiction and fantasy to reach out and say thank you to our favorite writers. A day, perhaps, to blog about our favorite sf/f writers. A day to reflect upon how written science fiction and fantasy has changed your life.
So … what might you do on the 23rd to celebrate? Do you even read fantasy/sci-fi? Why? Why not?
Well, perhaps I’ll try a new author or book on June 23rd, one I haven’t yet read. I’m sure I have one or two around here …
Why yes, BTT, I do in fact read science fiction and fantasy. I do it because I enjoy it, and I have a long history with it, from a very early age. I recall lots of fantastical stories being read out loud to my little sister and I, and after all, how many children’s books don’t have an element of the fantastical? Books like Maurice Sendak’s Outside Over There and Where the Wild Things Are had very prominent places in my library, beside the more matter of fact tales of Madeline and Spot. The Weaving of Dream and beautifully illustrated versions of various fairy and folk tales were particular favorites, as was that imaginative creature Eloise.
When I grew a bit older, my mother introduced me to CS Lewis, Mary Stewart, Madeline L’Engle, and Roald Dahl, as well as books like Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH and the Doctor Doolittle books. My stepmother (who once owned Beaverton Books) added John Bellairs, Brian Jacques, Zilpha Keatley Snyder, and the excellent Amy’s Eyes to the mix, as well as Susan Cooper’s amazing The Dark is Rising Sequence. Movies like The Last Unicorn, The Never Ending Story, and The Princess Bride were also extremely influential, depicting fantastical worlds which I would later read about. In fourth grade, my mother let me read Stephen King’s The Eyes of the Dragon, which remains a favorite fantasy tale to this day. Books like those opened whole worlds for me, worlds that were outside my experience but were also immediately accessible. Children live in a world where fantasy is not all that unusual as they play their games of Pretend and What-If, and a great deal of children’s literature capitalizes on that fertile ground for their ideas. Of course, many people “grow” out of fantasy–and with no ill effects–but I did not.
I must have been eleven or twelve when my father bought me a copy of Glory Road by Robert A. Heinlein. We were on a camping trip in the wilds of northern Alberta, and it was a treat to keep me occupied (we always had a trip to Powell’s to stock up before long trips, but I must have run out). It was one of his favorites when he was young, and it was soon one of mine. Even now Heinlein is the single most represented author in my library–which is saying a lot–and his The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is always on my list of favorite books. From there I went on to authors like Douglas Adams, Piers Anthony (thankfully, a short-lived phase), Mercedes Lackey, Raymond E Feist, Kathleen Kurtz, CJ Cherryh, Anne McCaffrey, Alan Dean Foster, Spider Robinson, David Wingrove, Robert Jordan, Tolkein, Neil Gaiman, and George RR Martin.
One of the reasons I keep reading fantasy and science fiction is that the best fantasy and science fiction isn’t just good story, it also communicates ideas and concepts that are relevant to the world in which we live. Sometimes it is easier for people to recognize an ugly–or even a plain–truth about themselves or their culture when it is portrayed by the trappings of an exotic and fictional culture. It can put our world in perspective to read about other worlds. Fantasy and science fiction often rely on symbols and imagery to which we can relate, despite their being embedded in another place or time. Essentially, they ask, “What does it mean to be human?” and provide us with possible answers–or allow us to come up with answers on our own by providing a framework for critical thinking and analysis.
Plus, they’re hella fun.
Brief Gaudy Hour by Margaret Campbell Barnes
Originally published 1949
Sourcebooks Landmark, 1st printing, 2008
Genre: historical fiction
Synopsis & Review: Young, lovely Anne Boleyn follows her younger, lovelier sister Mary to the court of Henry Tudor and Katherine of Aragon. While Mary becomes the king’s mistress, Anne endears herself to the Princess Mary, going with her to the French king’s court where she learns and perfects the arts of the courtier. Witnessing both her sister Mary’s fall from grace as the king’s mistress and subsequent marriage, as well as the Princess Mary’s arranged first marriage and second passionate elopement, Anne is determined to seek happiness in marriage. When she meets and falls in love with Henry Percy of Northumberland, it seems as though her dreams might come true; after all, though they are both promised to others, theirs is an eminently suitable match, and the lovers swear to uphold it. Only Henry Tudor is watching, and he too desires the pretty, vivacious Nan Boleyn. At a word from the king, Cardinal Wolsey separates Anne from her lover so that Henry Tudor might step into his place. From there, Brief Gaudy Hour follows pretty little Nan Boleyn as she becomes The Concubine, The King’s Whore–all while keeping Henry at arm’s length for years until he is free to marry her. Anne carries her family and friends with her to dizzying heights of power, but her time as Queen of England is short, and nothing will stop her once she tumbles from grace. click here for more on Brief Gaudy Hour!