Elizabeth Bear (matociquala), ad eternum. I knew I would miss Abby Irene, but I got along better without her than I expected to. A lot of favorite series have been doing without a favorite character recently, and it's interesting to see how they manage differently. This volume does it by focusing on change, I felt, to its benefit.
Chaz Brenchley (desperance), House of Bells. This, on the other hand, is not ever establishing character continuity as a central feature of the series to begin with, but rather locational continuity. Which also works, as a way to do things, although I am less emotionally connected to the Swinging Sixties than to WWII homefront nursing. But as House of Doors was my favorite Chazbook, the fact that this was not quite up with it should not be read as a condemnation.
Norman Davies, God's Playground: A History of Poland: Volume II: 1795 to Present. It took me forever to slog through this. It was in the category of "gaps in my knowledge that need filling," and then I read the Olson/Cloud book earlier that touched on some aspects of this period of Polish history peripherally on the way to doing a much narrower and better-written thing. And then it was even more frustrating. Because problem one: this is a hard period to write about. Poland is not unified, so you end up with all sorts of scraps and pieces, and the organization of the writing is a genuinely hard question; Davies is not a talented writer. Problem two. Um. So for most of the book, Davies was trying very hard to fight the prevalent propaganda--both contemporary and in the time periods he was writing about--that to be a Pole is to be a Catholic. Which is worthy of him. But the occasional slippage was really damning. And when he got to the bit where people were asking why Poland didn't do more for its Jewish population during WWII...this is a valid question to ask, and Olson and Cloud answer it matter-of-factly and non-defensively on their way to doing other things. Davies, on the other hand, actually says in one hideous bit that you could as easily ask why the Jews didn't do more for the Poles.
No, really. He says this.
And no. No, you couldn't. It is not actually equivalent. It is just not.
If you heard an alto voice bellowing, "WHAT? You WHAT?" at some point and did not know why, it was probably me reading that line of this book.
He manages to pull himself together and get out what he really means, which is that Poland under the Nazis was a subjugated nation without a lot in the way of resources, which is true, and that there were Poles who did a great deal, also true. He does not say quite as clearly as he could that there was a preparatory layer of fairly recent anti-Semitism that was not what medieval Poland was about (although he does flail at this point), but in fact there was; he is not very clear, I think in a forest-for-the-trees problem or possibly through not being a very good writer, about the ways in which the Nazis treated Poland differently from other occupied territories in provable, concrete ways. "Here is how the laws were different in Poland," is a thing he could have said, and he did not. And this is what we call a major failure in a history of Poland even beyond the total fail of how he handled that part of the Holocaust. When I read Olson and Cloud, I came out of it absolutely furious about the anti-Polish propaganda I had been fed in various contexts. Furious. Davies was supposedly doing Polish history, and...nothing. Meh.
The other thing. Ohhhhh the other thing. Is that in the last chapter of this book, he saw fit to go on at length about the brilliance of...drum roll please...the previous edition of this very book. Not even another work of his. No. This book I held in my hands. How important and seminal it was and stuff. And wwwwwwow, no. Sometimes in a sparsely populated field you have to talk about your own work, because nobody else is doing it, and I fully believe that Polish history in English is such a field; that's why I kept on with this even though it was clear that Davies had his strengths in the first volume and not the second. Because sometimes filling in the gaping holes in my knowledge of the world takes some effort and is not a jolly romp. But seriously, this was the worst, "In my book," I have ever come across. He might as well have piled the stuff in front of him on the table at a convention.
I seriously hope I can find better methods of remedying ignorance of the history of this part of the world so I can recommend those. Because this one was really not so much the thing.
Mary Gentle, The Black Opera. Not my favorite Mary Gentle book, although if Grunts existed (lalala I can't hear you) it would make the position of least favorite a lock. An operatic plot. Uff da. I just--oh, teh melodramaz. Sigh. I mean, thematically appropriate with the titular item, sure, but if you're going to have your characters talking about things that would be in character for their characters, that seems to be calling the reader's attention to...things being in character. Which maybe in a melodrama is not your strong suit. Onwards.
Sveinbjorn Johnson, Pioneers of Freedom: An Account of the Icelanders and the Icelandic Free State, 874-1262. If you already know anything about this era of Icelandic history, this is not the book to find out more; if you don't, this is not the place to start. What it is, though, is an historical curiosity. It's an American book from 1930, and the places where he chooses to put his analogies, prejudices, and explanations, are amusing and fascinating. Tammany Hall! Even without the frisson of illegality, drink was consumed! It's kind of a hoot.
Matthew J. Kirby, The Clockwork Three. Late middle-grade or early YA book with automata and golems (consecutive and occasionally concurrent). I liked this book but never fell in love with it. I would recommend it and might even buy a copy for my godson, since he's about the right age for it. It's got all sorts of good bits. I don't know why I never fell in love with it. It's got tinkering and music and things that are hard without the author lying to kids to make them easier; it's good. It is. I wanted to love it. I just never quite made it there.
Vilhelm Moberg, Unto a Good Land. Grandpa's. "Oh no," moaned timprov, "it's a Swedish novel with 'good' in the title. That'll be even more depressing!" But actually it wasn't bad. The death toll was fairly low, the misery not as intense as one might expect. The baby that was born even survived so far. I mean, we'll see about the next two books. But in terms of the risk of me reading a Swedish novel and then moping for several days, it was really pretty minimal. (I still observed Swedish novel protocols and did not pick up another while it was still June. Just in case.)
Elizabeth Peters, Crocodile on the Sandbank. Um...guys? Those of you who like this series? Does it get better than Victorian feminist Scooby-Doo romance? Because the pacing was broken, and the plot twists were not twisty at all, and...several of you really like this series a lot. Does she hit some kind of stride wherein the climax will not make me say, "Jinkies, Frederick," aloud in my driest voice, or am I just a mean person who knows not joy? (Or, hey, both! We can always go with both!) Seriously, tell me more about the rest here, because the prose was entirely readable, but I'm not really...gripped.
Sherwood Smith (sartorias), Banner of the Damned. I talked about this book a lot at Fourth Street, as an example of someone using a long book to actually do a lot of stuff with politics, how she needs the space to build up the interpersonal and international relationships and the cultural stuff, how the history from the Inda books can inform these but Sherwood is trying to let Banner stand alone. I loved all that. I really loved much of this book; I loved the experience of reading it. What I did not love was the gradual feeling that it relied on naivete. I think Sherwood and I may fundamentally disagree on what a culture based on diplomacy relies upon. For me, a non-violent, diplomacy-centric culture has to have more understanding of violence, not less. A person from that culture has to have more understanding of the horrible ends people might put their gifts to, not less, if their diplomacy is to hold, and that is where Banner did not quite work as well as I wanted it to. But, oh, while I'm reading it, I love it, and I will read it again and love that part all over again--even if when I put it down I think, "But--" and "Well...."