The Blogger on Books Series dates back to my time on My Space. Put a book nerd on social media, what am I going to talk about? Books, of course. And a series was born. I write about books just-read. Not every one; just the ones I want to write about. Catch Blogger on Books lV and V here on the site and Blogger on Books 1 through 3 on Wadadli Pen (my other blog). Every now and again I’ll migrate one of those My Space reviews over here as well; those are tagged as throwback reviews.
Last read …
Valour and Vanity by Mary Robinette Kowal
Mary Robinette Kowal continues to interweave genres in the most interesting way, dropping Jane and Vincent, the protagonists of her regency era historical romantic dramatic glamourist series, into a heist scenario. It takes a minute for them and the reader to realize that that’s what they’re in, even with a pirate raid early in the plot.
Book 4’s installment sees them, having survived the literal trials of book 3*, Jane’s sister Melody’s nuptials, and her high strung mother, heading to Venice to continue exploring a glamour technique they’d been experimenting with in book 2*. Venice because of their desire to work with a master glass maker in the glassmaking capital of the world as they tested the technique**. A simple enough premise. But, of course, nothing is ever so simple with this couple; their three years of marriage have landed them in an intercontinental war (Napoleon’s last stand, no less), labour strikes in London and, related to same, a trial for their own lives (again, yes, a literal trial as they faced charges of treason and even spent some time separately incarcerated), in addition to the near death adventures of their meeting and courtship. It seems outlandish, I know, but Kowal has a gift for making it all seem plausible, improbable though it might be. When you’re reading the books, it all makes sense, and isn’t that all that really matters?
In this chapter of their lives, Jane and Vincent’s bond is well and truly tested by the circumstances they land themselves in – without name or money and indebt, and under suspicion of criminality, in Venice. It’s a reminder of how much outer stresses can strain even the strongest relationships – as Keats once wrote (in Lamia) “love in a hut, with water and a crust,/is – Love, forgive us! – cinders, ashes, dust” – which is not to say that love cannot thrive in such circumstances but where will we sleep tonight, what will we eat tomorrow can be very distracting.
As noted, even before reaching Venice, Vincent and Jane are waylaid by ‘pirates’ and as such are without funds, and meet obstacle after obstacle in post-war Venice where glassmakers are very suspicious of non-Venetians and the person with whom they were supposed to be staying Lord Byron (who was historically in Venice at this time) was MIA on their arrival forcing them to trust the ‘kindness’ of stranger. Not strangers, just one particular stranger, who inveigles himself into their lives.
Yadda Yadda Yadda this lady and gentleman in the British-traditional sense practically wind up sleeping on the street which is interesting for other reasons – the window it provides in to some of the class issues of the day and an examination of what it’s like to have your back well and truly up against the wall, but that wall is termite-eaten and may crumble at any minute. When you find yourself far from home with absolutely nothing not even your good name, what do you do?
I actually remember being in a translatable situation when I was on vacation in Italy some years ago but had landed in the wrong city, was non-conversant in the language, had had the misfortune to land on the day of a transit strike so the most cost-effective way of getting to the city I needed to be in was, hm, challenging, and I was low on cash because I had planned to use my credit card, only my credit card got frozen after I booked a room for the night due (I later found out) to security concerns given that the charge originated from Italy and I couldn’t convince my bank when I reached out to resolve the issue that I was me, and as such had nowhere to sleep until I could link up with the pre-paid part of my vacation. Fun. Let’s just say Jane and Vincent faced more challenges than that stranded in Venice (a city I had no problem picturing due to the aforementioned Italy vacation which took me to several cities when I eventually connected with the pre-paid part of my vacation but also because Kowal’s books are well-researched and reliably and visually rendered).
The third act of the book is purely heist related but also attempts to re-forge the trust between Jane and Vincent, and Jane and Vincent and their allies in comeuppance. I don’t mean to diminish the heist part of the film – that kind of plotting requires intricacy and foreshadowing and detailing in a way that takes meticulous planning and research and crafting on the part of the writer. (Sidebar: speaking of heists in art be sure to check out this year’s Widows by Steve McQueen) The outcome is never certain though the series has primed you to expect the smart and spunky couple to triumph. The heist is intricately plotted with its red herrings to distract, but it all leads to a very satisfying ending. The post-ending was interesting in its reminder that while you’re going through it, people are over there living their lives and not at all aware of the chaos tearing yours apart. Good if you can smile about it in the end though. And they all lived happily ever after, until the next chapter.
*Though the book references happenings from other books, each book works well as a standalone and you don’t need to have read the others in order to be caught up or if not caught up in order to keep up with this particular chapter.
**The time spent testing their technique will be of interest to anyone who’s ever spent time in a lab or art studio or a garage that’s been converted into a studio where you can fiddle around with things in order to figure out how they work and maybe figure out how to make them work better – it’s a reminder that creativity is one of the links between this couple and that the author is as fascinated with the creative process as anything else happening in the plot.
Older Reads (i.e. books completed)…
Author: the Portraits of Beowulf Sheehan by Beowulf Sheehan
The Awakening by L. A. Banks (throwback review)
Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah
A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James
Calabash – a Journal of Caribbean Arts and Letters Vol. 4 No. 2 (throwback review)
Emerald Isle of Adventure by Rachel Collis (throwback review)
Friends and Lovers by Eric Jerome Dickey (throwback review)
Giant Size X-Men – Deadly Genesis!, the Uncanny X-Men – Second Genesis! plus bonus features
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Hidden Secrets of St. Croix by Clarice C. Clarke
Home Home by Lisa Allen-Agostini
Joseph – A Rasta Reggae Fable by Barbara Makeda Blake Hannah (throwback review)
Gilly Gobinet’s Cool Caribbean series (throwback review)
The Nakedness of New by Althea Romeo-Mark
Nectar in a Sieve by Kamala Markandaya
Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
Rogue & Gambit by Kelly Thompson (writer) with Pere Perez (artist) and Frank D’Armata (colourist)
Singles’ Holiday by Elaine Spires
Straight into Darkness by Faye Kellerman *no full review but quick take, it’s no Peter Decker mystery and while the whodunit kept me engaged and it was interesting (and disturbing) from a historical perspective, it was a bit confounding and anti-climatic overall. Nice twist at the very end though*
Take Time for Paradise by A. Bartlett Giamatti
Tata and the Big Bad Bull by Juleus Ghunta with Catherine Loo
Vegas Bites: a Werewolf Romance Anthology (throwback review)
What Yellow Sounds Like by Linda Susan Jackson (throwback review)
Whitehorn Woods by Maeve Binchy (throwback review)
With Silent Tread by Frieda Cassin (throwback review)
Without a Summer by Mary Robinette Kowal
World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks
Zomo the Rabbit: a Trickster Tale from West Africa by Gerald McDermott *no full review but quick take “a fun Anansi-ish, if somewhat predictable read”*