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- ► 2013 (260)
- More Detail about "The Black Opera" by Mary Gentle...
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I happily grabbed the (current) cover picture - note that it may change - since it's quite wonderful, while the book so far about 50+ pages in reads like the awesome novel I expected. Subtitled "a novel of Opera, Volcanoes, and the Mind of God", it is an alternate history taking place in the years following the Napoleonic wars but in an universe where music has magical power if it's sung with enough emotion like for example at Mass or at the Opera...
Here is the blurb that seems accurate:
"Naples, the 19th Century. In the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, holy music has power. Under the auspices of the Church, the Sung Mass can bring about actual miracles like healing the sick or raising the dead. But some believe that the musicodramma of grand opera can also work magic by channeling powerful emotions into something sublime. Now the Prince's Men, a secret society, hope to stage their own black opera to empower the Devil himself - and change Creation for the better! Conrad Scalese is a struggling librettist whose latest opera has landed him in trouble with the Holy Office of the Inquisition. Rescued by King Ferdinand II, Conrad finds himself recruited to write and stage a counter opera that will, hopefully, cancel out the apocalyptic threat of the black opera, provided the Prince's Men, and their spies and saboteurs, don't get to him first. And he only has six weeks to do it..."
By popular demand though I guess contrary to his wishes (!), Ethan Gage is back in another adventure after the duology Napoleon's Pyramids/The Rosetta Key and the more-or-less standalone adventures The Dakota Cipher and The Barbary Pirates. Another May publication, this one made its way to my house only today and I had the opportunity to read just two pages, but they showed once again why I find these books irresistible.
Ethan Gage is feeling a little depressed as he explains to us why instead of retiring rich with his family to America, he has to climb up to a mountainous French prison to spring Toussaint L'Ouverture out of Napoleon's clutches. I predict another rip-roaring adventure with the usual combination of humor, sffnal touches and superb historical context and atmosphere.
I will present the blurb below, but if you are new to the series, I highly recommend to get acquainted with Ethan Gage from his first adventure when living the (low and) high life in the decadent 1798 Paris of the Directory, he is framed for murder because of something he won at cards, so he escapes as a member of the young up-and-coming general Bonaparte's expedition to Egypt. Of course Ethan's troubles are only beginning...
"In the fifth installment of master storyteller William Dietrich’s bestselling adventure series, the swashbuckling, battle-scarred hero Ethan Gage must race from the slopes of the Alps to the sultry tropics of the Caribbean to pursue a mysterious Spanish treasure as the fate of England—and of the world’s first successful slave revolt—hang desperately in the balance. The Emerald Storm is the action-packed historical masterpiece that Ethan Gage fans have long awaited. Fans of the Indiana Jones adventures, the Sharpe’s Rifles series, and the thrilling works of James Rollins, who himself calls Dietrich’s writing “adventure at its grandest,” will find The Emerald Storm a satisfying, sword-in-hand romp through history—and new readers will discover it as the perfect introduction to the breathtaking Ethan Gage Adventures."
In addition, Torque Control is running a "guess the shortlist" competition HERE. Opened until March 11 and requiring to pick what you believe the shortlist is going to be and a rationale for your choices, the competition offers as prize copies of all six shortlisted novels. More details are offered at the link above, while I am reproducing - with links to FBC reviews of the books in cause and a little better formatting that is trickier to add in an un-editable comment as opposed to an editable post - my entry in the contest as it encompasses my current thinking about the shortlist.
Of the books listed, I opened 34 (edit: actually 35 on a recount) and read end to end 16, while of the rest 18 (actually 19) there are 3 or 4 (edit: actually more like 5-6) I plan to read as time goes by. I think the following six books will make the shortlist:
1,2. excellent books, but the authors almost guarantee the shortlist anyway
3. this one is among the ones I have and plan to read as I like Mr. Tidhar’s Bookman series, but irrespective of its merits, title, subject and international author almost guarantees it too
4. this one I rate a high chance as it’s essentially the only core-sf written by a woman in the list outside of the boring to dreadful Willis duology and the very mediocre Tepper; I have not yet read it as I was quite disappointed by book 3 after I really enjoyed books 1 and 2 and I am essentially waiting for book 5 to see if I continue or not with the series.
5 and 6 are more speculative guesses, but I think that gender parity/minority representation/mainstream works will bring those two in the list.
Loved the Jane Rogers novel and I would add it to my choice of a six book list though I disagreed with the heroine’s choices, while Mr. Fox is another one I have and plan to read but its “book in a book” subject is one that puts me off badly, so despite really loving White is for Witching and enjoying the few pages I browsed in this one, I have been putting it off for a while now.
Here is the submission list with a "rd" added to the books I read and an "op" to the ones I have but only opened. Actually in quite a few cases I read enough to make my mind about the books I marked as opened, but I did not turn all the pages as in the Willis mammoth disaster that would have been a complete waste of my time for example.
Of the rest, many are by authors or with subjects I have no interest in and only a few - most notably Michael Cisco's novel, though I bought a few of his previous novels and have been trying to enjoy them with no success so far - intriguing enough to take a look.
Embedded by Dan Abnett (Angry Robot) op
Dead of Veridon by Tim Akers (Solaris)op
The Departure by Neal Asher (Tor UK) rd
Novahead by Steve Aylett (Scar Garden)
Bronze Summer by Stephen Baxter (Gollancz) op
Hull Zero Three by Greg Bear (Gollancz) rd
The Kings of Eternity by Eric Brown (Solaris) rd
The Great Lover by Michael Cisco (Chomu Books)
Random Walk by Alexandra Claire (Gomer)
Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey (Orbit) rd
Sequence by Adrian Dawson (Last Passage)
The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan (Canongate)
The Clockwork Rocket by Greg Egan (Gollancz) rd
Gods of Manhattan by Al Ewing (Abaddon Books)
Bringer of Light by Jaine Fenn (Gollancz) op
Final Days by Gary Gibson (Tor UK) rd
Heaven’s Shadow by David S. Goyer&Michael Cassutt (Tor UK) op
The Fallen Blade by Jon Courtenay Grimwood (Orbit) rd
The Last Four Things by Paul Hoffman (Michael Joseph) rd
Dead Water by Simon Ings (Corvus)
The Ironclad Prophecy by Pat Kelleher (Abaddon Books)
11.22.63 by StephenKing (Hodder and Stoughton)
Shift by Tim Kring and Dale Peck (Bantam)
Cyber Circus by Kim Lakin-Smith (NewconPress) op
Echo City by Tim Lebbon (Orbit)
Nemonymous Nights by D.F. Lewis (Chomu Books)
The Age of Odin by JamesLovegrove (Solaris) op
Wake Up and Dream by Ian R. MacLeod (PS)
The End Specialist by Drew Magary (HarperVoyager)
Germline by T.C. McCarthy (Orbit) op
Savage City by Sophia McDougall (Gollancz)
Embassytown by China Miéville (Macmillan) rd
Equations of Life by Simon Morden (Orbit) rd
Mr Fox by Helen Oyeyemi (Picador) op
Hell Ship by Philip Palmer (Orbit) op
The Shadow of the Soul by Sarah Pinborough (Gollancz)
The Straight Razor Cure by Daniel Polansky (Hodder and Stoughton) rd
The Recollection by Gareth L. Powell (Solaris) rd
The Islanders by Christopher Priest (Gollancz) rd
Here Comes The Nice by Jeremy Reed (Chomu Books)
The Demi Monde: Winter by Rod Rees (Jo Fletcher Books)
by Light Alone by Adam Roberts (Gollancz) rd
Down to the Bone by Justina Robson (Gollancz)
The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers (Sandstone) rd
Regicide by Nicholas Royle (Solaris) op
Wonder by Robert J. Sawyer (Gollancz)
War in Heaven by Gavin Smith (Gollancz) op
Reamde by Neal Stephenson (Atlantic) op
Rule 34 by Charles Stross (Orbit)
Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor (Hodder and Stoughton)
The Waters Rising by Sherri S. Tepper (Gollancz) op
Osama by Lavie Tidhar (PS) op
Dust by Joan Frances Turner (Berkley UK)
The Noise Revealed by Ian Whates (Solaris) rd
Zone One by Colson Whitehead (Harvill Secker)
All Clear by Connie Willis (Gollancz) op
Blackout by Connie Willis (Gollancz) op
Son of Heaven by David Wingrove (Corvus) op
The Godless Boys by Naomi Wood (Picador)
The Iron Jackal by Chris Wooding (Gollancz) op
Order Fire from the Sun HERE
INTRODUCTION: John Derbyshire is a columnist for the leading conservative journal The National Review and the author of a remarkable popular math book The Prime Obssession, which deservedly brought him quite a lot of acclaim. If you have the smallest affinity and/or interest in math, Prime Obssession is one of those once in a decade gems that reads like a historical thriller, while exposing the reader to some very interesting "real" math that is still part of the current research frontiers.
In addition, he wrote another popular math book Unknown Quantity, which was quite good though it lacked the punch of Prime Obsession, and the novel Seeing Calvin Coolidge in a Dream which I enjoyed some years ago.
Fire from the Sun was originally published through Xlibris some 12 years ago, but at three volumes with a total cost verging toward 100$ the print volumes were too expensive for me and like with The Transylvanian Trilogy I always kept an eye for an affordable choice.
Fast forward 2012 and the ebook revolution and the moment I saw Mr. Derbyshire putting an announcement in the NR Corner that he was offering the whole book for a very good price on the Amazon Kindle platform - with other platforms to come - I bought it on the spot and read it that evening and night as I stayed way, way too late to finish it, so engrossing it was.
In the words of the author:
"The novel is a romantic and historical epic painted on a very broad canvas. It follows the fortunes of two people, William Leung and Margaret Han, from the mid-1960s through to the early 1990s. They are childhood friends in a small town in southwestern China. Then the Great Cultural Revolution divides them, and they follow separate paths to success in the Western world: William as a Wall Street tycoon and Margaret as a singer of Italian opera.
The background of the story is recent Chinese history, bracketed by two great upheavals: the onset of the Cultural Revolution in 1966, and the student movement of 1989.
The book's action ranges all over China, from the lush valleys of the southwest to the frozen plains of Manchuria, from the garrison settlements of occupied Tibet to elite apartments in Beijing, from the easy-going corruption of 1970s Hong Kong to the wakening bustle of post-Mao Shanghai. It then moves on to the international opera circuit, the boardrooms of Wall Street, and the habitations of the rich in Manhattan and Long Island's East End.
The book has an appendix listing all the operas, arias, singers and operatic terms used in the text."
OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Fire from the Sun is a page turner and you will go through it in a flash despite its length since it is so engrossing that you want to find out what happens next, what twists and turns the author has reserved for the two main heroes and how the momentous events the two are connected with are seen by them and the extended supporting cast.
The prose is clear and straightforward, not unlike the regular NYT bestsellers - a recent book that has some similarity in prose and sweep with Fire from the Sun is Ken Follett's epic The Fall of Giants -and the attraction of the novel is not in its literary qualities but in the events seen through the eyes of the two main characters in alternating chunks of pages, with some convergence towards the end.
The emotional content is lost on occasion when major things happen or are revealed but the author's take on the events, mores, cultures through the eyes of the vast cast of secondary characters more than makes up for that, while the two main heroes have very distinctive voices which are treated quite differently in feel.
Starting in a provincial Chinese town in 1965, our main heroes - Weilin/William and Yuezhu/Margaret are 8 year olds that meet and become best friends (and feel the first stirrings of attraction without of course knowing what is it) at the town pool.
Weilin is from an "intellectual" family and his dad is a math professor at the local college, while they have books, vinyl records and other trappings of the educated of the time and place and the boy, only child, is very handsome, bright and quite interested in math and reading.
Yuezhu is from a politically correct family - her father is an army officer of peasant stock and firm revolutionary principles though even in the People's Army, careers rise and fall depending on whose commander's commander is ascending or descending. Yuezhu is beautiful, loves dancing and music and while she is not that interested in math she likes being around with Weilin and they keep meeting despite being at different schools; however Yuezhu is also in awe of her older half brother, a rebellious teen who becomes a main leader of the Red Guards when the Cultural Revolution is unleashed soon after.
The expected happens - Weilin's dad is "struggled" - denounced, publicly humiliated and then beaten to death - while colleagues and even close friends from the university forsake him and compete to have the loudest denunciations, Half Brother is among the leaders of the torturers and Yuezhou is in the "little red guards" cheering them up, while Weilin is forced to denounce his father and is ignored and humiliated by the girl to boot, so he develops a powerful hate for Yuezhu and her family, hate that will later have of course consequences.
Later their life continues on these opposite tracks - Weilin and his mother make the trek north to the wastelands of Chinese Siberia where she has some relatives and he seems to be condemned to a (probably short) life of material misery and intellectual poverty, while Yuezhou moves to Beijing a few years later when her father's faction in the military wins and he is promoted, and the girl becomes part of the elite schools of the capital, learns English and sees Nixon at a performance, while later is accepted at the prestigious Dance Academy just opened, part of the efforts to start bringing China in the modern world.
However, Weilin - handsome and all - makes easy friends with a local teen wheeler and dealer and later they decide to escape to Hong Kong of fable where Weilin's mom told him that she has an uncle.
And so the saga starts and we follow the two on tumultuous paths in many places from China, Tibet and Hong Kong to later the US and almost everywhere; their fortunes twist and turn, their paths cross though not necessarily in expected ways and the book just begs you to turn the pages.
Punctuated by wonderful Chinese stories that various characters use to make this or that point, Fire from the Sun (top 25 novel 0f 2012) is a truly panoramic and a wonderful and gripping read that will stay with you for a long while.
The Honorverse Wikipedia
Order A Rising Thunder HERE or HERE (ebook)
Read FBC's An Invitation to David Weber's Honorverse
Read FBC Review of At All Costs
Read FBC Review of Storm from the Shadow and Mission of Honor
Read FBC Interview with David Weber
For people who are not that well versed in the Honorverse, you can read (for free) all the books to date in the series except for the last (5th) collection In Fire Forged and this present one from the Baen CD site on the Mission of Honor CD.
ANALYSIS: As known for some time A Rising Thunder is part of a bigger story arc - there was a split as the original ART became convoluted enough to intertwine all three main current fronts of the series so the author decided to keep the action generally separate in three different novels while focusing here on the Manticore/Core Solarian League confrontation and featuring the main classical players of the Honorverse - Honor herself, Elizabeth, the Havenite leaders, the Solarian masters etc. The Talbot sector, Mesa and the League's periphery will feature more extensively in the next two books which will be again concordant for a while, though the extent of that and conversely of the advancement of the story beyond the end of A Rising Thunder is unclear as of now.
The good news is that David Weber's solo one, tentatively titled Shadow of Freedom, is done but it is not yet clear how it will fit with the Eric Flint/David Weber collaboration that is still being written and so there is yet no decision on the order of those two. I expect the Mesa/Torch/League periphery Flint/Weber novel to go first in early 2013 and then Shadow of Freedom to go next in mid 2013 as next year is the 20th anniversary of the series debut and the author plans it to be big...
Even so and A Rising Thunder was a superb series installment for two related reasons. It was the first "fully into the unknown" move in the series after the 2005 At All Costs which is my favorite single series novel to date and arguably the best such. The following three parts huge installment (Storm from the Shadows, Torch of Freedom and Mission of Honor) had lots of great stuff but we (the dedicated fans) knew their rough outline and there were only a few surprises.
Here in A Rising Thunder there were at least two major surprises and some new stuff that is really promising for the future, while some tantalizing hints have been argued quite a lot on the forums since the earc has been released last winter. I also loved all the little interludes and they interspersed well with the main political and military developments, while the main battle of the novel was so well done by the author that it kept me tense throughout despite that the outcome was clearly predetermined by the balance of force and its twist at the end was foreshadowed long ago.
The second reason A Rising Thunder (novel # 17) worked so well was that it solidified the third transformation of the series, this time from military space opera to political space opera - the first transformation which started in Echoes of Honor (#8) and became fully fledged two books later in War of Honor (#10) was from local, one larger than life character and secondary cast action within a larger context, to multi front, multi character, global military space opera.
The canvas has becoming truly huge and the military developments so dominating that large scale battles have become 15 minute millions of casualties massacres, so the contest for the public opinion, the ability to bring together technological and scientific resources and the economic front have become more and more important, in other words politics and intrigue are now front and center.
From the "Mandarins" conclave, to the councils of the Grand Alliance and various other venues, public and private, the Honorverse's Galaxy with its thousands of worlds and trillions of humans is entering a period of turmoil and great upheaval after some 1500 years of relative stability and A Rising Thunder's panoramic view of the center stage shows clearly the beginning of this process.
There is one scene towards the end of the novel where two characters who are not particularly major movers and shakers - at least so far of course - discuss the events of the day in a calm, wonderful setting with the view of the great lake that borders on what is still humanity's capital city - scene that captures perfectly the "end of an era" mood of the novel.
"The two of them sat on benches across a small outdoor table from one another, eating their lunch as the warm summer sun spilled down across them. Lake Michigan’s waters stretched limitlessly towards the horizon below the restaurant perched on a two-hundredth-floor balcony of the Admiralty Building, and gaily colored sails and powerboats dotted that dark blue expanse as far as the eye could see."
All in all, A Rising Thunder (top 25 2012 novel) is a great installment that starts for good the new Honorverse direction with a bang and leaves me wanting more asap and combing the forums for any tidbits and snippets of the upcoming events, while confirming the status of the series as my #1 one.
Or, at least, that's how it started.
Order Hotel Iris HERE
INTRODUCTION: I have heard of Yoko Ogawa in connection with her most famous novel, translated as The Housekeeper and the Professor. I got a copy of that one a few years ago when it was published here in the US though I have not read it yet, but recently I opened her newest (2010) English translation, Hotel Iris and I was hooked.
So not only was Mari forced to drop out of school a few years back, but she basically has very little time or money for herself and while her mother likes to groom her - after all an attractive face behind the counter brings is better for business than an ugly or unkempt one - she otherwise treats Mari mostly as "property".
"After Grandfather died, Mother made me quit school to help at the hotel. My day begins in the kitchen, getting ready for breakfast. I wash fruit, cut up ham and cheese, and arrange tubs of yogurt in a bowl of ice. As soon as I hear the first guests coming down, I grind the coffee beans and warm the bread. Then, at checkout time, I total the bills. I do all of this while saying as little as possible. Some of the guests try to make small talk, but I just smile back. I find it painful to speak to people I don’t know, and besides, Mother scolds me if I make a mistake with the cash register and the receipts are off."
There is a little backstory about Mari's father who died in an accident/drunken fight some years back at age 31 and whose memory Mari worships as he was the only really kind influence in her life, despite his bouts of drunkenness and fights with her mother.
Given the above, Mari seems to be an easy prey for an older man whom despite his sort of distinguished appearance is first seen when thrown out of the hotel for abusing a prostitute he brought there. Seeing him by chance some two weeks later when out on errand for her mother, Mari follows him and the two are drawn together as unlikely as it seems.
"Then one night my father didn’t come home at all. He was still missing the next day, and my mother scolded me for running out of the lobby again and again to see if he was coming down the street. His body was found late that night, his face so swollen and covered in blood that it was almost unrecognizable. After that, I stopped waiting.
There was nothing of great importance in the translator’s letters—the arrival of summer, his work, the progress of Marie’s romance, references to our walk on the cape—but I enjoyed his formal, slightly peculiar way of expressing himself.
The most important minutes of my day were those spent hidden behind the front desk, poring over his letters. I would cut open the envelope with great care, read the letter three or four times, and then refold it exactly along the creases he had made."
Things however are not that simple and while the man seems to be the classical sexual predator: older, widowed and with rumors of his wife's death being a murder, living by himself in an isolated house on a nearby island which is little populated etc etc, the story definitely does not go that route though it has its share of stuff that may seem twisted.
However, the language is never explicit and the book just flows on the page, while the tension builds page by page as the secret relationship of the two cannot stay secret for ever in such a small place and something will have to give...