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Recent reading

Oh man, a good Christmas. I'm oozing gammon from my pores. I'll take this opportunity to write up a few more books I've recently read (working more or less backwards):

Scipio: a novel, by Ross Leckie

A friend loaned this to Ronwen, but I nabbed it off the bookshelf before she could get to it. Tells the story of Publius Cornelius Scipio, aka Scipio Africanus - famous Roman general who revolutionised how the Romans fought and whupped Hannibal's ass and saved Rome from near-certain annihilation. Told as a memoir of Scipio's youth and coming of age as Hannibal's armies defeated the Roman army in a series of devastating battles. As an old Scipio dictates to his scribe, the scribe (a character from Leckie's novel Hannibal, apparently) adds his own notes and adds colour to the narrative. The story gains some urgency because the memoirs are occasioned by a looming court verdict for certain charges brought against Scipio by his enemies.

Good read, the war and pillaging all a bit gruesome though, and after reading more about Scipio on Wikipedia (so it must be true), it seems Leckie has taken some liberties with Scipio as a historic figure. Still, a good read.

Stonehenge, by Bernard Cornwell

Historic fiction about how Stonehenge might have come to be. The book tells the tale of three brothers, sons of a chieftain, one who becomes a tyrant, one who becomes a magician/shaman, and one who gets lumped with the job of orchestrating the building of Stonehenge. Seeding the narrative with events suggested by actual archeological discoveries, Cornwell speculates how our prehistoric ancestors might have gotten it into their heads that a big-ass temple like Stonehenge was a good idea, and what they'd need to have done to make it happen.

Interesting read, but a bit disturbing in places - fairly gruesome, human sacrifice, et al. The constant superstition and notions of sacrifice might seem laughable, but then you realise that modern religions are still quite strongly based on the notion of sacrifice - only now it's a bull or a goat or the son of God that gets done in, and our virgins, children and cripples are (fortunately for them) let off the hook.

The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova

Modern-day Dracula tale, taking some (as I came to discover) stylistic cues from the original Dracula novel. A young girl discovers a book in her father's library. The book is empty, save for the middle of the book, which says 'Drakulya' (or somesuch). Dad hesitantly starts telling his daugher the story, which includes how girl's mother came to die, and the novel takes the form of his recollections, his research, letters he's written and letters he received from his own mentor and professor, who'd also gotten the 'Dracula' book. They are not alone - others have gotten the books, others help and hinder them.

All a bit confusing? That's partly the point. The overall theme of the book is one of historical discovery, as a scholar might learn of Dracula - research, old documents, dusty archives, etc etc. Lots of travel and really appealing locations in Eastern Europe. All of this makes for good reading, but I found the ending a bit flat, and Kostova's Dracula a less than convincing hardcore mofo.

Dracula, by Bram Stoker

After reading The Historian, I was rather keen to read the original Dracula story, and we just so happened to have a copy which Ronwen had bought earlier this year. I'd seen one or two Dracula movies many many years ago, and the plotline was vaguely familiar. Without getting too bogged down in detail, it boils down to: Dracula is mean-ass vampire who sucks the blood of beautiful young women while Van Helsing and his cuzzies do their best to stop him. Eventually they do in climactic showdown. The end.

First published 110 years ago, the novel's structure came as a bit of a surprise. The story consists entirely of excerpts from letters and journal entries from various characters in the story, interspersed with newspaper cuttings and the like. It's a bit dated, naturally, and Van Helsing's broken English gets plain annoying soon enough, but all in all, a very enjoyable read.

The Borgia Bride, by Jeanne Kalogridis

All I ever knew about Lucrezia Borgia was that she was a bit of a hectic aunty and referred to in the Sisters of Mercy song 'Lucretia My Reflection'. Or something. The novel tells the story of a young noblewoman from Naples who gets hitched to one of the Borgia sons and befriends Lucrezia Borgia, whose daddy, Rodrigo, is Pope Alexander VI. The pope in the novel is a severely unwholesome individual, with equally severely unwholesome children. Let's just say that the Borgia family tree is disinclined to fork.

That's the gist of the story, really. Court intrigues and politics and webs of deceit and love affairs and blahdy blahdy incest murder blahdy incest murder etc. Most striking, how the Church of Renaissance times, being so powerful, attracted people interested in secular power and earthly wealth, as much as it attracted those inspired by divine calling. Have things changed much in the 500 years since?

{2007.12.30 - 00:42}

Comments:

1 Neil Blakey-Milner (2007.12.30 - 09:10) #

You've just resurrected my gammon craving, you nasty person - this was my fourth vegetarian Christmas.

I really must start reading something other than trashy sci-fi/fantasy.

2 Colin (2007.12.30 - 12:18) #

Hehe, my apologies - if it's any consolation, I'm sure your digestive system is feeling a lot less hammered than mine is :)

One of my goals for 2008 is to read *more* trashy sci-fi and fantasy!

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