Recent Reads #5

Green Rider by Kristen Britain

I purchased this book; it was published by DAW in 2000, and is the first in the Green Rider series.

This book is one I’ve read before, years and years ago- sometime in high school, if my memory serves me right. (Which, given my memory, is not a guarantee.) At some point my original copy went walkabout and so I picked it up again. It falls into what I would call the “standard fantasy” category, but personally I find it to be a unique enough story to keep my interest. The main character, running away from school after being expelled, stumbles across a royal messenger with two arrows in his back and agrees to deliver the message to the king. One thing I really appreciate is that it’s made clear that Karrigan, the main character, could not have accomplished her task without all of the help she receives along the way. Some of it feels a little contrived in convenience- the Berry sisters, the eagle- and others leave one wondering why Karrigan receives certain help but not the original messenger given the task. That said, the world feels bigger than we see and functional, whole; the characters are interesting, and though the hints at romance are a little blah, they never come close to overshadowing the actual plot. And The Horse makes me temporarily forget that I am actually terrified of horses in real life, which is a feat.

I definitely recommend this to any fantasy fans, with the caveat that it is the first book in a series and so suffers from some of the standard first book issues, but it’s interesting and unique enough to be well worth the read.

The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

I purchased this book; it was published by Roc in 2016, and is the first in the Invisible Library series.

Though I haven’t watched The Librarians film or spin-off tv series, the blurb on the back of this book reminded me of the little I’ve seen. A vast library sits between various universes; the Librarians travel to variant parallel universes collecting the texts unique to those worlds. There’s magical tattoos, a spoken magical Language (with a capital L), backstabbing colleagues, suspicious detectives, faeries and werewolves and more in an alternate London corrupted by chaos.

My fondness for stories about stories, bookstores, and libraries is rather strong; I wish we got to see more of the Library (again with a capital L) in this book, but as the third in the series just came out, I suspect we’ll get more glimpses in the books to come. Irene is not my favorite character- though there’s nothing wrong with her as such, I just never felt any particular connection to her. Most of the characters around her were more interesting to me; I’m curious in particular about Irene’s mentor, as well as her parents. For being so important to the Library, we learn precious little about the unique book Irene and her new student are tasked to collect, and everything happens at such a whirlwind pace that I feel like we don’t get to spend as much with any particular person or place as much as I’d like. Once again, I think this is a good fantasy book suffering from first book syndrome, and I look forward to learning more about the world and the Library in the rest of the series.

Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman by Tessa Arlen

I purchased this book; it was published by Minotaur Books in 2015, and is the first book in the Lady Montfort Mystery series.

Despite my genuine attempts, I wasn’t able to get myself immersed in this book; it never really got its hooks into me. Told from several perspectives, it recounts the events following the death and subsequent discovery of the body of the titular dishonorable gentleman on a large estate in Edwardian England. Who at this costumed fête want him dead, and why? And does his death have anything to do with the conspicuous absence of not one but two other people from the house that night? On its face, it’s a compelling question, but the prose just never managed to get a sense of urgency or realism for me. There were some odd skips of time- like the entirety of the party- and a number of characters felt more like stereotypes than actual people. (The gossipy cook, the reserved housekeeper, the improper suffragette, the miserable dowager.) It wasn’t a bad book, and I was largely satisfied by the ending, but I doubt I’ll be reading on in the series.

The Painted Bridge by Wendy Wallace

I purchased this book, and originally read it (and wrote the following review) in July 2016. It was published by Scribner in 2012.

This is primarily the story of Mrs Anna Palmer, a young woman tricked into entering an asylum by her older husband in Victorian England. In retrospect, this may not have been the wisest choice to read directly after In The Woods, as this isn’t a cheery or uplifting book either. Gaslighting is obviously an element of the story; self-harm, suicide, eating disorders, and heaps and heaps of misogyny are other lovely issues the main characters face.

I found it moderately more satisfying than In The Woods, but there were portions of Anna’s stay at the Lake House asylum that I had to actually skim because her treatment was just too much. Some of the “medical” treatments are certainly historical- ice baths/showers, leeches, emetics, etc- but the ones unfamiliar to me are staying that way. I have zero interest in verifying their historicity. The POV bounces between various characters; it is primarily told by Anna, but we also see bits from her husband, the owner of the asylum and his wife, the asylum matron, and a consulting doctor-photographer. The doctor’s storyline- and his inclusion at all- feels a bit slapdash, and I think the story would have been stronger without him. Similarly, neither the husband nor the asylum owner have much to contribute, and I think the story would have been better served by contrasting the stories of Anna and the asylum owner’s wife, and possibly that of the matron, as all three are trapped in their own ways. I think my main frustration with the book is that there is no apparent reason for Vincent, Anna’s husband, to have put her away in an asylum to begin with. Or even to have married her. We’re told over the course of the novel that he was instructed to marry, to set a good example for his parish (he’s a reverend) and that seems reason enough at first, but other details undermine this aspect of the plot and left me confused and underwhelmed.

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