Today’s Book Blurb: Tsars, Dragons, and what a cover.

The latest, greatest and (sometimes) strangest blurbs from the book world.

This week, I’m hijacking the blurb features with this pretty, pretty cover. Even if I wasn’t already a sucker for fantasy set in Russia, this would have absolutely caught my eye. I am intrigued. I am excited. Bring on the Ruski Dragons!

Tsar Dragons.jpg

“It is the waning days of the Russian monarchy. A reckless man rules the land and his dragons rule the sky. Though the Tsar aims his dragons at his enemies—Jews and Bolsheviks—his entire country is catching fire. Conspiracies suffuse the royal court: bureaucrats jostle one another for power, the mad monk Rasputin schemes for the Tsar’s ear, and the desperate queen takes drastic measures to protect her family.

Revolution is in the air—and the Red Army is hatching its own weapons.

—The Last Tsar’s Dragons by Jane Yolen & Adam Stemple

 

Canaries, what book covers caught your eye recently?

 

[Book Review] Evening conversations with a long-dead Mayan priestess

thefallingwomanThe Falling Woman by Pat Murphy

“I was mad because I said words they did not wish to hear, because they could not control me, they could not drag me along like a tethered dog. And so they said I was mad.”

When Elizabeth, an archaeologist with a track record of making incredible discoveries, looks at a historic site, she sees not just the ruins, but the ghosts of the people and civilizations that once existed there.  It’s a gift she’s learned to live with, and keeps secret lest it gets her labeled crazy and thrown out of academia and into a hospital. But her simple archaeological routine is shattered when, during an investigation of ancient Mayan ruins, the shadow of a long-dead priestess sees Liz and speaks to her…and Liz’ daughter arrives out of the blue, mourning her father’s death and hoping to reconnect with her mother. Continue reading

[Book Review] Magic and intrigue in Victorian Londinium.

I have been wanting to read more by Lilith Saintcrow ever since I blazed through her Urban Fantasy series about necromancer Dante Valentine – quick, fun reads full of over-the-top romantic angst and creative world-building of the best sort. So when I saw Saintcrow had a historical fantasy, I was intrigued.

The Red Plague Affair (Bannon & Clare, #2)Sorceress Emma Bannon has a mission to defend Queen and country and to stop an evil doctor with a gaseous weapon of war that has to be contained before it can cause all sorts of deadly mischief. It’s up to Bannon and her friend Archibald Clare to save Londinium before it’s too late.

My first problem with the book is at least 70% my fault – the book I grabbed is second in the Bannon & Clare series. But I’ve started plenty of stories mid-series and loved them, so I decided to march on, power through a crazy action opening and all the names, and then see what happens. And that’s when I realized it wasn’t going to be that easy.

Written as alternative history where magic, Victorian sensibilities, and clockwork-technology exists side by side, it has all the ingredients for success. There are gryphons and clockwork horses, and an exciting system of magic. And then there’s the writing:

“And Clare was congenitally unable to cease pursuing trouble of the most exotic sort. He was not engaged in a life that would permit much rest, and the wear and tear on his physicality was marked.” (page 12)

“A rolling sonorous roil, the entire house suddenly alive with rushing crackles, its population of indentured servants so used to the feel of tremendous sorcery running through its halls they hardly paused in their appointed duties.” Page 13)

“She had the dubious honour of addressing a Spaniard, moustachioed and of small stature to inspire a touch of ridicule of pity, his right arm twisted behind him in an exceedingly brutal fashion by a silent and immaculate Mikal, who twisted his lean face and spat at her.” (page 15)

Continue reading

[ Book Review ] Short Review of a Short History

The Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson 

Read by Richard Matthews

Take-home messages:

  1. Hell hath no fury as two scientists bickering.
  2. Science consists of scientists bickering, feuding, and/or driving each other into obscurity or suicide.
  3. In the large scheme of things, the existence of humanity is a monumental accident and a rather fleeting millisecond.
  4. People are really rather terrible.
  5. People are really rather terrible for the planet.

Continue reading

[ Book Review ] History for the history geeks, Russian-style

Russia under the Old Regime by Richard Pipes

(The second edition)

With this book, I am taking a brief break from light space opera and diving into a more substantial text. Russia under the Old Regime by Richard Pipes offers a comprehensive  overview of Russian history from its state formation during the first millennium AD to 1880 — the decade when “the ancien regime in the traditional sense died a quiet death.” (xxi)

Through frequent contrasts with Western Europe, Pipes draws the reader down the chronology of the rise of the Russian empire and the forces, internal and external, that shaped its history. For me, this books stands out for the attention it pays to building the foundation for an understanding of Russian culture, from the geographical and climatic conditions, to the Mongol takeover, its legacy, and the presence and quality of the Christian Orthodox church.

Rather than presenting history as a series of discrete events, Pipes stresses social, economic, and political connections as it presents a continuous narrative. However, this is a historical text, heavy with detail and tangential asides, shifting from the historical narrative , the etymology of “Russia”, to the manner in which terms like “patrimony”, “despot” and “feudalism” are (and whether they should) be used to refer to the Russian Empire and its organization.

The book is not an airplane read, nor is it, despite the dry wit that is occasionally apparent in the narrative, a light piece of nonfiction. I would not recommend this to someone who has no prior interest in either history, Russia, or the Soviet Union.

That said, the book is well written, and if you have any interest in Russian history, it is a must read.