These aren’t getting full reviews, because the library want them back.
Christopher Moore – Fool
I’m vaguely familiar with Moore’s other work—not any specific book, mind, just in a general sense—and I’m quite fond of the court-jester theme, so this looked worth a go. The multiple comparisons to Pratchett on the cover were a bit offputting, reeking as they did of desperation, but then the overwhelming yellowness of it was worse. It went on the pile for a week or so, till I picked it up to give it a try… and discovered from the Cast of Characters page that it was a retelling of King Lear from the Fool’s point of view. Moore takes some license with the plot, but it’s very much Lear, and if I’d known that from the cover then it would have been welded to my hand till I left the library, and I’d have started it when I got home.
This sort of marketing decision is inexplicable… advertising it as a Shakespeare retelling might put off some mainstream readers who wanted bawdiness, cock jokes, and action-filled violence, but why would you want to sucker those sorts of readers into picking up your comedic Shakespeare retelling anyway? Especially if it meant losing out on a new demographic who hadn’t encountered your author before.
Jake Arnott – The Devil’s Paintbrush
Steampunks just wish their book could smell like this book. It’s set in Paris, 1903, and describes a meeting between two iconic characters of the age: Hector “Fighting Mac” Macdonald and Aleister Crowley. Warfare, magic, sex, the arts, class issues, powerful & dangerous new technology. Recommended, and don’t be taken in by the cover—this is not fluff.
 But only the ones who know nothing about Shakespeare.
It’s been brought to my attention that Michael Chabon’s excellent novel Gentlemen of the Road is available in its entirety from the New York Times, in serial form. Here‘s the final part, which has links to each chapter on the left.
This is a Jewish sword-and-horse historical novel of swashbuckling and derring-do, consciously patterned after the great adventure stories of the early 20th century. The cover art (Andrew Davidson) & interior illustrations (Gary Gianni) fit this perfectly—the wood-engraving style is exactly right, and the only thing that would make it perfect is (expensive) watercolour-style colour plates.
I only have two criticisms of this book; it’s too short, and there aren’t nearly enough female characters. The one woman with any agency spends nearly all of the book, and the rest of her life, disguised as a man.
It’s set in the Kingdom of the Khazars, around 950 CE, and follows the adventures of two wandering Jewish adventurers from very different backgrounds. Zelikmann is a Frankish physician suffering from acute depression; Amram is an Abyssinian mercenary. Together, they
fight crime put an exiled prince back on a usurped throne.
Since this is a quintessentially Jewish text, it’s very much concerned with two fundamental icons of the Matter of Fantasy—the Road and the Book. Chabon’s afterword talks in detail about the yearning for travel and adventure, and of course there’s a lot of black humour to be had contrasting that to the history of the Jews. Two complementary quotations, first from the book itself—
She looked away so they would not see her tears, and noticed, on its carved and gilded stand, the giant illuminated Ibn Khordadbeh that had so enchanted her as a child, with its maps and preposterous anatomies and flat-foot descriptions of miracles and wonders, page after page of cities to visit and peoples to live among and selves to invent, out there, beyond the margins of her life, along the roads and in the kingdoms.
—and from the afterword.
For better and worse it has been one long adventure—a five-thousand-year Odyssey—from the moment of the true First Commandment, when God told Abraham lech lecha: Thou shalt leave home. Thou shalt get lost. Thou shalt find slander, oppression, opportunity, escape, and destruction. Thou shalt, by definition, find adventure.
By Colette Moody, published by Bold Strokes Books.
This is a pleasant, witty romp of a book, all about lesbian pirates. It’s set at the beginning of the 18th century, and follows a Florida seamstress who gets kidnapped by pirates, sews up a lot of wounds, falls for the captain’s daughter, helps rescue a dozen kidnapped prostitutes, and finishes the book by getting the girl, killing the evil pirate, seeing her father reconciled to their relationship, and retiring to a beautiful estate in Jamaica.
In tone, it’s somewhere between Tanith Lee’s Piratica and one of Georgette Heyer’s frothier books. Definitely recommended for all your lesbian pirate swashbuckling needs.