The Man Who Loved Books Too Much (Allison Bartlett)
The Man Who Loved Books Too Much is definitely the wrong title for this book, because that's really not what this book is about. The love of stories is something I can relate to, easily -- or even the love of beautiful first editions. The amoral antics of a thief who wants to have books as a status symbol, and the wishy-washy morals of the story-hungry writer, are not something I can sympathise with as much. And I increasingly worried about the latter. She could have reported thefts of books worth thousands and thousands of dollars; she could have reported credit card fraud; she could have helped to discover where Gilkey hid the books.
By the end of the book, I wasn't sure that she would do that last -- and I knew she didn't report the thefts or the fraud. She becomes an unreliable narrator, I think. I mean, humans already tend to be, because even the most honest of us have fallible memories. I was almost more interested in that increasing swing to being on Gilkey's side.
In any case, as a book, it's easy to read, though not exactly glittering prose. It's a collection of recollections and personal musings, none of which I found particularly interesting. The more interesting figure of Ken Sanders, the "bibliodick", was rapidly written out as he began to notice the author's growing bias and unethical practices.
Lifelode (Jo Walton)
I've loved everything I've read by Jo Walton, but it's so hard to rate them in relation to each other, because they're each so different. I enjoyed Lifelode more than Tooth and Claw, but perhaps less than Farthing -- yet I rated both four stars. I loved Among Others most of all her work so far, and I'm not sure Lifelode matches up... Maybe I should be rating all her work that I've read so far five stars, except Tooth and Claw.
Her range of work is fascinating. Her books are not like each other, and yet all of them are well-written and ambitious, and succeed very well with their ambitions. The narration of Lifelode, for example, is done in both past and present tense, because for one of the main characters, time is like that: all things happening at once. I expected to see more of the more distant past, through Taveth, but it was very much about that generation, the people she knew. It's a very warm book, full of family bonds and love.
It's also interesting in that polyamory seems to be the default, and Jo Walton treats that sensitively. There's a sense of great strength in the relationships, but also an acknowledgement of the problems they'll succeed. There's also LGBT people, and one who seems pretty much asexual. She always writes about all kinds of people, and that's another thing I really appreciate about her writing.
It's also nice that the gendering of roles isn't a really big thing here. Taveth is a housewife, but she chooses that, and her role is central to the functioning of her home. But even a female priest is still just called a priest, not a priestess.
I've managed to say all that and say nothing about the plot. It's a domestic fantasy, although there is also a level on which it is about gods. I think the homelife is as important to the story as the bursts of fighting, and the magic -- the bonds between people are, I think, more important, as they are what is under threat. Don't go into it expecting a big showdown at the end, or something like that.
Child of the Northern Spring (Persia Woolley)
I really wasn't impressed by Persia Woolley's version of Guinevere's story, to begin with. The transitions between past and present were clumsily done, and this version of Guinevere wasn't anything particularly new. It reminded me very much of Mercedes Lackey's version of the story, Gwenhwyfar: The White Spirit, except that this Guinevere is less of a warrior-type. They had definite similarities, though, with the deaths of their mothers, their links to Epona, etc.
However, as it developed, I came to enjoy it much more. The prose never really rose above mediocre, in my opinion, but the characters were well presented, and their relations to each other well thought out. The glimpse of a young, angry Gawain was fantastic, though too brief for a Gawain-lover like myself, and I particularly liked Bedivere. The relationship between Arthur and Guinevere also felt real, and I sort of don't want to read the rest of this trilogy, because it will separate them. Although not inevitably, I suppose: Sarah Zettel's books sidestep that issue, why can't others?
Another thing I appreciated was her care in the author's note regarding the choice of place names and such. She chose to call the Welsh people the Cumbri, which is nice, given that the word "Welsh" actually comes from the Saxon word for "foreigner". I think she navigated that well.
So, all in all, surprisingly satisfying -- I think I will track down the other books.