Book Review: Of Noble Family by Mary Robinette Kowal (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Of Noble Family (Glamourist Histories #5) by Mary Robinette Kowal

(Four Stars)

“Perhaps she could paint me with a halo.” “Nothing so explicit. Simply a ray of light emanating from heaven, as if you are favored by God.” “Ah, for that, I only need you seated at my right hand.”

Fitting end to the series: Jane and Vincent must deal with family, that most Austenian of plot movers. But Austen–even glamour–gradually recedes for center stage as our protagonists move far from the shores of England into physical, political and social situations as outside their experience as being impoverished in Venice, to Antiqua in the Caribbean.

“She held his gaze and waited. If there was one thing that a young lady learned, it was how to wait with a tranquil expression.”

Kowal tries to maintain a Jane Austen tone–to the point that the grammar is often stilted–but her subjects are far beyond the cloistered existence of Regency England. Kowal enjoys, and makes good use of, resources far beyond anything Austen could imagine.

“It was difficult to avoid noticing how many times Julian had been whipped. Jane ground her teeth together as they worked.” This was not England, but England was responsible.”

That other cultures may understand and use glamour differently than Europeans might seem obvious, but Jane like us occasionally misses what is right before her. Kowal does a credible job defining these alternate approaches–remembering Jane as many Americans seem unaware that Africa is a huge and diverse place–and imagining a credible response for Jane to it.

“His eyes were wide and serious with the slightly troubled expression unique to newborns, as if he had come into the world knowing how to right all the troubles but could no longer quite remember how.”

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Book Review: Vaour and Vanity by Mary Robinette Kowal (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Valour and Vanity (Glamourist Histories #4) by Mary Robinette Kowal

(Four Stars)

“But true love will always triumph. Is that not what the novels says?” “Yes, but we are in the land of Romeo and Juliet.” “What a happy thought that is.”

This glamour history eschews the usual Regency England setting for a more exotic locale: Venice after the dissolution of the Republic by Napoleon. Kowal likewise confronts our protagonists with new threats and new antagonists. The story has been compared to Ocean’s 11, but Kowal’s task was more difficult because she maintains a single point of view throughout, where modern swindler-the-swindler stories depend on multiple, rapid shift of POV.

“Allow me to offer one exceedingly simple reason to not remove to Lord Byron’s.” He raised his eyebrows in question. Jane placed a hand to her bosom and sighed over-dramatically. “I fear for my virtue.”

Kowal demonstrates her virtuosity by melding Lord Byron into a story which had not originally included him, but Kowal’s research discovered the notorious poet in residence in Venice at the very time of her plot. Too good a character to shun.

“Times are hard. I shouldn’t have … you used to be a lady, didn’t you?” “Yes.”

Jane and Vincent’s brief excursion into poverty broadens their characters and increases the stakes. In the process they deal with isolation, deceit and a most unconventional convent.

“Prayer provided only the illusion of control, but Jane was too accomplished a glamourist to deny that illusions could provoke emotions. The same perception allowed her to see beyond the curtain of bravery to the fear in her husband’s eyes.”

 

Book Review: Without a Summer by Mary Robinette Kowal (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Without a Summer (Glamourist Histories #3) by Mary Robinette Kowal

(Four Stars)

“Vincent’s jaw tightened. ‘Jane. Stay in the carriage.’ She did not.”

This series keeps getting better. Kowal confidently draws the reader into a historical London and the summer that wasn’t.  Readers continue to follow Jane Vincent, now Lady Jane, into the deprivation and politics of that time. And sometimes the biggest threat to the happiness of herself and those she loves are her own assumptions.

“She comes from good English stock on her father’s side. It is not as though she were Irish.”

Kowal addresses a time when some people of color were accepted in the upper reaches of English society and some were barred–when Irish were considered not white. When myth and rumor are more readily believed than truth.

“They cannot think that coldmongers are responsible for the weather. It flies in the face of science.” “Superstition rarely troubles with facts.”

The pretty girl on the cover may be Melody, but shouldn’t the gentlemen then have red hair?

“I know that I should not feel sorry for myself because I am pretty, but sometimes it is nice to have someone speak to me as though I am not.”

Book Review: Glamour in Glass by Mary Robinette Kowal (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Glamour in Glass (Glamourist Histories #2) by Mary Robinette Kowal

(Four Stars)

“Jane had made the plan as simple as possible, believing that–as with glamour–the fewer threads there were to tangle, the more robust the illusion.”

Better than Shades of Milk and Honey. Kowal strikes out on her own, with a clearer voice, former roots in history, and less mimicking of Jane Austen. Good job. Since this book is firmly rooted in history, the reader can detect that the universe with glamour is parallel, not the same as, our own. Newlyweds, Jane and David Vincent stumble into the crisis of their era, and ….  Continue reading

Book Review: Assassin’s Price by L. E. Modesitt Jr. (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Assassin’s Price (Imager Portfolio #11) by L. E. Modesitt Jr.

(Four Stars)

“If we cannot change the times, then it may be that the only way to survive and prosper is to change ourselves.”

Excellent addition to the imager stories. A protagonist who isn’t an imager. Nice change. To tell this story in first person, Modesitt couldn’t have chosen better. Have no fear, imagers abound, but it’s refreshing to see them from the point of view of someone outside that tiny circle.

“Everyone has some meaningful choices,” returned Chelia. “The fewer you have, the more important they are.”

Our earnest young hero tries to make the best of a terrible situation, which only get worse as time goes on. Luckily, he has the same attitude toward Continue reading

Book Review: Treachery’s Tools by L. E. Modesitt Jr. (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Treachery’s Tools (Imager Portfolio #10) by L. E. Modesitt Jr.

(Four Stars)

“There’s not much difference between arrogance and stupidity. Arrogance, though, is the brother of treachery.”

This is weird. Ten novels deep into the series, and this story is the best of the bunch. Good world building and plot development, despite Modesitt constraining himself (and the reader) to a single protagonist’s point of view. What set this story apart is redemption. Yes, in every previous story the good guys were good and the baddies bad and no one ever changes. Here, someone does. With a side of self-sacrifice.

“I don’t want you to think I was that stupid.” “At age ten, we were all stupid.” “You weren’t.” “I was stupid when I was far older than ten.”

Good foreshadowing, misdirection by supporting characters. Modesitt shows his hand because Continue reading

Book Review: Madness in Solidar by L. E. Modesitt Jr. (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Madness in Solidar (Imager Portfolio #9) by L. E. Modesitt Jr.

(Three Stars)

“No matter what he did to try to improve matters, no one was happy. In fact, most of those involved just got angry and angrier.”

This new set of tales splits the time difference between the two previous series of imager stories. The new protagonist is indistinguishable in voice and actions than Rhenntyl and Quaetyl, which will be fine with most readers. The factions are pretty much the same, with everyone blind to everyone else’s needs and willing to believe and do the most outrageous things for their side.

“The problem with great power, the Maitre said, is that, to be believed, it must be exercised. If it is not exercised, people forget its greatness, but when it is exercised, they complain that Continue reading

Book Review: Rex Regis by L. E. Modesitt Jr. (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Rex Regis (Imager Portfolio #8) by L. E. Modesitt Jr.

(Three Stars)

“A fool has many choices, a wise man far fewer.”

Another rousing fantasy in the imaging world. The final story of the Quaeryt thread.

“Quaeryt Rytersyn … you may be the most powerful imager ever and a hand of Erion, but you are an idiot!”

Well done. The usual quibbles about slow pace, repetition and poor editing, but it’s great fun to read. Probably even better on audio.

“Only the Nameless is infallible. The rest of us must do the best we can.” And Sometimes I wonder about just how infallible the Nameless is, thought Quaryt, if there even Continue reading

Book Review: Antiagon Fire by L. E. Modesitt Jr. (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Antiagon Fire (Imager Portfolio #7) by L. E. Modesitt Jr.

(Three Stars)

“The worst acts are often justified by the best of reasons.”

Another rousing tale on the imager world. Much repetition of action and angst from previous stories.

“What else can we do but accept what we cannot change?”

Laced with aphorisms which give the tome a sense of wisdom. Many are restatements of well-known adages. Book of Rholan is a boring, intrusive injection of sermonizing.

“What is force? What’s the difference between persuasion and force?” “You know very well, dearest. So does every woman.” “There sometimes is a narrow line….” “Only men think it’s narrow.”

The preceding is perhaps the best dialogue between Continue reading

Book Review: Imager’s Battalion by L. E. Modesitt Jr. (Three Stars)

Book Review: Imager’s Battalion (Imager Portfolio #6) by L. E. Modesitt Jr.

(Three Stars)

“I want a land where Pharsi, scholars, and imagers can be what they will, under the same laws as everyone else.” “You are either mad … or a lost one.” “Is there any difference?”

A fun story, well-told, but lots of repetition–and war. One continuous series of battles with the climax mirroring that of the previous volume. Every skirmish and every staff meeting, not to mention the bureaucratic in-fighting, related in excruciating detail.

“He doesn’t forget, Quaeryt.” Neither do I. Ever.

Book of Rholan has become Modesitt’s philosophic hand puppet. Much of that philosophy–in fact the basic plot–is foreshadowed in the first three books of this series, which occur hundreds of years after this book.

Editing quirks: “In less than a fraction of a quint …” Twice. “Rain began to come down.” What else? Dozens of blotting head and adjusting brim cap.

“It’s hard not to think about the consequences when you’re the one who causes the deaths of so many.”