Thus, as is my standard usage of my blog space at or near the beginning of the month, I present the listing of my January, 2020 reads.
Books Read in January, 2020
Foundation by Isaac Asimov (r)
The Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons
The Storm Before the Storm: The Beginning of the End of the Roman Republic by Mike Duncan
Hypnos by R.J. Blain
The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman (r)
The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett (r)
Doomsday Clock #12 (Comic)
Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 8 #2 (Comic)
Coriolis RPG Quickstart Set by Christian Granath, Tomas Harenstam, Nils Karlen, Kosta Kostulas, and Simon Stalenhag (RPG) (r)
Coriolis - The Third Horizon Roleplaying Game by Tomas Harenstam, Nils Karlen, Kosta Kostulas, and Christian Granath (RPG) (r)
The Herald of Day by Nancy Northcott
Coriolis - The Third Horizon Gamemaster Screen by Various (RPG) (r)
December, 2019 Locus
The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
And that was the start of my reading for 2020. I have to say that this was an excellent month of reading in terms of the quantity of material read, especially given the last few months of reading, though it was not the most books I've read in a month. Regardless, my bookcases are stacked with a pretty large To Read Queue (TRQ) still. The books I enjoyed the most were:
The Storm Before the Storm: The Beginning of the End of the Roman Republic by Mike Duncan - This book is a non-fiction work, that covers a little known period of Roman history from the fall of Carthage to the death of Sulla the Dictator. In general, the tale of the Roman Republic develops in chronological order and allows the reader to follow the crisis that eventually would envelope the Republic. The book is a well-written account that keeps the reader's interest from the preface to the epilogue. This is not boring, stuffy, history. Author Duncan has extensively trawled the works of the ancient writers and pieced together a fascinating narrative that is comprehensively cross-referenced. This was a period of massive change, as the Roman Republic expanded into chaos and descended into civil war and eventually the formation of the Principate. This work records the facts that led to the fall of the Republic, but offers very little insight apart from a brief comparison to modern politics in the United States. The sources appear to have been taken at face value without questioning their motives or accuracy. This does not distract from the flow of the story or the ultimate outcome. The parallels to political life in Britain today are staggering! Overall, this book is a good overview of the Roman Republic before Caesar and Pompey came onto the scene. It is well-written, very thorough and highly interesting. I recommend this highly as a introductory text.
The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman - The second book in the author's His Dark Materials trilogy, this book largely stands the test of time. It is hugely ambitious for a children's/YA novel, raising some deep theological concepts from the nature of innocence to the problems of organised religion to the perception of reality. That said, despite the accessible way in which this novel is written, a lot of the subtext is likely to go whizzing over the head of younger readers. As Lyra unknowingly finds herself sandwiched between two factions - the Magisterium in their crusade against Dust, and Lord Asriel who has now set his sights on destroying the being that they worship (known as the Authority) - the result is deeply original, but at times the novel feels as if the author's ideas are far too grand for the book. It's a bit of a smorgasbord, containing a bit of everything but its scope is so broad that it lacks finer detail. The reader catches glimpses of the bigger picture - of Lord Asriel's fortress and Mrs. Coulter's ever-growing greed - but there isn't enough room in the novel to really focus on any aspect. Of course, The Subtle Knife is a middle novel in a trilogy, and it shows, but its true purpose is to move the key characters into the places they need to be for the third book, The Amber Spyglass. That said, it isn't a bad novel at all, in fact, I feel it has a better pace than The Golden Compass, but the perspective does jump around a lot between the various important parties. This is not just Lyra's story any longer; Will, Mary Malone, Lee Scoresby and Serafina Pekkala also are the focus of chapters and so the third person narrative flits between them and the various worlds that they travel to. The novel also ends on a very sudden cliffhanger, leaving it feeling incomplete as a whole. That said, while The Subtle Knife is not a perfect book, it is a strong sequel to The Golden Compass. While Lyra and Will often seem older than they actually are, both protagonists show noticeable growth and maturity as the story goes along. The twists and turns in their destiny are also compelling, drawing the reader in and leaving one wondering how things can possibly turn out okay in the third and final book of the trilogy. Highly enjoyable book, and I highly recommend it and the series as a whole.
The Herald of Day by Nancy Northcott - This novel is the first book in the Boar King's Honor trilogy. Though the author is someone that I talk to regularly through Twitter (and I consider her a friend), I had never read any of her books until this one. This novel has so many elements that I love in novels - mystery, magic, history, romance, and suspense. A wizard's fatal mistake. A king wrongly blamed for murder. A bloodline cursed until they clear the king's name... In 17th Century England, witchcraft is a hanging offense. Tavern maid Miranda Willoughby hides her magical gifts until terrifying visions compel her to seek the aid of a stranger, Richard Mainwaring, to interpret them. A powerful wizard, he sees her summons as a chance for redemption. He bears a curse because one of his ancestors unwittingly helped murder the two royal children known as the Princes in the Tower, and her message uses symbols related to those murders. Miranda's visions reveal that someone has altered history, spreading famine, plague and tyranny across the land. The quest to restore the timeline takes her and Richard from the glittering court of Charles II to a shadowy realm between life and death, where they must battle the most powerful wizard in generations - with the fate of all England at stake. There's action, intrigue, and love... all the elements that go towards making such a novel successful, and author Northcott has a way with her characters that not only endeared Miranda and Richard to me, but made the two of them come alive. The book also holds some interesting twists, and I have to say that I loved the book and will definitely pick up the second book on my next book shopping foray. Recommended.
The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton - This is a novel that I really don't know what to say about, as I don't want to spoil the enjoyment of it for others. Set in the era of the New Zealand gold rush, The Luminaries is a great sprawling epic of a murder mystery, written by a very talented, contemporary writer in the style of a Victorian novel. There is so much to admire in this hugely ambitious book (it's some 800+ pages!), not least of which is the complex structure. As astrology is the key to understanding the overall circular structure, each of the twelve parts is prefaced by an astrological chart. At the start of the book a character chart highlights the personality types in each sign of the zodiac. There is also the interplay between the astrological chart with its twelve signs of the zodiac and the structure of the twelve parts themselves. Each one is half the length of the preceding one until the last chapter is barely more than a few paragraphs long. This book is beautifully written and the author has a sly sense of humour, particularly in her use of language that mimics the style of Wilkie Collins and Dickens. However, where Catton and Dickens differ is in terms of characterisation. I'm not going to spoil the end of the book, but will say that the reader is left with many unanswered questions. This may have been intention, but regardless, it may leave the reader feeling down and not really satisfied. That said, the book has won a host of literary awards, and is an excellent novel despite its faults. I recommend it for those who are fans of the art of literature writing.
Overall, I managed to read 8 novels, 3 RPGs and RPG products, 1 magazine, 2 comics, and 0 graphic novels in January. Since this is the start of the year, it brings the year total in 2020 to a set of numbers that look like this: 8 books, 3 RPGs and RPG products, 1 magazine, 2 comics, and 0 graphic novels.
Anyway, thoughts and comments are always welcome. :)