Orphans of Chaos (John C Wright)

Yeh nah.

I am not into bondage; I don’t especially like reading about it. I understand that other people do, and that’s cool; I really don’t care. Whether I will keep reading a book that has bondage stuff in it depends on whether the plot and the characters warrant it, and how uncomfortable those scenes make me.

Enough of a prelude?

UnknownThis started out well enough. Five apparent orphans in a boarding school where they are the only students; odd goings-on, and at least one student convinced that they’re not actually on Earth (why? who knows). The student interactions were usually entertaining enough and the discomfort level wasn’t too high, for the first half or so. I was quite looking forward to finding out what odd thing was going on and whether the kids would have powers.

Then the governors etc of the school turned up and it was Lady Cyprian (although I was confused by her because I really thought they were saying her husband was the Unseen One, thus Hades, so I thought she was Persephone even though her attitude and name didn’t fit… nope, turns out I misunderstood and her husband was indeed Hephaestus). Some of the ways these characters were referred to was confusing, but then alternately transparent, so I got a bit impatient with the ‘are you trying to disguise their Greek god-ness or not’ – and then there were references to their Roman names but also that they were Greek gods – and I started to get doubtful.

Then the two girls dress up as very provocative maids in order to distract a cranky gardener called Grendel… which I can maybe come at because in theory they’re 16 but in reality there’s something weird about their ages… but THEN the three boys ‘vote’ on making them stay in those outfits, and the girls don’t get to ignore them.

So: yeh nah. I have no idea where I got this from; it’s been sitting on my iPad for ages, and I’ve never got around to reading it. Now I don’t have to finish it or worry about the sequels.

A Face like Glass

There is an exquisite agony in expectation.

A few years ago I read Gwyneth Jones’ Bold as Love sequence. I owned all of the books but I read them over almost a year… because it was kind of almost fun to wait, even though I had no need; and because I didn’t want the ride to be over.

Last year I did the same with Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series (which still isn’t finished because I haven’t got around to finding the last two), and Sarah Monette’s Mirador.

UnknownI had Frances Hardinge’s A Face Like Glass sitting on my desk for a full week, waiting to be read. It’s not exactly a year, but the principle is the same: knowing that I had it there waiting to read was incredibly exciting; knowing that as soon as I started reading it would soon be over was excruciating. Because oh my Hardinge is a glorious, glorious author.

And now I’ve read it and it was as I expected – which is to say even better than I expected – but now I am FINISHED and I am BEREFT.

A curmudgeonly cheesemonger is so antisocial he just lives in the tunnels with his cheeses (no ordinary cheese, it should be said, but cheese that can make you see visions and hear songs and maybe spit acid at you. TRUE Cheese). One day he finds a girl in a vat of whey… and her face: well, he makes her wear a mask.

Now, you might be thinking this guy is a bit odd. And he is. But the society he’s turned his back on is that of Caverna; they all live underground. And the other thing that’s different about them is that as babies, they don’t learn facial expressions. At all. Babies, toddlers, even adults if you’ve got the money, have to learn Faces: initially from family, and then from Facesmiths. Yes, this is as weird as it sounds… and it ends up being a really interesting reflection on class issues. Once you’re an adult, it costs a lot to learn new and interesting Faces; so of course, the poor don’t. And can’t. Does that mean they don’t have the emotions that require such a range of emotions?

Indeed, what does it mean to feel an emotion if you can’t express emotion via your features? Hardinge doesn’t pretend to have all the answers, but she makes a compelling, swoon-worthy novel from the issue.

It’s not all cheese and frowns, though. There’s also intrigue, friendship, losing your way, kleptomancy (my new favouritest way of telling the future), True Wine and Cartographers whose words can make you go crazy. There’s recognising your own emotions as well as others’, figuring out who to trust and how to trust yourself, and the willingness to Go With The Crazy.

And then there’s the glory that is Hardinge’s prose. Her words don’t just flow; sometimes they trickle and sometimes they gush but they always worm into your brain and create stunning pictures and magnificent juxtapositions. I’m pretty sure I could read Hardinge’s shopping list and it would be a work of lyrical beauty.

Get it from Fishpond. If you have never read a single Hardinge, read this one… and then read the rest….

The Female Factory

It took me a while to read this one. I read “Vox” and “Baggage” and then had to have a metaphorical lie down for a week, to catch my breath, then read the last two stories.

FemaleFactory-115x188Seriously. These two ladies. THEY DO THINGS TO MY BRAIN.

The no-spoilers version is: this collection is about being a woman, and children, and social expectations, and identity.

Now go read it. No, seriously.

Spoiler-filled version:
“Vox” is incredibly chilling, probably the most of the four stories, and on two laters. Kate’s obsession with the voices of inanimate objects is kooky but not that strange; her despair at not being able to have children is a familiar one. The further despair at having to choose just one child cuts deep… but the fact of what happens to the children she doesn’t choose? I had to reread the sections about the electronics’ voices a couple of time to check whether HannSlatt really had gone there. And yes, they really really had. Plus, Kate’s attitude towards her existing child… says some hard things about maternity. Confronting, in fact.

“Baggage” is a nasty little piece of baggage, with a central character lacking pretty much any redeeming personality features and a quite unpleasant world for her to feature in. Her particular ‘gift’ is never clearly explained, which I liked, given how supremely weird it is. There are definite overtones of The Handmaid’s Tale, although obviously it’s very different, and also perhaps Children of Men? Once again with maternity, although I imagine Kate would be horrified by Robyn’s attitude towards her own fertility, and the cubs she produces.

I loved “All the Other Revivals.” Well, I… hmm. Maybe I didn’t love all of them, but it’s not to say I didn’t love the others…. Oh anyway, it was interesting to come across a male voice, after the first two strong female voices. Not that Baron would see himself as a particularly strong <i>male</i> voice, I suspect. Once again the central conceit – the car in the billabong – isn’t explained at all; it just does what it does. And Baron is who he is, whoever that is – and will be. Once again the nature of motherhood is really strong here, although in a very different way from the first two stories; this time it’s a matter of absence, and one that’s never explained. I guess the billabong can be seen as a sort of mother, too, now that I think about it.

Finally, the titular “Female Factory” – named for a real place, I discover, in Tasmania OH MY BRAIN again. Again with the absence of motherhood (so it was a wise thing to do, to read the first two together and then the second two) – this time the story is from the perspective of young children – orphans no less – influenced by daring medical science in the early nineteenth century and their proximity to two cadaver-obsessed adults. Somehow this story, while creepy, felt perhaps the most comfortable of the lot; perhaps because its ideas are a bit familiar? Which isn’t to say it’s not an excellent story, which it is.

Overall this is an excellent #11 for the Twelve Planets, and once again Lisa Hannett and Angela Slatter have well broken me. You can get it from Twelfth Planet Press. 

One Small Step

Soooo this anthology came out in 2013 aaaand I’ve only just got around to reading it. Um. Oops. I have no excuse for this. It just didn’t happen.

OneSmallStepCoverdraft-196x300In my defence I read the whole thing last Sunday. That counts, right?

The subtitle is “An Anthology of Discoveries” and what’s really interesting is that this is such a broad anthology but yes, the theme of discovery – of place, or self, or strangers – is the unifying factor. Sometimes it’s obvious and sometimes it’s subtle; sometimes there are world-shattering consequences and sometimes not so much.

The other superbly interesting thing about this anthology is that it’s all women. From memory of Tehani discussing the process, pretty much accidentally so. And it’s not all just dresses and kissing! (Sorry; /sarcasm.) It’s basically a who’s who of established and emerging Australian writers, too, which is a total delight.

Some of these stories really, really worked for me. Michelle Marquardt’s “Always Greener” is a lovely SF story that ended up being simultaneously darker and more hopeful thanI expected (yes that’s a contradiction, too bad). And then to have it contrasted with the fantasy of Lisa Hannett and Angela Slatter’s “By Blood and Incantation” – which is not my favourite HannSlatt but is still quite good – neatly skewered expectations that it was going to be an SF anthology, pointing out that ‘discovery’ is a mighty broad concept. And then “Indigo Gold” by Deborah Biancotti! Detective Palmer!!! and !!! The Cat Sparks story is awesome (it feels like ages since I read a Cat Sparks story), Penelope Love is quietly sinister in “Original,” Faith Mudge does fairy tale things beautifully in “Winter’s Heart.” And the final story, “Morning Star” by DK Mok, is a magnificent SF bookend to match Marquardt but on a much grander, more extravagant scale.

This is a really fun anthology and I’m sorry it took me more than a year to read it. You can get it right here.

Dammit, Riggs

We bought the Lethal Weapon set. Oh yes. So far we’ve watched the first three.

imagesOh the bromance. Oh Mel Gibson’s hair.

The third film’s opening credits are to Sting’s “It’s Probably Me,” which smooshy adolescent me thought was incredibly romantic and older cynical me realises is frighteningly stalker-ish. But when I watched the music video, as an extra on the disc (which showed yes, that is Eric Clapton on the guitar), almost all of the scenes it showed were… Riggs and Murtaugh. Fighting, making up, Riggs saving Murtaugh from a bomb, recovering from a fight or an explosion. There’s one bit with Rene Russo (the awesome ‘my scars are better than yours’ scene) but that’s the only time a lady gets in. Other than that, the song (based on its visuals) is actually about non-sexual friendship. Which makes it way more palatable. Although still a little creepy.

Murtaugh is a pretty straightforward family guy, a career cop, does things properly. Riggs, though… well, he might have been that guy, but his wife is killed in a car crash and when we first meet him he’s suicidal and quite unhinged. In the first film, the whole narrative is around Murtaugh being a stable point for Riggs, bringing him back from the ledge (there’s also a drug ring blah blah). It’s a surprisingly sober film as a consequence, and the humour is often a bit uncomfortable because it often stems from Riggs doing something dangerous – and we know full well that it’s because he doesn’t really value his life any more. The second film is not the same. While there’s still mention of the dead wife – we finally find out a bit more about the car crash – Riggs’ craziness has become zaniness. There’s less reason for it; now it’s mostly just comic relief, without actually being revealing of Riggs’ psychology. There’s no reason for taking crazystupid risks; they’re just stunts for stunts’ sakes, at least until another woman is killed and he goes a bit revenge-nuts. The third has a bit less of the crazystupid, and basically no Riggs psychology. In the first film, Riggs bares his soul when Murtaugh makes some crack about not being as willing as Riggs to kill someone, and Riggs replies that it’s the only thing he’s ever been good at. He’s a veteran of the war in Vietnam, he was involved in black ops… so he was a bit screwed up even before Victoria was killed, is the message, and this film gives some hint about exploring how being good at killing might conceivably possibly be used towards the greater good, in a cop. But the rest of the franchise backs the hell away from that idea and moves towards Beverley Hills Cop instead. This is disappointing.

Also, a significant part of Riggs is his hair. Oh those long flowing locks… they’re so very cringeworthy.

Meanwhile, I do not like Leo Getz. He is abrasive and annoying and pointless except for finding occasionally useful information. I presume he’s meant to be some sort of comic relief but it’s no relief to me.

Now, as a white Australian I feel slightly uncomfortable and obviously unqualified to talk about black American issues in reality, but it is interesting to me to consider how they are portrayed in these films. First and foremost, it’s positive (at least it certainly feels that way to me, and if anyone can point to me the ways in which it is problematic I’d really, really like to know!). Please note I do not say ‘equal’ or ‘completely fine’, but still… . In the first film, a black man – Murtaugh – gets instructions from another black man (whose name I admit I did not catch), and there are other black men on the police force. I don’t recall a single instance of racism towards a black person (which is clearly therefore unrealistic; and there is an unpleasant instance of Riggs being racist towards a Chinese-American character). Interestingly, there’s a fleeting but prominent look at the Murtaugh family refrigerator, and it features an anti-Apartheid sticker that was obvious enough that both my darling and I noticed. This was particularly interesting when watching the second film, where the villains are apparently Evil because they’re running drugs and using their diplomatic immunity to get away with their nefarious deeds, but actually they’re the villains because they’re South African. It felt like there was far more emphasis on their attitudes towards black people than there was on drug running. Early on, there’s a scene where the head honcho is talking about the police involved in investigating them – and he describes Murtaugh as a ‘kaffir’. There’s a scene where the same man is explaining in a condescending tone to his secretary just why the police are harassing him – it’s because they don’t like South African policies – and another time when the fact that black men ‘have guns and badges’ is said in such a tone as to suggest ‘… and this will be the end of civilisation as we know it.’ And Riggs is allowed to sleep with the South African woman only after she has disavowed the policies of her country. It’s not a nuanced political film, but it is undoubtedly a political film. The third film has a more problematised view of black Americans, with young black kids getting access to guns and indeed one of them – a friend of Murtaugh’s son – being shot by Murtaugh. But the black kids aren’t shown to be evil villains; if anything they’re more victims of the evil white bent cop, Travis – and the black boss criminal is helpless, just like all the various white criminals and indeed many police, to resist (I’m not saying that this is entirely a good thing, since victimhood isn’t helpful to anyone, but at least they’re not simply coded as Gangsta.) Finally, while there is no interracial sexual relationship, there’s Rianne Murtaugh’s infatuation with Riggs… which Murtagh is aghast at not because of the racial thing, but because it’s his baby daughter and Riggs (and hopefully for the age thing too).

There are a few women in these films. Trish Murtaugh is a sensible woman, supportive of her husband but clearly doing her own thing as well. There are a few female cops – including Jenette Goldstein, who was also in Aliens AND Terminator 2: Judgement Day! You rock lady! Rika is a brief love interest in 2, but the real passion is sparked with Rene Russo. Of course it’s a convention that they initially fight on the job and then fall madly into bed, but I kinda didn’t mind it too much here and I think it’s because of Cole’s professionalism. She is a good cop. She knows her job, she’s passionate about justice, and boy can she kick villains around when she has to. The scene where she and Riggs compare scars? Priceless. The scene where she deals with five baddies and Riggs holds Murtaugh back partly because he knows Cole can deal with it, but mostly because he wants to admire her fighting style? Even better. Her professionalism doesn’t detract from her femininity, for whatever that’s worth, and Riggs is as protective of Murtaugh as he is of Cole. It’s a delight to watch.

Now that we’ve talked about the fun: these films are actually about police brutality. We know that, right? Kinda makes it uncomfortable to think about, doesn’t it?

Hidden Empire

… nah.

898232-1I picked this up from ibooks when they were doing a ‘get the first book in a series free’ thing. It sounded like it could be a fun epic, and it starts well enough: let’s turn a superJupiter into a star using alien tech! The first portag is a female xenoarchaeologist!

I don’t even mind multiple points of view.

But the first alien didn’t feel that alien, and was a bit too eye-rolly pompous. And the heir of the world-trees place goes to visit the alien planet – and the aliens are all very human-like – and one of the first things mentioned about the palace is that there are courtesans? And the heir of the alien planet is all ‘yeh I gotta sow mah oats real fast cos when I inherit, I get the snip’ … nah.

I liked the world-tree and their priests, but they didn’t seem as cool as the Templars in the Simmons’ Hyperion Cantos.

So unless someone can give me a really convincing reason to get back to it… nah.

Drowned Vanilla

I read it in a day.

DrownedVanilla-115x188I gave it to my mother for her birthday; she had previously loved A Trifle Dead. About this one, she says:

I was thoroughly entertained by this latest book from Livia Day. I appreciated her heroine’s inability to combine detective work, cooking skills and a complicated love life with aplomb! The plot kept me interested to the end; the recipes for summer drinks, gelato and ice cream almost made me want to spend more time in the kitchen, and her dealings with Bishop and Stewart made me want to take her aside for a maternal chat.

It’s just the sort of book I like for holiday reading while watching the cricket – enjoyable with no necessity for deep thinking!

Oh Ma.

As for me… well, I have moved somewhere and have room for some frivolous things, and after reading this I decided that yes indeed I did want an ice cream maker. I will, however, be making neither beer ice cream nor Shay’s butterscotch, for completely different reasons.

I am not maternal and so did not have the same reaction as my mother; instead it had me reading with one eye metaphorically closed as I waited for something to go deeply wrong.

As to the plot – I know I am no author when I hit the twists and turns and I am utterly amazed at the devious brain that comes up with the sorts of things that happen to Tabitha. Poor lass. Livia, you are So Mean.

Hobart and its surrounds come to life beautifully, if not quite as much a part of the plot as in A Trifle Dead. There is a love of food, a love of friends, and a general love of life evident in this book. Hugely enjoyable. You can get it from Twelfth Planet Press, hard copy or ebook.

Jean-Paul Marat

There are probably three figures in the French Revolution who most fascinate the well-informed everyperson. Georges Danton is my absolute favourite, for a bunch of complex reasons. Maximilien Robespierre is the one that a lot of people know of and blame for the Terror. I’ve read biographies of both of them in the last f ew years. And then there’s Jean-Paul Marat, often regarded as the epitome of demagoguery, inciting the poor uneducated masses to insane levels of violence.

marat2-connerI’ll start with a drawback of this book. The first is a direct consequence of its size: at 155 pages, there’s not room to go into great detail about very much (Conner neglects to mention the massacre of the Swiss Guard in the second storming of the Tuileries, which struck me as odd but I’ll concede it didn’t directly have much to do with Marat). Unfortunately this is hard to remedy, as he himself points out that there are only two other biographies of the man in English – he wrote one and doesn’t think much of the other.

Something else that might be considered a drawback but which I found deeply interesting is the author’s perspective. This is a drawback if you forget that (or were never taught that) every historian does have a perspective, and they bring that to their writing. Conner brings this issue to the very front of this short biography by spending the introduction skewering the perspectives of earlier historians and the way they have treated Marat; he shows – convincingly in most cases – that the bad press regularly regurgitated about the man is fallacious and based largely on anti-Marat propaganda, and/or others’ political convictions (a favourite line: “The episode reveals nothing about Marat, but a great deal about how historians allow their social prejudices to affect their judgement” (p5)). There’s also an amazing excerpt from 1919 wherein Marat’s insanity is affirmed and then a comparison is made to contemporaries who parallel him – like Bolshevik sympathisers and women who “have failed in woman’s first and natural function” (p6). I laughed, I cried. All of this is matched by Conner’s own attitude, which is not really spelled out but nonetheless comes through clearly. I can’t imagine how this book was received by conservative Americans. The final pages imagines Marat’s ghost questioning the legacy of the French Revolution. His big thing (according to Conner) was the idea not just of political and legal equality (thanks to the French Revolution, at least in theory TICK) but economic and social equality – hence his championing of the sans culottes. Conner’s last paragraph reads:

Marat would surely be shocked and dismayed to learn that after more than 200 years his struggle for social revolution had lost none of its relevance and urgency. Where is the People’s Friend now, when we need him? (p155)

I can understand some people being dismayed by this authorial intrusion. But if you hadn’t got that Conner is a bit of a radical himself, then you haven’t been reading very carefully. And if you’re reading the biography and being dismayed by Marat’s politics, then you’re probably not going to agree with this anyway (NB I don’t mean his methods but his ideology).

This is a wonderfully readable biography of a quite astonishing man. Marat was a doctor and an experimental physicist and a journalist and a politician and an intensely passionate advocate for social change (even before the Revolution). He dealt with a chronic skin disease (it’s apparently unclear what this was), and police harassment (occasionally warrants were for possibly-real issues, sometimes it was plain censorship and targeting). He was too radical for his times and thus often a voice crying in the wilderness; he would still be regarded as too radical, I would suggest. Conner sets out his life neatly and clearly. There’s just enough detail about the French Revolution that I think you could read it cold… but I know too much to actually be a reliable judge of that. I’m really glad to add this aspect – the man who was revered by much of the menu peuple, who too often get ignored even in histories of the French Revolution where they had a fundamental role.

The Lies of Locke Lamora

Locke-Lamora-UKThis has been on my radar for a while; when I finally added it to my Goodreads page, Katharine went a little mad and next thing I know it’s appeared in my mailbox.

Some slight spoilers below, although not that many and none too significant.

It took me about 4/5 of the book to figure it out, but finally I realised what Camorr reminds me of: it’s Ankh-Morpok at its grimiest. Maybe Ankh-Morpok crossed with Gotham? All the inhabitants are human, but it’s got that chaotic mad feel that Ankh-Morpok has… without the cheerfulness that Pratchett adds. The grimdark version of Ankh-Morpok? Dare I suggest the more realistic version of Ankh-Morpok… So anyway, I quite liked Camorr, although it’s not as ‘original’ as the George RR Martin quote on the front might suggest. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – originality is great of course, but building on others can be too. I am also a bit puzzled about the inclusion of the ruins of some long-forgotten alien race. Yes they add to the cityscape, and the idea of Falselight is really cool, but I was kinda expecting a bit more to be made of the Elderglass. Actually I was expecting that Locke was going to be a descendant of that alien race (spoiler! he’s not… well ok, there are apparently another six books after this, so maybe that’s a reveal in the fifth?). So… yes, it’s cool and it does add to the knowledge that this is a complex and complicated world and Lynch has given it great thought. But there was both too little info – who were they? how long ago are we talking?? – and too much info, because there were these teasers all throughout about the glass (can’t be broken, except there’s this one Broken Tower OOOooh, etc).

Is it passé of me to comment on the laydees? Or, let’s be honest, the lack thereof. Locke’s ladylove is mentioned a couple of times – very much in passing – and is completely forgotten for more than half the book. That bugged me. I loved that there were what I think of ‘incidental women’ – guards and merchants and criminals were just as likely to be women as men, but the ones that Locke and his Merry Band of Bastards interact with are almost always men. There are two significant female nobles, and they are awesome and get to be competent and I like them a lot. Buuuut… it could have been better.

So far you might be thinking that I didn’t think much of the book. Actually, I really enjoyed it. Like, a lot. Someone suggested it was an Ocean’s 11 kinda story, and it definitely is – except see that comment about missing the cheerfulness of Pratchett? There are some magnificent one-liners, and the variety of hustles are breathtaking and occasionally hilarious, but this definitely falls on the grimmer end of the scale. It’s a bit of a spoiler I guess, but… people die. I hadn’t really expected that, with my George Clooney/ Brad Pitt expectations. Talk about a kick in the guts.

The plot? It’s a con. There’s one con that threads through the entire thing, and a number of others that crop up. There are external things that get in the way and need to be dealt with; there’s everyday life, there’s death and mayhem, there’s revenge and pain (lots of pain), no romance and a lot of bro-bonding. Oh, so much dude-platonic-love. The ties of brotherly love have rarely had their praises such so highly… and I’m not even being sarcastic at this point.

The protagonist is, of course, Locke Lamora. He’s in the line of Miles Vorkosigan and other such brains-over-brawn heroes: he can hold his own in a fight but he’s not really very good at it and ends up with a lot of cuts, bruises, black eyes and a serious lack of blood at various points. But of course he makes up for it with a devious, cunning brain that comes up with madcap, near-to-impossible schemes. It’s just lucky he has willing confederates to help him carry it out. I really liked Jean, his bruiser with brains best buddy. I was initially a bit wary of the way that he was described as fat, and that seems to be forgotten for bits of the book – I can’t figure out whether that was a good thing or not. But their relationship works; they work well together but they’re not completely reliant on each other.

The villains are… interesting. For a while I couldn’t even tell who the villain was going to be, or even if there was going to be one; after all, the main characters are thieves – let’s not kid ourselves, much as they like to talk about their own code of morality, Locke and his friends get a great deal of joy out of stealing from, conning, and generally making life miserable for many of the honest people of Camorr. But there is/are indeed villain/s – their number depends on how you want to view things like “I was doing what I was paid for” – who of course make our heroes look positively virtuous. I have to admit that I was a little disappointed by the driving force behind the villainy. It felt a little… small.

Ocean’s 11, yes – and 12 and 13. I was also reminded of Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (and the others, but that’s the one I’ve rewatched recently). It’s… well. Fun, yes, although with its fair share of rip-your-heart-out moments. It’s a good thing I got to the last fifty-odd pages with nothing else to do, because I just could not figure out where it was all going to end up and I nearly had to put the book down to breathe but I didn’t. I really enjoyed it.

You can get it from Fishpond.

Marie Antoinette: a biography

originalIt’s weird reading biographies. There can be no great surprises, really; you do already know the ending after all. And in the case of Marie Antoinette, I know the outlines of her life so well that I was curious to see how Fraser shaped the events, rather than finding them out – especially of the last half of her life. I knew very little of her childhood and in fact did not realise that she was the youngest daughter of the Austrian Empress, which does add a particular shade to her upbringing.

Overall I really enjoyed Fraser’s style, although the use of ellipses in a historical work is a bit weird. But she’s eminently readable; having the endnotes at the back of the book helps that, although it does also mean I didn’t look at any of them (none of them were discursive so I didn’t miss much). There were enough endnotes that I felt like I was reading a well-researched book, which I presume is accurate rather than being wishful thinking!

Of the content, the one rather odd note for me was that Fraser accepts as highly likely the idea that Marie Antoinette did have an affair with Count Axel Fersen, Swedish soldier and general lover of women who did spend time at the court and indeed helped to arrange the escape that ended so disastrously at Varennes. I didn’t feel that Fraser offered enough evidence to make their liaison quite as certain as she suggested. Other than that, Fraser is quite sympathetic towards the Archduchess/Dauphine/Queen – and I have no problem with that. Fraser shows the many difficulties that Marie Antoinette faced throughout her life ( for instance, more than seven years of marriage before consummation brings problems on a whole range of levels when you’re meant to produce the heir), and does so with an eye for detail and, yes, with sympathy. That’s not to say that she shadows the problems that Marie Antoinette brought on herself, and those she did little or nothing to minimise; they too are investigated, sympathetically but rigorously, honestly, as a thorough biographer ought.

Overall this is a really great biography, and reminds me that yes I really do enjoy reading history like this and maybe I should read some more. I believe that it would be quite accessible to those with little knowledge of the revolutionary period; it’s instructive of the way women were used politically in European aristocratic and royal circles for centuries, and reflects on the sorts of propaganda that is still used around powerful women today.

You can get it from Fishpond.

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