skygiants: Clopin from Notre-Dame de Paris throwing his hands up in the air (clopin says wtfever)
As previously mentioned, I have been rereading Barbara Hambly's Benjamin January books. I have not yet quite reached the point where I run out of 'reread' and just hit 'read' -- there were nine published books when I first read the series in 2010, and now there are fourteen -- but I am halfway through, so it's probably a decent time to stop and take stock.

For the unfamiliar, the titular Benjamin January is a free black pianist/music teacher/surgeon who also finds himself frequently fighting crime in 1830s New Orleans. In the long-form hypothetical HBO television series of my heart, he is played by a slightly-older Okierete Onaodawan, who has proven through his pitch-perfect rendition of both Hercules Mulligan and James Madison that he can do all the instantaneous code-switching that Benjamin January requires to survive and walk the lines between the world of the wealthy free colored inhabited by his mother and sister, and the slave quarters where he is frequently required to go undercover for crime-fighting purposes.

...and it looks like I outlined the other major characters on here back in 2010, so I'm just going to link to that instead of doing it all again.

Books I have read to date under the cut )
skygiants: Kraehe from Princess Tutu embracing Mytho with one hand and holding her other out to a flock of ravens (uses of enchantment)
Barbara Hambly's Dragonsbane was one of the first books I ever put on my Kindle but I only got round to reading it last week, I don't know why, it just felt like the stars had aligned.

Dragonsbane, definitely written in the eighties, is a fairly intentional deconstruction of Heroic Dragonslaying Tropes, ft. as protagonist Jenny Waynest, a middle-aged witch who is constantly having Relatable Struggles Between Her Career and Her Family, which is to say between having enough study time to complete her dissertation become truly excellent at magic and the distractions of her boyfriend and their two kids. Aforementioned boyfriend, John Aversin, happens to be the lord of a fairly impoverished region and also the only living person to have ever slain a dragon (with significant assist from Jenny.)

This becomes relevant when a naive baby knight named Gareth comes riding up demanding help to slay a dragon.

NAIVE BABY KNIGHT GARETH: I am here to request the aid of the GREATEST hero in ALL THE LAND --
JOHN: Yes sorry pardon all the mud etc. but we are a very small holding here and I am busy with the pigs?
JENNY: Hey babe, long time no see, how are the kids?
JOHN: Oh, fine, fine, hope your months alone studying witchcraft in the woods went well?
NAIVE BABY KNIGHT GARETH: Pigs? Witches? Illegitimate children?
JENNY: Kiddo do you maybe need a moment to go off and clutch your pearls --
NAIVE BABY KNIGHT GARETH: YES, WITCH HARLOT, YES I DO.

Anyway, although John is reluctant to leave the pigs etc. to go kill somebody else's dragon, baby knight Gareth promises gratitude and significant financial aid from the king for the impoverished region if the quest is completed, so Jenny & John & naive baby knight Gareth ride off a-questing!

The first approximate third of the book after this is basically just The Road Trip That Shattered The Last Of Poor Baby Gareth's Illusions. However it soon turns out that what is ACTUALLY plaguing the land is the king's evil sorceress mistress who is evil, very evil, one hundred percent evil, you never can trust the pretty ones (my one complaint with the book) and the dragon is just sort of a byproduct to this, although still a byproduct that needs to be sorted out one way or another.

But, I mean, the whole political/magical plot is kind of all just a narrative excuse to force Jenny to resolve the central question of her life anyway -- whether to pursue various opportunities at power & magical knowledge & freedom (including dragon-y spoilers )) or whether she can continue with the life she's currently leading, constantly torn between her personal potential and the needs of the people who love her, whom she loves as well, but also can't help but resent.

Which: it sucks that this is a binary choice, but I can't say the dilemma isn't real. The choice is never easy and the answer is never obvious, and I spent most of the book unsure myself what I wanted Jenny to do, which really is the biggest mark of success for this book.

A sidenote: I am told this book has sequels that should NEVER, EVER BE READ. So I am not going to read them, but the people who have read them and explicitly told me not to read them (I'm looking at you, [personal profile] rachelmanija and [personal profile] coffeeandink) could maybe make it easier for me by satisfying my horrible curiosity in detailed ROT13 or something in comments. >.>
skygiants: Princess Tutu, facing darkness with a green light in the distance (hahaha!)
First post for that December requested posts thing!

So [personal profile] bookblather asked me about my favorite crime-fighting duos, and the one that always jumps first into my head is not actually really much of a crime-fighting duo at all, except for one or two glorious episodes: Olive Snook and Emerson Cod from Pushing Daisies.

If you do not remember Pushing Daisies, it was that Brian Fuller show about a singing ex-jockey pie waitress and a cynical knitting detective who made pop-up books, and also a dude who raised people from the dead and his star-crossed love affair, I guess. I mean, look, we all loved Ned and Chuck, and I also loved Ned and Chuck, but would I have been just as happy -- or perhaps even happier -- with the Olive And Emerson Detective Agency Show? YES. YES I WOULD HAVE. And was I secretly enraged that the hasty wrap-up when the show was cancelled made it canonical that Olive did . . . something that I can't remember but that tragically was not partnering up with Emerson for the Olive And Emerson Detective Agency Show? YES. YES I WAS. Sorry, Brian Fuller, but your vision was INFERIOR.

Ummmm. What other crime-fighting duos do I love? I am not gonna talk about Elementary's Holmes and Watson because I feel like that's too obvious, and also though I still love Elementary I'm currently cranky at it for spending way too much time on Holmes Brother Drama that I don't care about. I just did a search for 'together they fight crime!' in my gmail to see what comes up, and I get:

Kyoko and Kanna from 20th Century Boys, who didn't actually do much crime-fighting together either, but whom I would desperately love to see fight crime together in future

Scar and Marcoh from Fullmetal Alchemist, who do not fight crime so much as fight . . . genocide . . . after Marcoh helped to commit it . . . and then tried to commit suicide-by-Scar and had his face melted instead . . . AND YES I DO WANT TO READ ABOUT THEIR CRIME-FIGHTING ADVENTURES, THANK YOU

Eva and Dieter from Monster, who I had totally forgotten until just now fought crime together for one SHINING MOMENT

Livia Levesque and Abishag Shaw from the Benjamin January books, who are never actually a crime-fighting duo in the Benjamin January books yet, but if they were it would be my FAVORITE Benjamin January book

Molly and Mohinder from Heroes, which, aww, sometimes I forget that once I cared about that tragically-canceled-after-a-first-season show

Harth Fray and Mary Lennox . . . about which it is probably better not to ask
skygiants: Mae West (model lady)
While we're on the topic of Barbara Hambly, I should probably also write up the other Hambly book I read recently, Bride of the Rat God.

. . . actually, to give the full impact of the title, I think you need to see the cover:



AW YEAH.

I mean, this is totally deliberate; Bride of the Rat God is a novel-length homage to wacky pulp silent movies. A GLAMOROUS ACTRESS in PERIL from an ANCIENT CURSE! POSSESSION! DRUGS! LIQUOR! MURDER! SINISTER FOOTSTEPS IN THE NIGHT!

. . . of course, because it's Barbara Hambly, the actual protagonist is the glamorous actress' sister-in-law Norah, a sensible young British widow who takes care of her dogs and makes sure Glamorous Christine gets home safely after her wild parties. And the actual character arc, kind of hilariously, is Norah finding out that while she's doing that, she might as well become really good at everything to do with making movies that isn't acting. She helps with camera work! She does make-up! She does script rewrites! GO GO GADGET NORAH. Obviously, all the technical details of the early Hollywood film industry are deeply relevant to my interests, and Barbara Hambly has done her research. Learning how to swap out film reels in the dark YES GO!

The other part of Norah's arc is working through her grief about losing the husband she loved in WWI and having a low-key romance with a sweet Jewish cameraman, who is a little bit bland as a character, but, you know, very nice! (Their romance is a lot of Barbara Hambly telling us "AND THEN THEY TALKED FOR A LONG TIME AND ENJOYED HANGING OUT WITH EACH OTHER," which is . . . not super specific, but which is still deeply preferable to romances that don't take the time to inform us that they talked for a while and enjoyed hanging out with each other.) And while Christine at first comes across very much as a flighty pretty face of a diva, she is not villainized for that, and also turns out to be a complex and sympathetic character, and her relationship with Norah is a very affectionate one. All good!

. . . all good except, of course, OH BARBARA HAMBLY ANCIENT CHINESE CURSE OF THE RAT GOD HUMAN SACRIFICE DID YOU HAVE TO. ;_____; I mean, it is a pulp homage, and that is totally what a pulp would do, but ALL THE SAME.
skygiants: Princess Tutu, facing darkness with a green light in the distance (wrapped up in books)
[personal profile] silveraspen's magical Nineties Fantasy Book Package to me of a few months ago included The Fire Rose, Stranger at the Wedding, and Traveling With the Dead, Barbara Hambly's Book About Vampires, the last of which I have now finally read!

. . . either Aspen forgot to tell me or I forgot that she had told me that Traveling With the Dead is in fact a sequel to Barbara Hambly's FIRST Book About Vampires, so I got very confused in the first two chapters when Our Hero kept going on about that exciting time he had hanging out with vampires last year. Oops!

Anyway, Traveling With the Dead is Barbara Hambly's very earnest attempt to write a vampire book that subverts a lot of the vampire myth tropes. And I respect her for it! The basic plot goes like this:

A PLOT:

DR. JAMES ASHER: I am a mild-mannered philologist and ex-spy. And it seems foreign nations seem to be recruiting vampires into the secret service? Right on the brink of World War 1?! I must warn the higher-ups!
HIGHER-UPS: . . . riiiiiiiiiight. Yes. We will . . . get right on that . . . *cough*
DR. JAMES ASHER: . . . don't know how I didn't see that one coming. Well, I guess I have no choice but to stalk this vampire and his Austrian handler across the world, having various secret service-style across the way.
MRS. VAMPIRE: The fact that my vampire husband has suddenly taken off to work for foreign powers concerns me, would you like to team up? I promise to try not to kill too many people while we're hanging out.
DR. JAMES ASHER: . . . I mean, I guess you're a nice lady, for a vampire . . . okay, time for an awkward road trip through Europe, I guess!

B PLOT:

SENSIBLE LADY DOCTOR LYDIA ASHER: I feel like my mild-mannered philologist/ex-spy husband is probably in trouble! Sinister vampire who has some kind of backstory with us that Becca does not know about because it all happened in the first book, how about you help me find him?
DON SIMON 'SEXY VAMPIRE' YSIDRO: I will travel with you . . . but only if you bring along a chaperone!
SENSIBLE LADY DOCTOR LYDIA ASHER: . . . um, what?
DON SIMON 'SEXY VAMPIRE' YSIDRO: I refuse to travel with a lady who is not properly chaperoned, it is offensive to my delicate vampire sensibilities.
SENSIBLE LADY DOCTOR LYDIA ASHER: I am not bringing my lady's maid along on vampire hijinks! You will probably just eat her anyway! Also, please stop living in the fifteenth century, this is the Edwardian era now and we are all very up to date here!
DON SIMON 'SEXY VAMPIRE' YSIDRO: Fine, fine.

*TWO DAYS LATER*

MARGARET 'SAD IDIOT' POTTON: Hello! Don Simon 'Sexy Vampire' Ysidro is my TRUE LOVE and I have been reincarnated THROUGH THE CENTURIES to BE with him and right now he wants me to be your chaperone on our adventures. :D?
SENSIBLE LADY DOCTOR LYDIA ASHER: . . . . oh my god please don't tell me you brainwashed this poor woman into thinking she was in a tragic vampire romance just so I could have a proper chaperone. PLEASE tell me you did not do this.
DON SIMON 'SEXY VAMPIRE' YSIDRO: My easily scandalized vampire sensibilities will brook no refusal.
MARGARET 'SAD IDIOT' POTTON: TRUEEEEE LOOOOOOOOOOVE *_________*
SENSIBLE LADY DOCTOR LYDIA ASHER: Time for an extremely exasperated awkward road trip through Europe!

BECCA: Well, I really wish we would not harp so much on how poor Margaret is a sad delusional idiot, because it makes me contrarily defensive of her, but hey, good job deflating the 'sexy tragic vampire romance' myth, Barbara Hambly! Well played!
DON SIMON 'SEXY VAMPIRE' YSIDRO: And now, since we have a moment of down-time, I will write some sexy sad vampire sonnets about Lydia's hair.
BECCA: . . . oh man, Barbara Hambly, you were doing so well. ;_____;

I mean I still respect the effort! But I feel I must take a hard stance against sad vampire sonnets, NOW AND FOR ALWAYS.

All the same, I enjoyed it much more than I enjoy most vampire books, which tend to throw me out very fast; at least it is trying!
skygiants: Princess Tutu, facing darkness with a green light in the distance (royaume inconnu)
[personal profile] silveraspen is a kind person who enjoys furthering my education, which you know from the fact that she is responsible for sending me a copy of The Fire Rose to reread and review. Along with this masterpiece, she also sent along a few Barbara Hamblys, one of which I have not yet read and the other of which was Stranger at the Wedding.

Stranger at the Wedding is basically an adorable high-fantasy-of-manners romp that ends up revolving around a super dark and creepy backstory secret trauma, so I'm just going to come out in advance and give a warning for spoilers ) before I go back to talking about the romp.

That said: probably about 70% of the book is hijinks! The plot basically goes like this:

KYRA: I have had a dark premonition that if my baby sister gets married SHE WILL BE DOOMED! So I will ride home to my estranged parents and STOP THE WEDDING. BABY SISTER I AM COMING!
ALIX: But . . . I mean it's really nice to see you but . . . I'm basically fine? Have some cake?
KYRA: Then why do you look SO DEPRESSED? And who is this jerkface who you clearly don't care about that you have been SOLD IN MARRIAGE TO?
THAT JERKFACE: Hi, I'm a sensible, practical, surprisingly reliable merchant who has awesome swashbuckling sea adventures for a living. Nice to meet you!
KYRA: . . . WHAT A JERKFACE. (<3____<3)

So then Kyra runs around deploying all her wily magical hijinks to delay the wedding until she can figure out WHY HER BABY SISTER IS DOOMED, wearing ever-more ridiculous outfits in the process -- I'm not sure if Kyra's fashion sense is explicitly supposed to be terrible, or just DRAMATIC AND INTERESTING in the Claudia Kishi tradition, but it is by far the funniest part of the book. See this front cover?



That purple-and-yellow Batgirl ballgown: TOTALLY CANON. And that in itself would be enough to make me love Kyra.
skygiants: Princess Tutu, facing darkness with a green light in the distance (wrapped up in books)
After reading Barbara Hambly's Benjamin January books, I figured I should actually go back to the beginning and read some of her fantasy novels. I have now read the Darwath trilogy! (The Time of the Dark, The Walls of Air, The Armies of Daylight.) The Darwath Trilogy is GRIMDARK otherworld fantasy, in which grad student Gil and biker gang member Rudy get pulled through into another world where Lovecraftian monsters have just pretty much destroyed civilization and everyone needs to trek through blizzards and huddle into a giant fortress and constantly fight off things with tentacles to survive; there is lots of atmospheric description of freezing chill and overwhelming creepy foulness and so forth, as well as postapocalyptic politics. It took me a while to get into the first one, mostly because -

- okay, I have to take a digression here, which is, I am sorry, J.K. Rowling, but you have RUINED me for twinkly-eyed elderly wizard mentors. I am fairly sure I used to like twinkly-eyed elderly wizard mentors fine! Or at least I did not have the instinctive reaction to them that I have now, which goes something like, "Ha! I can see right through you! You may be a fabulous wizard but you're probably a terrible administrator, aren't you? I bet you enjoy playing God, saying irritatingly mysterious things and occasionally smiling sadly instead of doing anything useful! WHY ARE YOU TWINKLING INSTEAD OF PROVIDING REASONABLE ANSWERS, IT'S NOT CUTE." Thanks, Dumbledore.

- so anyway, I had a hard time warming to Ingold the wizard, a fairly central character, because unfortunately Barbara Hambly described him as twinkling in his first scene with Gil and a great cry of distrust rose up in my heart. But by the second book, when Ingold went off with Rudy on a long quest and started to get cranky and depressed and showed no signs of twinkling at all, I liked him much better!

The second book I also liked better because Gil just gets consecutively awesomer as the books go on. In the first book, she's a cool intellectual who pops through and turns out to be awesome with a sword, and I liked her okay but people going to mysterious otherworlds and turning out to be awesome with weaponry by great coincidence is not a new concept. But in the second and third books, Gil gets bored and starts putting her actual research skills to use as well as her badassery, and basically SAVES THE WORLD WITH DISSERTATING as well as occasionally killing people, and it's amazing. She is fantastic. I also like Rudy's-girlfriend-the-queen, because again having the stranger pop through and fall in love with a high-up lady is not particularly new, but Minalde actually has a character arc about growing into her government role, and in the second book she and Gil form an odd-couple friendship, and that's also pretty awesome. (My actual favorite characters, though, are neither of these, but Kara the untrained mage and her AWESOMELY CRANKY MOTHER. I want the fic about Kara and Tomac's epic mostly-offscreen romance while her mother rampages around cursing everyone out. I want it SO BADLY.)

Caveats: I suspect Hambly would be a lot better about this now, but there are unfortunate real-world implications all over the place with both the White Raiders, a Dangerous Tribal Group who both fill the role of and are I think explicitly compared to (in Rudy's mind, at least) the kind of savage-and-superstitious-Indian stereotype you would see in a Western, and the southern land of Alketch, which takes on the role of the Corrupt and Decadent Oriental Empire Complete With Slavery and Oppression To Women. There are a couple of vaguely friendly White Raiders; there are no noble Alketchians. Also, there is what might be ableism fail with spoilers! )
skygiants: Princess Tutu, facing darkness with a green light in the distance (elizabeth book)
Now that I've finished Dead Water and Dead and Buried, I have officially read ALL the Benjamin January mysteries, making this the first Really Long Mystery Series that I have completely read my way through from start to finish since before I started college. As accomplishments go maybe this is maybe not the most exciting one ever, but I am proud of myself anyway. (It also means that I can allow myself to start a new series. Up next: Mrs. Pollifax!)

With the vantage of hindsight, I can now say that I really would recommend the series all the way through - Dead and Buried, the latest one, actually turned out to be one of my favorites even though too much time was spent on Hannibal's angsty manpain. My favorites are always the ones set in New Orleans, just because the cast of recurring characters is so strong. And now I am going to talk a bit about them! )

So yes - in short, I have become a Barbara Hambly convert. Which brings me to my next question! I am aware that Barbara Hambly has written FIVE MILLION books in at least a million different genres; if I was going to move on to some of her other books, o wise flist, where should I start?
skygiants: Princess Tutu, facing darkness with a green light in the distance (not just decorative)
I wasn't expecting Wet Grave to be one of my favorite Benjamin January books, seeing as the focus was largely on Rose and Ben's relationship, and I am not hugely invested in that particular relationship - but it ended up surprising me! There are a few simple reasons for this.

1. CHLOE ST. CHINIAN. Making ladies who are set up as Evil Rivals turn out to be unexpectedly awesome is a sure way to my heart. Chloe St. Chinian: 100% awesome. It also helps that Rose's moments of bonding and unexpected BFF-ness with Chloe were my favorite bits of Rose so far.

2. DOMINIQUE. Another sure way to my heart: ladies who are sweet and fluttery and fashionable and totally hardcore when push comes to shove. Dominique reveals her spine of steel in this book and it is amazing. (What, like paddling your way solo through the swamps while eight months pregnant is hard?)

3. ABISHAG SHAW. . . . look, Shaw is wonderful. Full stop.

In other news, while, as I said, I am not super invested in Rose/Ben, I do like the way that Hambly is careful to point out that no matter how much you love somebody, if you are both independent people who like your own space and limited sources of income, it is maybe not the best idea to rush into matrimony and squeeze yourselves into a one-room apartment. Also, as far as dramatic plot twists go, pirates are always a good choice, and spoiler! )

Days of the Dead, on the other hand, did not feature most of my favorite cast members, and while the sheer gothic high drama of the ridiculously complicated family murder mystery was kind of entertaining, I was not thrilled with the use of ZOMG THOSE CRAZY AZTEC GODS as wacky plot devices. (Also, I was most excited to get to see Consuela the opera soprano FIGHT CRIME, and she did not get to do any crime-fighting at all! This was unreasonably disappinting to me. I totally ship Hannibal/Consuela and I am kind of sad Hambly does not really.) Perfectly serviceable as a mystery - although, was it just me, or was the murderer easier to call than usual? - but not one of the best in the series.
skygiants: Princess Tutu, facing darkness with a green light in the distance (les cloches)
So I read Sold Down the River, the fourth Benjamin January book, a while back, and decided to hold off on reviewing it until I got the next one so as not to completely spam my flist . . . and now it is going to get totally shortchanged because the next one, Die Upon a Kiss, is the Benjamin January book that was written for me. It is full of (literally) operatic drama and wildly labyrinthian revolutionary plots and people agonizing about the director's terrible artistic choices in between trying not to get killed! There is lots of musing on Shakespeare, and awesomely hardcore ladies, and the LEADER OF THE CORPS DE BALLET IS NAMED MARGUERITE. I maintain that she is Madame Giry's grandmother. I could not in any way keep track of the actual murder plot, which is probably as it should be in a meta-opera, but I really enjoyed the SUPER DRAMATIC cast of characters. (I kept picturing Montero as played by Wilhelmina Slater. Yes, she is that fabulous.) Sold Down the River is, I think, actually a much better book - it's the one where January has to go undercover as a plantation slave, and really doesn't shy away from how awful that was, while keeping all the characters involved very much three-dimensional. But Die Upon A Kiss is totally my favorite so far. VIVA L'OPERA!

I was actually 3/4 of the way done with Die Upon a Kiss yesterday when I went to go see The Princess and the Frog, so it was a bit jarring to go from a fairly gritty picture of the complex segregated society of nineteenth-century New Orleans to Disney Fantasy 1920's New Orleans. Not that I am complaining about Disney Fantasy New Orleans - I really liked the movie, and I actually thought they did a pretty good job subtly alluding to the societal issues without having them at all overtake the gleeful Disney escapism. Also, Tiana is definitely up there among the Most Awesome Disney Princesses, and to add to that, actually has a supportive mom! And female friends! And passes the Bechdel test a whole lot! I could have wished for a couple things, namely spoilers ) but overall I came out pretty Pleased With That Film Experience. Also, jazz music: an excellent soundtrack choice!
skygiants: Clopin from Notre-Dame de Paris; text 'sans misere, sans frontiere' (comment faire un monde)
Another mystery this Friday! Graveyard Dust is the third in Barbara Hambly's series of Benjamin January mysteries, set in New Orleans of the 1830's.

(A note: according to last week's poll, historical mysteries were far and away the most popular subgenre - among my flist, at least. This does not surprise me at all! Historical mysteries are AWESOME. Half the time the mystery is just an excuse to poke around in the world and show off research and that is exactly what I like. When I'm reading the Benjamin January books, it doesn't matter so much to me who actually committed the murder - it's the incredible fascination of the world, with all its complex and bizarre and often grotesque social rules, that pulls me in. The mystery is incidental.)

I was a little nervous about this one, because it is ~the one with voodoo~ and I know how often that is mishandled as a bundle of stereotypes. And I am still in no way qualified to talk about how accurately Hambly portrayed it, but I was glad at least that she really made an effort to show multiple perspectives. And this one had a bunch of my favorite characters getting more screen time! (Though, still not enough Livia and not enough Shaw. On the other hand: AUGUSTUS MAYERLING CAMEO *_* That is a character I never thought we would see again and I was super excited!) Also, it didn't feel like Barbara Hambly was trying to cram as many plots into one book as in Fever Season, which made the whole thing hang together much better. And the court scene was excellent high farce.

(Though is it just me, or are SECRET TORTURE ATTICS becoming kind of a trend in these books? Seriously, how many of those can one town have?)

The next one is going to be super depressing! I have to confess though, I am way looking forward to the one set at the Opera House. In my head, it is called BENJAMIN JANUARY: LOVE NEVER DIES!
skygiants: Clopin from Notre-Dame de Paris; text 'sans misere, sans frontiere' (comment faire un monde)
I tend to have trouble getting all the way through lengthy mystery series - I think the last I tried to read all the way through were the Amelia Peabody books, and I only got about three or four into those before losing track - but I liked both Barbara Hambly's first Benjamin January book, A Free Man of Color, and Walter Mosley's first Easy Rawlins book, Devil in a Blue Dress, a great deal, and am determined not to let my usual laziness with figuring out what comes next stop me!

(Heroic pose goes here, yes.)

Anyway, last week I read the second book of both of these series. Reviews are going under spoiler-cuts because technically anything could count as a spoiler for the first book, for example, BENJAMIN JANUARY DOES NOT DIE. (NEITHER DOES EASY RAWLINS. The spoiler mob can come after me now!)

Fever Season: The short version - Benjamin January vs. the cholera, also kidnappers, also a poisoner, also slander, also students who do not practice their lessons! )

A Red Death: The short version - Easy Rawlins vs. the tax man, also the Communist Jews, except maybe not actually vs. the Communist Jews but in fact sort of in favor of the Communist Jews despite being required to be vs. them by the tax man? )
skygiants: Princess Tutu, facing darkness with a green light in the distance (sans-papier)
Woke up this morning, stood up to go brush my teeth, felt blood rush away from my head and legs start wobbling, realized rapidly that the likelihood of fainting if I continued to stand was embarrassingly high, dived for computer, collapsed onto couch, e-mailed work to say I would be late and fell back asleep.

That was several hours ago; now I am awake and feeling much better! Have read e-mail from boss telling me to STAY HOME, feeling super guilty anyways because I am now perfectly capable of working and pose a minimal risk of collapsing on the subway. Although I suppose I have not really taken any sick days in the six months I worked there, so maybe I should not feel so guilty as that for taking one before I leave. I am not used to this, though! I have not really taken a sick day since middle school; my illnesses tend to be of the common cold, 'suck it up and deal' variety. Or they fall conveniently on weekends.

ANYWAYS. I am rambling. I should stop that. And I have a book to talk about! Barbara Hambly's A Free Man of Color was handed to me by [livejournal.com profile] agonistes last time she was in the city; she ordered me to read as much of it as I could before the end of the weekend when she would have to take it back to Denver to return to [livejournal.com profile] silveraspen. And I could have finished it, too, if everyone who was there that weekend had not been so busy being awesome and distractiony! I liked what I read enough to pick it up from the library, although it took me a while to get around to reading the second half; when I did, I wondered why I had waited so long.

The book is a mystery novel, but that's not what makes it excellent - it's the careful depiction of the complexities of class and race New Orleans society in the 1800s that makes this so strong. Benjamin January is a free man of color; his skin is dark, which sets him apart from his light-skinned mother and sister, who are cultured upper-class mistresses of wealthy men and thus almost able to ignore the basic rights they do not have. Every character is strongly drawn, and nobody - sympathetic or not - gets off the hook of complicity in the system.

So yes, I was impressed with it all the way to the end . . . and then the end surprised me with GIBBERING GLEE that has nothing to do with high literary quality but everything to do with AWESOMENESS. SPOILER!!! )

Well played, Barbara Hambly; I will definitely be reading more of these.

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