Thursday, August 13, 2009

Light reading catch-up

I was saving up some especially good light reading for my plane trip a week ago and initial days of tropical idyll (which is really partly a work trip, but includes a vacation module), so I have a more than usually excellent pile of books to report on, including a pair of books (one a re-read, one that I haven't yet finished) which deserve their own post and a wonderful book on running that I think I will also write about separately.

It took considerable self-restraint not to pounce on The Girl Who Played With Fire the moment it arrived from Amazon, but fortunately I was so busy with novel-revising that I literally had no time to read it - it was a delightful way to pass the flight, and I think that if anything it is even more compulsively readable than The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

I think it is more wish-fulfillment than actual similarity, but I strongly identify with the semi-feral female heroine in the model of Lisbeth Salander - the crime-fiction prototype for this sort of character is Carol O'Connell's Mallory, but one also finds a version of the type in Smilla's Sense of Snow, and gentler incarnations in my favorite Peter Dickinson novel (The Lively Dead) and in some of Iain non-M. Banks's female protagonists (Whit, The Business). Bonus link: the Literary Saloon reflects on the quite different titles chosen for the translations of Stieg Larsson into various languages.

As soon as I read Jo Walton's recommendation at the Tor website for The Dragon Waiting: A Masque of History, I knew I had to get it! I absolutely loved it, and only regret that I cannot offer it to my twelve-year-old self, who as a passionate devotee of historical fiction (Robert Graves, Mary Renault, Anya Seton) and a lover of Richard III (Josephine Tey's The Daughter of Time, Shakespeare) and an obsessive reader of books set in Roman Britain and/or Arthurian spinoffs (Rosemary Sutcliffe, Gillian Bradshaw, Mary Stewart) would have found this an utterly magical read when it was originally published in 1983. The opening sentences still sent a thrill through my heart:
The road the Romans made traversed North Wales a little way inland, between the weather off the Irish Sea and the mountains of Gwynedd and Powys; past the copper and the lead that the travel-hungry Empire craved. The road crossed the Conwy at Caerhun, the Clwyd at Asaph sacred to Esus, and the Roman engineers passed it through the hills, above the shore and below the peaks, never penetrating the spine of the country. Which is not to say that there were no ways in; only that the Romans did not find them.
It is a strange and elliptical and wonderful book; the two are not at all alike, but I would compare it to Pamela Dean's Tam Lin in terms of its power simultaneously to call up my childhood self and still enchant my adult one.

And then another treat: Charlie Williams' Stairway to Hell. There is a special place in my heart that will be forever reserved for the exploits of Royston Blake, but this is a very unusual and appealing novel (and could be well paired with Lewis Shiner's Glimpses and George R. R. Martin's The Armageddon Rag on a rock-and-roll fantasy syllabus - if they ever make a sequel to This Is Spinal Tap, let Charlie be the screenwriter, please!).


  1. I liked Girl who played with fire, too - though what were the first 200 pages all about? I see some of Modesty Blaise in her, too (male wish-fulfilment figure). Also many bloggers have pointed out the Pippi Longstocking/Kalli Blomqvist/Astrid Lindgren allegories - not books I read but interesting to know all this info!

    The last book in the trilogy is out in the UK in Oct so I am on tenterhooks for that. They are so racy and cliff-hangery....

    I read one or two of the Mallory books years ago but could not be doing with them. Seemed leaden to me, and too much in love with the main character. Maybe I should try again as people keep recommending them.