Krondor The Assassins

Don’t mean to keep harping on this, but like its predecessor, there really should be a colon in the title.

I liked the more urban intrigue of this one, but it missed out by not having one of the main characters of the earlier one. This one has one roguish character named Squire James, aka Jimmy the Hand. But it missed his former companion, the roguish and rakish Locklear. Basically, the other protagonists just didn’t hold my attention.

But, it came with a third book and I imagine I will read that one too. Hopefully Locklear comes back.

‘Lincoln’ By Gore Vidal

One of his most famous novels (second only, these days, perhaps, to Burr), but I was somewhat disappointed. The quality improves immensely towards the end, but I am trying not let the magnificent writing of the last quarter of the novel (and recency bias) to make me overlook the first seventy-five percent. Part of the improvement is that he mostly drops – until the very end – a subplot about one of Booth’s fellow conspirators: a callow fellow named David. The less of him the better!

His Abraham Lincoln is compelling but too distant. Aaron Burr loomed large and his young protege interested; and in my own favorite, Julian, the titular emperor and his two chroniclers are compelling, catty, and captivating. No one steps up so in the absence of Lincoln.

The writing is good, but not great. I believe that he understands the politics of the time pretty well and he is a good commentator on the realpolitik of eras predating ours. And his small details are wonderful. For example, we generally see General George McClellan as a ditherer, who let the war drag on. But Vidal portrays Washington society as worshipful of the man they called ‘Young Napoleon.’ I hadn’t realized he was so young, much less that he was ever compared to Napoleon, but I trust the author enough to believe it (though I will hold my fire on the venereal controversy).

But it is not enough. Perhaps one wishes that he had dived deeper into Lincoln’s psyche and written from his perspective.

To the reader, Lincoln sits opaquely, fascinatingly at the center, but for much of the book, the characters who orbit the man view him as a weak figure, easily stymied by his generals and hangers on and a man of wan, waffling convictions. I mention this because though I cannot for the life of me remember the title, I recently read a review of a newish history that suggests just that: Lincoln was actually rather weak and most of the credit for victory should go to the so-called Radical Republicans.

Reading ‘The Hobbit’ To My Little One

My mother read The Hobbit when I was seven (I think). A chapter a night, before bed. As soon as she was done, I took it and read it to myself. This began my lifelong love affair with the works of J.R.R. Tolkien (allow me to make a pitch for his wonderful, whimsical, non-Middle Earth story, Farmer Giles of Ham).

So it was one of the great joys of fatherhood when, after a few false starts, my daughter was finally ready for me to read The Hobbit to her before bed.

Because she naturally tended to drift off, some parts were lost on her, but things stayed with her. The deaths of Fili and Kili were hard for her and she still hopes that they will come back.

But anyway… I’m reading a new book to her. The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.

The Tattered Banner

I read this before. Or most of it. I can’t remember when, but it must have been long enough to go that plenty was surprise to me, though not the broad strokes.

A young man is preternaturally talented with the sword. Or supernaturally talented. This fantasy world is mostly magic free after similarly talented swordsmen (whose talent was nearly or perhaps actively magical) rose against wizards.

The hero is reasonably charming, but a little vague in his depiction. The story is of the young man being guided into accidentally setting in place conditions for a coup, after which he must flee the are and the book ends. I gather there are sequels.

‘Upstate‘ By James Wood

I previously only knew the late critic as a critic, but in the post mortems on his career, this novel was mentioned. A deceptively simple tale of… not family dysfunction. Not really. I mean, yes, but not exceptionally so, not in this day and age.

There’s a paterfamilias who raises his two daughters after his wife left him. He is the primary figure whose thoughts we hear, but Wood likes to unexpectedly switch to one of his two daughters.

The set up is father and sister visiting the oldest daughter because her boyfriend warned that she was struggling badly (a history of depression and anxiety).

Everyone is well drawn and pace is simultaneously brisk and leisurely. The mood is well reflected in the two main settings: fading, formerly industrial Northumberland and snowy, cold upstate New York.