So, of course I returned from England with a lot more books. In brief, my reactions:Suzanna Dunn: The May Bride.
I've liked Suzanna Dunn's previous novels in varying degrees
; this falls for me under "interesting, also very frustrating, and I'm not sure what the author really wanted to get at so probably a failure - but one who did hold my attention a lot". The novel is told in first person by Jane Seymour (the third of Henry VIII.'s queens, aka the one who died in childbirth), but isn't about Jane, or her marriage with Henry at all. This isn't new in Dunn's work - for example, her Katherine Parr centric novel is told by the Duchess of Suffolk - but unusual in that the narrator is a far more known figure than the people the story she tells is actually about. Which is something very obscure in Tudor England history, though readers of Hilary Mantel's Thomas Cromwell novels might recall it, because Hilary Mantel brings it up a couple of times, to wit: the first marriage of Jane's older brother Edward (who'd later go on to be the Lord Protector for her son, his nephew, before losing power and head), which ended in a major scandal because his wife supposedly had two sons by his own father, Sir John Seymour. (Historically, the wife ended in a nunnery, the sons bastardized but later re-legitimized - the later Seymours are actually descended from them - , and Edward went on to marry Anne Stanhope.) Now, in Dunn's novel, teenage Jane Seymour is absolutely fascinated by her brother's new bride, downright crushes on her, and is very sad when the ostensible love match gets worse and worse. Also, Dunn, as opposed to Mantel, lets Sir John Seymour be innocent (Mantel in the introductions to the dramatization of her novels, by contrast, points out Jane didn't go to her father's funeral and that having an affair with his daughter-in-law remains the thing he's best known for), and mostly blames Edward's lack of passion and later issue ridden paranoid jealousy; his first wife does have a one night stand with someone but not with his father. Leaving aside historical likelihood, within the universe of the novel it's psychologically plausible enough told, and teenage Jane who only gradually becomes aware of what is actually going on makes for a good narrator. However, the last fifth or so of the novel try to connect all of this with why Jane later marries Henry VIII, and this is where the author loses me. In her version, Jane, feeling guilty for various reasons, but also for not standing up for her sister-in-law when the later was sent to a nunnery, comes to court, serves Katherine of Aragorn as a lady-in-waiting just when Anne Boleyn becomes a factor, identifies Katherine of Aragorn with her former sister-in-law (also called Katherine, btw, Katherine Filliol), and, when Anne's star starks to sink years later, decides to avenge both Katherines by making Henry marry herself. Just how marrying Henry is supposed to be a blow for the sisterhood and revenge on brother Edward (who profits from this marriage along with brother Tom) for putting aside his first wife with an unjust (in the novel) accusation is beyond me. I'm all for Jane Seymour actually having an agenda instead of just being the tool of her brothers and producing Henry's longed for son at the price of her own death, but this one really lacks all logic, emotional or otherwise. What the novel mostly achieved, in the positive sense, is making me interested in Edward Seymour, who is by far the most interesting character in it. It's rare to find him in Tudor fiction that's not dealing with his brother Tom's and the young, teenage Elizabeth, and he certainly had some valuable reforms to his credit while otoh mishandling the Scots disastrously; keeping Henry's favour beyond his sister's life was more than any of the other in-laws of the other wives managed, especially considering Edward was a determined Protestant. But this was all much later, and Dunn's version of a young Edward both very competent and very emotionally mixed up, incapable of handling a bad marriage, was new to me.
The title, by the way, refers both to Katherine Filliol when marrying Edward and Jane Seymour (who of course married Henry VIII immediately after Anne Boleyn's execution - in May). It's just a shame that the author tries to enforce a parallel and motivation which refuses to appear. Stuart Moore: Civil War.
This is a novelization of the Civil War
storyline from Marvel Comics; the novelization must have been only relatively recently published (I'll get to why in a minute) whereas the Civil War
storyline in comics was published in 2006 and 2007. I reviewed the most important trade collections dealing with it in the following posts: Road To Civil War
, Spider-Man: Civil War and Casualties of War/Rubikon
, and Civil War: Iron Man
; if you're interested in details about the original storyline, what it was about and why it was so controversial, check these out. Suffice it to say here that among various problems it had was that the various authors in this multiple comics characters extravaganza was that the various authors were quite obviously not on the same page as far as the characterisations of the main participants were concerned, nor, in fact, the characterisation of the main issue, the Superhuman Registration Act. So I was quite interested what a single author with years of hindsight would make of it. Given that just about every major Marvel hero and their spin-off had been involved, streightening this out to form a coherent book was not an enviable task. Stuart Moore focused on Mark Millar's main storyline, which I suppose makes sense but still unfortunate in that many of the most interesting and complex chapters of the Civil War saga weren't written by Mark Millar at all. He does include information from some of the tie-in stories, notably JMS' Spider-Man ones, and works them into Millar's main series. The main povs are: Tony Stark, Peter Parker, Steve Rogers/Captain America and Susan Storm. Something that's immediate noticable if you're familiar with the original comic books is novelization did some updates, both within and without the Marvelverse. The original Civil War
storyline happened before Peter Parker's marriage to Mary Jane was retconned by editorial fiat into non-existence (on a Doylist level; Watsonian wise, it was retconned by a deal with the devil to save Aunt May, I kid you not). The novelization, however, goes by the new continuity, i.e. Peter never was married to Mary Jane, so Mary Jane accordingly had to be written out of the story she was originally a part of... until the last third, when she does show up again and gets to help Peter and Aunt May. The other within-universe updates are nods to the cinematic versions of the characters; thus, Christine Everhart, a movieverse character, shows up among the reporters interviewing Tony who does remember his one night stand with her (I might add the novel treats her more respectfully than Iron Man II
does), and also recalls coming out as Iron Man at a press conference after her questions (which happened in the first Iron Man film but not in the comics - he did come out as Iron Man quite a while before the Civil Wars storyline, but not in the same fashion). Similarly, Peter Parker remembers MJ flirting with him and Harry Osborn when visiting them in the apartment they shared, which sounds to me more like a nod towards the first Sam Raimi film than to the comic book continuity. And then there's one update that's outside the Marvelverse. Now, Marvel comics usually don't have identifiable real life Presidents, they have fictional Presidents. (With exceptions; back when Obama became President there was one Spider-Man story set specifically around his inauguration, not least due to to the fact Obama had called Spider-Man his favourite comic book hero shortly before that.) Nonetheless, back when Civil War was published, many people saw it as a reaction to the Patriot Act and George W. Bush as President. Stuart Moore's novelization, however, sets the story specifically in the current day US, with Obama as President, not Bush. (Obamacare is referenced in dialogue.) The most depressing aspect about this to me is probably the realisation that it works as a story under either President. What with the NSA, the Obama government repeatedly described as the most control-obsessed and paranoid since Richard Nixon's, Guantanomo still not closed and Whistleblowers faring worse, not better, under Obama than under Bush? It works.
Other observations: writing-quality wise this is a good tie-in; not better and not worse than avarage fanfiction fleshing out canon scenes. If Stuart Moore can't sell some things - like Sue's reconciliation with her husband, Reed Richards, at the end - it's the problem of the source. (Mind you, both Mr. and Mrs. Richards fare better here charactersation wise than they do in the original comics, see my linked reviews; Sue, the unconvincing reconciliation at the end aside, is written consistently and sympathetically, while Reed Richards isn't saddled with such clunkers signifying evil as "hooray for MacCarthy!".) What surprised me, given that Millar's main series of which this is a novelization certainly favours Cap's side over Iron Man's, is that Tony Stark emerges as the better written character, not because he doesn't do the stuff he does in the original comics - he does - but because Moore in his pov chapters shows him as emotional, conflicted over what he's doing but convinced it's the right thing and because the alternative is worse (it's also the difference between visual - the comics showed him mainly in armour, thereby emphasizing the threatening aspect - versus the written - we're repeatedly in his head). Whereas Captain America, called "Cap" in his pov characters and never "Steve" which is probably already saying something, is written as in the right but without any interior conflict (not least because Moore doesn't use any of the Cage and Bendis stuff re: the Captain America/Iron Man relationship; we're told they used to be friends but don't see it from Cap's pov, who instead mentally compares punching Tony with punching Hitler). With every other pov character - Sue, Peter, Tony - being conflicted and torn during the course of the narrative - this makes Cap the least interesting, which is a shame. Especially since I guess one reason why this novel gets published now
is to interest people who only know the characters from the movieverse in the comics (hence also the movieverse nods). Anyway, this also means that the main emotional breakup happening in the novel is the one between Peter Parker and Tony Stark, not the one between Steve and Tony; which reminds me that relationship actually was interesting before getting retconned out of existence along with Peter's marriage and other signs of adulthood. Oh, comics. You do provide so much engagement and frustration at the same time. Jo Graham and Melissa Scott: Silver Bullet.
The third of these authors' "Order of the Air" series; like its two predecessors, see here
, a great adventure novel set in the first half of the 20th century, with an engaging ensemble of characters. By now, we've arrived in 1932 and there are ominous historical rumblings. That one part of the plot is kicked off by a German-Jewish collector of antiquities wanting to sell in order to leave the country is maybe predictable, but far less predictable and very interesting to me was that the bad guys aren't operetta Nazis clicking their heels but various (American) people from the American Legion, and that with the country still suffering from the Great Depression the way some of the rightwing extremist ideas gain traction has uncomfortable present day parallels. (And not just because chief baddie Pelley is talking about a coalition of the willing, borrowing a Dubya phrase.) As in the other novels, there is a mixture of adventures flying and magical peril going on, though in this novel the magical peril is scaled back (though still there - it's clear there will be a long term arc with one of the villain's schemes) in favour of technological peril, since of of the plot MacGuffins is a malfunctioning Nikola Tesla invention at Tesla's old laboratory in Colorado (no, not the invention from The Prestige
, she says evilly) which the villains would like to get their hands on, while our heroes manage to recruit the aged Tesla himself. (BTW, this affords the opportunity for a nice Sanctuary
in joke when Tesla has to deny he's a vampire.) The flirting between Mitch and the newest addition to the team, Stasi, which started in the previous novel has now reached the serious romance stage, and given Mitch's backstory there are some obstacles which, however, are sensitively dealt with (by the narrative) and gloriously overcome (by the characters). While I still love Alma and Lewis, I must admit Stasi, conwoman, thief and medium, is pushing all my Amanda-from-Highlander buttons and has become my favourite, plus Mitch is very endearing as well, so their scenes were particular highlights. But really, there is no character in the team who doesn't hold my interest and sympathy, and I hope for many more of their adventures to come!