April Reading (II)

And we’re well into May.
April was a really busy month workwise, and I found myself reading quite a bit of fluff. May is likely to continue in the same vein, though I do have the new China Mieville book, and I’m also planning an Iron Council reread when I’m done with it. Here is the rest of what I read in April, anyway:

Victoria Alexander – What a Lady Wants and A Visit From Sir Nicholas: I’ve mentioned reading some of Alexander’s books over the last few months, and it’s probably obvious that I’m susceptible to light fiction that appears in series form. A Visit From Sir Nicholas is interesting that way, in that it’s historical romance, and it’s the same family, but is set a generation or so later, in the Victorian age. It also makes lots of references to A Christmas Carol and was in general quite entertaining and fun (and won a Romantic Times Viewers Choice award). What a Lady Wants on the other hand felt a bit pointless – I spent most of it wondering what the two lead characters were whining about.

Amanda Quick – Mischief: The title (which really put me off the book) turned out to have nothing to do with the story. This is a romance set in alternate-History Regency England, where the craze for Egyptology (I’ve mentioned before that Imperial Britain’s fascination with Egypt is something I love reading about) is replaced because some British explorers found an island kingdom called Zamar with an equally fascinating history. Both main characters are obsessed with the island – he is the man who first discovered it, and she analyses the facts he reports and publishes papers under a male pseudonym. It was great fun to read, though the plot (they are investigating the truth behind her best friend’s death) was less entertaining than the setting. I spent quite a bit of time wondering if the alt-hist aspects of the book meant that I could classify it in my head as Spec Fic. I have decided that I can.

Georgette Heyer – Arabella: Old favourite. There is a comical dog, there is the recognition that Regency England also contains lots of un-picturesque poor people, and there is a hero who actually recognises that he has been an arse and apologises for it.

Elsie J. Oxenham – The Girls of the Hamlet Club: As some of you know, my Masters’ thesis focused on school stories, and I’ve grown up reading a lot of Girls’ Own literature. This is the first of the Abbey Girls books – a series that is absolutely massive. I’d read The Girls of the Hamlet Club a few years ago and have only read the later books in the series since. Coming back to this one, I was surprised at how different from the others it was – there’s a half-written post on this which will be published soon.

C.S Lewis – Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength: Since I’ve had reason to refer to these books a few times lately, I thought a reread might be in order. Result: I still think Out of the Silent Planet is a decent space-travel story. It has some good aliens, some lovely alien landscapes, and it does First Contact rather well. And the religion stuff isn’t too jarring at this point, partly because the greedy businessman and the mad scientist are both pretty obvious villains without our needing much convincing. The book is also made better by the hints about another Martian race who were wiped out by a cataclysm, and who Ransom (the Very Christian philologist who is the main character of this series) is fascinated by.
Perelandra was intolerable. It’s a pretty colour palette, and some of the underground sections are genuinely terrifying, but the long, simplistic theological debates? Lewis seems to enjoy writing “debates” where one of the characters is either a complete strawman or a bit of an idiot – see for example that awful bit in The Silver Chair (which may or may not be based on Lewis’ debate with G.E Anscombe, and I don’t particularly care) – and all they really do is to make their author seem smug, simplistic, and incapable of questioning himself.
That Hideous Strength was the one I was looking forward to because I hadn’t read it in a while and had good memories of it. Evidently I had forgotten the hilarious scene where Jane (the female half of a couple who have been terribly misguided by modernity, education, and all this “gender equality” rubbish) is told by a resurrected Merlin that she’s the wickedest woman in Britain because she and her husband were fated to have a baby who would Save the World but then they went and used birth control! It’s possibly the greatest anti-reproductive rights argument I have ever encountered. What would have happened if the Virgin Mary had been on the pill? Lewis asks us, Had you ever thought of that? Had you?
I cannot say that I had.
Also, what is with Miss Hardcastle? Did Lewis really write a lesbian character?
Having said which. Despite the utterly bizarre/reprehensible politics of this book, I really enjoyed it. It’s dystopic, has sections that feel like classic science fiction (along with classic SF’s cheerful disregard for actual science), and contains Merlin and a bear.

I wonder how Lewis would feel at being included in this post. Other than his own, all the books are by women, and most of them romance writers.

4 Comments to “April Reading (II)”

  1. For a devout Christian, Lewis (going by the question you attribute to him) appears to have wavered in his faith. Why would contraception block out a divine, virgin pregnancy? I mean, it's all magic, anyway.

  2. Oh god, no! Not Arabella! She is so annoying and though I used to think Ulysses was sweet, I was repelled by the conversations he was forced to have with his saviour.

    Now, if you'd said The Talisman Ring…

  3. Fëanor – Well he never explicitly makes a reference to the conception of Jesus, though I can't imagine a reader not thinking of it. But it's Lewis, one expects a certain amount of oddness from him when religion is discussed.

    Space Bar – But it's Heyer! And it's Heyer with lots of parties and clothes, no attempted rapey times (Devil's Cub) or jarring anti-semitism (Grand Sophy) – even the earnest chimney boy rescue section is well meant. Arabella is no fun at all, but I quite like everyone else in the thing.
    I will agree with you on the superiority of The Talisman Ring though. :)

  4. True, true. On the other hand, she's given milk to drink at the end. Milk !!!

    And on yet another hand (I must be an octopus at least), Devil's Cub has the very hot Dominic. And Avon. And even more parties and dresses. And TGS has helpless heroes (though, of course, the anti-semitism is ugly).

    What I really want to read, though, are those early 20C romances she suppressed. Something so Flanders-y about them, no? Did you ever read (or like) the Flanders books?

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