Here we are, almost to the end of November and I’m just getting to this list now. Oh well! Sometimes life happens, I suppose. Better late than never.
I’m still reading up a storm, and still reading a lot of very good books. October was definitely a solid month, book-wise – though I’m already looking forward to talking about one of my November books that blew almost everything I’ve read this year out of the water.
Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff. This one probably doesn’t need much introduction – it did win a Pulitzer, after all, which might be recommendation enough. However, to give it my own personal endorsement: I should note that I am ridiculously picky when it comes to histories that deal with Ancient Greece and the Roman Republic/Empire, probably because I’ve spent too much time with the primary sources talking about how unreliable almost everything is. This might be the first history in the “classics” field that I wholeheartedly loved. Not only was it compellingly written – Schiff is very good at what she does – it was impeccably researched, steered clear of the weird Orientalism that so often goes along with writings about Cleopatra, and deftly dealt with the uncertainties and probabilities without either leaping to conclusions or holding back so far as to leave the reader bereft of a narrative.
Whether you’re a longtime Cleopatra fan (I am) or have never read a book about Ptolomaic Egypt in your life, this is a great read.
Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb. I have a draft/half a blog post about less famous fantasy series that I recommend, and one of them is Robin Hobb’s Farseer/Tawny Man trilogies. I read and loved those six books as a teenager, cried many tears over FitzChivalry’s miserable life, and was thoroughly satisfied with the conclusion of the saga in Fool’s Fate.
Just the same, I was overjoyed to find out there was more.
There are two books out of this third trilogy, called Fitz and the Fool, with the third expected (I believe?) next year. This is, obviously, a series that requires some back-reading, but man, did it satisfy. Reading this book was like jumping back into a familiar lake and swimming around in it. Robin Hobb has only improved as a writer, in my opinion. I sank into this book with unique pleasure, read the sequel with equal eagerness, and am immensely excited for the third. Having read, now, eight books featuring FitzChivalry and his supporting cast and still feeling equal enthusiasm for them, I think I can comfortably say that is an accomplishment.
Vicious by V.E. Schwab. I’ve been reading around the genre of superhero novels (novels that take as their inspiration comic book stye superheroes, in some form or another) and I’ve been largely disappointed by the offerings on display. Vicious did not disappoint, satisfying my love of stories about people who are morally ambiguous and self aware while telling a thrilling and twisty revenge story. This was a wild ride and I loved every minute of it.
Augustus by John Williams. All these new books (relatively) and I managed to find one older book I loved. (Between this and Cleopatra – maybe I have a bit of an obsession.) I have been saying for years that I don’t understand how there isn’t a (fiction) book about Augustus, and lo and behold, there is. And it’s a…really good one.
Written as an epistolary novel composed of letters, journal entries, and formal decrees, this book managed to please me (a very picky classics nerd) in its balance of historical and literary writing. It presented a highly compelling portrait of the early years of the Roman Empire (and the very late years of the Roman Republic). Despite the title, I especially enjoyed the sizeable role played by Julia in the latter half of the book, and the fact that the majority of the text was written viewing Augustus from outside – just as in history – with Augustus’ own voice intervening only at the last.
A very, very good read.
The Killing Moon by N.K. Jemisin. While I didn’t love this book in the same way I loved N.K. Jemisin’s other work – that isn’t saying much. Still an awesome fantasy, set in a world patterned somewhat on Egypt with a complex system of magic based on sacrifice. As usual, Jemisin’s themes of power and empire come into play here, and as usual, it’s fascinating and a pleasure to read.
The first book of a duology, and while I haven’t read the second, this one (like the books in the Inheritance Trilogy) can stand perfectly fine on its own.
Bonus mention: Black Widow: Forever Red by Margaret Stohl. A young adult novel written in the Marvel Universe about Black Widow finding herself entangled with a girl she rescued in the past. While the writing sometimes felt a little too “young” for my personal taste, overall the book was highly enjoyable, and the relationship between Natasha and Ava was a delight. I am very much looking forward to the sequel.
That’s it for this month! I’ll be back in two days for November’s Currently Reading post.