Lent by Jo Walton

In Lent, Jo Walton takes the life of Girolamo Savonarola both seriously and literally. Not only his life, the whole framework in which he lived that life: God, demons, Purgatory, the Rule of St. Benedict, the Dominican Order to which Savonarola was dedicated, his desire to create a new Jerusalem in Italy, and ever so much more. She opens the book with Girolamo and two other Dominican brothers called to a women’s cloister in the dead of night to banish an infestation of demons. Girolamo can see them in all their grotesqueries and hear their shrieking and their mocking laughter.

Lent by Jo Walton

Brother Domenico can see nothing unusual, but “I think I can hear something—it sounds like distant laughter. It’s very unsettling. I can see why the nuns might be disturbed.” Brother Silvestro adds, “I don’t see or hear anything, but I feel an evil presence here.” (p. 12) Girolamo sees so many at the convent that he wonders whether the Gates of Hell have been opened, and he almost despairs that his brothers, the most sensitive among his order, can sense so little. He banishes them, even the one who has possessed a young novice, even the vast number of demons apparently drawn to a book that was a recent bequest by the King of Hungary. “‘God has given me these gifts, I must use them for the good of all,’ he says, in complete sincerity. ‘I will keep this book, if I may, or it will draw them here again. Them, or worse things.'” (p. 22)

Girolamo is sincere in his desire to help, and in his piety, but he is not above fault, as Walton shows just a few paragraphs later.

“Is it true that the Magnificent Lorenzo is dying?” [the First Sister of the convent] asks.
“Yes, everyone is saying his death will be on him soon.”
“And is it true that you foretold it?”
“Yes,” he says, baldly. It annoys him that she asks, treating him as some kind of oracle. It annoys him too that God has vouchsafed to him such a worldly prophecy, such a petty matter as the death of a gouty merchant prince. Girolamo has never met Lorenzo de’ Medici. He has in fact avoided him, for reasons that are partly pride and partly a confirmed distaste for hobnobbing with the rich. Easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, after all. (p. 22)

Lorenzo is in fact dying; he has already received last rites. Girolamo meets his impressive daughter and his petulant son, both kept from their father’s presence a little longer while he speaks with the Dominican. To the surprise of everyone except Lorenzo — and perhaps Marsilio Ficino, a Platonist and scholar in the Medici orbit, and also a Walton favorite from her Thessaly books — he is dying in a state of grace. “Not old, middle-aged only, but certainly dying. There is nothing unusual about him except the celestial light shining from him.” (p. 42) It’s not obvious at the time, but the scene with Lorenzo is pivotal for the whole book, and worth an extended quotation.

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2021/12/31/lent-by-jo-walton/

Outside the Gates of Eden by Lewis Shiner

There’s a live recording of a Bruce Springsteen song — “The River,” I think — with a long spoken introduction in which Springsteen talks about his difficult relationship with his father. The elder Springsteen, a veteran of World War II, didn’t understand what his son was doing with his long hair and his late nights and his rock n’ roll and all of that business. He tells his son just wait until the army gets you, they’ll make a man of you. Well, Bruce’s draft number comes up. By the time he’s supposed to go in for his physical, he’s too scared to say anything to his parents, so he takes off for a few days with his friends. When he gets back, his old man asks him where he’d been. Bruce said he’d been to the induction center for his army physical. “So what happened?” “They didn’t take me.” “That’s good, son. That’s good.”

Outside the Gates of Eden

Like Springsteen, Jeff Cole (“But everyone calls me Cole”) has a difficult father, a World War II veteran who came back to work as an accountant in the oil business. He’s moved the family around — Mexico, Egypt, Midland (Texas), “one armpit to another” as Cole puts it — and at home he always has the TV on too loud for conversation, but insists that Cole get up and change the channel if for some reason a music group comes on. Outside the Gates of Eden opens in 1965 on Cole’s first day at a new school, St. Mark’s, a pricey private school in Dallas, the latest oil-patch stop. Cole is a junior, and he’s paired for tennis practice with Alex Montoya — “small and wiry, light-skinned despite the Mexican name. Short black hair parted on the left. Good-looking and confident—hell on women, Cole figured.” (p. 3) Cole is new, and a scholarship kid; Alex is established at the school, and rich.

It’s the beginning of a lifelong friendship. Outside the Gates of Eden begins in 1965 and ends, not quite 950 pages onward, at an unspecified “Later” some time after 2016. Cole and Alex are still alive and still friends, despite some of their best efforts on both counts over the course of the intervening years. They bond over cars and sports and, most of all, music. Cole’s admiration for Alex is already visible in the sentence quoted above. Shiner shows what Alex sees as he brings Cole home for dinner the Friday after that first tennis set:

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2021/12/30/outside-the-gates-of-eden-by-lewis-shiner/

Animal Adaptations: Unique Body Parts by Radka Piro & Lida Larina

And so, here is my last review of the year, dear readers, the review of a gentle but thoroughly intelligent, beautiful and extremely accessible book that encourages curiosity about the world around us. Hopefully, it’ll be a harbinger of the year to come!

Why yes, I am an eternal optimist in many regards.

But to this delightful board book, which is the perfect way to get young readers interested in zoology, emphasizing the weird and cool of the animal kingdom without overwhelming with too much information. It’s a slender volume, in keeping with the format, brightly illustrated and concisely written. While brief, the vignettes are thoughtfully selected. Honestly, this book taught me stuff even I didn’t know about animals!

Animal Adaptations: Unique Body Parts is divided into five, um, parts. Each section begins with a question and hint about a particular body part/adaptation, with a cunning peekaboo cutout to pique readers’ interest in the answer. With said answer comes four more illustrated facts about animals related to the first one showcased in the section. The illustrations are cute while staying faithful to biology, and the shading and colors just gorgeous, with a slight but not overwhelming tendency towards a pastel palette.

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2021/12/29/animal-adaptations-unique-body-parts-by-radka-piro-lida-larina/

The Ex Hex by Erin Sterling

A delightful paranormal romance that balances a sweet and steamy romance with small-town magical shenanigans.

Vivienne Jones is nineteen years old when she meets Rhys Penhallow one magical summer in her small hometown of Graves Glen, Georgia. He’s here to take summer classes at the university close by, and the two embark on a whirlwind romance that ends abruptly after he confides in her that he has to return home to Wales. The reason? To break off the betrothal his father Simon is looking to arrange between Rhys and another properly vetted witch. Aghast at the thought of sleeping with a “claimed” man, Vivienne very loudly and angrily dumps him. Rhys goes back across the pond and a drunk Vivienne, with the help of her sympathetic cousin Gwyn, decides to exorcise all thought of Rhys with a joke curse. But Graves Glen isn’t the kind of place where curses, even joke ones, can be made lightly…

Nine years pass, and Vivienne is now a lecturer at the town’s Penhaven College. While she, Gwyn and her aunt Elaine fully embrace their witchy heritage, Vivi is still a little reluctant to hang out with the witch populace at large, so stays almost exclusively on the unmagical side of academia. She loves her job, tho, and has a fulfilling life hanging out with her family and friends, even if a few drinks too many will have her looking up one particular ex on social media from time to time.

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2021/12/28/the-ex-hex-by-erin-sterling/

The Case Of The Unwelcome Visitor (Bad Machinery #6) by John Allison

It’s become a tradition of recent years for me to use the Christmas holiday to read another Bad Machinery book, to just sit finally and take the time to put my feet up and enjoy these books that perfectly distil everything I like about reading. Mystery: check. Humor: check. Empathy: check. A hint or more of the paranormal: check. The fact that it features British schoolkids in a graphic novel format is just icing on the cake for me.

And so this year, a bit belatedly due to my sister needing extra days to confirm a negative COVID diagnosis post-exposure before we could celebrate in earnest, I finally got a chance to immerse myself back in Tackleford with our young sleuths. Or most of them anyway: Mildred and Sonny are off to France for the summer, while Shauna is going to Disneyl– er, Mouseville before heading to Margate to stay with family. This leaves only Linton, Jack and Charlotte in town when a series of mysterious occurrences start plaguing the Gravel Pit, a down-on-the-heels housing estate that Charlotte’s mom’s boyfriend, in particular, thinks unsafe for kids.

Charlotte isn’t super thrilled that Colin has moved in with them, but she is pleased that her older sister Sarah and Sarah’s dreamy boyfriend Dr Julian are moving back up to Tackleford. Her pleasure is short-lived, however, when fussy old Colin wants to implement a 7 p.m. curfew for her after Linton and Jack come round asking for her detecting help one evening. Linton’s dad was just promoted to police chief and is worrying over his new responsibilities in the face of rising crime. Being a good son, Linton wants to help his dad close a bunch of cases, including the weird goings-on by the Gravel Pit. But Colin thinks running about solving nocturnal mysteries is far too dangerous for thirteen year-olds, much to Charlotte’s ire. After all, foiling monstrous creatures of the night is complicated enough without also dodging worrywart father surrogates whom you never particularly liked in the first place.

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2021/12/27/the-case-of-the-unwelcome-visitor-bad-machinery-6-by-john-allison/

Agency by William Gibson

Readers who made it through the first few unforgiving chapters of The Peripheral and went on to enjoy the rest of the book will find the beginning of Agency easier going, with the essential setup unchanged and many of the characters returning. In the main timeline sometime late in the twenty-second century, humanity has mostly overcome the interlocking crises that Gibson calls “the jackpot” and is now generally managing the planet without major additional damage. The price has been very high.

Agency by William Gibson

The central conceit of The Peripheral, Agency and the third part of the trilogy, which Gibson has said is simply called Jackpot, is that advanced computation has worked out ways to contact alternative pasts to the characters’ present, known in the book as “stubs.” Once contacted, the possibilities from that past branch off and lead to different futures, thus preserving causality at the future end. It’s all a bit handwavy, as it must be, but it works within the book because the limitations feel real, and Gibson keeps the rules consistent once he establishes them.

The Peripheral featured one stub, but implied the existence of many more. Gibson sets Agency in motion by having Detective Inspector Ainsley Lowbeer mention someone who had been a “hobbyist of hellholes.” (Ch. 2) Known as Vespasian, he apparently developed a method for intervening in stubs that led to dramatic changes away from the history known by the main timeline. Lowbeer has had him killed in the meantime, but she thinks she can adapt the method toward radically better outcomes than the main timeline. He had also made contact with a stub that was much further back than the others that Lowbeer and company had managed. The stub’s present is 2017, and its history saw the rejection of Brexit and the election of Hillary Clinton as US president in 2016. Unfortunately, as contact from the twenty-second century begins, the world is also in a crisis that threatens to escalate into nuclear war.

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2021/12/26/agency-by-william-gibson/

Merry Christmas

Luke 2:1-14, Anglo-Saxon:

Soþlice on þam dagum wæs geworden gebod fram þam casere Augusto, þæt eall ymbehwyrft wære tomearcod. Þeos tomearcodnes wæs æryst geworden fram þam deman Syrige Cirino. And ealle hig eodon, and syndrige ferdon on hyra ceastre. Ða ferde Iosep fram Galilea of þære ceastre Nazareth on Iudeisce ceastre Dauides, seo is genemned Beþleem, for þam þe he wæs of Dauides huse and hirede; þæt he ferde mid Marian þe him beweddod wæs, and wæs geeacnod. Soþlice wæs geworden þa hi þar wæron, hire dagas wæron gefyllede þæt heo cende. And heo cende hyre frumcennedan sunu, and hine mid cildclaþum bewand, and hine on binne alede, for þam þe hig næfdon rum on cumena huse. And hyrdas wæron on þam ylcan rice waciende, and nihtwæccan healdende ofer heora heorda. Þa stod Drihtnes engel wiþ hig, and Godes beorhtnes him ymbe scean; and hi him mycelum ege adredon. And se engel him to cwæð, Nelle ge eow adrædan; soþlice nu ic eow bodie mycelne gefean, se bið eallum folce; for þam to dæg eow ys Hælend acenned, se is Drihten Crist, on Dauides ceastre. And þis tacen eow byð: Ge gemetað an cild hræglum bewunden, and on binne aled. And þa wæs færinga geworden mid þam engle mycelnes heofenlices werydes, God heriendra and þus cweþendra, Gode sy wuldor on heahnesse, and on eorðan sybb mannum godes willan.

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2021/12/25/merry-christmas/

That’s Dickens with a C and a K, the Well-Known English Author

Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it: and Scrooge’s name was good upon ’Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

A Christmas Carol

Mind! I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Scrooge knew he was dead? Of course he did. How could it be otherwise? Scrooge and he were partners for I don’t know how many years. Scrooge was his sole executor, his sole administrator, his sole assign, his sole residuary legatee, his sole friend, and sole mourner. And even Scrooge was not so dreadfully cut up by the sad event, but that he was an excellent man of business on the very day of the funeral, and solemnised it with an undoubted bargain.

The mention of Marley’s funeral brings me back to the point I started from. There is no doubt that Marley was dead. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate. If we were not perfectly convinced that Hamlet’s Father died before the play began, there would be nothing more remarkable in his taking a stroll at night, in an easterly wind, upon his own ramparts, than there would be in any other middle-aged gentleman rashly turning out after dark in a breezy spot—say Saint Paul’s Churchyard for instance—literally to astonish his son’s weak mind.

Scrooge never painted out Old Marley’s name. There it stood, years afterwards, above the warehouse door: Scrooge and Marley. The firm was known as Scrooge and Marley. Sometimes people new to the business called Scrooge Scrooge, and sometimes Marley, but he answered to both names. It was all the same to him.

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The rest.

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Why don’t you try W.H. Smith?

Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2021/12/24/thats-dickens-with-a-c-and-a-k-the-well-known-english-author/

The Bear House by Meaghan McIsaac

Oh, wow, I do hope this is the start of a series, because Meaghan McIsaac makes some truly great narrative and world-building choices here!

Imagine a realm where the kingdoms are devoted to the animal constellations that we readers more or less already know, with the Bear House ruling supreme over them all. The leaders of each kingdom, including the Major of Bear House, are selected by the divine symbols of each house, sacred beasts reared to battle and rule. The current Major is Jasper Lourdes, and his heirs are his daughters Ursula and Aster, young teenagers with a reputation for being silly and spoiled.

When the Minor of Bear House, Jasper’s older brother Bram, suddenly makes a powerful, blasphemous play for the throne, it catches nearly all of Highen unawares. Bram is a man who’s spent almost his entire life supporting his Major, but plans now to do away with his nieces and install his own daughter Bernadine in Jasper’s place.

Unfortunately for him, Bernadine grew up with her cousins and has little interest in being a part of this treasonous plot. Instead, she helps the sisters escape with Alcor, the holy Hemoth Bear that will choose the next Major, as well as with Dev, the novice Keeper who’s supposed to both rear Alcor and record the kingdom’s history in his Star Writ. But will Bernadine change her mind about taking on the role of Major when she finds out the true reason for her father’s treachery?

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2021/12/23/the-bear-house-by-meaghan-mcisaac/

The Orphan Witch by Paige Crutcher

There are some interesting set pieces and arresting imagery in this modern-day tale of witches on a remote southern island, tied by bonds of blood and love. You definitely get the idea that some of these scenes sprang into Paige Crutcher’s head fully formed, so viscerally and lovingly are they depicted.

Alas, that’s about all I can say to recommend this book. Despite the vividness of certain lovely passages, The Orphan Witch falls apart from sheer lack of craft. I spent every few pages muttering, “That’s not what that word means.” I’m all for poetic license, but one does not “don” silverware when setting the table nor, in a moment of fear and panic, have time to think “reverently” about an engine you’re hoping will catch so you can flee, in just two of the most memorably egregious examples. In fairness, I don’t know what stage of editing this book was in when it was sent to me — hopefully, a very early one! — but just the constant estrangement of vocabulary from meaning made me question the author’s experience both with writing and with reading good fiction.

And that’s even before we get into the plotting and characterization. While I did appreciate the plot twists, I felt like most of the writing that was meant to be the connecting tissue between set pieces wasn’t at all well thought out, and almost hurried through as the author shepherded us from one of her preferred scenes to the next, skipping some sorely needed world-building in the process. And the characterizations were absolutely dire, with immature, borderline idiotic dialog, inexplicable motivations and, at the very bottom of the barrel, an extremely unconvincing instalove romance plot. Every single character was paper thin, and my feelings for them verged from mild irritation to deep annoyance.

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2021/12/22/the-orphan-witch-by-paige-crutcher/