Reading Notes August 2018

Finished in August

1. Endless Water Starless Sky by Rosamund Hodge

The sequel to Hodge’s Bright Smoke Cold Fire. This duology (I hate that term, but there’s not a great word for a pair of books) is a sort of postapocalyptic adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. The world is broken, and has been for a hundred years since the “Ruining”. The city of Viayara is a small island in a sea of death and to leave the city’s walls is to be killed by either the white fog or the “revenants”, the zombie living dead. The city’s walls, which alone keep the populace alive, can only be maintained by blood sacrifice. Some of the blood is willingly shed by the family of the Exaulted, the Old Viayarans who believe themselves to be the descendants of the gods, and some by the Sisterhood of Thorn, who spin the spells which maintain the walls. But that blood is not enough. There must also be human sacrifice, “willing” victims who give their life so that others must live. And the walls are failing, the magic is fading, sacrifices are required more and more often. Runajo, one of the novel’s protagonists, knows that eventually the monstrous sacrifices will be almost continuous and then they will not be enough and everyone will die.

Against this backdrop plays out the story of the two feuding households, the star-crossed lovers, who will perhaps have to die to save the world. It’s loosely based on Romeo and Juliet, but take heart those who do not love the play, there is probably something for you here after all. Do not despair, those who love Shakespeare, there is also something for you. The novel uses the play as a launching point, but then takes off for a strange new world where the stakes are much, much higher than those in Shakespeare’s Verona.

The first novel was very dark, but rich and beautiful as well. It ended on a very ambiguous note with many threads left loose. When I closed the cover I had no idea how the second half of the novel could possible resolve everything satisfactorily. And yet the sequel was more than satisfactory.

“You live in a charnel house, and you’re all guilty and dripping red.”

In this second novel things go from bad to worse to horrifically worse. Murder, betrayal, necromancy, sacrilege, death, all the dark elements that are present in the first volume are there in the second but more so. But so are friendships, love, courage, honor, and hope. And one of the things I appreciate the most is that there are characters who are able to see clearly the horrors that everyone else in their world take for granted and who identify them as evil and resolve to try to set things right.

What I love about Endless Water Starless Sky is that is portrays a broken world, a world whose foundational reality is horror, and characters who realize they probably do not have the power to set everything right and yet do their utmost to try to at least make better the small things that they can.

2. The Witch’s Brat by Rosemary Sutcliff

I wrote a separate review here: The Witch’s Brat: Story of a Healer Monk

3. Flame Colored Taffeta by Rosemary Sutcliff

A story set during the reign of King George I, it tells the story of a girl who lives near Chichester in Sussex, in the south of England. She and her friend rescue a man who they think is a wounded smuggler but who turns out to be a Jacobite.

I didn’t love it as much as I’ve loved others of Sutcliff’s books, but it’s an interesting historical period and it was a fun story.

Making Progress

1. Salt:A World History by Mark Kerlansky

A fascinating history of man’s complex relationship with simple salt. Kurlansky begins in ancient China and his story of salt’s origins are intertwined with the story of the beginning of civilization and plumbing and the use of natural gas. I wanted to read the first bit about China to the kids* because it was so much better than our history book and clear enough that a child could follow. Sadly, the book had to go back to the library.

*(Although Salt is not a kid-friendly book, unless you do’t mind navigating conversations about sex and prostitution, Kurlansky did publish a picture book based on it: The Story of Salt, illustrated by S. D. Schindler, which the kids enjoyed.)

2. St. Nicholas Owen by Tony Reynolds.

The story of the Elizabethan carpenter who traveled as a servant to a Jesuit priest and who made priestholes in great houses where priests could be hidden from the pursuivants. Not a lot is known about Owen, but this novel tells what is known and also provides a lot of context, telling about the various priests Owen knew and worked with. Reynolds studied architecture and got interested in Owen’s work partly through his studies.

3. Building the Benedict Option by Leah Libresco

Many of the basic ideas outlines in the first chapter is familiar to me from reading the Leah’s blog over the past few years. Which doesn’t mean that the book isn’t fresh material. It is, but the ideas are familiar. The focus is on the necessity of community and what small steps can be taken to achieve a Christian community where you are. I really liked the chapter about barriers to the Benedict Option because really they’re just barriers to living a Christian life. I look forward to finishing the book.

4. Wooster Proposes, Jeeves Disposes by Kristin Thompson

A book about P.G. Wodehouse and his literary merits. Alas, I only managed to get through the first couple of chapters before it had to go back to the library. They were mostly concerned with a literary biography of Wodehouse, which was interesting but not really why I wanted to read the book. I suppose I need to request it again. I wish ILL let me get a book for more than a couple of weeks.

What was most interesting about the section I read was the discussion of Wodehouse’s writing process.

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