Queen of Candesce by Karl Schroeder (Virga Book 2)

QueenofCandesce I finished Book 1 of this series, Sun of Suns a couple of weeks back and was excited to start in on this one to see where Schroeder took us.  I had a lot of questions about Virga itself (how it was created and why mostly) and was hoping to learn more about some of the characters.  Minor spoilers ahead.

Queen of Candesce follows the story of Venera Fanning after her theft of the key to Candesce, the largest and most important sun in Virga.  Last we saw her, she was badly injured and adrift in space with seemingly little hope of rescue.  I found her to be one of the most interesting characters in Book 1, so I was glad to see her land in a new nation and watch her adapt to new situations.  Finding herself in a dangerous place with little chance of escape, Venera begins learning all she can about the political underpinnings of the world around her and makes the most of it.  A highlight in watching her stake a claim to an old broken down kingdom whose royal family hasn’t been seen in years.

Unfortunately, I didn’t care for much else about the story.  Venera is fascinating to watch, but the characters around her were numerous and all a little flat.  I felt that I still hadn’t learned much more about Virga, and with the exception of the introduction of a new revolutionary faction, there wasn’t much more to the story other than Venera getting mixed up in local affairs.  I’ll likely still continue on with the series and see what’s going on back in Slipstream with Chaison Fanning, but I’m not in any rush to at this point.

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Mr. Churchill’s Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal

Mr.Churchill'sSecretaryI have no shame in admitting that I consumed a vast amount of tea while reading this one.

Set in World War II London, Mr. Churchill’s Secretary is the first in MacNeal’s Maggie Hope series. As Hitler makes his way to France and begins preparations for an air assault on Britain, Miss Hope begins working as a typist for newly elected Prime Minister, Winston Churchill.  An American with family ties to England, Maggie has postponed doctoral studies at M.I.T. and a promising career in mathematics to do what she can to help the war effort, even if it means taking a job far beneath her intellect.  Surrounded by the boys club of Oxford and Cambridge graduates, Maggie quickly becomes engrossed in the inner workings of 10 Downing Street.

As London prepares for total war, the IRA takes advantage and begins their own bombing campaign.  Centuries of hostility rage on as Maggie learns that England faces enemies from all sides.

London during the Blitz has always been a fascinating subject for me though I’ll admit I was worried that this novel would disappoint.  I’m generally not a fan of getting too close to great historical figures like Churchill, nor am I keen on a story that features a women struggling against inequality (and I mean nothing offensive by this, it’s just not my thing).  Nevertheless, I’m happy to say that I was pleasantly surprised.  The plot moved at an adequate pace, and it’s always a pleasure to get a tour of wartime London, even if allowances were made for social time that someone in Maggie’s position would not have had.  There was a real sense of place to this story that helped overshadow some other shortcomings.

The espionage part of the story fell a little short of expectations, though most of this novel read like a prequel to Maggie’s real story.  As this is the first book in a series, I would imagine that there is much more to come in terms of immersing our heroine in the world of MI-5.  Most of this novel appears to have been about proving Maggie’s abilities instead of letting her abilities solve problems as a way of moving the plot forward.  There is also the business of figuring where her father is buried, if in fact he was buried at all, as well as a minor romantic interest that felt almost obligatory.

Overall, Mr. Churchill’s Secretary was worth the read, but I hope to see more from books 2 and 3 of this series. Next up, Maggie trains for a true life of espionage and is sent undercover at Windsor Castle in Princess Elizabeth’s Spy (2012).

 

Inferno by Dan Brown

InfernoDan Brown is back with his highly anticipated new novel, Inferno.  (I know it’s highly anticipated because every bookstore tells me so.) In his first Robert Langdon novel since The Lost Symbol in 2009, Brown throws us back into the world of art history, symbology, religion, and science.

Waking from an unknown injury, Langdon is surprised to discover that he’s being treated in Florence.  Unable to remember making the trip to Italy in the first place, Langdon has little time to piece things together before having to flee the hospital. Someone is determined to see Langdon dead.  With the help of his attending doctor, he begins a harrowing journey through the streets of Florence where spare minutes are used up trying to figure out who is after him, and what has happened over the past 2 days to lead to this.

Brown’s books feel all vaguely similar to me, and honestly the first 100 pages or so of this felt like a mix between an art history book and Fifty Shades of Grey…I’m not selling it, I know.  I felt that some of Langdon’s exclamations were just too over the top and redundant, and I guess in this harrowing situation, you could expect some panic, but the writing just wasn’t as solid as I would have liked. The historical content was thrilling for me (I enjoy non-fiction, especially history) but it came hot and heavy and might not be as appealing to other readers.

This being said, I sat down and read 200 pages in the first go.  Say what you will about the writing, the man knows how to craft a suspense thriller that keeps you reading. As with his other novels, Brown does an excellent job of incorporating historic detail into a story that feels modern and relevant today.  The threat of a population crisis and an unsustainable environment has been an issue for some years now, but recent media attention and warnings from international organizations have made this almost a household debate.  Coupled with Dante’s most influential work, Inferno from The Divine Comedy, Brown writes a story of epic scope and intricate detail.

I think there’s a degree to which The Da Vinci Code was the right book at the right time.  It was wildly successful, sparked all sorts of controversy (which in my mind was a little over the top considering this was a work of fiction) and of course had a fairly profitable movie adaptation.  The problem with having an international bestseller and a blockbuster movie is that everything that comes later will always be compared to that success, and it becomes increasingly difficult to do something new.  The story didn’t feel tired, but there was the obligatory running around a European city while being chased by an unknown organization.  There were clues hidden throughout, scrawled on priceless works of art and hidden in some of the most famous buildings.  Everything has a hidden meaning that only Langdon and his accomplice de jour can figure out.  And yes, it was an exciting read, but I couldn’t help but feeling that I had been here before.

The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.