The story mainly follows Nancy, who has returned from a sojourn in the Halls of the Dead with a preternaturally developed ability to stand still and a penchant for dressing in gauzy black and white clothing, to the distress of her parents who want their old daughter back. Shortly after Nancy's arrival at the school the first in a series of gruesome murders occurs; suspicion falls on Nancy, as a new girl and one whose world was a underworld, and she and a small group of other students have to work together to discover who the real murderer is. The murder mystery plot is really only a Macguffin, though (and I thought it was quite obvious from very early on who the murderer was); the book is really an exploration of identity and belonging, as the students try to deal with having found and lost worlds where they felt that they belonged much more than they ever had at home (each student went to a different world, uniquely suited to that individual). It's easy to see Nancy's parents' rejection of the changes in their daughter as parallelling more conventional rejections by parents' of their children's developing tastes and views. Identity politics writ larger also feature; Nancy explicitly identifies as asexual, while one of the friends she makes is a trans boy who was expelled from the fairyland he travelled to when he was discovered to be a prince and not the princess they thought he was.
Some of the reviews I'd read online had made me worry that this was going to be preachy, or at least a bit cringily identity-politics-by-numbers, but in fact I didn't find it that way at all; it was interesting, sensitive and thoughtful. I wasn't completely convinced by the way the murder plot was resolved, which seemed to owe rather more to the conventions of the students' fantasy worlds than to the real world in which the story takes place, but generally I really enjoyed the book and can absolutely see why it has won and been nominated for so many awards.
Except some of it doesn't seem to be, o hai, I am now making an effort, it is more that various academic things (seminars, conferences, etc) that I had flagged up in my diary ages ago finally came up and were all within the space of a few weeks, I don't know, it's the 'like buses' phenomenon. And some of them I did do some social interaction at and others I just slipped in and out, more or less.
Have booked up, what I was havering about, the annual conference in one of my spheres of interest that I was usually wont to go to but have missed the (I think) last two because I was not inspired by the overall theme that year. And it's not so much that I'm not inspired by this year's theme, it's more 'didn't they do something very similar a few years ago and I did a paper then, and don't really have anything new to say on the subject', so I didn't do that, but I think that it would be a useful one to go to to try and get me back into the groove for that thing that the editor at esteemed academic press was suggesting I might write and talk to people (if I can remember how to do that thing) and hear what's going on, and so on.
Also had a get-together with former line manager, which between the two of us and our commitments involves a lot of forward planning, but it was very nice to do it.
Have also done some (long) and (a bit less) outstanding life admin stuff, which I both feel pleased about and also as if I haven't actually done anything, which is weird.
Did I mention, getting revised article off last week, just before deadline? and then got out of office email from the editor saying away until end of month. WHUT. The peeves were in uproar.
And generally, I am still working out what I do with the day when it does not begin with posting an episode of Clorinda's memoirs and go on with compiling the next one. Okay, there are still snippets to come, but they come slowly.
The Saltmarsh Murders is the fourth of 66 detective novels featuring Mrs Beatrice Lestrange Bradley, psychiatrist and amateur sleuth. In this novel, she turns her attention to the death of a young woman who has recently given birth to an illegitimate baby (and the disappearance of the baby) in the South Coast village of Saltmarsh, where she was paying a visit when the murder was discovered. She is aided in this by Noel Wells, the slightly dim curate of the village. Noel also narrates the novel in a first-person style which clearly owes a lot to Wodehouse, who he mentions being a fan of.
I wasn't sure the Bertie Wooster-esque narrative was a natural choice for a detective novel, and Noel is a very sloppy narrator, with events coming out of sequence in a way that made it quite hard to follow the plot at times. The book also features a black character and contains the kind of period-typical attitudes to and language about race that are pretty hard for a modern reader to stomach, as well as some period-typical attitudes to class and a couple of incidences of painfully rendered yokel accents. Most of the characters felt very two-dimensional, with the only one who really took on any life at all being the village madwoman, Mrs Gatty, and I didn't actually find the mystery plot particularly compelling. I don't think I'll be seeking out any more of Mitchell's books (although I think I might have at least one more that I bought as a Kindle bargain years ago...).
What I read
Melisande Byrd His Lordship Takes a Bride: Regency Menage Romance (2015), very short, did what it says on the tin, pretty low stakes, even the nasty suitor who molests the female protag in a carriage (the Regency version of Not Safe In Taxis) just disappears. The style was not egregiously anachronistic (apart from one or two American spellings) but a bit bland.
Janet Malcolm, Forty-One False Starts: Essays on Artists and Writers (2013) - charity shop find. Some of the essays were of more interest to me than others, but all very well-written.
On the go
Matt Houlbrook, Prince of Tricksters: The Incredible True Story of Netley Lucas, Gentleman Crook (2016). I depose that somebody whose scams got rumbled and who was banged up in various institutions for his crimes is not exactly trickster royalty. He then went allegedly straight and got into journalism, partly writing up the inside stories of the crime world, but these are very much complicated by the author as to their authenticity and did he actually write them. While he was more of a career criminal than the opportunistic upperclass louts in the McLaren book mentioned last week, he did have claims to gentility, but again, so not Raffles The Amateur Cracksman.
I'm currently a bit bogged down in it, which may be a reflection of the author's own experiences in trying to write about somebody who lived by lying, had numerous false identities, etc etc (which are very much foregrounded).
Simon R Green, Moonbreaker (2017) - came out this week, I succumbed.
Also started one of the books for review.
There's a new Catherine Fox out tomorrow (allegedly)...
The yurei and obake of Tonjo ignored me, happily, but I felt that fever took me pretty close to "Pitable Foreigner" status, had I not been able to pull out of the dive for my last evening in Tokyo, merely scraping the tops of trees and getting bits of bird's nest in my cleavage.
I was particularly glad, because this was the day that Satomi, her mother and her friend Chiaki (who as luck would have it works in a kimono shop) were coming to do yukata-related things with me. Our original plan had been ambitious - to go to Kanda shrine and watch rakugo. Gradually, though, with the temperature being in the mid-30s, this was reduced to eating some nice desserts at my flat, then walking elegantly around the grounds of Tonjo drawing admiring glances from all who beheld us. Anyway, here are some of my favourite pics from the occasion. There are quite a few, but feel free to scroll past:
Obi Wonky Maybe?
Of course, I only included that last photo so that I could use the caption.
Then it was on to Miho's place in Nakano, where my appetite returned on cue, and I had a wonderful meal cooked by her husband Hiroshi, a fine chef as I remember from last year. (Unfortunately, he wasn't feeling well himself, for much the same reasons as me before, and had to retire early.) Satoshi Kitamura, whom I'd met at the Mexican embassy, was another guest at supper, and we had a very good talk about the varying degrees of (in)directness one might expect in different cultures, which issued in the following Buzzfeedish joint declaration (apologies for the national stereotyping, but sake is no friend to fine distinctions):
If an American thinks it's a bad idea, they'll say, "That's a bad idea."
If an English person thinks it's a bad idea, they'll say, "That's a very brave suggestion."
If a Japanese person thinks its a bad idea, they'll say, "The weather's been hot, recently, hasn't it?"
We had drunk quite a bit of sake by that time. Afterwards we walked fifty yards to the local festival, the other reason for being yukata-clad. It's a small affair but a popular and traditional one: Miho reminisced how the sound of the festival music used to excite her when she was at primary school (she's a little older than me), and she'd run home to change, ready to dance. As is typical in such affairs - not that I'd seen one before in real life - a temporary tower had been built in the centre of an open space, with a small stage surrounding it. At the top, a taiko drummer accompanied a set of maybe half a dozen tunes (each of which had a different dance associated with it), which were basically played in rotation throughout the evening, and from the tower strings of lanterns radiated like filaments from a web. There were various food and drink stalls (though not goldfish scooping, sadly!) around the edge of the area. Some people were watching, some were dancing - the dance involving (whatever the tune) a slow, anti-clockwise circuit of the tower, done in conjunction with various combinations of arm gestures, claps, turns, and forward and backward steps. Not too hard to learn, if you've had enough sake, and I followed Miho and gave it a go. I am no dancer in any idiom, but I remembered the lyrics of the Awa Bon Odori:
The dancers are fools
The watchers are fools
Both are fools alike so
Why not dance?
This has been my motto throughout the trip, and to be honest it's not such a bad one for life.
If you want a flavour of the sound and movement of the thing, please click through to the video below:
That marked the end of my Tokyo stay, and the next morning I boarded the shinkansen to Kanazawa in the west of the country, a town famed for fresh seafood, for the garden of Kenrokuen, and for putting gold leaf on so many things that it would make a rapper blush.
The first thing that fascinated me, though (because I am a Big Kid) was the fountain at the station, which was also at times a digital clock. Cool! (I'm sure they have these kinds of things elsewhere too, but I've not seen one.) The station itself is pretty impressive. This huge structure at its entrance seems new, and I suspect may have been erected to celebrate the arrival of the shinkansen line from Tokyo a couple of years ago, after which Kanazawa put itself on a no-holds-barred tourist footing.
I'd put myself up at an air BnB for three nights in Kanazawa, to justify two nights at a proper ryokan in Takayama afterwards. It was my first Air BnB experience, and while it was nothing special nor was the price I paid for it. The room was pretty bare, but everything promised was present, and at least I had this as the view from my window:
I have to say that, throughout the next few days, my energy and appetite, briefly resurgent for the Nakano matsuri, went back into abeyance, so I don't think I was able to do Kanazawa justice. However, I did put the miles in! First stop was the impressive fish market (which looked delicious but prompted no appetite in me at all, alas), followed by the castle park. Of course, no one knows whether samurai armour was originally modelled on the appearance of Japanese castles, or the other way round. What is certain is that in the feudal period, once two castles spotted each other they were apt to convert (much like the Transformers of our own day) into mechanised fighting machines of ferocious violence and battle it out until one of them was a flaming heap (which was then officially blamed on earthquakes). The sight so disconcerted the shogun that he ordered that castles should never be built within 4 ri of each other, an ordinance still in place today.
Actually, that may have been the fever writing. Interesting as Kanazawa Castle may be, it's actually less famous than the adjoining garden, Kenrokuen - so called because it's a park (en) containing six (roku) features (ken) thought notable - although I'm not sure which six they had in mind. I saw a lot more, personally. Even for someone with low energy levels it was a very pleasant place to walk around, and oddly reminiscent (in its penchant for sudden prospects, islands with "fake" temples, sinuous walks, water features, and commitment to "nature methodised"), to the kind of thing that was being done in English landscape gardening over the same period. (I wish I had the knowledge and vocabulary to expatiate on this.)
Naturally, after wandering in the heat for a while, you want something to help you cool down. As I mentioned earlier, putting gold leaf in, or on, pretty much everything is a Kanazawa speciality. Want yourself a gold-leaf face mask? We've got you covered. Sweets or soap or sake with bits of gold leaf inside? Of course. Actually, why not just buy yourself an ice cream cornet covered in a single sheet of gold leaf?
Oh, okay then.
How about, not?
Do we not get the impression that he has a very halcyon vision of what working on the land might involve? I suspect that there are not enough lovely organic farms practising biodynamic agricultural methods to take up anything like the numbers of intending students there are each year and a lot of them would end up working in agribusiness enterprises (which I suppose might be a salutory awakening, or not).
Also, would not much of the work be seasonal? What would they do the rest of the time?
Might there not be objections from the local communities?
I also think of the lack of amenities in many rural parts, e.g. no or inadequate public transport: in the evenings, not in the least worn-out from hours of back-breaking toil for poverty wages, maybe they'll gather round and sing folk songs and dance traditional folk dances and practice folk crafts?
And actually, I don't think this is true:
We also know that without contact with nature we will not form an attachment, we will not learn to love it.
See the rise of the notion of the healing powers of nature and the pastoral way of life in Britain as the society became increasingly urbanised, and therefore romanticised the supposedly more simple and harmonious existence of country life.
I have a feeling that people who live close to nature know exactly how dreadful nature can be. Tetanus! Anthrax! entirely natural.
My second novel,
Arabella and the Battle of Venus
, sequel to the Andre Norton Award winning
Arabella of Mars
, comes out this week! The official release date is July 18, but I have seen copies in two bookstores already. You can buy it from Powell's, University Book Store, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Kobo, Your Local Independent Book Store, or Amazon.
Is there an ebook? An audiobook?
The ebook of Arabella and the Battle of Venus should release simultaneously with the hardback, from all the major ebook vendors, without DRM. I haven't seen any sign of the audiobook yet, but for the previous book it followed the hardback release by a few weeks.
Are you planning a book tour?
Yes! Here are the planned stops:
- July 18, 2017: Powell’s Books at Cedar Hills Crossing, Portland, Oregon.
- July 20, 2017: University Book Store, Seattle, Washington.
- July 22, 2017: Borderlands Books, San Francisco, California.
If any of these events is local to you, please come if you can. There will be music, costumes, and giveaways! Come in costume! Tell your friends!
What's the book about?
From the publisher: The thrilling adventures of Arabella Ashby continue in Arabella and the Battle of Venus, the second book in Hugo-winning author David D. Levine’s swashbuckling sci-fi, alternate history series!
Arabella’s wedding plans to marry Captain Singh of the Honorable Mars Trading Company are interrupted when her fiancé is captured by the French and sent to a prisoner-of-war camp on swampy Venus. Now, Arabella must find passage to an enemy-controlled planet in the middle of a war, bribe or fight her way past vicious guards, and rescue her Captain.
To do this she must enlist the help of the dashing privateer, Daniel Fox of the Touchstone and build her own clockwork navigational automaton in order to get to Venus before the dread French general, Joseph Fouché, the Executioner of Lyon.
Once on Venus, Arabella, Singh, and Fox soon discover that Napoleon has designed a secret weapon, one that could subjugate the entire solar system if they can’t discover a way to stop Fouché, and the entire French army, from completing their emperor’s mandate.
What can I do to help?
You should buy the book, of course. Buying it on the release date is helpful but not necessary. If you can't buy it, borrow it from the library. If you can't find it at your local library or bookseller, ask them to carry the book. Also, it's extremely helpful if you post a review on Goodreads, Amazon, your own blog, or anywhere else people might see it. It's okay if you don't like the book! Even a negative review can be helpful if you say why you didn't like it. (Reviewer: "I hated this book! It has Martians and airships and girls dressing as boys! Yuck!" Reader: "Cool, that's just what I love!") And please mention the book to your friends online and off.
Where should I buy the book? Is paper better than ebook?
Wherever and in whatever format you like to buy books. I get the same money wherever you buy it, and I don't care whether you read it on paper or on screen. There are benefits to me if you buy it on Amazon, but personally I'd prefer it if you would support your local independent book store. Or you could get it from Powell's, which is my local independent book store. You can even order a signed edition from Powell's, which I will sign for you at my reading on July 18.
How is Arabella of Mars doing?
Very well, thank you! It won the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy and was nominated for the Oregon Book Award, Locus Award, and Compton Crook Award. Sales have been quite satisfactory, and the mass market paperback was released on May 30.
Will there be a book 3?
Yes! I just submitted the first draft last week, and it should be out about the same time next year. This third book, which is currently titled Arabella and the Winds of Phobos but might be called Arabella the Traitor of Mars, concludes Arabella's story, but there are more tales which could be told about other people in other times and places of Arabella's world.
How are you doing?
As you know, the last year has been an extremely difficult one for me. But I am doing better, and Arabella's success has been a great comfort. I thank all of you for your support of me and of the book.
My sister has always had really horribly terrible hay-fever, and childhood eczema, and dust allergies.
When my mother was pregnant with me, her hay-fever came back.
I've never had hay-fever, or indeed any allergy in my life.
We've always put the whole thing down to some sort of pregnancy / immune system weirdness. However....
I've been sneezing for the last four or five days, and feel otherwise fine. Bah! I guess it's caught up with me at last.
Doesn't say how long this charmer has been running a business, if you can call it that, but what I should have liked to have seen would have been a face-off between him and Driff Field, author of successive editions (last in 1995) of the idiosyncratic Driff's Guide to All The Secondhand and Antiquarian Bookshops in Britain (these are probably still worth reading if you ever come across copies, even though the information on actual bookshops is presumably waaaay out of date):
Hugely successful for its wit and wide coverage of the field, the guide was nonetheless chaotic, idiosyncratic and often sarcastic, with entries such as: "the b[oo]ks are slowly transforming themselves back into rags"; "judging by body temp, shop seems to have expired in 1930"; "I could smell a bargain, pity was I had a cold that day"; "owner has been unwell recently with bad back (possibly caused by turning on the customers once too often)".or at least how Driff would have written him up.
Yet another paean to the 'return' of the physical book and the allure of the bookshelves: My bookshelf says who I am – and a Kindle cannot do that.
Well, that depends whether your bookshelves do say who you are - mine, I depose, say 'I am large, I contain multitudes' - and whether you want this revealed to any casual observer - though I daresay anyone wishing to decode oursin from her bookshelves would have to be in and out of several rooms and up and down staircases.
(Also, of course, we may not have physical shelves to browse but we have our virtual ones, no?)
Today’s unlimited information makes the boundedness of bookcases profoundly comforting. My inner librarian is also soothed by arranging books. When my young children go to bed and I’m confronted by their daunting mess, my favourite activity is tidying their bookcase.*looks around at piles on floor* And not even the excuse of having small children.
Me, myself, today, I was actually doing something that might be considered my inner archivist at work - going through what I cannot even with any accuracy describe as my files, to bring some order into various matters of life admin, accumulated over a considerable period. The cobblers' children...
It turns out that there's no Music AH for Worldcon 75.
I mean, on one level, I'm not shedding any tears over screwups with the convention after they booted me (and the way it was done). But on the other hand, my friends are going to miss out on a lot of the activity they enjoy at the convention because there's nobody put it together.