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Jessica Strider (Toronto, Canada)

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The Traitor Baru Cormorant
The Traitor Baru Cormorant
by Seth Dickinson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.80
29 used & new from CDN$ 18.80

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking economic fantasy, Sept. 29 2015
Pros: economic and political intrigue, utterly fascinating protagonist, interesting pov, keeps you guessing

Cons: not sure the rebel dukes gave their plans proper consideration

Daughter of a huntress, and a blacksmith, and a shield-bearer, Baru Cormorant grew up in Taranoke. Her world changes when the Empire of Masks uses its trade agreement with Taranoke to slowly conquer the land, educating her and other native children in their schools. Horrified by what has been done to her homeland but knowing that the Empire is too vast to fight, Baru resolves to destroy it from the inside. But first she must prove her loyalty and worth to the Empire by using her intelligence to uncover revolt in another conquered land, Aurdwynn.

Before you start reading the book you’re greeted by a map. After a quick cursory glance I turned the page. Maps are common in fantasy books and this one wasn’t that detailed or complex. But something had caught my eye so I turned back and examined the map in more detail. It’s a map of Aurdwynn, showing the duchies and - more interestingly - Baru’s comments on the various dukes and what each duchy is known for. There aren’t many comments, but the sheer honesty they portray is refreshing and drew me into the story before it had even begun. Through the map we learn that the people of Oathsfire have awful beards, Radaszic is a complete moron, and Erebog is probably going to starve. It’s a clever and fun map that peaked my interest.

The novel starts with Baru’s childhood and education before heading to Aurdwynn where the rest of the book takes place. This is a book driven by Baru’s character and her attempts to understand, control, and outmaneuver the dukes as she tries to organize the country’s finances while rooting out rebellion. While there is some fighting, most of the book is concerned with political and economic intrigue.

Baru’s a wiz at economics and seeing the big picture of cause and effect. Where she falters is in recognizing that individual people have the ability to cause change outside of the larger picture, meaning she sometimes gets blindsided by not taking individual passions and choices into consideration. It’s a wonderfully tense book with a protagonist who’s always thinking so many moves ahead you’re struggling to understand her current plays. At one point I had to reread a conversation to figure out what she’d read between the lines during it, in order to understand why she was doing certain things. It’s a book that will keep you on your toes, second guessing her and everyone else’s motives.

I’ve never read a book that goes over, however briefly, the conquest of a country, so I really appreciated the point of view. It’s both fascinating and horrifying, how - and how quickly - the Empire gained power in Taranoke.

After thinking about the book for a few days I find myself wondering how much the rebel dukes considered their plans. They end up making at least once decision that seems to go against their individual interests. A decision I’m not sure they’d be willing to make as it reduces their own power.

I’m not sure I agree with one aspect of the ending, but I really enjoyed the book. I had to read it quickly, but I’d advise taking time to really think about what’s going on - to appreciate the decisions Baru makes and the circumstances she finds herself in. It’s a fascinating read and I cannot wait to see what happens next.

The Godforsaken
The Godforsaken
Price: CDN$ 5.59

4.0 out of 5 stars Reads like historical fiction, Sept. 8 2015
This review is from: The Godforsaken (Kindle Edition)
Pros: political intrigue, sense of dread throughout, wonderfully complex characters

Cons: slow & somewhat confusing beginning

King Alonzo II’s Spanish court works in close connection with the Inquisition of Padre Juan Murador, rooting out heresy wherever it lies. At an auto-da-fe, a condemned woman proclaims her innocence and pronounces a curse on Alonzo’s line, a curse his now 19 year old legitimate son bears the burden - and effects - of. The Infante Real, Don Rolon, is beset by doubts as to his worthiness to be the heir to the Spanish throne, as the curse worsens, turning him into a beast during the full moon. But he walks a fine line, as the king would prefer to see his bastard son, Gil del Rey, heir, and the inquisition is eager to find fault with those at court, with spies everywhere.

While the prologue, which sets the scene of the Spanish court and the curse, is easy to follow, I found the first chapter, which introduced Don Rolon a little confusing. We meet him travelling on his father’s orders to a remote castle. Given the number of titles and names used, I thought it was a large party, and only realized that the names and titles were for the same people when the text stated that only 5 people were travelling. The heir is called numerous things, and until I had them all straight (which didn’t take long once I was aware of the situation), it was a bit confusing. Similarly, I had assumed the men travelling with him were all friends, but that turned out to not be the case either.

It takes a while to get into the story as a lot of the early part of the book is cementing the personalities of Don Rolon and, to a lesser extent, Lugantes, the court jester. Other characters are fleshed out and given POV scenes later, when the company returns to court.

The characters are all fascinating, and diverse. Everyone’s terrified of the inquisition, though some less than others, assuming that their innocence and devotion protects them. The priests are all devout in their beliefs that they’re doing god’s work, even as they torture innocents. In fact, some of the most terrifying scenes in the book are listening to the priests justify their work, knowing they’re 100% oblivious to the irony of their accusations in comparison to their actions.

While I liked Don Rolon’s complexity in his dealings with everyone, my favourite character was the jester. Lugantes, though a little person and much mocked by the court as a whole, with the noted exception of Don Rolon, which earns him Lugantes’ devotion, is remarkably clever. He hides his cleverness with japes and jokes, and uses his lower status as a form of invisibility, to learn important news and visit people in private. He’s given a good amount of page time, and he’s instrumental in helping Don Rolon, though he also has his own interests (and love) to occupy, and worry, him.

Not given as much page time, but interesting all the same - if not as developed a character - is Don Rolon’s valet, Ciro Eje, a converso who’s not as devout in his Catholicism as would be wise considering his position.

Certain other characters changed over the course of the book, making me like them more. I’d put Genevieve, the French Queen and Don Rolon’s fiance in that category. Conversely, I liked Inez at first, but her unwise decisions - and to be fair, Don Rolon’s interest in her - put her in danger.

The king’s blindness towards what the priests were doing - and some of the liberties he allows them to take with their accusations and denouncements, is astonishing. And led to several plot twists, especially towards the end, that I did not see coming.

There’s a deep feeling of dread that settles on you as you read this book. As with actual torture, there’s so much anticipation of what the Inquisition will do to Don Rolon should they learn what the curse does to him that it starts to feel like a physical weight pressing you down as you read on. So many people you come to care for are in so much danger that you rush towards the ending, just to put yourself out of the misery of uncertainty. And while I wasn’t necessarily happy with the ending, it did suit the book magnificently.

The book takes place in Spain, but the protagonists are all invented - including the royal family. The curse makes the book a very light historical fantasy, though it reads like historical fiction. If you like political intrigue and touches of horror in your stories, you’ll love this.

Emergent Behavior
Emergent Behavior
by Nicole M. Taylor
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 35.96
16 used & new from CDN$ 21.57

4.0 out of 5 stars Tightly focused series intro, Sept. 1 2015
This review is from: Emergent Behavior (Hardcover)
Pros: quick, easy read, engaging, thought-provoking

Cons: limited world-building

For Parents: some swearing, mentions of prostitution and sex slavery

Edmond West is inspired by a story of human cruelty to create a new form of slave - robots. But his single-minded focus has blinded him to the potential consequences of creating robots with fully human characteristics.

This is the first of a six book series. It’s a quick read (only took me a few hours to whip through it) that introduces the protagonist and the plot scenario for the following books. There’s a lot of character development as Edmond works on his project through the years, with some great thought-provoking moments as he confronts the realities of his magnum opus. The ending of this book is fast paced and leaves you wanting more.

Edmond is highly intelligent and often abrasive, though his social skills are good enough that he avoids being unpleasant. While I didn’t love him as a character, I didn’t hate him either. The author did a great job making him aware enough of his faults to redeem him.

The book is highly focused on Edmond and his purpose, so there’s little world-building or other distractions. You get to know his co-worker well enough, and hear how Edward’s work is utilized by his employers, but there’s no in depth exploration of the process of building the robots or of the world in general of this future. Hart is the only other character who you really get a good feel for, and that’s entirely through Edmond’s eyes.

The moment Edmond brings his creation to life, and the epiphany he undergoes because of it, were wonderful to read.

It’s a great start and I’m curious to see where the series goes.

Artemis Awakening
Artemis Awakening
by Jane Lindskold
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: CDN$ 10.17
32 used & new from CDN$ 3.08

4.0 out of 5 stars Loved the characters, Aug. 25 2015
Pros: great characters, interesting story

Cons: romantic elements, though minor, feel awkward at times

When Griffin Dane locates the planet he believes to be the ancient pleasure planet Artemis, his intention is to study it and return to his home world and bask in the glory of his historic discovery. So when his ship crashes, stranding him there, he’s eager to find his way back to the stars.

He’s rescued from the wreckage by the Huntress Adara and her demiurge puma companion Sand Shadow, with whom she’s psychically linked. They guide Griffin first to their village and then to a major city with relics left by the Seegnur, the people who made the planet and altered the inhabitants to be the perfect servants. There they meet with the Old One Who Is Young, a man who has studied the technology of the Seegnur for decades.

But Griffin’s arrival has awakened something. And things with the Old One aren’t what they seem.

I loved Adara and Sand Shadow. It’s great to see a self-confidant young woman who gives and accepts help as the situation requires. She knows her skills and when the location changes and her abilities are less in demand, finds something she can do to help that will use her skills. By the same token, it was great to see Griffin fumbling on this ‘primitive’ world, accepting menial tasks as the only ones he’s qualified to do, and not complaining about it. I really liked Terrell as well. It was interesting how the three protagonists strengths and weaknesses complemented each other, and how the characters worked together.

The story begins sort of quest like, but there’s a series of overlapping mysteries when they get to Spirit Bay, which were quite interesting to read. It was also interesting learning more of the Seegnur and how they modified things (via the social rather than scientific changes. You don’t learn the science behind the genetic modifications but you learn about the different social strata and some of the abilities of people who were adapted for specified jobs).

There were minor romantic elements in the book. The opening led me to believe that these would have a stronger impact on the story, so I was pretty happy to discover they didn’t. There were some awkward conversations where the characters were honest about their feelings (or lack thereof), which I appreciated (the honesty, if not necessarily the awkwardness). Some of the elements seemed a tad heavy handed, like Adara noticing Griffin’s eye colour in the middle of a life or death situation, which also struck me as being out of place. But on the whole I found the characters’ openness refreshing and the elements indicate that a romance may form as the series goes on.

The world-building is understated, but interesting. Since the planet was specifically designed it still works on a feudal style system. As with the romance, there are underlying elements but they only pop up from time to time.

It was an interesting read.

The Highest Frontier
The Highest Frontier
by Joan Slonczewski
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 31.00
15 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous world-building, Aug. 4 2015
This review is from: The Highest Frontier (Hardcover)
The Highest Frontier by Joan Slonczewski

Pros: interesting protagonist; fascinating world-building; thought provoking concepts

Cons: fair amount of repetition, especially at the beginning; several unexplained concepts and items, including one important to the plot

Jennifer Ramos Kennedy’s culture source was her great-grandmother, President Rosa Schwartz. A few months after a family tragedy she’s setting out for Frontera, a university on an orbiting space station. She chose it both because a family friend runs the school but also because it’s free of many of the things plaguing Earth: mosquitos carrying disease, risk of flood and methane quakes, the expanding Death Belt, and the need for DIRG bodyguards. But university life isn’t quite what she expected: her teachers are all a little crazy, her roommate is weird and has an unhealthy affiliation for ultraphytes, the alien plants that crave salt and spread from their landing site in Utah to be a scourge on the world, her slanball coach wants her well rested, a hard thing when she’s volunteering for the understaffed EMS, and there’s so much reading and work to do for classes.

Meanwhile, she’s knee deep in helping the Unity party win the next Presidential election. Jenny doesn’t understand how the Centrist Firmament belief is so strong when people live in space! But things on Earth have reached the point that if change doesn’t come soon, it’ll be too late for the planet. And yet the Centrists want to expand the solar array that’s expanding the Death Belt, intending for people to leave earth in the coming Rapture, relocating to other space stations. Stations that couldn’t possibly hold even a portion of the people on Earth.

And it turns out that Frontera isn’t as free of Earthly disasters as she was led to believe.

There’s very little exposition. You’re thrown into the novel with limited explanations of what things are and how the world has changed from what we currently know. While it’s an entirely character driven novel, something I’m not generally keen on, my interest never waned. There are plot points that pull the story into a thought provoking conclusion, but for the most part the book follows Jenny through her days, questioning the world and the politics that run it.

As a scion of a political family, Jenny knows politics, making her an excellent character to follow. Through her mother and conjoined twin aunts, she’s connected to the upcoming Presidential election; she helps when one of her professor’s runs for mayor; sees the struggle with personnel and supplies as she volunteers for EMS, and more. She also takes two politics courses, one on Teddy Roosevelt and the other on Aristotle and democracy, the lectures for which come up often in the text. The book’s ending questions how politics is done, and if it’s possible to fix a broken system.

The second point of view character, Dylan Chase, is President of the university, and through him we see the difficulties of managing his staff and securing sufficient financing. We also see him dealing with student problems: alcoholism, printer disease hacks, assault, and addiction.

The world-building is top notch: Spanish colloquialisms, tax playing at casinos, unique fashion trends, amyloid (sewage processed by hab shell microbes that’s used to ‘print’ everything from food to clothing to the shelters everyone lives in), the anthrax cables that transport ships between Frontera and Earth, Toynet, Kessler debris, I could go on. The sport of slanball is pretty cool too.

The supporting cast is wide and varied, though it focuses on Jenny’s family, a few professors, close students (including the players of her slanball team) and some of Dylan’s contacts (for his POV scenes). Jenny’s experiences at the school are also varied, from class work to parties to helping build houses for colonists.

The first few chapters contain a fair amount of repetition, especially with regards to Jenny’s family. Which makes it all the more strange that other concepts and terms are left unexplained. You figure out what DIRGs are pretty quick, but I don’t remember the acronym being explained. Similarly, Jenny notices an object on one of her teacher’s desks that affects the plot. She brings it up to another character, implying she knows the relevance of the object, but it’s not until the end of the book that as a reader I figured out what the object was and what it meant.

If you like a lot of character development and world-building in your science fiction, this is a highly entertaining, and sometimes thought provoking, read.

Last First Snow: A Novel of the Craft Sequence
Last First Snow: A Novel of the Craft Sequence
by Max Gladstone
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 27.40
31 used & new from CDN$ 23.87

4.0 out of 5 stars Fourth book published in the Craft Sequence but the first in the chronology, July 28 2015
Pros: interesting characters, brilliant world-building, some clever plot twists

Cons: tension lost if read previous novels, ending of final battle is a let down

Forty years ago the King in Red, Elayne Kevarian and Temoc Almotil met in battle in the Gods’ War. Now Elayne is back in Dresediel Lex, a Craftswoman and consultant for the King in Red on a contract to fix the Skittersill, the old temple slave’s quarter. But the people of the Skittersill haven’t been included in the deal, and their massed discontent could break the world. So Elayne goes to meet with its various representatives, including Temoc, the last Eagle Knight and priest of the old Gods, in hopes of resolving the tension peacefully. Temoc meanwhile struggles with the different demands of priesthood and fatherhood in this time of crisis.

This is the fourth published novel in the Craft Sequence, but the first chronologically. This book takes place in the same city, with many of the same characters (only younger) as the second published book, Two Serpents Rise. Having read that book, some of the narrative tension of this one is lost, as I already knew certain characters would survive. Similarly, though I don’t remember that book as well as I’d like, I had to reevaluate the relationships I remembered with the new, ‘prior’ relationships of this book. When the books are all out I look forward to reading them in order to see how well they follow each other, and how characters develop across the books.

The characters are fascinating and the world-building sound, as usual with Gladstone’s books. And that’s good, because there’s less judicial mystery in this story, with the centre being more character than plot focused. Both Elayne and the King in Red perform some interesting Craft, and you see the power of the defeated Gods in play at the end.

The big battle is quite apocalyptic, but ends somewhat disappointingly. It felt like the author’s hands were tied, needing certain people to survive for book two, and couldn’t quite figure out how to end the battle well as a result. There are some clever plot twists in the book, including the final battle, that were great though.

Despite its few faults it’s a great book and this is a wonderful series.

The Great Bazaar & Brayan's Gold
The Great Bazaar & Brayan's Gold
by Peter V Brett
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 15.37
30 used & new from CDN$ 8.87

5.0 out of 5 stars 2 Novellas + 2 scenes cut from The Warded Man, July 21 2015
This is a collection of 2 short stories and 2 passages that were cut from The Warded Man. Each story has a short introduction from the author explaining either where the ideas came from or why the scene was cut. The stories were originally published as limited edition hardcovers by Subterranean Press, with this new combined edition being published in trade paperback by Tachyon Publications. The book also includes a short Krasian dictionary, which is not really necessary as all the required terms are explained in the stories themselves, and some examples of wards and the types of demons they’re used to protect against, which is pretty interesting to read.

***** Brayan’s Gold - While an apprentice messenger, Arlen and his master are assigned a longer run than usual, transporting thundersticks to Brayan’s Gold, high in the mountains. But while the compensation is generous, the risks are also high: bandits, harsh conditions, and several nights outdoors with only warded circles as protection against demons. This is a fantastic story with a lot of different elements to it. There’s a surprising amount of variety to the troubles Arlen faces as he heads into the mountains.

***** The Great Bazaar - Using a map procured from Abban, a khaffit from the great bazaar in Fort Krasia, Arlen hunts for treasure, and discovers demons he’s never faced before. This story has scenes from both Arlen and Abban’s point of views. It’s a pretty focused story, but you do get to see a little more of what life is like for the underclass in the bazaar.

Brett manages to pack a lot of content into both stories and writes them in such a way that they fill in gaps left by the novels but explain everything required to enjoy them if you haven’t read the books.

***** Arlen - This is a prologue that didn’t make the book, dealing with Arlen’s life before the events of The Warded Man. It’s an interesting look at his youthful personality and how he was already pushing boundaries.

**** Brianne Beaten - This passage deals with a scene from Leesha’s life that kind of stands on its own, though it involves an unmentioned incident that ruined a friendship. It helps to know what that incident is, but the scene still works if you don’t.

It’s a pretty short book, but the stories are high quality and help flesh out Arlen’s character. If you missed the Subterranean Press editions, then this is a good time to get the stories. If you’ve never read Brett, it’s a great sampler of his work and will whet your appetite for more.

A Darkling Sea
A Darkling Sea
by James L. Cambias
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 14.45
36 used & new from CDN$ 7.14

5.0 out of 5 stars Great undersea alien first contact novel, July 14 2015
This review is from: A Darkling Sea (Paperback)
Pros: great world-building, fascinating alien species, diverse characters, interesting plot, stand-alone novel


An accident occurs among the humans observing the native intelligent life forms deep in the oceans under the ice of the distant planet Ilmatar. An alien race older than humans, the Sholen, have decreed that no contact be made with the natives for fear of human colonization. They send a ship to the planet to verify that no rules have been broken, but their inner politics dictate that the humans’ mission be shut down, regardless.

Meanwhile, Broadtail 38 Sandyslope, along with a group of likeminded Ilmataran scientists, makes a strange discovery that changes the course of his life.

I love it when the first paragraph of a book sucks you in and doesn't let you go. And this book has an awesome one:

By the end of his second month at Hitode Station, Rob Freeman had already come up with 85 ways to murder Henry Kerlerec. That put him third in the station’s rankings — Joseph Palashnik was first with 143, followed by Nadia Kyle with 97. In general, the number and sheer viciousness of the suggested methods was in proportion to the amount of time each one spent with Henri.

Rob Freeman is the research station’s underwater photographer and drone operator and the first, and only human, viewpoint character. Through him we see how the humans get along and how they react when the Sholen show up.

Our Showlen point of view comes from one of their two scientists, Tizhos, the subordinate in a race that focuses on consensus and achieves it via sexual contact. Through her we see signs of how their society works, using pheromones to calm and attract, as well as trying to subdue natural reactions, like anger and frustration, to maintain peace.

We’re given two Ilmataran points of view, one through Broadtail, a scientist and landowner, and the other through Strongpincer, a bandit. This, and Broadtail’s adventures, allows the reader to get a wider idea of the Ilmataran society.

The alien societies are quite fascinating, and distinct. Ironically, many of the problems that occur in the book are because each group expects that the aliens think and act the way they do - even when the person making this assumption knows better. So, for example, the humans’ passive aggressive screaming and handcuffing tactic isn’t understood by the Sholen, despite the humans thinking it’s a universal form of protest.

While I didn’t like all of the characters, I’m looking at you Richard Graves, there was a good variety of personalities and temperaments represented. Every character had their own motivations for what they did, and reacted differently to the various crises that occur.

The story was very interesting, with a lot going on all the time. And it's a stand-alone novel.

This is a fantastic debut.

Picturing the Apocalypse: The Book of Revelation in the Arts over Two Millennia
Picturing the Apocalypse: The Book of Revelation in the Arts over Two Millennia
by Natasha O'Hear
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 42.00
26 used & new from CDN$ 24.24

4.0 out of 5 stars A good overview of the illustrative elements that make up the Book of Revelations, July 10 2015
Pros: beautiful images, commentary on the images and the periods that produced them

Cons: repetition, very broad overview using a limited number of works, breaks 2000 years into 3 periods for discussion

[Note: The advanced reading copy of the book that I received for the purpose of this review did not include the colour plates. The authors give good descriptions of each photo and in most cases I was able to look the images up online.]

Picturing the Apocalypse breaks down the last book in the Bible, the book of Revelations, into its composite parts as a way of detailing how artists over the years have illustrated each part. The chapters consist of: The angelic guides and John’s journey, the Lamb, the Four Horsemen, the Seven Seals, the Woman Clothed with the Sun, the Satanic Trinity (ie, the beasts and Antichrist), The Whore of Babylon, Armageddon, the Millennium and the Last Judgement, the New Jerusalem and, finally, how the 20th and 21st centuries have utilized the imagery.

The authors picked a few representative works that they then used to illustrate the entirety of the book of Revelations. This allows the reader to see both how different elements evolved over time as people from different periods adapted them, and also to see how the same sources in each period illustrated the work as a whole. There are, of course, some works included in each chapter that only refers to that element (works where the artist didn’t illustrate the whole book but where seeing a few more examples helps show a wider range of influence). The downside to this is that you’re only seeing a limited sampling of what’s out there, but being comprehensive with so broad a topic would cause its own problems.

The illustrations and works they picked are of great beauty and show the different elements to great advantage. They also act as a jumping off point to doing more independent research.

Though the authors describe the images they’re citing very well, be prepared to flip back and forth between the text and images a lot, both because you’ll want to see what they’re pointing out in their descriptions but also because they often reference the images at different points in the text (so, for example, an image inset in chapter 8 will be mentioned in chapters 1 and 10 as well).

There’s a fair amount of repetition in the text and pointing the reader to the chapters where certain themes and concepts are addressed, giving the book the feel of something meant to be referenced by chapter (as by someone looking for images on a particular element) rather than something to be read from start to finish. The chapter on 20-21st C representations especially points the reader to numerous images already discussed.

The authors tried to show the book of Revelations in context for the different periods that they discussed, mentioning that the author of the book was writing it not long after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, when Christianity was being persecuted and when people were looking for a militaristic saviour/end of the world to come. Seeing how people of different ages turned the meaning of the vision to their own ends was fascinating.

Having said that, while I understand the necessity of mentioning the feminist critiques of the book, specifically that the depiction of women is stuck in the dichotomy of mother/bride/virtuous woman vs whore is important, I was a bit surprised at how… apologetic the authors were when presenting this 2000 year old text. Obviously the author and numerous illustrators weren’t concerned with 21st century ideals, so why should the authors of this commentary work feel the need to do more than comment on how perceptions change? Along the same lines, I was surprised at the authors’ attempt to reconcile the ‘good’ God of the New Testament with the destruction inherent in the book of Revelation. While Christ taught love, it’s clear that the God of the Old Testament had no problem with death and destruction (plagues of Egypt, ordering genocide of conquered nations, the flood). And this is the God that an early Christian, familiar with the Hebrew religious texts, would have been familiar with. Again, it seemed a bit strange that the authors were apologizing for a text and a view of the world that has since fundamentally changed. Simply mentioning that some modern people have trouble with the reconciliation of a vengeful God with the Christian message, and how it impacts the modern view of Revelations, would have sufficed.

While not perfect, this is an excellent primer for looking at the book of Revelation from a artistic standpoint. The authors have a deep understanding of the depictions of the various elements and make some interesting interpretations. And it reproduces some gorgeous images.

The Murder of William of Norwich: The Origins of the Blood Libel in Medieval Europe
The Murder of William of Norwich: The Origins of the Blood Libel in Medieval Europe
by E.M. Rose
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 30.95
19 used & new from CDN$ 21.21

4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating piecing together of historical clues, June 30 2015
Pros: fascinating interpretation, lots of endnotes and explanation

Cons: highly academic

The accusation that the Jews of the city of Norwich murdered the apprentice William in a mockery of the crucifixion, and the Life of St William that was later written, set the stage for similar accusations in the future, accusations that eventually saw Jews burned at the stake and expelled from the cities they called home.

This is a highly academic book that goes over a wide variety of background information (family trees, identities of various players - and their relations to others who may have had influence, the second crusade, the civil war between Stephen and Matilda, etc.). As Rose is using very limited sources with regards to the actual blood libel cases, there’s a sometimes circuitous route from the background information to how it ties into the cases. It’s quite a fascinating piece of deductive reasoning, putting minor clues together to form a cohesive and intelligent narrative, - even if it’s admittedly based on numerous suppositions.

Rose is obviously aware of all of the scholarship that’s been done on this topic and refutes a lot of theories. For example, there’s the idea that all blood libel cases involved rioting and executions or expulsions, which may be the case for later centuries, but when the cases first appeared any negative consequences generally followed years later, and tended to have political and/or economic reasons behind them (from forcing the Jews to ransom themselves so their captor could pay bills to acquiring their land and assets). While a lot of Rose’s conclusions are based on thin information, there’s enough supporting evidence to show that - though they can’t be proved conclusively -they are plausible.

Rose proves that the murdered children themselves (assuming there’s even a body) are secondary to the economic and political concerns of those citing the accusation. Though nominated for sainthood the boys hardly ever appear in liturgical calendars, prayers, artwork, etc.

I found the earlier chapters very intense, and had to pay close attention in order to not get lost in the various strings being woven into the narrative. Later chapters (particularly the ones in part 2), were much more linear and easier to follow.

Some of the background information was fascinating in its own right, like the extreme financial cost of going on crusade, the raids done by both sides during the civil war and how knights forced churches and civilians to ransom themselves to pay the costs of war (and/or for booty).  It also brought out the financial problems some nobles and churches had, and how unpalatable some of the clients were from the point of view of the moneylenders (both Christian and Jewish).  

Though the book is highly academic, Rose gave enough background information to allow me - a relative newcomer to the case - to follow along easily. Not only that, the book revealed a lot about the state of research on these cases and how previous historians have interpreted the data. It’s a fascinating history that examines numerous sides of the origins of the blood libel and how the story may have originally spread.

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