Review – The Gabriel Hounds

Cover of The Gabriel Hounds by Mary StewartThe Gabriel Hounds, Mary Stewart

Mary Stewart’s romance/suspense/mystery type novels have been my go-to comfort reading for a while. Unfortunately, now I’ve finished them all and I’m back to the beginning. I mostly grabbed this from my community library to demonstrate that we should totally keep Mary Stewart on the shelves because people want to read ’em, but I’m pretty sure this was the first of her books I read (other than The Crystal Cave), so it makes sense to start over with it!

I think I appreciated it more, this time. I wasn’t sure what to expect from it before, and I was still in a fairly snobby stage about anything with romance in it, but now I’m happy to sink into Stewart’s romances and enjoy the atmosphere, the way she establishes a sense of place. The landscape is as much a part of this as anything else: dusty, hot, romanticised.

I still stick by the judgement that it’s basically Famous Five for adults, in terms of the mystery. Replace drugs with treasure and you’ve got Five on Treasure Island, basically, apart from the fact that then George marries one of her cousins at the end. There are a couple of reasons why the cousin relationship is creepier than normal here: they were brought up practically as siblings, called “the Twins” by their family; their fathers are identical twins. So in terms of DNA, they’re half-siblings, pretty much, bar any epigenetic modifications. I know that maybe it wouldn’t have been viewed that way then, but it still skeeves me out a little.

Still, for drama and adventure and a glorious atmosphere, plus the fact that at least Charles and Christy don’t have a weird power imbalance to their relationship, I have to give this a higher rating than I did before. The other bad point is, of course, the treatment of one of the only other “on-screen” female characters, Halide: a bigger stereotype of the scheming simple Arab servant, I’m not sure you could have. So not 5/5, even if I do really appreciate some aspects.

Rating: 4/5


Review – Ludo and the Star Horse

Cover of Ludo and the Star Horse by Mary StewartLudo and the Star Horse, Mary Stewart

Took me a while to get hold of this, as I don’t think it’s currently in print. I wasn’t expecting much of it, since I knew it’s a children’s story, but I do love Mary Stewart’s work, and this morning I was feeling moderately dreadful, so something comforting sounded like the perfect plan. And this was just right: a little bit like Seaward, but with more the maturity level of The Dark is Rising; a little bit Narnia, but sans Christian allegory.

It’s a quest story, relatively simply: it goes through the zodiac, to catch up with the sun, to allow Ludo’s old horse Renti to join the horses of the sun now that he’s old and lame and beyond working any more. Ludo isn’t the sharpest tool in the box, in the sense that… well, to borrow the imagery from the book itself: he’s still an unshaped piece of wood, a little rough, not the best quality. But inside that, there’s a shape just waiting to be carved out, one full of life. He’s a plain sort of boy, with no special talent, but that doesn’t mean he’s not worthy, or that he won’t grow up into someone perfectly capable, maybe even very gifted.

Since it’s a Mary Stewart book, I wasn’t surprised at all by the very firm sense of place in the opening chapters in Bavaria. I liked that she didn’t just pick a kid from the English countryside, and that he really was just a plain ordinary boy with some potential, the same potential as anyone else.

It’s not deep, but it is charming; a fairy tale quest through the zodiac and, perhaps, home again.

Rating: 4/5

Review – The Rose Garden

Cover of The Rose Garden by Susanna KearsleyThe Rose Garden, Susanna Kearsley

I didn’t have to read much of this to realise that Susanna Kearsley’s work is going to be the perfect replacement for the comfort reading I got all the way through in the last two or three years (Mary Stewart’s romance/adventures). It has the same sense of place, the beautiful descriptions of landscape, and the same sort of heroine: female, curious, about to be swept up in bigger events than she’d ever have expected. And better: this is explicitly fantastical, where most of Mary Stewart’s books were more mysteries, sometimes with hints at fantasy.

And better again, whew, we don’t have first cousins getting married at the end.

It does start off with kind of a slow pace, and Eva is only rarely involved in actual action, despite the backdrop of free trading and other such types of derring-do. And it is indeed a romance, so the ending is a happy one for most of the characters (though there’s a sadder note, too, with Eva’s sister’s husband; I was glad there was some closure at the end of story with him as well, even if it was a sadder story), and there’s plenty of romance going on — not just for Eva, but in the background. And yeah, I think Fergal and Daniel take the time travelling woman a little too lightly. They’re curious, but not curious enough to feel realistic. They both just decide to protect her right away.

But I enjoyed it anyway: it has a great atmosphere, and the writing flows well. It’s a bit like The Time Traveler’s Wife, I guess, in that I wouldn’t want to examine how the timeline works too closely lest it fall apart, but it was the ideal fluff, and it had enough substance that I cared about the characters.

Rating: 4/5

Stacking the Shelves

Once again, a quiet week! Which is good, since that’s what I’m aiming for. I did get two new books — rewards for finishing books two and three of my Open University course!


Cover of Dreamer's Pool by Juliet Marillier Cover of Prickle Moon by Juliet Marillier

I’ve read (and reviewedPrickle Moon already; it’s lovely. And I’d been wanting Dreamer’s Pool for a while!


Cover of The Gabriel Hounds by Mary Stewart

Just one, a bit of self indulgence — I’ve read all of Mary Stewart’s romances, but this was the first one I read, and I’m looking forward to going back to it. Frothy comfort reading for the win! Though right now, I’m digging into Soulless (Gail Carriger) for that!

Oh, and the latest issue of Thor came out, too.


Thor #4

How’s everyone else doing? Broken your resolutions yet?

What are you reading Wednesday

What are you currently reading?
If Walls Could Talk (Lucy Worsley) for non-fiction, which is pretty fun for light reading.

For fiction: Fever (Mary Beth Keane), which I started reading last week, read half of, and then haven’t picked up since for no apparent reason. It’s interesting, though, because it tries to take the perspective of Mary Mallon, aka Typhoid Mary. I keep meaning to look up some of the details to see how much of it is accurate and how much total fiction. Also The Hollow Hills (Mary Stewart), and The Just City (Jo Walton), but work seems to be coming in sufficient profusion to stop me actually finishing anything at the moment.

What have you recently finished reading?
The Eerie Silence and The Goldilocks Enigma (Paul Davies). He loses me a bit when he goes into string theory and the like, and I know that some smaller aspects are gonna be out of date since it was written before the Large Hadron Collider was up and running, but for the most part I hung in there. The Eerie Silence leaves me very sceptical about the possibility of extraterrestrial intelligence, but then The Goldilocks Enigma seemed more positive again… Odd, from the same author!

What will you read next?
I agreed to do a buddy read of The Goblin Emperor (Katherine Addison), this weekend; other than that, I’m not looking beyond the stack of half-read books at my bedside!

Top Ten Tuesday

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday theme is books on the winter TBR. I’m not very specific about stuff like that, and I’m dreadful at getting round to books on time, but here’s more or less what I’m planning…

  1. Mary Stewart, the Merlin trilogy. The first book was a reread, but with The Hollow Hills I’m breaking new ground. And enjoying it, thankfully; I still think Rosemary Sutcliff has just about everyone except maybe Steinbeck beat, but I’m enjoying Stewart’s work more than I remembered.
  2. Jo Walton, The Just CityI got distracted from finishing this off by family visiting, and because I can’t take it to clinic with me (I’m only allowed my ereader because it’s quite discreet!). So I’m planning to finish it… probably before the start of December, really.
  3. Tanya Huff, The Enchantment EmporiumAlso been on the go for a while, whoops. And it’s fun!
  4. Ben Aaronovitch, Foxglove SummerBecause omgggg.
  5. Garth Nix, ClarielBecause I’m dreadful and still haven’t got round to it after I wasn’t able to read it on the Eurostar on my last trip.
  6. Brandon Sanderson, Steelheart. Because superheroes! And it’s about time.
  7. Samantha Shannon, The Bone SeasonI’ve been meaning to pick this up for a while, and with the next book out soon, it seems like it’s about time.
  8. Guy Gavriel Kay, The Lions of Al-Rassan. I’m still working on reading all his books in chronological order (by publication), so this one’s up next.
  9. Henry Marsh, Do No Harm. I’m starting the long road to becoming a doctor, in theory. Marsh’s topic (brain surgery) fascinates me, and I feel like I should be learning everything I can and just soaking up the knowledge in that way I have of gaining things by osmosis. (Ask my mother. I don’t know how to pronounce a lot of words because they just slipped into my vocabulary via books, without me ever hearing them. She thinks it’s funny.)
  10. Bernard Cornwell, The Winter KingBecause there’s no better time, with a title like that, right? But also because the Mary Stewart re/read is putting me in the mood for other historically based versions of the story.

What about everyone else? Share!

What are you reading Wednesday

What have you recently finished reading?
Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell, which I mostly enjoyed with some mixed feelings, and The Sleeper and the Spindle, by Neil Gaiman, which has really beautiful art. Reviews of both will, of course, be forthcoming.

What are you currently reading?
The Just City, by Jo Walton. I’m about a third of the way into it now, and very engrossed, although it is driving me to want to find my old copy of The Republic and read up on what it says about art, given the art-focus of several characters. (I mean, I distinctly recall it being rather dismissive of any mimetic art, and sculpture and painting of the human form are definitely that?) Also, I keep peeking at the back for the list of who the characters were as historical figures, and poking through their Wikipedia pages. I feel rather history-deficient about some of them, and I studied Classics and Philosophy!

What are you going to read next?
I should get on with Mary Stewart’s Merlin books, so that’s The Hollow Hills. I’ve also got endless amounts of ARCs to catch up with, of course, so there should be something from that list — Alan Bradley, perhaps.

Comics-wise, I still have Ms Marvel: No Normal and Captain Marvel: Higher, Faster, Further, More to read, so I’m sure they’re coming up soon. And the Black Widow comic, and the Kate Bishop as Hawkeye comic, and… yeah.

Review – The Crystal Cave

Cover of The Crystal Cave by Mary StewartThe Crystal Cave, Mary Stewart

There’s still a lot about The Crystal Cave that bothers me, but I think, on balance, I liked it better now than I did the first time I read it. As I’ve said, it’s Misogynistic Merlin, which is my least favourite flavour — you have some clear-headed, quick-thinking, powerful women, but then you have lines like this: “Duchess and slut alike, they need not even study to deceive.” And the whole bit about weak female magic and Merlin needing to be a virgin and blahblahblah. Could definitely have done without that.

Still, not having recently read Sword at Sunset, or anything else of Rosemary Sutcliff’s, this managed to have something of that flavour without the narration, and the characterisation of Ambrosius, being too much overshadowed by Sutcliff. I know for sure which one is the better book, and which one I enjoy more, but this doesn’t stand up so badly when it’s not right up against something by a master like Sutcliff. I got more into the relationships this time, though I wish Merlin didn’t leave such a trail of servant characters dead in his wake. I liked Cerdic, liked Cadal; their deaths because of their faith in Merlin were pretty hard to take. I know he does acknowledge a measure of that but still, gah. The relationship between Merlin and Ambrosius really does work, though, the slow realisation of what’s going on there, and their closeness. Also the fact that Merlin isn’t forced to be a warrior (though that makes the ending, where he is, doubly odd).

The mix of magic and science here is a little weird. The standing stones are raised using math, but the prophecy really is second sight; the dragons are just symbols, but the vision is real. It’s like a step between out-and-out fantasy and realism. There’s nothing wrong with that, I suppose, but I tend to prefer things that go at it a bit more unequivocally! If Merlin can see the future, why is there no other magic in the world?

Anyway, I’m going on to the other books now, though I seem to recall from summaries there’s more flavours of misogynistic Merlin awaiting me.

Rating: 4/5

Review – She Walks in Darkness

Cover of She Walks in Darkness by Evangeline WaltonShe Walks in Darkness, Evangeline Walton

She Walks in Darkness is a posthumously published book written back in the 60s by Evangeline Walton, the author of The Mabinogion Tetralogy. It’s a Gothic novel, and reminds me somewhat of some of Mary Stewart’s work: the heroine, the cultural/historical background, the overall tone… not a bad thing, since I quite enjoy Mary Stewart’s work. Both invoke the atmosphere well, though Stewart’s heroine is in general a bit more proactive and generally intelligent than Barbara, our narrator.

The narration itself confused me a little. Not in detail, but in style and execution — the tense wavered, and sometimes Barbara would be telling another person’s story so closely that it would slip into third person narrative, as if she’d been there and could know everything that happened, only for a jarring transition back to Barbara’s opinion on it.

Other than that, though that’s a pretty big but, it’s well-written and I liked the basis on Etruscan history/mythology and theory. Some of the imagery of the statuary and paintings was just gorgeous.

Review on Goodreads.