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Wrap Up: August 2020

  • The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie (★★★★☆)
  • Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie (★★★★☆)
  • Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie (★★★★☆)
  • The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang (★★★★★)
  • The Dragon Republic by R.F. Kuang (★★★★★)
  • The Burning God by R.F. Kuang (★★★★☆)

MONTHLY TOTAL: 6
YEARLY SO FAR: 80

So! This was an unusual reading month. I read fewer books, but they were all gigantic fantasy tomes, so in terms of number of pages, I probably read way more than I usually do. I had committed this month to finishing three fantasy series, but I only managed two – the Daevabad series will have to wait!

It was also a good reading month, because I very much enjoyed everything I read. I hadn’t expected to become so attached to Joe Abercrombie’s First Law world, but thanks to the character of Inquisitor Sand dan Glokta, I am now an avowed fan, and am very much looking forward to reading his latest trilogy set in this world.

And then, of course, there’s The Poppy War trilogy, which…utterly destroyed me. I have no words, really. This is such an incredible trilogy. It’s flawed, to be sure, but any minor criticisms I may have pale in comparison to the sheer brilliance of the character work and dynamics, the military strategy, the twists, the magic system, the character dynamics, and the complex interrogations of war, morality, imperialism, and so much more. I only just finished my ARC of The Burning God, and I’m pretty sure I’m still in shock.

Binging fantasy series is fucking fantastic, because I can get totally immersed in the world and characters, and I can also remember things! I don’t have to strain to recall why this detail matters or who this character is or what this plot twist meant. I just remember it all! It’s great! But – it’s also kind of draining, especially when it’s grimdark fantasy! Like, this has been a lot. I feel like I’m gonna need multiple palette cleansers before diving back into high fantasy.

To that end, I am currently reading:

Yes, I know Harrow is technically fantasy, shhhhhhhh…I started it on a whim earlier this month because I was just so damn curious about it. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Gideon the Ninth, but I’m utilizing a different strategy for Harrow, which is: reading any and all spoilers and fan theories. And it’s working! I actually understand what I’m reading, which makes for a much more enjoyable experience.

The nonfiction I am reading is basically a series of essays about various Shakespeare plays. I have always deeply disliked Shakespeare’s works, but over the past few months my friends Rachel and Abby have been giving me remedial Shakespeare lessons, which is kind of like…drunk recaps of Shakespeare plays, but nobody is drunk. It’s hilarious and super fun and probably the only way I will ever engage with Shakespeare’s works (I still have no desire to actually read his plays), but it got me really interested in the themes behind the plays, so I’m reading this book as per Abby and Rachel’s recommendation!

And finally, Raven Leilani’s debut contemporary is the Messy Woman Book of the season; everyone has been talking about it and loving it. A contemporary certainly makes for a good palette cleanser from high fantasy, and it’s a very short novel. I’m only a few pages in but I really like the writing; it’s incisive without being overwrought. Hopefully it stays that way!


Television Update

I…failed miserably in watching what I wanted to watch. If you’ll recall, last month I had a whole list of shows I needed to catch up on, but instead I just…watched other things. And now that the final season of Lucifer is out on Netflix, that list only gets longer!

Dublin Murders

I’m going to mildly spoil the series here – nothing major, but if you prefer to go into your mystery series without knowing anything at all you might want to skip this part.

I haven’t read the Tana French novels this series was adapted from, and I didn’t even read a summary of the books or the series before jumping right in, because if’s a British crime drama, I’m just gonna give it a try no matter what. All I knew going in was that it had something to do with a potential connection between an old crime and a current crime, and that one of the detectives was somehow involved.

The setup is this: Detectives Cassie Maddox and Rob Reilly are investigating the murder of a 13-year-old girl in small Irish town where twenty years ago, three children went into the woods, and only one came out. The other two children were never found. Unbeknownst to everyone but Cassie, Rob Reilly is actually the child who survived that ordeal years ago, but he has no memory of what happened. Rob becomes convinced that the two events are connected and is determined to investigate. In the meantime, Cassie deals with her own case, where a woman who has been using Cassie’s former undercover identity turns up dead.

Essentially, we’re dealing with three mysteries. Before you go in, you might want to know: only two of these mysteries are resolved. One of the more contentious aspects of this series is that the mystery of the missing children, which appears to be central to the plot, is never resolved. We never find out what happened to those kids, or to little Rob. Normally, something like this would frustrate me to no end, but I actually think it worked decently here. Maybe it’s because the other two mysteries were resolved so neatly, and, in the case of the murdered girl, shockingly (I did NOT see that killer coming!). But it may also be because of the way the crime of the missing children was framed; that is, there are hints of supernatural elements.

It’s quite odd, actually. It’s almost as though Dublin Murders desperately wants to be a supernatural drama but can’t quite commit. The tone is dark and moody. There is an archeological dig in the woods where the murdered girl was discovered, and one of the archeologists was found performing a bizarre ritual to an old god. When Rob was found as a child, his shoes were full of blood and his shirt had three huge scratches in it, but he himself was unharmed. Rob frequently hallucinates a large wolf; it’s unclear if this is the result of trauma or if it is a supernatural element. The woods seem to loom in the background of this town, watching, haunting, a silent but sentient spectator. It’s tense and creepy and ambiguous, and I loved it.

The fact is, leaving the mystery of the missing children unsolved puts us in Rob’s shoes. It helps the viewer understand the self-destructive path Rob embarks on, as he torpedoes his life (and Cassie’s) in his desperation and frustration to discover what happened to him as a child. For Rob, the end is bleak, hopeless, and frustrating; he has achieved no closure, and he has only succeeded in ruining his career and the best relationship in his life. And it was all futile.


Grantchester (Season 4)

Spoilers for the third and fourth season will follow!

This season of Grantchester needed to accomplish two things: get rid of Sydney Chambers (since James Norton decided to leave the show) and introduce Will Davenport, the new vicar of Grantchester. Unfortunately, James Norton’s decision to leave the show came a bit too late, as at the end of the third season Sydney Chambers would have had the perfect excuse to neatly exit the show, in a way that made sense for his character, as Sydney had decided to leave Grantchester and marry Amanda (whom he could not marry as a vicar, since she was a divorced woman). But then Sydney got cold feet; I assume this was because Norton was meant to still carry the show. He dumped Amanda and returned to Grantchester.

This likely left the writers in a bit of an awkward conundrum. After all, they had just established that Sydney was unwilling to leave Grantchester even for the love of his life. Now, they needed to come up with a reason that he would be willing to do so, and they needed to accomplish this in only two episodes. It was a tall order, and I don’t think there was any way to do it well.

In the first episode, Sydney meets Violet, an African-American civil rights activist whose brother is murdered while his father, a reverend activist, is speaking at an English church. Sydney seems to fall in love with Violet form the moment he sets eyes on her. From there their relationship is intense and rushed; within two episodes, they are declaring their love for one another, and Sydney decides to emigrate to America to be with her.

It’s…certainly a bold choice, in many ways. The decision to pair Sydney with a black woman and uproot his life for her no doubt had the racists crawling out of the woodwork. I do think this works, though, for Sydney’s character, as he’s always seemed to want something just a little bit more to do with his life, and committing to the daughter of reverend who has dedicated her life to fighting for civil rights seems apt. And Violet and Sydney fit; they balance each other nicely and they have a lot in common. Plus this way he gets to remain a vicar, which has been established as his true calling (which I guess is why they couldn’t just have Sydney go back to Amanda).

The problem, unfortunately, was that Violet and Sydney met and eloped in two episodes, when they should have had at least an entire season to develop their relationship. It’s inevitable that Sydney’s decision seems flimsy and rash, because there hasn’t been enough buildup, but that isn’t the fault of the characters, or even the writers; after all, they had to write James Norton off somehow. Viewers will just have to suspend their disbelief and pretend that Sydney and Violet’s relationship developed over a longer period than it did.

As for Will Davenport, he’s…fine, I guess? He has an interesting background, which is explored in the final episode of the season, where his family features in the central mystery. Like Sydney, Will is conveniently modern, hip, cool, and chill. He has a decent enough dynamic with Geordie. I mean, Will is basically a Sydney stand-in. I have no doubt this series could continue just fine for another few seasons; I binged it in a single day and it was entertaining enough.

I do have to say, though, watching Geordie play tough cop hits different after everything that has happened this year. In just one season, Geordie intimidates witnesses, harasses teenage boys, is physically abusive to another teenage boy, outs a gay man, and is in general a dickish cop. The thing is, he isn’t really behaving differently than he used to, but typical cop behavior is just so glaringly obvious now that I’m hyper vigilant about it.


The Secrets She Keeps

I won’t say very much about this six-episode series, because I went into it completely blank and honestly, I think that’s the best way to experience it. The only reason I watched it was because it stars Jessica De Guow and Laura Carmichael, two actresses I adore, and I had some vague sense that it was some kind of domestic thriller. That’s all I needed, really.

I watched this for six hours straight. It’s tense and addicting, and it also does a great job with its characters. Nobody on this show is a good person, or even particularly likable; they are all deeply flawed, and their secrets are threatening to catch up to them. It’s great if you’re in the mood to watch a mindless thriller, and I always am!


The Bletchley Circle (Season 1)

I feel the same way about this show that I do about Call the Midwife: vaguely lukewarm. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with The Bletchley Circle, and on paper it should be the sort of show I love! It’s a British period drama, set in the early 1950s, following a group of woman who were codebreakers during WWII and are no solving a grisly serial murder. The women are all distinct and cool and the crimes are violent and interesting. It has one of my favorite actresses, Sophie Rundle, in one of the leading roles. And yet, I have no desire to watch the second season. What went wrong? I have no idea. Perhaps, like Call the Midwife, this will be something I return to in fits and starts (that is: I often watch one-off episodes of Call the Midwife when I’m in a particular mood), because I thin I’m vaguely invested enough in the character to maybe finish up the second season.


Films

Links to Letterboxd reviews. No new film favorites this month, sadly. Gotta up my film game next month.

Oh but also: Florence Pugh is a national treasure.


Other Reading

The Truth About Owls by Amal El-Mohtar: A short story about identity, coming of age, war, family, and, of course, owls. It’s one of those short stories where nothing really happens, because the plot isn’t particularly important. But it’s gorgeously written.

Five Times Harrow the Ninth Uses the Language of Fanfiction to Process Grief, and One Time It Doesn’t by Natalie Zutter: Hey, remember when I said I was reading any and all spoilers and theories about Harrow that I could find? Well, this is one of them! This discusses the various fanfiction tropes being utilized in Harrow and what that means for the narrative. It’s such a great explication of what the hell is going on, narratively speaking, in this book, and it immensely helped my understanding. And of course, I grew up on fanfic, so I very much appreciate seeing it discussed in relation to a published book! (Incidentally, one of my favorite fanfics ever utilizes the Five Times format, and it’s called Five Things that Never Happened to Sansa Stark, and I think I read it on Livejournal back in the day, and oh, how I wish I could find it again!)


Miscellaneous

Uhh. August kind of flew by, and I don’t think I did anything significant in any sense, unless reorganizing my TV masterlist onto a Trello page counts? It’s actually pretty exciting for me, because my old TV masterlist was on a Tumblr page, which was a logistical nightmare to edit. Trello is soooooo much easier and more versatile, even if it doesn’t look as nice. Still. When it comes to my television record-keeping, I really should value functionality and versatility over aesthetics.

I am trying to be more mindful of writing and writing as a daily habit. I really want to finish my novella-turned-novel, temporarily called THE IMPOSSIBLE GIRL (yes, I know a well-known and beloved book that I have yet to read shares that title, which is why this is temporary, but I have to call this thing something and I’m awful at titles), which I haven’t worked on in months, because I’m realizing I started it last autumn! I had made a promise to myself last autumn that I would have it finished before the year ended, and I managed that, and then in 2020 I decided to expand it into a novel, so now I am wondering if perhaps I can finish it up as a novel before the year ends. There would be a lovely symmetry to that. I’ve been distracted by the high fantasy idea I’ve been working on for the past couple of months, but hopefully now that autumn is coming in I’ll be more in the mood to work THE IMPOSSIBLE GIRL and get it done!

Otherwise, I am just super excited for spooky season!!! I literally live for these last four months of the year, so I’m going to be even more obnoxiously optimistic and jolly than usual, and with an added dose of energy too! Can’t wait!!!

3 thoughts on “Wrap Up: August 2020

  1. im so excited to read The Poppy War!! im not much of a fantasy reader but i feel like everyone has been loving this book, regardless of what genres they normally read 👀 and i felt the same way about Little Women…everyone has ADORED this movie but i felt like it was fine?? i enjoyed it, but it wasn’t mind blowing to me either….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Poppy War is the fantasy series I whole-heartedly recommend even to folks who don’t usually read fantasy! The writing style is super easy to get into and as a fantasy it’s very accessible and not at all overwhelming. There are some fantasies where you need all these glossaries and character lists but The Poppy War isn’t like that at all! It’s very heavy on the military strategy and violence, but with such wonderful characters that you get attached really quickly!

      I think there’s a lot of nostalgia attached the Little Women movie, but I’ve never read the book and have never seen any other adaptations! I knew nothing about Little Women before this movie.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. ok i am SOLD i need to read this book now – im so desperate to love a book that’s in a series, it’s always so nice knowing you get more time with characters that you love ❤

        Liked by 1 person

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