Rape and child abuse in a fairytale setting. With lots of hounds. I quite enjoyed this while I was reading it - it's a compelling story, and not *that* badly written. But looking back on it afterwards, it left a bad taste, and I find myself remembering the inconsistencies more clearly than the plot which pulled me along as I was reading it.
And I really like hounds and can tolerate rape in fiction. If you aren't keen on hounds and find fictional rape hard to read, I think you'll like this even less than I did.
The Fall of Rome - Bryan Ward-Perkins
Very readable account (factual, not fiction) of the end of the Roman Empire, emphasizing the arguments for a fairly catastrophic economic impact on living standards and trade. Also entertainingly emphatic about things that cannot be deduced from post-holes.
Has a very sweet conclusion where he says, essentially, that he isn't deliberately blaming anyone for the fall of Rome, but that he does think that a 'crisis' happened to Rome and we shouldn't pretend it didn't, as it could happen to us. Well said Bryan! :-D
The People of the Sea - David Thomson
I have a feeling someone on Livejournal recommended this, but I can't remember who it was now. It's lovely: a personal account of the seal-legends of the isles of Scotland and the West coast of Ireland, written down, rather lyrically, in the 1950's. It even has a section in the back of seal-songs - and by that, I mean not just songs about seals, but songs sung by seals. I loved it. I'm not sure how much of it is fiction and how much is an attempt to accurately transcribe myth, but I don't really care. As a whole item, it is quite wonderful.
Gullstruck Island - Frances Hardinge
I liked Frances Hardinge's Fly By Night, but I think this one has got that little extra something that makes a book memorable years on, that Fly By Night didn't quite have.
Bloodline - the Celtic Kings of Roman Britain - Miles Russell
Song for A Dark Queen - Rosemary Sutcliff
First, chronologically speaking, in my big pile of Roman-setting Sutcliffs : the tragic, doomed story of Boudicca. I'd read this before several times, but I re-read it recently. It's very dark, especially for a children's book - she doesn't pull her punches, everything in Cassius Dio's not-really-very-contemporary-but-best-we'v
Boudicca is horrifying in this, but the writing is fabulous, and for me, it really works. Even though Boudicca ends up doing horrifying things, I felt that I ended up caring for the character and feeling a sort of understanding for her.
The Silver Branch - Rosemary Sutcliff
This is set in the 290's and told from the viewpoint of Flavius, a decurion, and Justin, a surgeon - two descendants of Marcus Flavius Aquila, the protagonist of 'Eagle of the Ninth'. The 'little emperor' Carausius has set up as ruler of Britain with the aim of making it into a small stand-alone empire, but he's murdered by his nasty treasurer Allectus before he has the chance to really get going. Allectus is a definite Baddy - he's even allied with Saxons, which is pretty much always a really bad sign in Sutcliff, so it's down to our heroes to do everything possible to make it feasible for Constantius Caesar to come sweeping in and mop him up.
I can't quite pin down why this book doesn't work for me. I really thought I had not read it, but then realised as I went along that I must have done - I remembered all the nice little incidental details about the farm on the Downs and Portus Adurni (Portchester) But I'd forgotten the plot and characters, and I think the reason is that there are just too many people - all of them with just one main distinguishing feature - and we never really get to know any of them well enough to actually care about them. And the plot doesn't quite make sense, somehow.
Frontier Wolf - Rosemary Sutcliff
My copy of this is disintegrating due to insane numbers of re-reads. I must get another one.
Poor Aquila. And his poor wife and son, too - he turns out a bit of a nightmare dad, Aquila, but you can sort of see why.
Also includes the vital advice: Never trust a man with long sleeves. Indeed. *nods*.
Re-reading this, the only thing that jarred just a little was the !EVIL! role given to Ygerna (playing the Morgawse role as Medraut's mother and Artos's sister). We don't really get to see Ygerna actually doing anything evil (other than seducing Artos) and I found myself asking just why Artos is so convinced that she is such a nightmare. I suppose that's part of the point of Ygerna, but still, it niggled.
The romance between Guenhumara, Artos's wife, and Bedwyr rings completely true though. Poor things. But on the whole: WOW. What a book.
This is a retelling of the story of Y Gododdin - the poem that commemorates a force of warriors who around 600AD rode South against the Saxons, and were wiped out.
As such, you do kind of know where the story is going to end, but it's beautifully told, anyway. I think I felt it was perhaps just a little slow - compared with some of her other works, this is quite a small story, though she does a good job of introducing characters and giving them a backstory.
I have another modern retelling of Y Gododdin around somewhere, called Men Came to Catraeth - will have to re-read that and compare.