Books I read in May

Alternate timeline with magic; discovery of 3000 year old giant robot parts on Earth. Other alien robots arrive and very bad things start happening.

The Herald of Day by Nancy Northcott

I enjoyed the world-building in this, and the Richard III stuff. The plot got a little stalled in the middle, and I wasn’t too sure about the sections in the world of the dead, but there are some really interesting ideas in this book. My criticism would be that there are no PoC and no LGBT people (both of them existed in this period); but I think this other review is overly harsh. It’s not that plodding in the middle, and I thought the class-related aspects were not all that unbelievable. In the Tudor and Stuart periods, the social classes were not quite as polarized by differences in manners as they became in the 19th century; and Miranda is a middle class person who’s down on her luck, not a working class person. I also liked the characters very much. I do object on philosophical grounds to magic-wielding characters who derive their magical powers from a special genetic heritage though (I have the same objection to the Old Ones in The Dark is Rising series). Anyway The Herald of Day was a fun romp through Restoration England, and I liked the use of alternate timelines and Richard III loyalists. If you enjoyed Josephine Tey’s Daughter of Time, you’ll enjoy this.

Sleeping Giants, Sylvain Neuvel

I’m reading this for the science fiction reading group I’m in. We had a copy in the house but I had never got around to reading it (Bob bought the whole trilogy a couple of years ago).

Anyway, it’s really good. I’m not sure why some aliens from three thousand years ago left a giant robot on Earth, but I can imagine events playing out pretty much the way they are depicted doing, if such a robot was found. And I’m certainly intrigued as to what will happen when they succeed in reactivating it.

The book is written using the “archive of documents” technique, which is a classic science fiction trope. I like the characters too; they’re quite nerdy and dysfunctional.

A possible reason why the robot was left on Earth is mentioned by the end, but it’s not clear if it’s the real reason, or if the man who offers the reason is really who he says he is.

Waking Gods, Sylvain Neuvel

The second book in the Themis trilogy, of which Sleeping Giants was part one. Much of it was horrifying as more robots arrive and start wiping out large numbers of people. But it was also very compelling; I read it in two nights. Much more is revealed about where the robots came from and what the aliens want. The backstories of some of the characters are revealed, including the mysterious man who assembled the team in the first book.

The themes of this book are what does it mean to be human? how many deaths are deemed to be an “acceptable risk”? (a very relevant question in a pandemic); is it acceptable to do unethical things “for the greater good” (and which things)? Several of the characters answer these questions for themselves, but the author leaves the reader to think about them, which is good.

Only Human, Sylvain Neuvel

Part three of the Themis trilogy. In many ways, I think this is the best of the trilogy. The characters acquired more depth and the plot twists are excellent. (Spoiler alert) I’m not quite clear why Eva forgives her dad for what he did. Except that he’s her dad, I suppose. In many ways, despite the setting, this is a book about what it means to be human. I have to say though, if you’re a Canadian writing a book partly set in North America, why are there no Indigenous people in it? Once again this was completely gripping, though I did get a bit confused sometimes as to who was talking (the author uses the Francophone convention of putting a dash before a piece of dialogue to indicate that a new person is talking).

Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer

I got this book for Yule and started reading it in April. It’s a very rich book: natural history, history, reflections on friendship and family. Robin Wall Kimmerer is a member of the Citizen Potawatomi First Nation in the USA, and a professor of botany. She talks about reciprocity and the gift economy too, both of which are still living parts of Indigenous cultures, and which we as Pagans need to recover from our ancestral past (which Heathens and other polytheists are already doing). She has succeeded in marrying Indigenous knowledge of plants with the scientific discourse on plants. If only more people would learn to respect and work with land and plants and ecosystems in the way that Indigenous Peoples do.