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justice_turtle ([personal profile] justice_turtle) wrote in [community profile] readallthenewberys2013-08-26 03:09 am

Newbery Honor: Spice and the Devil's Cave (Agnes Danforth Hewes)

So. The next book on this list that I actually have is Spice and the Devil's Cave, Newbery Honor 1931, available free here thanks to the University of Pennsylvania.

I've read one of author Agnes Danforth Hewes's other Newbery Honor books, Glory of the Seas, a long time ago; the main thing I remember is that it was billed as being "about" a famous historical clipper-ship voyage, but in fact took place during the building of the ship and ended just before it launched. (I felt rather cheated. ;P) I'm expecting something similar from this book, which - if I know anything about historical-novel titling conventions - is set in the era of Magellan and Vasco da Gama, when everyone in Europe was trying to reach the "Spice Islands" by sea.

This is an extremely fraught historical era to read fiction about - everyone's got Opinions on the racial interactions and the scientific knowledge of the day, and which explorers were jerks and which were saints (they HAVE to be one or the other, don'tcha know, Conflict is the root of All Good Drama!), and where on the horrible/cool spectrum to settle the medieval tone of the story, etc etc etc. We'll see how this iteration holds up.

Anyway. Onward! :D

* The book is dedicated "To the memory of Arthur Sturges Hildebrand because of his beautiful Magellan". Apparently Mr Hildebrand published in 1924 a large nonfiction book about the life of Ferdinand Magellan, which Mrs Hewes obviously enjoyed. Possibly it inspired her to write this book or formed part of her research.

* (I use "Mrs" Hewes rather than my usual "Ms" because "Hewes" was her married name, Danforth her maiden name, and she wrote under the name "Agnes Danforth Hewes".)

* I also observe from that Wikipedia article that Ms Hewes grew up in Syria or Lebanon - the article isn't clear - and spoke only Arabic until age 12, which explains the slightly odd phrasing in the dedication: "because of his beautiful Magellan". I'll have to count Mrs Hewes as an EFL [English as a Foreign Language] writer and cut her some slack on odd or questionable word choices for that reason. Good to know. :-)

* The chapter headings are deeply mysterious in tone -- chapters 7-10 are simply called, in order, Scander, Sugar, Nejmi (apparently a girl's name since a later chapter is "Nejmi's Dowry"), and Debacle. But Vasco da Gama makes a couple of appearances, so until further notice, I'm calling this a book about the era of Vasco da Gama; my best guess is that it's set in whatever country he sailed from, around the time of his sailing or his return or both.

* He sailed from Portugal. Okay. Set in Portugal or Portuguese North Africa, then, in the late 1400s.

* The Introduction, by someone who is not the author - dratted publishers, formatting introductions like letters to the reader and only signing them at the end - confirms this. Apparently Mrs Hewes wrote a previous book, Swords on the Sea (lady's up there with William Morris with his Well at the World's End and Roots of the Mountains for evocative titles), about the trade-struggle between Venice and Genoa during the earlier part of the Renaissance, and now she writes about Portugal taking over the domination of the spice trade from Venice. Okay.

* Because Introductions are all about spoiling the plot for new readers - I'd skip this one, but I'm reading on my Kindle and it's less than easy - I learn that the story centers around a fictional Jewish gentleman named Abel Zakuto, his "workshop" in Portuguese capital city Lisbon, and his small group of acquaintances determined to find a sea route to the Spice Islands. Zakuto makes navigational instruments as a hobby, and meets Bartholomew Diaz, Vasco da Gama, and Ferdinand Magellan, but... ooh! By profession he's a banker. A Jewish banker. I have to agree with our unknown introduction-writer: this is a very unusual and commendable choice for the hero and centerpoint of a US-written adventure novel. Wow. O_O Do I have a tag for "protagonist is not a white Christian"? I don't think so. I need one.

* I don't know who "the heroic Covilham" is... ah. Pêro da Covilhã - pronounced "Pur-oh da Co-VEEL-ya", more or less. I still don't know who he is, but we'll hear about how he helped find the sea route to India.

* ...from "the uncomprehending lips of the mysterious Nejmi", apparently. o_O Here's hoping our introducer is wrong about their characterization of Nejmi, because that right there sounds to me like a standard Exotic Brainless Beauty(TM). :P

* More plot, more plot, and done. Our mysterious introduction-writer is one Curtis Howe Walker, from Vanderbilt University, of whom I have never heard before. He doesn't have a Wikipedia page (since he's self-evidently not black British comedian Curtis Walker, who's still acting as of 2013). He does have a Goodreads page, which credits him with one book about Eleanor of Aquitaine, and says he taught at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee from 1927 onward. He was reputedly born in 1853 and died in 1960, which is epically impressive if neither end is a typo. O_O Agnes Hewes was born in 1872 or 1874, so she belonged approximately to the next generation younger than Walker, but died only slightly after him. None of which... really matters. *g*

* Now the book actually begins! XD

* Chapter 1: "Out of the Night". Well, we jump right into the action: Bartholomew Diaz (original spelling Bartolomeu Dias, but I'll be using the book's Anglicized spellings of all Portuguese names so I don't get tangled up when I quote) is sitting at Abel Zakuto's workshop table, recapping to his friends how the Portuguese have sailed all down the west coast of Africa and put up stone pillars to mark their landing places. (Teeechnically these padrões indicated laying claim to the land, like putting up a flag in that one Eddie Izzard sketch, and Portugal did in fact build outposts and little colonies all along the sea route to India. But I'll cut Mrs Hewes some tentative slack, because it doesn't really make a difference right here that she chose to make Diaz more sympathetic by not mentioning that he's claiming the whole coast of Africa FOR PORTUGAL as he explores. Tentative slack. *dry grin*)

* The last stone pillar lies at "the big Cape", which we-the-readers know to be the southernmost tip of Africa. This is not, in fact, the Cape of Good Hope, as I'd thought; the Cape of Good Hope lies roughly 100 miles (180 km) west of the southern tip of Africa, and I have no idea why it's so famous, except that the Dutch built Cape Town there in the 1600s.

* The proper southernmost point of Africa is called Cape Agulhas -- "Cape Needles", named for the fact that compass needles pointed due north there, instead of pointing slightly to one side of the North Star like they did in most of Western Europe. (This phenomenon is called magnetic declination. I say "did" and "pointed" because it shifts over time. This fascinating animated map shows how magnetic declination around the world has changed since 1500. :D I love this stuff.)

* The actual place where Diaz first landed, after blowing southeast right past the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Agulhas, is currently called Mossel Bay, Dutch for "Bay of Mussels"; Diaz named it "Bay of Cowherds", but it was put into the Portuguese maps as "Bay of Saint Blaise", since he first landed there on February 3, the Feast of St Blaise.

* And although Mrs Hewes probably didn't know this because it fell down a gully and wasn't rediscovered till "the 1930s" (Wikipedia)... the padrão (singular of padrões) that Diaz put up is actually located near the Bushman's River Mouth, about 3km from the small town of Boknes, and somewhat east of Port Elizabeth, South Africa, which is to say, further east than any of those first three places. It's actually located at the point past which the African coast trends only north and east, rather than south any more -- which is to say, Diaz apparently insisted on going far enough to make sure you could actually get around Africa before turning back. :D BECAUSE BARTOLOMEU DIAS IS COOLER THAN YOU *koff* okay, I might have a major thing about pre-GPS explorers and navigation. Just wait'll we get to Carry On, Mr Bowditch. XD

* This map shows all four locations: "A" is the Cape of Good Hope, "B" is Cape Agulhas, "C" is the Bay of Mussels, and "D" is the original site of Diaz's padrão marking his furthest east. (A replica now stands there; the original's in a museum in Johannesburg.)

* Aaand back to the book; I might note that nothing since "the big Cape" was actually in it. The rest was all me googling. O_O Where was I? Right. Bartholomew Diaz is recapping how he put up a big stone pillar to mark the nearest he got to India before his crew made him turn back. Diaz wishes he hadn't had to turn back, and the other people sitting around the table look at him with "something very like reverence", because of his Heroism(TM).

* Flashback time! "Young Ferdinand Magellan" (original spelling Fernão de Magalhães) is one of those present. He recalls for the readers the first time he heard of Diaz. Magellan was born and grew up in northern Portugal, in a town called Sabrosa - Mrs Hewes tells us all this - and that's where he heard the story of Diaz's 1488 trip.

* (Hewes persists in identifying "the Cape of Storms" with the farthest point on Diaz's voyage, but perhaps that's what her research materials said. Or maybe she felt that introducing that whole mess with Cape Agulhas etc would only confuse young readers unduly, but I judge that as a motivation; she's writing for teens, and even in the pre-GoogleMaps era, they can jolly well open up an atlas. I have one right here, a nice school-quality Rand McNally from 1980, which I pull out every time I read a novel set in an unfamiliar area - that's how I learned all the British and French geography I know - and it marks both the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Agulhas, as well as the towns of Mosselbaai and, if the information about its relevance was available yet, Boesmansriviermund (Bushman's River Mouth), where Diaz put up his padrão. I suppose "it would slow down the pace of the first couple pages" would be... a less flimsy excuse, but this is the second thing she's elided if that's the reason - the first being the bit about the padrões representing Portuguese claims to the territory surrounding them. If she keeps eliding things like this I am going to start judging her for fair.)

* A-ny-way! Basically this was a really quick flashback, just Ferdinand thinking how exciting the story was and... oh dear... imagining Diaz's first sight of the Cape. I quote, "...the great Cape, waiting through the ages, bared its storm-swept head to hail this first white face." Ugh. REALLY? Because the arrival of "this first white face" is soooo important and Dramatic we needed a whole setup about Magellan's childhood daydreams to lead up to it. *sigh* :P

* Anyway, back to "the present" - little Ferdy looks at a part of the map and asks Abel Zakuto what "this name" means. The name is "Diab"; the cartographer who made the map pictured South Africa as an island (as happened back in the day), and called it "Diab" because, apparently, the Arab sailors who'd been that way had nicknamed the seas around the Cape of Storms / Good Hope the "Devil's Cave". Magellan remarks that this sounds exciting, and Diaz confirms that it was the biggest storm he, Diaz, ever saw. Then Diaz goes gloomy and stares into space, presumably wishing he could go back. (Diaz will die with four ships off the Cape of Good Hope on his next voyage south, as part of the Cabral expedition in 1500, if I'm setting up my timeline right. Perhaps he feels a chill over his grave.)

* Vasco da Gama, thirtyish, black-bearded and long-nosed, is next introduced. He is a gentleman of the Portuguese court, starting to "brush up on navigation" and look over Zakuto's maps, presumably in preparation for the (successful) trip around Africa to India that he's going to lead in 1498. Da Gama asks if Diaz is totally sure that the African coast goes northward after "the big Cape"; Diaz is sure but hasn't gotten to check, since the Portuguese are taking a decade-long hiatus from exploration. Their next big voyage will be da Gama's. Wikipedia suggests they were waiting on the information from secret agent Pêro da Covilhã (whom Mrs Hewes calls "Covilham", a legitimate variation of the name), who sent back notes about the geography of the Indian Ocean, where Madagascar was and so forth.

* Because this is fiction and we need to get our narrative set up, Ferdinand now remarks that "Covilham had no doubts about the coast east of the Cape"; that is, he believed as does Diaz that the African coast goes where in fact it does go, north and east toward India. The grown-ups smile at each other about how well-informed and spunky, bordering on sassy, Ferdinand is; Diaz gets a little internal monologue about "the stuff of which pioneers were made!" (Exclamation point original.) Covilham traveled overland with Arab merchants to India, then down the east coast of Africa to Madagascar, then called "Sofala" or the Island of the Moon. He sent back word from Cairo by a Portuguese Jew, Joseph of Lamego, about where he had gotten and about his confidence that it was possible to sail around the southern tip of Africa to Madagascar and thence to India. But in this story, anyway -- we don't know about in real life, all the records were lost in the Lisbon earthquake and the various Spanish wars -- in this story, even young Ferdinand Magellan knows that information, but the Portuguese still hesitate to send out another voyage aiming for India without any scouting information between (as the book has it) the Cape of Good Hope and Madagascar. Because... of reasons. o_O

* Everyone in this room is all in favor of getting another expedition sent out to explore past Diaz's farthest east and try to link up the route with Covilham's landing on Madagascar. (Covilham isn't here to speak personally; he was supposed to look for "Prester John's kingdom" as well as the sea route to India, so he went to Ethiopia from Cairo and was kept under house-arrest there for thirty or forty years until he died. No wonder I never heard of him. O_O) Presumably the story will be all about how these intensely heroic dudes manage to convince King John II of Portugal - or his successor, he dies in 1495 - to fit out Vasco da Gama's expedition which will succeed in getting to India.

* Yeah, it's King John's successor, King Manoel. King John had ships being built for the next expedition, but he died, and King Manoel has been putting off the matter. Everyone in the room rails in a near-treasonous fashion about how the King is stupidly messing around with politics and trying to quietly take over Spain, instead of sending off an expedition to India like they want. *blah blah blah* Obviously I'm supposed to sympathize with our Brave Explorers, but that's only sensible with hindsight. Looking at an actual map, if I were a new king with an uneasy eye on the expanding power of Spain right next door -- remember, Columbus may have already left on his voyage -- I don't know that I'd be any more eager to send off several ships and crews on a voyage of multiple years to check whether the 1700 or 1800 sea-miles between Diaz's farthest east and the southernmost point of Madagascar, are navigable or not. And Amerigo Vespucci hasn't even published his method of determining longitude yet, so nobody even knows it's "only" 1800 sea-miles or thereabouts. *throws hands in air* Aaaugh!

* EXPLORER FIC. I GET SO FRUSTRATED. :P The only one I've read that I really liked (and bear in mind this was decades ago) was Ship's Boy with Magellan by Milton Lomask, which told the story of Magellan's voyage absolutely straight, with the same important structural points I've read on Wikipedia and no forced villains, and used a framing-story of drama about the teen protagonist's onshore life to explain his presence onboard and give the overall book more closure. (Heh, now I kind of want to add that to the list. *pokes* Worldcat says it's copyright 1960. Okay, 1961 Mock Newberys it is! ...ooh, that's gonna be a tough one. Up against Island of the Blue Dolphins AND The Cricket in Times Square. Whoa.)

* 'Kay, Spain is outfitting Columbus for a third voyage, after he's returned from his first two, and John Cabot is also making ready to explore from England. That should give me a year for this book. Okay, based on Columbus's voyage timeline it's sometime between 1494 and 1498; based on Cabot's timeline, it's between March 1496 and either summer 1496 or summer 1497, depending which Wiki citation I believe; based on da Gama not having left yet, it's before July 1497 (when he left on his successful voyage which reached India in 1498); based on King John II being dead, it's after 1495. So it's 1496 or early 1497. :D

* Mrs Hewes directly accuses King Manoel I of Portugal of "callousness to the big issue of the time", i.e. not caring about a route to the Indies like everyone else, but I don't know that I believe this, since it was during his reign that Portugal actually established total European monopoly over the maritime Indian trade routes! While everyone else was busy with their Northwest Passages and whatnot. o_O I suspect your character motivations, Mrs Hewes. I suspect them hard. :P

* Anyway, Diaz and da Gama go off home, but Ferdinand and Abel stay to talk. Abel gets an internal-monologue digression about how young Ferdy exemplifies "the national character" of the non-Jewish Portuguese: "The sturdy build, the air of ruthless determination coupled with a certain arrogance toward danger, all reflected, Abel said to himself, generations that had been trained on Portugal's littoral to the combat of the sea, or hardened in struggles with the Moors." *siiigh* Because Lamarckian evolution totally works, yo! ...okay, remind me never to say "yo" again, but still. Ruthless determination, arrogance toward danger, BLAH BLAH BLAH. It's a standard Hero Teenager setup from this era -- he's assessed by a Wise Elder as having Good Blood, and a temperament is attributed to him that sounds Conventionally Heroic but would make him an absolute jerk and liable to an early death if he actually had it. Now he will go forth and be Conventionally Heroic, if the author can ever stop telling-not-showing. Sorry, I'm getting pretty snarky. o_O

* Abel's "stout" wife Ruth, a standard Jewish mother, brings in sweet figs for Ferdinand and Abel to snack on, and scolds them stereotypically about "How you can spend so much time over those stupid old maps I can't see." Because women can't be interested in Science! Well, I know some aren't and weren't, especially in an era when women weren't necessarily educated, but -- Mrs Hewes, I now require you to have a female character who is interested or who does at least Get It, that this is some important work right here, like all your Sympathetic Male Characters have *cue snark mode* instinctively felt. (Note: She did not say "instinctively felt". That was me channelling Charles Boardman Hawes. ;P) Just one female character who doesn't dismiss Manly Stuff in this "my brain is not big enough!" way.

* Ruth is short, stout, trots about doing housekeeping, and is "practical" under this definition: "anything... outside of established fact she treated as cobwebs or weeds", that is, she has no time for speculation or imagination and thinks Abel et alia are wasting their time by caring about Thinky Stuff. Bleh. I am not encouraged to think whatsisface-the-introducer was wrong about Nejmi's "uncomprehending lips".

* Ferdinand goes on and on for a while about how awful it is that Portugal should lose out on the Indies trade, about how King Manoel is doing wrong, about... basically Ferdinand, with absolutely no Watsonian-level excuse, is Passionately and Insightfully declaiming everything that will actually turn out to be true, how he'd "stake [his] soul" that the Diaz/Da Gama route will work out, how he doesn't think Columbus has actually found the Indies, blah blah blah. Yadda yadda. Because Magellan is the teenage protagonist and the reader is supposed to Identify with him.

* Anyway, Abel sees a scrawny, frightened young lad out the doorway, and stops and stares. Ruth runs to the boy and pulls him inside -- and it turns out, it's a girl, with long dark braided hair hidden under her coat. (More appropriate for middle-grade publications than any other way of identifying a girl, even if it is somewhat clichéd by now. *dry grin*)

* Ferdy and Abel pace in the garden courtyard, discussing the girl, while Ruth presumably takes care of her indoors. They speculate about where she's from; Ferdy points out that she can't be an escapee from a slave ship because "slaves are black as ebony" while this girl's skin is "like yellowed ivory, or like those lilies in the moonlight." (Yes, I'm pretty sure young Ferdinand is supposed to be smitten. Can't have a teen adventure with a GIRL in it without a smattering of romance! *extreme sarcasm*)

* The girl doesn't speak any Portuguese or Hebrew - at least, I assume that's what Ruth means here by "our language" - so Abel and Ferdy plan to nose around discreetly in the morning and try to figure out where she may have come from. She seems to have run away from some captors, and to have fought to do so, by the scratches on her hands and the blood on her coat. That ends this chapter, but I'm going to take a stab in the dark and say this is Nejmi, who will give us the information we need about the missing 1800 sea miles between Boesmansrievermond and Madagascar. *snarky face* It'd be too much of a coincidence to have TWO teenage girls in the same Adventure Book! ;P

* Six percent in. I'm calling that enough for tonight. Bleh. I actually am trying to like this book... *sigh*

* Onward to chapter 2! The chapter title is "Nicolo Conti". Nicolo Conti is a gentleman on a Venetian ship - named, with little imagination, the Venezia (Venice) - who's watching the ship's crew unload a cargo of sugar. They're in a hurry; they should have finished unloading yesterday when they arrived, but couldn't find the harbor equivalent of a parking spot till late. Nicolo has a brief conversation with the Captain, noting that Nicolo's luggage is already on shore and that Nicolo himself will be staying in Lisbon rather than returning to Venice. Is Nicolo an agent of the Venetian government charged with keeping Portugal from sending out the da Gama voyage? MAYBE.

* The sea-captain is... weirdly pushy about how Nicolo should be staying in Venice, how it "was good enough for all your people" and how he should stay there and increase the fortune his family left him - the captain sounds like a dad. A stereotypically unadventurous dad telling a would-be explorer or entrepreneur to settle down and stay with the family business. It's a strange passage. This guy is a SEA CAPTAIN, why's he telling someone else to stay at home. O_O

* The captain is also an "old friend", which I suppose accounts for the dad-tone... sort of. It's still weird.

* Mrs Hewes just doesn't have a very good grasp on English tone, I think. Nicolo thinks over what he needs to do once the captain finishes some business and comes back to say goodbye properly, and one of the lines is that it's "lucky that [Nicolo] could speak Portuguese". Unless this is a much less planned venture than I've got the impression it is, why would Nicolo be here if he COULDN'T speak Portuguese? O_O

* Nicolo sees young Magellan poking around, trying to read the Venezia's name off her prow (I don't know enough about ships of this era to know if that's accurate), and we get another outside POV explaining how awesome Magellan is from his appearance. He has "the most remarkable eyes -- eyes that made you stop and look, for they seemed like fires under his thick black brows." Nicolo is "sorry" when Magellan moves on to look at the next boat down the dock. Also, Magellan is "rather younger" than Nicolo; at a very rough guess, I'd put Magellan in his mid-teens and Nicolo in his late teens or early twenties here. Lemme check if that's accurate - the part about Magellan, I mean.

* Okay, Magellan was born about 1480, so he would be about 15 or 16 years old at this time. Niccolo de' Conti was a Venetian traveller who traveled to Southeast Asia in the mid-1400s, but who died in 1469 at the age of 73 or 74, so this is definitely not he. Perhaps it's his... son? Nicky here would have to be at least ten years older than Magellan for that to work, and anyway Niccolo de' Conti apparently had no more kids after 1444; maybe a grandson, grand-nephew, something like that. Anyway, this Nicolo Conti is fictional, I'm pretty sure. I'm going to say he's about twenty years old till further notice.

* No, Nicky isn't a Venetian spy; he seems to be betting that Portugal will succeed at becoming a hub of industry via the upcoming da Gama voyage. This just gets odder and odder.

* There's a mysterious interchange between Nicky and the captain about how they've got a former pirate as a pilot; the man deserted his pirate ship to join them, it seems, and is very good at his job. Clearly this is Foreshadowing, but of what? No -- the gent is leaving the ship to stay in Lisbon as well. Maybe he's the spy, or some sort of villain. Or maybe I'm reading too much in. I'm pretty sure something is being Foreshadowed about the former pirate pilot, anyway.

* (If it wouldn't be confusing with "Ferdy", I would totally nickname the unnamed pirate pilot "Frederick". Because you can never have too many Gilbert & Sullivan references. *whistles* I bound him to / A pirate -- you! / Instead of to a pilot. XD)

* Now Nicky has gone on shore, the ship has left, and there's some sort of altercation going on among some prosperous merchants about the cargo the Venezia left on the dock. Nicolo meanders toward them and overhears that a barrel, supposedly full of sugar, is empty! Well, that's a twist. Huh.

* Nicky speaks up in defense of the captain, whom one of the merchants is accusing of having shorted him the sugar; then Nicky gives the man the cost of the sugar out of his, Nicky's, own purse, which I presume will make him a bit short of funds in the following pages. It makes him a friend, though -- the merchant says "if there's anything I can do", and Nicky asks for directions to an eatery. The merchant sends him to "The Green Window", a little tavern off the town square which serves very good mutton stew.

* On his way to the Green Window, Nicky looks around and gives us an overview of Lisbon - bright-colored, hilly, bustling with noise. It's implied to be better and more exciting than Venice in every good way: "Life moved faster here, and more simply." I'm getting a feeling that Mrs Hewes doesn't know how to describe anything without using loaded words.

* Nicky goes to the tavern and eats two bowls of stew - he's very hungry, and he also likes the proprietor, "a quaint little man with kind eyes" - while listening to some sailors gossip at the next table. He "absently" notices someone who isn't described come in and sit down at the far end of the room, which is a slightly clunky way to foreshadow that this person is going to have an effect on the scene; I would've left it at mentioning a few random people sitting around the tavern, and let the Important One only turn out to be one of these when needed.

* Anyway, the sailors belong to various ships leaving harbor on the next tide. One is going to Madeira for wood, another to the Guinea coast - part of Africa - for black slaves and gold. Others go to the Cape Verdes, the Azores, and the Canary Islands, all Portuguese-owned (at that time) islands in the Atlantic off the west coast of northern Africa.

* Ah. The Important Person who came in halfway through Nicky's supper is young Magellan -- aka "The boy with the eyes!" We get a whole 'nother paragraph about Magellan's amazing eyes, which I'm going to quote in full just because: "Arms folded on his chest, head dropped a little forward, the great eyes seemed to burn far into some future world. Glowing fires, thought Nicolo; the most extraordinary eyes ever lodged in a human head; uncanny, only for the sheer beauty of them." Is... is anyone else starting to feel like Nicky may have a wee bit of a crush here? ;-)

* (Love triangle: Nicolo likes Ferdinand but Ferdinand likes Nejmi! All based entirely on their respective love interests' looks! How will they resolve this terrible trilemma?! Find out in this latest installment of Historical YA Romance Novels! ...okay, I might enjoy that more than I'm enjoying this, especially if it was resolved with "actually getting to know the person you're crushing on", although I'm pretty sure it wouldn't win a Newbery Honor citation. XD)

* (If Nicky keeps crushing on Ferdinand this hard I might have to write fanfic about them, though. *g*)

* Ferdinand and Nicky bond over Nicky's having been to sea while Ferdinand wishes he could go; Ferdinand's a page at the royal palace and has "a half dozen" more years of service -- till he's 21, I guess? It's historical fact that Magellan became a page to the Portuguese queen at age ten due to the death of his upperclass parents, but Wiki isn't telling me anything more about his life until he goes to sea at age 25 and spends eight years in India serving the Portuguese governor there.

* Yeah, Nicky has a MAJOR crush. "There was something refreshing, lovable, in [Magellan's] frankness." I don't know that Mrs Hewes meant these lines to come across this way, but that's how they do come across. :D

* Ferdinand apparently nips off from the palace without permission to hang out down here and listen to the sailors gossip. He changes out of his page uniform - which of course is characterized as terribly uncomfortable - and wears beat-up old hunting clothes from home, so as to blend in.

* Oh, Gordon Bennett. Nicky assesses Ferdy as "a homesick, country lad", but then qualifies this with "But well born, you could tell, from that forthright way of his. No heritage of the yoke in him!" Which... is accurate in that Ferdy IS well-born, and also sort of accurate in that people who've experienced racism or classism do tend to act more careful and tentative in their dealings with new people who might be racist or classist at them -- but "heritage of the yoke" is THE MOST CLASSIST POSSIBLE WAY to say that second part! As if the lower-class people were beaten-down and not forthright because it was "natural" to them instead of because they learn that from PEOPLE BEING CLASSIST AT THEM. At us. Whatever. :P

* Ferdy is Free-Spiritedly Rebellious(TM) about the formalities of castle life, like helping the King get dressed and picking up ladies' handkerchiefs for them. He says "why the devil shouldn't a woman pick up her own handkerchief when she drops it?" I AM DISAPPOINT, Mrs Hewes! You're old enough to have worn a corset instead of a bra. Good luck bending over in one of those things. (Also, in Spain at that time, women were wearing the first proto-hoop skirts, which aren't much fun to bend over in either.)

* Anyway, Nicky's joking response is "Women have a way of getting back at rebels like you!" If we don't get a nuanced portrayal of or reference to a female character pretty soon, I'm going to be VERY CROSS. :P

* Then the boys talk about each other's business, which they've overheard - Magellan knows some Italian, and eavesdropped on Nicky and the captain. Nicky doesn't explain the incident with the pirate pilot, but does mention that he thinks Diaz is on the right track to India; Magellan offers to introduce Nicky to Diaz sometime, and Nicky takes him up on it. Then Ferdinand leaves to go back to the palace.

* Also, Nicky has a major crush on Ferdinand. Super-major. "Nicolo looked after him with a warm little stir at his heart. Those brilliant, brooding eyes... that lovable frankness, even if indiscreet... the sensitive colour, and, again, those altogether extraordinary eyes!" You know, I'm kind of sad now that this story definitely isn't going to end up with Nicolo and Ferdinand dating. :P It'd be cute. Sappy, but very cute.

* Nicky goes back into the tavern, asks the owner - an old man named Pedro, whose "kind eyes" I quoted about before - where he can find lodging, and winds up with an attic room right over the tavern.

* Apparently Nicky also has business with Abel Zakuto in Abel's position as a banker; we're losing no time in introducing everyone to everyone! XD The tavern owner points out Zakuto's house, high on the hillside on which Lisbon is built, and Nicky makes note of it and plans to go there "some day soon". End chapter 2.

* Chapter 3: "Abel Zakuto's Workshop". Abel has just come home from searching for some clue to the identity of "the Girl", capital letter original, as he's referring to not-yet-called-Nejmi in the narration. Ruth's been taking care of "the Girl" but apparently hasn't tried the hand-gestures "me Ruth, you...?" method of finding out her name, or else it hasn't worked. o_O Anyway, now Abel's going to take the afternoon to work on his maps and navigational instruments. He seems to be looking forward to it. -- ah, he's skipped work to come home and play at his hobby, so he feels a little guilty. We get a description of the workshop...

* ...wait, WHAT? OKAY I AM JUDGING YOUR RESEARCH VERY HARD MRS HEWES. She says that Abel's workshop has "large panes of clear glass" in "casements that ran the width of the workshop", giving him a lot of sunlight and a nice view down to the harbor, and that his neighbors laugh at him for choosing this in opposition to the "fashion for mullions". *sigh* *deep breath* AGNES DANFORTH HEWES WHAT ON EARTH DO YOU THINK YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT, PLATE GLASS WAS NOT AVAILBLE UNTIL THE 18TH CENTURY AT EARLIEST, THE ONLY THINGS ABEL HAS AVAILABLE ARE CROWN GLASS OR BROAD SHEET GLASS LEADLIGHTS, MULLIONS WERE NOT A FASHION THEY WERE YOUR ONLY CHOICE FOR GLASS WINDOWS, HOW DARE YOU CALL YOURSELF A HISTORICAL NOVELIST?!?!?!?!

*breathes* Okay, I'm good. ...mostly. Really, though! People in the Middle Ages didn't universally have small leaded-glass windows because it was a fashion. They had 'em because that's all you can do with the types of glass they could make back then. If a real workshop of the time wanted a good view, they couldn't have glass windows. They could have a hole in the wall. That's why any type of work that needed ventilation was done in sheds. :P

I... I dare to say, this is the worst example I've seen yet of rejiggering history in order to make your Sympathetic Character seem more Modern as opposed to the Benighted Medievals. *facepalm* I'm at 10% of the way in, but I might not finish this book.

* Moving on -- oh, I can't even. She says Abel plans to make "a metal astrolabe like those the Arabs had used for centuries, but as yet unknown to western navigation". There are, let us be very clear, two different instruments by the name of "astrolabe". One is this kind of astrolabe, invented by the Greeks, used by Islamic cartographers from the 8th century onward, and well known in Christian Europe by 1300. The other kind is the mariner's astrolabe, a much simpler, rather chunky tool that may well have been invented around the year 1500, but was invented by the Portuguese rather than being made on a Middle Eastern pattern. The materials Abel plans to use for his astrolabe imply that it's the first type linked, which... again I say WHAT, Mrs Hewes. You're writing historical fiction, that means you have a duty to your readers to check your facts! :P

* Abel goes to work on a compass-box made of mahogany (presumably African mahogany), and while he sharpens the saw so he can cut the wood easily, he thinks about how Ruth will come in at some point and scold him for wasting time in his workshop instead of MAKING MONEY. He dismisses the imagined reproof with a "contemptuous" snort - why did he marry this lady? Just to be married? They seem very ill-matched - and gives us a flashback about the great Portuguese explorers he's befriended through this hobby.

* There was "Diego Cam" [sic], properly spelled Diogo Cam at the time and now spelled Diogo Cão, who explored a good deal of the west coast of Africa in the 1480s; there were Christopher Columbus and John Cabot, who apparently both came to Abel Zakuto's workshop (in this universe) after their plans to sail west were rejected by King John II of Portugal; there was "Pero d'Alemquer", properly Pêro de Alenquer in Portuguese or Pedro d'Alemquer in Spanish, who sailed with Diaz and will sail with da Gama; and Martin Behaim, who...


Okay. *deep breath* I said Abel Zakuto was fictional, right? You know who's not fictional? Abraham Zacuto. I GIVE UP. Read the Wiki article, you'll see. He's supposed to be Royal Astronomer And Historian of Portugal until December 1496 (I'm pretty sure it's 1496 because of reasons), he does invent the mariner's astrolabe (assertion not cited) but the materials Mrs Hewes listed are not for the kind of astrolabe he's inventing, he compiled the first accurate table of solar declination - a thing that could only be used with the new astrolabe he invented and made it much more useful for navigating on long sea-voyages away from land... this guy is Father of the Age of Exploration, not that I'm certain he'd like the title.

AND SHE GIVES HIM THE WRONG NAME. "Abel" is not equal to "Abraham", lady! WHAT IS GOING ON. I do not trust you any more. At all. Ever. Blah. Blah, I say!

* Where was I? Martin Behaim? I don't care about Martin Behaim. I'm going to skim very lightly over some more of this book and see if any of it encourages me to go on. :PPPPPPPP THIS HAD THE POTENTIAL TO BE A GOOD BOOK.

* Okay, "the Girl" hasn't said anything since she came to them. Ruth is worried.

* Ahaha... Ferdinand's pretty smitten with Nicolo in return. Listen to this: "At first glance you'd think him a bit of a dandy[...] but when you saw the swell of his chest under his doublet, and the buttons of his hose all strained out at the calf... And he's plucky, too." Heh. Seriously, if there was any hope that Ferdinand/Nicky would actually turn out to be the young-love romance of the book, I'd keep reading. But there's not. Blargh. :P

* Abel wonders if Nicky is related to Niccolo de' Conti, the Venetian historical traveller whom I linked further up.

* Oh, lordy. I'm done. Abel muses "If she would only talk!", and Ferdy laughs, "One of these days she will -- being a woman!" I AM JUST DONE. :P No more, Agnes Danforth Hewes. No more. I had better taste than I knew, disliking the last book of yours that I read. O_O

*flips through a few more pages* Wait, Abraham Zakuto is appearing in this book as well? He's Abel's cousin? What is this even.. I'm beyond done. I'm just... I can't any more with this even. O_O
pedanther: (Default)

[personal profile] pedanther 2013-08-26 02:52 pm (UTC)(link)
I agree with the guy in your icon. o_O