readallthenewberys: animated gif of Snoopy writing a story with multiple strange subplots (Default)
[personal profile] justice_turtle
[Note: I'm planning to post Mondays and Thursdays for a while. Also, I have my laptop hooked up to a desktop monitor and it seems to be working okay.]

Summary: A fictionalized version of the year or so leading up to Vasco da Gama's 1497 voyage to India, seen through the eyes of the young Ferdinand Magellan and a highly fictionalized Jewish banker named Abel Zakuto.

Reaction: Oh, where to start? O_O I only got 13% of the way in before I gave up on this mix of bad research and utter nonsense with a nice thick scoop of misogyny on top.

Every single thing that could be slanted to the glory of Western explorers has been slanted so. Every single reference to women in the book is derogatory and stereotyped. There are two female characters, but by the point I stopped, it hadn't passed the Bechdel test even by implication, because one of them didn't talk, even offscreen.

And as far as I can figure, the portrayal of the political situation in Portugal at that time was made up out of whole cloth... to the point that "Abel Zakuto" was made up as a separate character from real-life Portuguese Royal Astronomer Abraham Zacuto, and was given most of Abraham's true history and accomplishments, apparently just to separate "Sympathetic Hero Character" from "person who has any sympathy or respect for the Portuguese monarch"! O_O BECAUSE CONFLICT, that's why. If you don't have a villain, make one up! *sigh*

Conclusion: One star. Half because because Mrs Hewes has an enjoyably brisk writing style well-suited to adventure stories, and half because -- even though it wasn't actually meant to come across as a romance -- the budding gay teen romance between young Ferdinand Magellan and fictional character Nicolo Conti was adorably sappy and quasi-realistic.
readallthenewberys: animated gif of Snoopy writing a story with multiple strange subplots (Default)
[personal profile] justice_turtle
Summary: In the English port town of Boston, Lincolnshire, near the beginning of the fifteenth century, three plots are getting started at once. One concerns a mysterious man who's been repeatedly sneaking into the town in different disguises; one concerns the master of customs, who has gotten (honestly) rich off export tariffs on English wool and sheepskin, but is now starting to act in favor of home industry and the expansion of England's sea power in defiance of the Hanseatic League with which he treats - all of which makes his colleagues on the town council mistrust him; and one concerns Tod of the Fens, a rogue japester, and his band of merry wastrels, who fish for their livings and befool their fellow man at every opportunity for fun. There's also a romantic subplot involving the customs master's teenage daughter. I won't spoil anything further for you. ^_^

Reaction: I was a bit dubious at first, as the book's front-loaded with a chapter full of research and set-up, and another one introducing Tod with, hm, a certain amount of confusion and obfuscation all round. But after that, things get moving at a good pace, and every one of the characters except the major villain (an evil pirate captain! :D) gets a well-rounded characterization... even the Scolding Housewife and the Noble Popinjay. This book is full of the BEST BANTER EVER - I swear, I wouldn't know Shakespeare hadn't written it if it weren't prose - as well as the BEST RESEARCH EVER. The 15th-century characterization is absolutely spot-on perfect in every particular, even to the casual belief in the supernatural with not one occurrence of "of course we 20th-century humanists know better". The clothing is perfectly accurate period, as are the ships, and the geography and even the wind directions are well researched. I can't swear to the political climate but I will lay odds it's perfect. ;-)

Plus, after their first chapter or so, the antics of Tod et alia are way less embarrassment-squicky than I had feared. The romantic subplot with the customs-master's daughter is wonderfully handled; the author works around the social necessity of arranging a marriage by letting the boy and girl meet first, and having them become fast friends so naturally that I squeed over their relationship every time they took the spotlight through the whole book. :D The town's politics and the way everyone's individual purposes interact are extremely well-drawn. And while the pirate company of Evil Germans are Evil, they're not opposed to a uniformly shining company of Englishmen (or Englishwomen), nor do they cause everything that goes wrong in the course of the book. In fact, they're a bit of a distraction. :-) And the goodness or reliability of the characters is not predicated on their social class, or even on their preoccupation with class status. In short - this has the least simplistic characterization and the least OMG 1920S I have yet seen in a Newbery, iirc. :D

Conclusion: Five stars. All in all, a truly remarkable book, and you should read it here posthaste if you have any interest in Merrie England with politics and banter and subplots and RESEARCH. :D (And if you're okay with a lot of "thou" and "shouldst", because the language is pretty accurate, at least compared to Malory. But I found it very readable. Admittedly I find Shakespeare very readable.)
readallthenewberys: animated gif of Snoopy writing a story with multiple strange subplots (Default)
[personal profile] justice_turtle
Summary: cut for spoilers )

Reaction: also cut for spoilers )

Conclusion: Two stars. It has a clever plot with plenty of foreshadowing and twist reveals, hard to summarize in a sentence or two, and one of the female characters gets to save the lives of the two titular male heroes at one point. (Admittedly, by running to fetch male deus-ex-machina character spoilers ); it doesn't speak well to the general quality of adventure-stories that even this amount of agency for a young lady strikes me as very rare in adventure stories with a male main.) But its historicity runs to the dubious, and the levels of racism, classism, and especially ableism are really terrible.
readallthenewberys: animated gif of Snoopy writing a story with multiple strange subplots (Default)
[personal profile] justice_turtle
Summary: In the first half of the book, Prince Henry the Navigator gathers learned men and explorers to discuss the possibility of land across the ocean at a great banquet. We hear four main stories - Atlantis, Maelduin (I never heard of him before), St Brendan, and Leif Ericson. The second half of the book focuses mainly on Columbus, with a chapter on Ponce de Leon, one on the exploration of Virginia by the English, and an epilogue in which a young Martin Waldseemuller meets Amerigo Vespucci.

Reaction: Well, it's a good thing he titled it Legends And Histories. Given that qualification - it's a good book. Not quite up to Golden Fleece standards; it suffers a lot more from "then this happened, then that happened!", which I think is partly because the bits I recognize are very close translations of the original tales. The Leif Ericson chapter, especially, is just about as detailed (in a Padraic Colum writing style) as the translated-into-prose Vinland sagas that I read a few years back!

It is not entirely historical - not that I quite expected it to be. ;-) The Ponce de Leon chapter, of all things, was the one where I kept having to tell myself "it's a fairy-tale, sit back", because it's a lot more fantastical than some of the other chapters for the same time-period.

Conclusion: Four stars. I'd give it five, but by sticking so closely to the original European sources he chose, he very firmly sidesteps any questions about Spanish or English treatment of the First Nations peoples in the Americas. *frowny face* I'd like to be clear, he does try very hard to paint the First Nations people in a good light, and even gives some of their own names for places (as Guanahani for San Salvador / Watling Island) - but he also does not cast ANY shadows on Columbus and his ilk. For which I judge him. *judgey judge judge* *ilk ilk ilk* ;-)

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