My February Reading Log

Last October, my friend Natlyn recommended A Study In Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas to me. I’d read Thomas’ historical romances; she has really lovely prose, but I found her romances stressful (very good, just stressful!). I bought the book for Xmas reading, then was sick the whole time, and finally got to it this month. I then devoured it in a little over a day, buying the sequel, A Conspiracy in Belgravia, when I was about two-thirds done. The premise is that Sherlock Holmes is a construct, like Remington Steele a mask for Charlotte Holmes, except a man doesn’t show up to play Sherlock on tv. Watson is Mrs. John Watson, a former actress who married an army surgeon who died in Afghanistan. Charlotte also has a sister, Livia, who is interested in writing, and an older sister, Bernadine, who appears to be severely autistic in that she doesn’t speak and is obsessed with spinning objects. Plus there’s a police inspector and his very interesting wife; an aristocratic archaeologist who appears to be a romantic interest of Charlotte’s, except he’s married to someone else; and a charming bounder whom Charlotte uses to achieve a goal. Though I figured out small parts of the mystery, I stayed up late reading it until the end.

[I seem to be on a binge of books with lots of outsider characters making lives for themselves, or at least getting the band together to do so. The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss is one, Winter Tide by Ruthanna Emrys is another.]

The Fishing Fleet: Husband-Hunting in the Raj by Anne de Courcy used memoirs and interviews with, mostly, “Fishing Fleet” girls, their suitors/husbands from the Indian Civil Service and army, and their descendants, to look at one of the outcomes of Britain’s imperial efforts in India.

There is brief discussion of British/Indian marriages and relationships pre-Raj, during the East India Company’s dominance, and the social changes that followed once the British Government became involved and began to strictly enforce hierarchy even more than was done in England. There’s also some minimal discussion of how Eurasians fared in the Raj period, including one family who went to lengths to conceal that they were mixed race. One reason given for the change is that British/Indian familial relationships were considered undue influence so far as governance was concerned. I am sure it was much, much more complicated than that, but this book does not attempt any major critique, instead focusing on the major result, which was that the British men in India now needed British wives, so women who couldn’t find a husband in Britain, or whose families lived or worked in India, traveled there with the express purpose of finding husbands.

‘Broadly speaking, European women in India may be divided into two classes: those who are or have been married, and those who most assuredly will marry,’ wrote Claude Brown in 1927. Courtship in the Raj took various forms. From the point of view of the husband-hunting Fishing Fleet girl, single men also fell into two categories: those who had passed the age barrier after which marriage was permitted, and financially possible, and – a much larger category – those who had not. As few Raj bachelors were allowed to marry until they were around thirty, husbands were nearly always quite a few years older than their wives, an age difference so usual that at one time its desirability was firmly embedded in the national psyche.

There’s also the tale of Rajendar Singh, Maharaja of Patiala, who in 1893 married Florrie Bryan by the Hindu and Sikh ceremonies united…the bride’s name was changed to Harnam Kaur. I was sad to learn they both died young, her probably of pneumonia and him after a riding accident in 1900.

I do not have a thorough grounding in this region or historical period at all, but by the end of the book felt as if I understood a great deal about these women. If you like anecdotal social histories, and books that focus on the realities of womens’ lives, and don’t mind reading about imperialists, you’d probably like this.

Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat! Vol. 3: Careless Whisker(s) by Kate Leth was as adorable as the previous volumes.

America Vol. 1: The Life and Times of America Chavez by Gabby Rivera and Joe Quinones was a metaphorical story of finding yourself through connecting with your ancestors, in this case slightly more literally because America’s grandmother is a superpowered luchadora, so I really don’t have to tell you anything else, do I? Except that America is trying out interdimensional Sotomayor University and there are appearances from the Ultimates, Kate Bishop-flavor Hawkeye, and Prodigy, as well as a couple of America’s girlfriends, old and new.

Black Panther and the Crew: We Are the Streets by Ta-Nehisi Coates blends of the history of the civil rights movement with comics mythology by flashing back to a crew of black Harlem superheroes from the 1950s, their successes, and their ultimate downfall. Their former leader, as an old man, dies in a police cell after confronting gentrifiers in the neighborhood, leading eventually to a team-up of Black Panther, Misty Knight, Storm, and Luke Cage. All of the heroes have differing opinions on what should be done, and why, and how. Hydra and the Americops serve as scarily accurate stand-ins for white supremacists and police violence, respectively, and also give enough fantasy aspect that this feels like speculative comics and not a manifesto. I think you can read this if you’re not familiar with the canonical characters, and probably should.

Black Panther Book 4: Avengers of the New World Book 1, also by Ta-Nehisi Coates, picks up after the civil war/various rebellions that were happening in Wakanda, and brings in a new plotline: the gods appear to have departed Wakanda. The storytelling feels smoother and easier than the first three volumes, and I really love the way the Wakandan gods are presented and dealt with as both spiritual and factual. Ends on a cliffhanger, which is kind of annoying since the next volume doesn’t come out until June.

Black Panther by Christopher Priest: The Complete Collection Volume 1 is first of the run that started in Marvel Knights in 1998. Priest was notable as the first black writer of the series (so far as I’m aware), though he chose a white point-of-view character, the hapless government flunky Everett Ross, who refers to King T’Challa as “The Client.” Ross is used to subvert expectations of what an African king might be, though he gradually comes to realize that T’Challa is even more brilliant and strategically-minded than can be immediately guessed. The reader’s realization is supposed to mirror this, I think.

Priest invented the Dora Milaje, the king’s female bodyguards; in his version, they are teenagers whose ceremonial position as potential wives for the king prevents war between their tribes. T’Challa calls them “concomitants” and in no way thinks of them as potential partners. Perhaps needless to say, they are not drawn as teenagers, nor do they wear armor. Ross’ attempts to avoid ogling them because they are too young are treated as a source of humor, as is their casual approach to violence, lethal or otherwise. I think Priest was, again, trying to subvert images of black women and how they’re perceived by white people with the Dora Milaje, but I was a little uncomfortable with their portrayal, too, particularly Nakia’s unhealthy obsession with T’Challa (discomfort probably intended by Priest). Towards the end of the volume, however, an activist teen from Chicago is recruited by the Dora Milaje, and I really, really want to see more of her. She meets Hulk, and extremely entertaining spoilers ensue.

This first volume frequently tells the story out of sequence, mostly for humor value, but it still takes some mental energy to parse, so if you aren’t fond of that sort of thing, be warned.

I’d been putting off Ms. Marvel Vol. 6: Civil War II by G. Willow Wilson because I knew it would be a stressful story, and it was, but it was also an important story for the character’s growth. And for those keeping track, there was a mention of Wakanda!

About Victoria Janssen

Victoria Janssen [she, her] currently writes cozy space opera for Kalikoi. The novella series A Place of Refuge begins with Finding Refuge: Telepathic warrior Talia Avi, genius engineer Miki Boudreaux, and augmented soldier Faigin Balfour fought the fascist Federated Colonies for ten years, following the charismatic dissenter Jon Churchill. Then Jon disappeared, Talia was thought dead, and Miki and Faigin struggled to take Jon’s place and stay alive. When the FC is unexpectedly upended, Talia is reunited with her friends and they are given sanctuary on the enigmatic planet Refuge. The trio of former guerillas strive to recover from lifetimes of trauma, build new lives on a planet with endless horizons, and forge tender new connections with each other.
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