Scandal in Babylon by Barbara Hambly is a reworking of her fantasy novel Bride of the Rat God as a straightforward historical mystery set in 1920s Hollywood. I was always sorry there weren’t sequels to Bride of the Rat God, so this made me very happy, and I hope it turns into another series. British scholar Emma Blackstone was widowed by World War One and lost her parents and brother to the 1918 influenza pandemic; she now works as a secretary for her sister-in-law, lovable and extravagant silent film star Kitty Flint/Camille de la Rose, as well as caring for Kitty’s three Pekinese. Emma has a budding romance with calm and competent cameraman Zal Rokatansky, who’s clearly head over heels for her but patient with a slow paced relationship. The mystery revolves around a murder that seems a clear attempt at framing Kitty; so clear, in fact, that it’s suspicious. I enjoyed the mystery but was really in it for the delicious specific details of making silent films, from “motion picture yellow” foundation makeup to editing of title cards to vivid cameo appearances by Gloria Swanson. Like in Hambly’s Benjamin January series, the ensemble cast is catnip to me as well.
I read a galley of The Misfit Soldier by Michael Mammay because I really enjoyed Planetside, his debut military sf/mystery. The new book, out in February 2022, is essentially a military sf heist novel, except the heist is organized to rescue an abandoned soldier from the war zone, and also to accomplish [a spoiler]. The first-person narrator, an unenthusiastic soldier who joined the military to hide from gangsters, has a knack for choosing the right people for the right job and is always a few steps ahead of the plot.
Doll Bones by Holly Black was this month’s TBR Challenge book for the theme “Gothic.”
nor need we power or splendor by shellybelle is a long novel about the three-way romantic relationship between Clint Barton (Hawkeye), Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow), and Laura Barton, using some elements of MCU canon and others from the comics, so I couldn’t always predict what was going to happen with some major events. The story jumps back and forth in time, sometimes easy to follow and sometimes a little less so. The writer took a realistic approach to the characters, their evolving polyamorous relationship, and their raising of the Bartons’ three children.
The Arithmancer by White_Squirrel is an AU of the Harry Potter series with Hermione Granger, a mathematics prodigy, as the lead character. Given that this first story alone is over 500,000 words, I am not sure if I will read the whole series, which is more than a million words long. It’s clear that it was its own phenomenon in the fandom. The author looks deeply into how magic might work if approached with science and mathematics; also how events might have turned out if there was more consent and more safeguarding of children than in the canonical series. For instance, why in the world would Hermione’s parents let her keep going back to Hogwarts, if they knew what happened to her there? Sometimes this works, sometimes it works less well, but it’s interesting to be along for the ride, especially from a meta-commentary point of view. What fascinates me most about this series is the application of math and science to magic in ways that are clever, fit with how the magic was shown canonically, and which actually make sense to me. I am not terribly invested in Hermione’s rise to prominence as a youthful arithmancy genius, but it’s really cool to watch the author delve into how spells might actually work in the real world.
This blog post by my friend Lorrie Kim, about the new J.K. Rowling book, engages with reading it while knowing “Rowling is very much on the wrong side of the vicious and bewildering campaign of bigotry against trans people.” She wrote about the issue in more detail here: The Changing Politics of Reading Harry Potter in the Post-Trump U.S..