Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Ireland, Vampires, and Grad School

Currently Reading: Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness and Child of the Prophecy by Juliet Marillier

It seems that I am unintentionally on a fantasy genre kick right now... and as you can tell from my lack of posts this month, I am enjoying every minute of it. In high school, I read fantasy books voraciously, and although I have scaled back on them in this stage of my life, I still get a thrill out of well-written, clever, and thought-provoking fantasy. Child of the Prophecy is the final installment in the beautiful Sevenwaters trilogy, which takes place in the forests of Ireland during the 10th century. It is the perfect mix of mythology and history, which is what any fantasy book I read needs to have in it. I have read this series several times since my high school days and love it more each time. It was the Sevenwaters Trilogy that actually caused me to fall in love with Ireland, its rich mythology and deep history. Without this series, who knows how my life would have been different.


Deborah Harkness's newest book takes the cake on mixing fantasy with history; I get a little glow of pleasure every time I pick it up. Her first book in the series, A Discovery of Witches, came out last February and was phenomenal; I have been waiting impatiently for this new installment for months. I like to call it: Twilight for grownups. Unlike many other women I know, I do not have a lingering love affair with fanged glittering men who rescue the mortal damsel in distress. I find it highly derogatory in one sense and very disturbing in another. (In one scene, Shadow of Night actually pokes fun at this bizarre craze that has recently taken over the literary world and the disturbing female infatuation with manly, domineering vampires that has caused it... it made me giggle.) Harkness's series is entirely different. First of all, her main character is an adult witch who has determined to deny her magical side and devote herself entirely to her work (she is a professor at Oxford who specializes in the history of alchemy). That alone sets her apart, for she is a strong, determined, and intelligent woman- a character I can actually like and respect. The plot centers around a medieval manuscript that Diana unwittingly calls up from the Bodleian Library that supposedly contains answers about the creation and future of the four races of the world: humans, witches, vampires, and daemons. The book is riddled with historical references and deep philosophical and scientific debates. (The author is a history professor... enough said.) A book has to be amazing when it can switch from quoting Herodotus to discussing the implications of Darwinian theory in ten seconds flat. And while Diana does end up falling in love with a vampire, he is as different from the pretty-boy vampires as I am from the old guy who lives several apartments down. Their relationship is one of equals, which is refreshing and gives the book some good tension. Matthew is not a harmless, glittering boy but a dangerous, intelligent man- one who has had many lives and hundreds of years to live through. Matthew's back stories give the novel a complexity and depth that many others lack. Especially fascinating is the constant references to the other lives, careers, and historical figures Matthew has known and worked with throughout the many centuries of his life. As a historian, I really enjoyed this, although there were some references I had to ask my husband about- he's the medieval scholar, not me. Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Harriot, Shakespeare, Sir Walter Raleigh, Gerbert d'Aurillac, and many more make appearances, in some way or another. I suppose I especially like Shadow of Night and its predecessor because I'm drawn to books that focus on academia. Perhaps it's my scholarly side, the part of me that loves rummaging through the library stacks or sitting at a table, surrounded by old books and their musty smell, digging for clues as the hours of research tick by. Diana's research, and their search for the mystery Ashmole 782, is enough to make me want to either make cup after cup of tea or sit down to my own research projects. Ultimately, while I do have criticisms of the book, I love the feeling it gives me as I immerse myself into its world.

Obviously, I have been spending all of my extra moments lately with my nose in a book. Other things, such as this blog, have taken second priority to my deep desire to read as much as I can before the summer ends. A slight panic has set in recently, as I count down the days until graduate school starts and my life of relaxing evenings full of blogging, baking, and reading comes to a close. This has actually been bothering me more than one would think. While I love school and am so excited for starting my program, I still can't help but hope that it won't take over my entire life. Having been in college before, however, I know that this is wishful thinking. My blog posts will be fewer and farther between, the only books I'm likely to finish are audiobooks while I commute to school, and I may only get the chance to bake once every couple of weeks. For someone who finds comfort in routine, this monumental change is no doubt going to rock my world for a while. But with change comes new potential, new adventures, and new opportunities. Life can't only be lived in books.

In the meantime, after weeks of drought and blistering heat, I am enjoying the lullaby of thunder and raindrops that is enveloping the evening. A perfect night to stretch out with some lemonade and a good book. If you'll excuse me......

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