Sir Robert Carey returns for a seventh glorious outing

A Chorus of InnocentsA Chorus of Innocents by P.F. Chisholm

O frabjous day! Here we are on horseback again, galloping ventre a terre over the Debateable Lands between England and Scotland circa 1592. Yes, Sir Robert Carey returns for a seventh glorious outing, and I am delighted to report that this time we get to spend some quality time with Elizabeth Widdrington, Sir Robert’s love. The book begins on the Scottish side of the border with the murder of a minister and the rape of his wife, heavily pregnant with their first child. She finds her way to her friend, Elizabeth, in England, and Elizabeth, in spite of the inevitable repercussions from her abusive but for the moment conveniently absent husband, rides off to find the killers, if she can. In so doing she puts herself most grievously at risk from far too many people far too eager to make a buck off the kidnapping and murder of an English noblewoman on the wrong side of this very fraught and fluid border.

There is plenty of action here (Elizabeth herself kicks ass! Squee!), and as always the scene Chisholm sets is a veritable time travel portal you step through the instant you turn to the first page

It was surprising and the older one thought a little shocking that there were so many kirks, and not all of them burnt or in ruins like in the Low countries. Some old Catholic churches had been torn down and a new one put up, but more often they were just altered with the heads of the saints knocked off and the paintings whitewashed. Not every village had a kirk, by a long way, but a lot did.

Find me a better description of post-Reformation Scotland, do, but what I found most fascinating was Elizabeth’s inner dialogue over her situation. We get to see her first meeting with Sir Robert

Their eyes had met. Their bodies had known their business and kept a distance, but their eyes…

She is married to a man she doesn’t love who positively hates her and delights in showing her how much with his fists (and a nice reveal as to why). She is in love with Sir Robert (as who isn’t) and he loves her, too, but she is an honorable woman and she won’t cheat, but she has some revolutionary thoughts on women and society and religion that are wonderfully revealing of that time and place and even more revealing of her own intelligence. She is a worthy match for Sir Robert.

And of course there is that wonderful Chisholm voice, as in

She had liked Jamie Burn; he was a good man, perhaps a little hot tempered, perhaps a little intolerant, but he had started a school for the children of the village and his sermons were only an hour long.

and

“…There’s a street called Cheapside where they have shops with great plates and goblets and bowls of gold and siller in the windows and nought but a couple of bullyboys and some bars to keep them.”

”Where’s London exactly?” asked Bangtail, with the slitty eyed look of a Graham with a plan.

and

There was nothing wrong with killing somebody for money, of course, but killing one of your own surname for an outsider? That was disgraceful.

Sergeant Henry Dodd is back

And moreover the moon was behind more clouds making the night pitchblack, so Dodd sighed, brought the hobbies into the shelter so no one would ask why they were there and rolled himself up in his cloak across the door opening and hoped no one would wake him because burying people took time and was a lot of effort.

and meet Mr. Anricks, a tooth drawer and a pursuivant (aka spy) for Sir Robert Cecil, and Young Henry with his unfortunate spots, and all the boys in Minister Burn’s choir, especially little Jimmy Tait. The book finishes with a marvelous set piece of derring-do involving enough arms and ammunition for the siege of Stalingrad, and the last line will leave you with your heart in your mouth. Don’t worry, I won’t spoil, but oh! I can’t wait for Number 8.

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Truffle Oil and Parmesan Cheese Sauce for Pasta

Put two cups of heavy cream in a saucepan. Add two tablespoons of truffle oil and a bit of grated nutmeg. Continue reading

It’s like Darwin wrote steampunk.

The Voyage of the Basilisk (Memoir by Lady Trent, #3)The Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan

Even better than the first two in this series, and what a beautiful production–wonderful wrap-around cover art, deckle edges, a map, beautiful illustrations, the Dickensian chapter headings change at the top of the page to reflect the action below, and, good lord, blue ink. Lady Trent, excuse me, Dame Isabella I should say, never looked this good, certainly never on expedition.

Oh yeah, the story. A delightful third outing, in which as usual naturalist Lady Trent’s obsession with dragons is yet again sidetracked by political events beyond her control, and this time featuring a sort of zeppelin. It’s like Darwin wrote steampunk. Fun.

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“…occasional women-only orgies (not that the men don’t benefit thereby).”

EuphoriaEuphoria by Lily King

Anthropologist Nell (pretty obviously based on the character of Margaret Mead) studies a tribe in New Guinea where the women have achieved a remarkable level of equality in the running of their lives and the tribe’s life and even in sex to the point of having occasional women-only orgies (not that the men don’t benefit thereby). Her husband Fen, also an anthropologist and burning with envy over Nell’s bestseller book written about a previous study, naturally poo-poo’s all of her findings and then conceives the excellent notion to steal an artifact from a neighboring and much more warlike tribe. This endangers his life, her life, the life of their visiting friend and fellow anthropologist Andrew, not to mention the lives of their entire host tribe.

But Nell stays. I know too many women like Nell, we all know too many women like Nell, who obstinately refuse to look directly at the mirror being held in front of them to see clearly the life they are living. Here, even Nell’s discovery of a primitive Guinean tribe which has achieved virtual gender equality isn’t enough to show her how much better, not to mention safer, their women’s lives are than her own. It is left to one of the tribal members to warn Andrew, “He [Fen] will break her. And he has already, and he will again, but goddammit! Why is she so willfully blind to the risk? Especially when an object lesson is staring her directly in the face? Is it because they’re brown and she’s white and they’re savages and she’s civilized and so ipso facto they cannot possibly have anything to teach her? Stupid, stupid, stupid. She draws no parallels, and her a scientist. Fen is a scientist, too, but ambition and jealousy and laziness and pretty much sheer assholery have equally blinded him to his own realities. Nell’s right when she says that Fen doesn’t want to study the Wokup, he wants to become one. If ever a guy deserved to be killed and eaten and have his head shrunk, Fen was him.

This book rang several different bells hard with me, domestic abuse, professional jealousy, primitive society versus civilized society, the subjective nature of the study of anthropology. Heisenberg was so right, anthropologists cannot help but change the living, breathing entities they choose to observe, because the only way to observe them is to interact with them, and that changes them.

It doesn’t help when you steal from them, either. A great book for a book club. Recommended.

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