An Imperial Possession by David Mattingly (2011 book #27)

Not had much of a chance to read over the last few weeks, and when I have, my time’s been occupied by this rather detailed look at life in Britain during its time as part of the Roman Empire. The focus is a bit more archaeological than historical compared to my usual reading, but still had lots of interesting information about life during the period. Not one to read if you’re looking for a simple history of the period, but the wealth of detail does make it useful and interesting if you have the time.

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The Inheritors by William Golding (2011 book #26)

Helping me keep up my average of a book a week this year, The Inheritors is Golding’s second novel (after Lord Of The Flies) and like that, it’s also a look at some of humanity’s darker impulses. Here, though, the focus is on humanity’s beginnings as seen from the viewpoint of a group of Neanderthals encountering this new type of people for the first time. Golding expertly creates a perspective that’s non-human but understandable as what’s effectively a tragedy unfolds through a mutual incomprehensibility and fear. Definitely a classic novel, and well-worth a look.

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A Clash of Kings by George RR Martin (2011 Book #25)

As you might have noticed, I was off on holiday last week and A Clash Of Kings was my selection of holiday reading. Not the sort of light stuff people normally recommend for holidays, but then I was in the Lake District rather than lounging on a beach.

As ever, spoilers follow, so look away now and don’t click the link for more if you don’t want to know what happens.

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Savage City by Sophia McDougall (2011 book #24)

This is the final book in the Romanitas trilogy – the first two of which I read last year and wrote about here – though it’s worth noting that the first two books have been reissued by a new publisher in advance of Savage City, and there has apparently been some re-editing of them for the new releases. However, as far as I’m aware there have been no changes in the story along the way.

Anyway, the full review is after the ‘read more’ link, and I would warn you not to click it if you haven’t read the book and are planning to, as it’s almost impossible to review without dropping some major spoilers (this review by Pornokitsch attempts it, however). In capsule, though, if you’ve read the first two books in the series then you should get round to reading this as soon as possible, and if you haven’t then take a look at my review from last year.

And that’s the last of your warnings. Look away now if you don’t want to know the result.

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The Good Man Jesus And The Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman (2011 book #23)

I have been debating whether to count this as an entire book for the purposes of numbering as it’s quite short, but deciding on including it if only to stop things from getting too complicated. However, it also says something about the story itself – Pullman has an interesting idea here, that Jesus and Christ were twins who history later conflated, but the depth and complexity of an idea like that isn’t addressed in the way you’d expect a novel to do so. In that way, it’s much more of a novella, and for me it suffers a bit from the simplicity. I often found myself comparing it to Russell T Davies’ The Second Coming – another story written by an atheist about the relationship between humanity and a self-proclaimed Messiah – and how that managed to wring a lot more interest out of similar material.

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Another bit of my attempt to widen my historical knowledge, this book does exactly what it says on the tin an provides a good overview of 200 years of Roman history. There’s obviously a limit to how much detail Scullard can provide in this overview, but he does a very good job of linking the different trends in Roman society and politics together to explain how the Republic began to crumble under the pressures its expansion had put in under, how the early Empire emerged from that process and then how it stabilised itself.

Scullard does presuppose some knowledge of how the Republic worked, so perhaps not one to read if you know nothing of the Roman systems, and sometimes the pace of events and the tide of similar sounding names can get a bit overwhelming. He also has a tendency to moralise on occasions, and I sometimes suspect that he wished he could be back in the midst of the events, advising the Senate about where they were getting it wrong and how the Republic could survive if only they’d listen to him.

Also, while Nero as the last of the Julio-Claudian emperors does seem to mark an appropriate point to stop, it does bring the narrative to a rather abrupt halt in the midst of a crisis. There’s a quick summing up of the Year of Four Emperors and the rise of Vespasian, but it perhaps needs a bit more detail to wrap up the historical narrative and show the future course of the Empire. Though as with any history of Rome, any end date is somewhat arbitrary.

All in all, a rather good history and a useful guide to the period.

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A Game Of Thrones by George RR Martin (2011 book #21)

I’ve had this book sitting on a shelf for ages since someone gave it to me with the recommendation that I might like it. So, when the TV adaptation of the series began and got great reviews I decided it was time to finally give it a go, because as I don’t have Sky Atlantic it’ll be sometime before I get to see it and wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

And now I regret having left it on the shelf for so long because it’s a truly great book. More discussion follows, but there will be plenty of spoilers so don’t read further if you want to remain pure.

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