In 2017 I read a reasonable number of books, mostly history with a dollop of fantasy in there too. This is a quick rundown of some of my favourites, with links to full reviews.
I’m rather fond of Livy and have been rationing his works (just one to go now) for some time. Rome and Italy tells of the city’s recovery after sack by the Gauls and its rise to supremacy in Italy, fighting powerful rivals like the Samnites and Tarentines. I was pretty unfamiliar with this period of history but several individuals really stuck in my mind; Titus Manlius Torquatus, Marcus Valerius Corvus, Lucius Papirius Cursor, and Quintus Fabius Maximus (the ancestor of the Cunctator) to name a few. As always with Livy, well worth reading.
Written almost two thousand years ago, this tale about terrorism, bloodshed, fanaticism, factions and tragedy in Jerusalem and beyond is, at times, heart-rending. Whilst Josephus can be full of himself, he also tells the story very well, from the surprisingly heroic early years of Herod (damned good king, if you ignore the punitive taxation and child murder) to the bitter infighting amongst the Jews which did more harm to themselves than the Romans. Not a cheery tale, but one well told.
This book is the antithesis of an Alexander biography in that it leaves one feeling better than a king of England (Alexander, of course, making others pale in his shadow). John’s laundry list of major flaws, ranging from starving prisoners to death, betraying his father and brother, and generally being both despicable and incompetent, is depicted in unorthodox manner by having two separate timelines (one before and one right after a certain event early in his reign). Despite that unusual approach, it’s an engaging read (although Englishmen be warned, it does contain quite a lot of losing to the French).
This is very much outside my usual area of reading, being an old book written right after World War One. Although written for children, it’s the most adult (in a mature sense) children’s book you’ll ever read, complete with numerous pictures and photographs (an airship’s giant shadow alongside a racing steam train stands out). It’s a fantastic read, although probably not easy to get hold of.
Although historical, this is my first book about Ancient Egypt. It’s written as a literal journey through the Egypt of 1250 BC, which works very well indeed as that path follows the Nile (crucial, of course, to Egypt’s economy and culture). The journey also allows a natural progression through history as burial sites are passed along the way. Very informative and easy to read.
My most recent read, written about nine centuries ago by the daughter of Emperor Alexius Komnenus about her father. The author’s own character leaps out from the pages and her style has a great deal of charm (although you will need the notes as keeping things in order was not her top priority). Her father’s reign also coincided with dramatic events in history, most notably Robert Guiscard’s invasion of the Balkans and the First Crusade.
Despite waiting for the third Stormlight Archives book for a while, I haven’t had time to read it. Indeed, only got a couple of fantasy stories (both e-books) to add to the history above.
The first book in the series, also entitled The Emperor’s Edge, is an engaging steampunk fantasy packed with interesting characters, strong dialogue, and a fairly tight cast which helps enable good development of the key players. Steampunk isn’t my usual fare, but always felt immersed reading this, and plan to get the sequel sometime soon.
The last fantasy I read was Angel’s Truth, the first entry in the Angelwar Trilogy. It begins the story of a conspiracy to destroy the religious foundation of a second world, in order to weaken the civilised parts and enable demon-worshipping barbarians to overwhelm them. Tol Kraven, a slightly murdery youthful monk in training, is dispatched by his abbot to try and warn the Church. There’s a nice element of uncertainty regarding his allies and foes in the first half of the book, and a good lick of pace to the story. (I’m currently reading the sequel).