What I’ve been reading

  1. Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman, by Robert Massie (non-fiction). Finally finished after several months. Good book! Perhaps better in its first half, which deals with Catherine’s life before taking the throne — as the title suggests, the emphasis is definitely on Catherine the person rather than on Catherine the ruler. Recommended for fans of Europa Universalis 4.
  2. Iron Kingdom: The Rise & Downfall of Prussia, 1600-1947, by Christopher Clark (non-fiction). A dense political history comprising a chronological narrative (interesting) broken by the odd thematic chapter (rather dry). I’m about halfway through, and so far, so good.
  3. Sagittarius Rising, by Cecil Lewis (non-fiction). Another book I finished long after I began, this is the beautifully written memoir of a WW1 British fighter pilot, containing some beautifully poignant moments — at one point, the author recollects his mother making him sit for a new photo before he went off to war, so she’d have something to remember him by if he never came back. (Happily, the author lived on to a ripe old age; he wrote this book in the 1930s.) A brief coda deals with his post-war career trying to establish aviation in China.
  4. The Mechanical, by Ian Tregillis (fiction). Clockpunk fantasy set in a world where the Netherlands invented and enslaved clockwork robots, then used their new toys to dominate the world. It’s a dark, entertaining read; I think I preferred the author’s earlier Milkweed Triptych, but this is worth a look if the premise interests you.
  5. Wyrd Sisters, Witches Abroad, and Lords & Ladies, by Terry Pratchett (fiction). The delightful adventures of three witches: stern, practical Granny Weatherwax; bawdy old Nanny Ogg; and idealistic young Magrat, as they romp through skewed versions of fairy tales and Shakespeare. I’d rank these amongst Pratchett’s better novels, due to their humour (Witches Abroad is especially hilarious) and engaging cast. If I had to pick one, it would be Lords & Ladies, which is the best plotted and has my favourite “character moment” of the three. Highly recommended to fantasy fans!

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