A Rage for Rock Gardening – Nicola Shulman

A Rage for Rock Gardening - Nicola Shulman
A Rage for Rock Gardening – Nicola Shulman

A slim tome about a short-lived Edwardian plant collector with a passion for alpines that took him to the eastern Himalayas and north Burma. Reginald Farrer doesn’t sound like a particularly pleasant chap. “Of his time”.

The book was on The Guardian’s Top 10 books about the Himalayas. I’ve been working my way through the ones I bought last year, including The High Road to China by Kate Teltscher and  by Jan Morris’s wonderful Coronation Everest. For me, the Himalayan connection in A Rage for Rock Gardening is somewhat tenuous, not helped by the fact that I’ve not been to Gansu province in northwest China which is where Farrer did his mountainous plant hunting, presumably down in what is now Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture.

I would recommend the book to fans of garden history though as it covers the transition from gardens being formal to family, and Farrer and his contemporaries introduced many familiar flowering plants we know today including varieties of Viburnum, Magnolia and Peony, as well as the gorgeous Gentians that I know and love from my many treks in Nepal.

The writing style read “very posh” to me, as did the use of Mrs, Mr etc in the acknowledgements. And lo, when you look up Nicola Shulman, you realise why.

Publisher page: A Rage for Rock Gardening: The Story of Reginald Farrer, Gardener, Writer, and Plant Collector – Nicola Shulman

Renegade’s Magic – Robin Hobb

Renegade's Magic - Robin Hobb
Renegade’s Magic – Robin Hobb

The third and final instalment of Robin Hobb’s Soldier Son trilogy takes Nevare into the magical world and mindset of the Specks as Soldier’s Boy takes control of their shared body, and then back to Gernia and out of the Great One’s body.

Everything wraps up fast and furiously at the end, and that left me wondering if there might have been another book in there, especially with the somewhat irritating ending. I cannot see that working out well for Amzil at all. She’s been a strangely thin character for me, and usually I find Robin Hobb’s women much more three dimensional. I’m also intrigued by the map in each book which shows far more places than are touched on throughout the trilogy.

Author page: Renegade’s Magic – Robin Hobb

Forest Mage – Robin Hobb

Forest Mage - Robin Hobb
Forest Mage – Robin Hobb

Ah, good to be back reading Robin Hobb. 830 pages devoured in 2 days. The sign of a good book and the first page turner fiction I’ve read for ages. (Coronation Everest was very good though!)

I’d been swayed by the reviews saying this trilogy isn’t as good as the Assassin series.

It’s different, but still an engrossing world with developing characters – even if it’s a little too obvious in its Native American mysticism / European settlement; at least, that’s the world it feels like it mirrors to me. And it reads to me like a more adult world too.

I’ve still got the third and final book to go. Although I am over 100 pages in already…

Publisher page: Forest Mage – Robin Hobb

When Men And Mountains Meet – John Keay

When Men And Mountains Meet - John Keay
When Men And Mountains Meet – John Keay

The subtitle says it all “Exploration of the Western Himalayas, 1820-1875”.

Slow to start, the later chapters – from Gardiner onwards – were a speedier read.

Lots of looking at the handy maps at the start of the book, and cross referencing with my Hindu Kush Adventure, Central Asia Overland, Himalayan Journey from Lhasa to Kashgar and Autumn in Ladakh trips.

Part of what makes this a fascinating period of history is that, as John Keay concludes, none of these explorations would feasible today given the borders and accompanying tensions between India, Pakistan and China. I’d love to be able to trek from Leh to Yarkand…..

AbeBooks page: When Men And Mountains Meet – John Keay