The Years of Rice and Salt – Kim Stanley Robinson

I thoroughly enjoyed this historical novel meets SciFi/Fantasy – my two favourite fictional genres! A good borrow from Phil.

As the blurb on the back said, “Imagine a world without Europe….”

…. or more accurately a world where the population of Europe is almost entirely wiped out by the Plague in the Middle Ages. Focussing key people, eras and events, Kim Stanley Robinson describes the next 600 or so years (it’s hard to keep track of where “we”‘d got to in his timeline) and conducts a huge thought experiment over the course of 800 pages.

It would have been useful to know that “Extra continuity is given by a touch of fantasy as the Buddhist wheel of reincarnation brings back the same characters (coded by initials) again and again with varied roles, relations and sexes.”

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The Crimson Petal and the White – Michel Faber

A page turner of a novel, set in the London of the last quarter of the 19th century, with the plot and the narrative slowly metamorphosing in the telling of the tale of a London prostitute’s life changing from the lurid to the (almost) respectability. Crammed full of colourful characters and lots of detail on all manner of subjects – a great New Year novel.

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Falling Angels – Tracy Chevalier

At its simplest, this is a tale of two girls, who become friends and grow up in London during the first two decades fo the 20th century. Overlying this simple story is the emergence of women’s suffrage, and the slow but steady social changes between the death of Queen Victoria and the upheavals of World War I.

The action revolves around a fictional graveyard in North London, where two families have adjacent plots, and where the girls themselves meet, and then befriend a young grave digger, whose contributions to the narrative provide an insight into how the metropolitain world worked at the start of the 20 century.

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The Minaturist – Kunal Basu

My first encounter with Kunal Basu, and a good bank holiday read about persian artists in the indian kingdoms of the 16th century. It’s not going to be to everyone’s taste, but I enjoyed the mix of history, art, culture and politics in an exotic setting. The inclusion of a few minatures by way of illustation/example would have enhanced the novel for the non-art historians amongst us!

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