Fatal Legacy – Lindsey Davis

Fatal Legacy - Lindsey Davis
Fatal Legacy – Lindsey Davis

Back to 1st Century AD Rome and some Flavia Albia sleuthing, this time into an unpaid bar bill which soon develops into a much more complicated case.

I found it hard keeping track of all the characters in the two warring families, partly because there are a lot of them but mainly because of how Roman personal names work; siblings and parents / children all share some of the same names.

Author page: Fatal Legacy – Lindsey Davis

The Marriage Portrait – Maggie O’Farrell

The Marriage Portrait - Maggie O'Farrell
The Marriage Portrait – Maggie O’Farrell

Another wonderful historical novel by Maggie O’Farrell.

We are in 16th century Italy, still a patchwork of Dukedoms and city states, where Lucrezia de’ Medici, the third daughter of Cosimo I de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, and Eleonora of Toledo, La Fecundissima, has been married  to Alfonso II d’Este, Duke of Ferrara.

As the bride in this dynastic marriage, Lucrezia replaces her elder sister, Maria, following Maria’s death. Lucrezia is 13 at the time of the wedding in 1558. Three years later she is dead.

It’s wonderful and fascinating how a novelist can take such a slight array of facts and create something so rich and absorbing, and yet still so intensely personal.

Whilst it is written in a very different style from Hamnet (no tears were shed in the reading of this novel), the elaborate prose suits (Maggie O’Farrell’s) Lucrezia’s inner voice – she observes the world with an artist’s eye and experiences life and emotion in extremes,  as many teenagers do – and the richness of Italian Renaissance art.

I know nothing about Robert Browning’s famous poem My Last Duchess. The Marriage Portrait does not exist; but this portrait by Alessandro Allori does:

Alessandro Allori - Lucrezia de’ Medici - North Carolina Museum of Art.jpg

Other reviews:

Author page: The Marriage Portrait – Maggie O’Farrell

In the Kingdom of Ice – Hampton Sides

In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette - Hampton Sides
In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette – Hampton Sides

I’ve read many accounts of European Arctic exploration, but hadn’t realised the Americans did some too – which, given their purchase of Alaska in 1867, shouldn’t really come as a surprise.

I think this book was recommended on Ask Metafilter, and it’s a good read.

Motivated by their proximity to the Bering Strait and the Kuro Siwa current and theories of the Open Polar Sea, the Jeannette Expedition, led by George De Long and financed by James Gordon Bennett Jr. (of Gordon Bennett! fame), set off from San Fransisco in 1879.

The survivors made it to the Lena River Delta on the Siberian coast after almost two years trapped in the ice, a thousand mile march across the summer ice and a final, fatal sea crossing in the boats they’d hauled since the USS Jeannette had sunk. Two of the boats made it to land, one party made it to a Tungus settlement, only 2 men from the other party made it to safety after meeting Yakut hunters whilst seeking help for the rest of their group.

I’m always intrigued by the fate of the crew, the men who didn’t get the fame and the glory. Sides tells us that Charles Tong Sing (Lin Tongsheng), the Chinese American cook and steward, briefly became New York gangster Scarface Charlie but mainly ran a number of Chinese restaurants, worked as a court interpreter and a policeman (but doesn’t mention that he was also a member of the Greely Rescue Expedition together with the rightly-feted Melville); Wikipedia mentions that crewman Herbert Leach, the last member of the expedition to die, in 1935,  became a factory worker.

Author page: In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette – Hampton Sides