December 2012 Book Reviews

Arranged in ascending order of whatever explanation you prefer.

This last collection of book reviews for 2012 is a little late. Not, surprisingly, for reasons of laziness, but rather because I, well, cheated. The last book mentioned below, God’s War was begun and mostly read in December, but I only finished it yesterday. Which means, by the mostly arbitrary rules this blog follows, it should go in the January pile of reviews. However, there isn’t going to be a January pile.

Not that I’m going to stopping writing the reviews: I enjoy them too much. Specifically, I enjoy the challenge of summing up my thoughts on a book in just three readable sentences without resorting to ridiculously long run-on constructions. (And yes, sometimes I have resorted thusly, but I try not to.) However, what with the demands of college, which are only going to increase in the months ahead, there aren’t likely to be enough reviews to make a monthly pace sustainable.

Which is a pity, as it’s been a very handy way to ensure that I post at least once every month.

Anyway, the reviews will return, in some form, whenever I build up enough of them. For now though, enjoy the last of the current batch and I’ll wander off to dream up some new, non-time-consuming theme to ensure regular posting.

The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien: In the run up to the movie, this was a must-read, and it was great to return to it, both for memories of reading it myself and of reading it to my little brother when he was in primary school. It’s not The Lord of the Rings by a long shot, but it remains very much a classic, this story of an unwilling everyman who finds that his unsuspected virtues are just what is needed on a quest to face down a dragon and recover a lost kingdom. Wonderful incidental touches punctuate an otherworldly story in a richly developed world, and one that takes little or no time to dive into and get yourself lost in.

Northlanders: The Icelandic Trilogy, Brian Wood et al.: Wood rounds off his “Viking” series with the story of an Icelandic settler family, from their earliest days on the island to the loss of independence at the hands of Norway. This is nation-building from the viewpoint of a family willing to do anything to build and hold what’s theirs, and it’s gritty and at times unpleasant stuff, as this is a series that has never shied away from the more squalid corners of Viking life. As a signoff for a series cancelled before its time, its suitably downbeat and defiant, and if the art is not going to suit every taste, the writing ably portrays lives as bleak and enduring as the landscape they inhabit with minimal strokes.

God’s War: A New History of the Crusades, Christopher Tyerman: This is a massive and exhaustive tome that examines all aspects of the crusading phenomenon over several centuries in an effort to create a coherent view of the world it sprang from and inflicted itself upon. Tyerman’s approach is to see the crusades not merely as a series of conflicts between the Christian and Muslim worlds, but rather as a way of life and a belief system that infected the European world for centuries. This approach sometimes leads him to jump back and forward in time to tie his points together, but it’s still a very readable account given the amount of detail it employs.

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