Archive for the ‘Alternate History’ Category

Audiobook Review of My Lady Jane, by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows, performed by Katherine Kellgren

Saturday, June 16th, 2018

My Lady Jane

by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows
performed by Katherine Kellgren

HarperAudio, 2016. 13.75 hours on 11 discs.
Starred Review

I’ve already reviewed this book in print form, but oh, Katherine Kellgren’s performance makes it so much fun!

We’ve got alternate history England, featuring Lady Jane Grey, who was queen for nine days. In this version, many people have the magic power to turn into an animal. In the course of things, Jane finds out she is one, which is how she escapes losing her head.

The story is funny and clever and twists history just enough to be terribly fun. And Katherine Kellgren’s brilliant vocal abilities are perfect to bring out all the humor in the situations.

By now, I’ve become Katherine Kellgren’s fan. In a story set in England that was already outstanding in an over-the-top humorous sort of way, her performance puts it even more over the top. Now when I recommend this book, I’m going to suggest listening.

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Blood Rose Rebellion, by Rosalyn Eves

Wednesday, June 6th, 2018

Blood Rose Rebellion

by Rosalyn Eves

Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers (Penguin Random House), 2017. 407 pages.

I’m getting used to alternate histories with magic, but this was an alternate history of something I didn’t know much about in the real world – the Hungarian revolution in 1848.

Anna Arden doesn’t mean to break other people’s spells. But sometimes, especially when her emotions get stirred up, this happens spectacularly, and people get hurt. After she ruins her sister’s debut, she’s sent off with her grandmother to stay in Hungary for awhile at her grandmother’s childhood home.

But various people find out about Anna’s unusual abilities. Would she be able to break the Binding spell – the one that confines magic to the nobility, the Luminate class? And what are the motives of the people who want to use her in this way? But at the same time, what would be the cost? Would this break the power of the Circle, so that common people can have access to magic? But what will the Circle do to stop her?

Anna’s confused as to what she should do. Meanwhile, there’s a handsome Romani young man whom Anna would like to teach her Romani magic. Maybe if she can’t do Luminate magic, maybe she could do Romani magic, which is so different.

Romance and adventure, magic and danger – all put into the context of the actual history of the Hungarian rebellion from the Hapsburgs.

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of La Belle Sauvage, The Book of Dust, Volume One, by Philip Pullman

Wednesday, January 17th, 2018

La Belle Sauvage

The Book of Dust, Volume One

by Philip Pullman

Alfred A. Knopf, 2017. 451 pages.

It’s no secret that Philip Pullman is a magnificent writer. His rich use of language, his astonishingly detailed, imaginative worlds are all marks of a master craftsman. So, yes, I was impressed by how well-written this book was.

But did I enjoy it? Not so much.

This surprised me. I enjoyed The Golden Compass and The Subtle Knife. (Not enough to want to read them again, but I did enjoy them.) In this book, I liked the character of Malcolm tremendously – but not really anyone else.

This book is a prequel to His Dark Materials. Lyra, who is a young girl in those books, is now a baby – and a baby with a prophecy about her, a baby who needs protection. In the majority of the book, Malcolm is trying to rescue baby Lyra from danger in his canoe, named La Belle Sauvage, riding over floodwaters, pursued by one of the most horrific villains imaginable.

You don’t have to read the first trilogy to enjoy this, since it is a prequel. (Knowing Lyra must make it does help make things a little less scary.) Maybe if I had reread the original trilogy I would have been ready for what seemed like out-of-place fantastical elements, including an encounter with faeries and traveling through some sort of mystical kingdom. I know it’s an alternate universe, but I had forgotten that they’re not really going with a scientific explanation of alternate universes, since the one Lyra’s in has lots of magic.

And I know – it’s magic – it’s an alternate universe – but this time the explanation of “Dust” as an “elementary particle” of a “Rusakov field” responsible for consciousness – seemed rather silly. That’s not really how elementary particles work. This Dust is also what makes the alethiometer magically answer questions. And that, too, seems a bit silly reading it afresh. If the author just called it “magic” and didn’t try to make it sound scientific, it would work better. (Ah! That’s the problem! When I read The Golden Compass, I just thought it was dealing with a world where magic existed, and I hadn’t read any pseudo-scientific explanation.)

All that aside, there’s a fair amount of coincidence. How does the monstrous villain keep following Malcolm? Now, to be fair, that particular coincidence simply makes the book all the more intensely frightening. But when the good guy happens upon Malcolm later, that seems a little more remarkable.

I liked that Malcolm wondered how baby Lyra’s daemon could know the shapes of various animals to take on that it hadn’t yet seen. I imagine someone complained about that in the first book, so now it’s something remarkable about Lyra’s daemon rather than an oversight by the author.

And I do love the daemons – an animal expression of a person’s soul that lives outside their body. Children’s daemons can change form at will, but adults’ daemons have a set form. An interesting thing is that no two people in the book have the same form for their daemons.

I never do like it when the Church is villainous, though I knew to expect it from the first trilogy. In this book, there’s an extra sinister effort to get children to turn in their parents to the forces of evil run by the Church.

All that said, La Belle Sauvage is an absorbing read. Philip Pullman’s world-building is full of intricate details and extremely atmospheric. You can see this by how the book begins:

Three miles up the river Thames from the center of Oxford, some distance from where the great colleges of Jordan, Gabriel, Balliol, and two dozen others contended for mastery in the boat races, out where the city was only a collection of towers and spires in the distance over the misty levels of Port Meadow, there stood the Priory of Godstow, where the gentle nuns went about their holy business; and on the opposite bank from the priory there was an inn called the Trout.

The inn was an old stone-built rambling, comfortable sort of place. There was a terrace above the river, where peacocks (one called Norman and the other called Barry) stalked among the drinkers, helping themselves to snacks without the slightest hesitation and occasionally lifting their heads to utter ferocious and meaningless screams. There was a saloon bar where the gentry, if college scholars count as gentry, took their ale and smoked their pipes; there was a public bar where watermen and farm laborers sat by the fire or played darts, or stood at the bar gossiping, or arguing, or simply getting quietly drunk; there was a kitchen where the landlord’s wife cooked a great joint every day, with a complicated arrangement of wheels and chains turning a spit over an open fire, and there was a potboy called Malcolm Polstead.

Malcolm was the landlord’s son, an only child. He was eleven years old, with an inquisitive, kindly disposition, a stocky build, and ginger hair. He went to Ulvercote Elementary School a mile away, and he had friends enough, but he was happiest on his own, playing with his daemon, Asta, in their canoe, on which Malcolm had painted the name LA BELLE SAUVAGE.

Those that have read His Dark Materials will almost certainly want to read this. If you haven’t yet – you might prefer to start with that one since you can read all three books in succession and won’t be stymied by those annoying words that end this book: “To be continued . . .”

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of York: The Shadow Cipher, by Laura Ruby

Friday, September 29th, 2017

York, Book One

The Shadow Cipher

by Laura Ruby

Walden Pond Press (HarperCollins), 2017. 476 pages.

The Shadow Cipher is set in modern-day New York – but in an alternate universe. This world has very different technology than our own, including genetically engineered pets and therapy animals. But the biggest differences came from innovations built into New York City by the brilliant Morningstarr twins in the 1800s.

The Morningstarr twins also supposedly left a cipher in the city – that leads to a treasure. Tess and Theo Biedermann, who are named after the Morningstarrs, live in one of the original buildings constructed by the Morningstarrs.

When an evil real estate developer – named Darnell Slant – buys their building and they have to get out in 30 days, Tess and Theo are horrified. At the same time, they come upon an original letter written by Tess Morningstarr. It seems to be a new clue – leading to a whole new chain of clues. Working with Jaime, another kid who’s getting evicted from the building, the three of them plan to find the treasure to save the day.

This book has a good puzzle story and adventure yarn. It’s not like the reader can solve the clues themselves, but it’s fun to read about the kids going from one clue to another.

Now, could a cipher really stay intact for more than a hundred years? They try to get around this amazing coincidence by commenting on them and saying that it seems like the Cipher is solving them. That wasn’t quite good enough for me – but I’m a more-skeptical-than-average reader.

There was one incident that pulled me out of the book. At one point, Tess was so upset from being evicted, she had trouble sleeping.

She’d tried her favorite guided meditation video for an hour. She’d organized her underwear drawer by color. She’d tried counting backward from one million. When the sun rose that morning, she was on number 937,582.

I’m sorry – I don’t buy it! 937,582 is more than 60,000 less than a million. If Tess were able to count one number per second (which would be incredibly fast for such big numbers), it would take her more than 16 hours to get to such a relatively low number!

Now – I posted my complaint on Facebook in general terms. One of my friends speculated that Tess may be an android. And you know what? Even after finishing the book, that is a possible explanation. In fact, as the book goes on, Tess gets an uncomfortable feeling that many of the machines made by the Morningstarrs are alive! Perhaps Tess herself is a machine made by the Morningstarrs, and this is our first clue.

All the same, I have my doubts. I think it was probably a mistake rather than a cleverly planted clue to Tess’s real identity.

But the book is fun. And full of surprises. The story doesn’t finish, in fact the book ends on the threshold of further adventures. So this is part of a series you’ll certainly want to read in order.

The science in the book seems iffy to me – but any time machines seem to come alive, I’ll have some trouble with it. Also the coincidences. In general, the book is more like fantasy. But I didn’t mind it too much while I was reading it. You’ve got an imaginative alternate world, an intriguing puzzle, and a fun story of three children on an adventure trying to solve the puzzle and save their home.

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Arabella and the Battle of Venus

Friday, September 22nd, 2017

Arabella and the Battle of Venus

by David D. Levine

Tor (Tom Doherty Associates), 2017. 416 pages.
Starred Review

It took me a long time to get around to reading Arabella of Mars, which meant I could immediately pick up the sequel, for more adventurous fun. A blurb on the back cover calls this “Regency space opera,” and that’s about right. We’ve got an alternate history where sailing ships fly between the planets during the Napoleonic Wars.

In this book, Arabella is still on Mars, but her fiancé has traveled to Venus – and there was captured by the French. He sends Arabella a letter telling her not to worry about him, but of course Arabella comes up with a scheme to try to save him. She hires a privateer to fly her to Venus. Her brother permits this plan as long as she brings along a chaperone, Lady Corey.

This second book isn’t mostly about adventures between the planets, as the first was (though they definitely have some). Instead, the privateer’s ship – and everyone on board – also gets captured by the French and held on Venus. But there’s something big afoot in the shipyard where some of the prisoners are laboring. Now there’s more to do than simply plan a mass escape.

Arabella’s character is so much fun! She’s resourceful and smart. And not slow to act. I was surprised how much I came to enjoy Lady Corey, too.

The science of this interplanetary travel and “interplanetary atmosphere” is iffy, but seems to be consistent with itself. I still roll my eyes a bit at the automata magically gaining personality and coming up with results the programmer doesn’t understand. It can even hear Arabella speak without having ears!

But it’s all in good fun. This is an adventure yarn with a memorable heroine who tries to rescue the man she loves and faces danger, capture, and even dinner with Napoleon.

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Empty Grave, by Jonathan Stroud

Saturday, September 16th, 2017

The Empty Grave

Lockwood & Co. Book Five

by Jonathan Stroud

Disney Hyperion, 2017. 437 pages.
Starred Review

I finished The Empty Grave today, and with it the entire Lockwood & Co. series – and Yes! The series ends well. I can now officially say that from start to finish, this is one of the best children’s book series ever. These books make good family reading, since adults will enjoy them every bit as much. Children need to be old enough to be able to not be afraid of all the murderous ghosts (and murderous people). If your child doesn’t mind some severe spookiness, I highly recommend this series.

This series deals with an alternate reality England where there’s a “Problem” with ghosts roaming the countryside and haunting buildings and places where they died. These aren’t friendly ghosts – if they touch you, you’ll die. And only children can see them. Lucy, Lockwood, George, and Holly still have their independent agency for dealing with ghosts – but powerful forces are ready to put them out of business – or perhaps simply kill them.

In this final installment, all the threads come together. Can the smallest agency in London expose what’s at the root of the Problem? Or will they be silenced? We’re told at the beginning of this book that Lucy survives. But will any of her friends survive with her?

I really mustn’t say any more about the plot. Yes, this is a series you should read from the beginning – It’s brilliantly crafted, with important pieces revealed at just the right time. In this book, it all comes together in a satisfying, and very suspenseful, way.

Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus series is brilliant – but Lockwood & Co. goes far beyond it. You come to care about all the characters deeply (even George!) and to understand the complex situation and all that’s at stake. This series is magnificent! Read it!

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Review of Arabella of Mars, by David D. Levine

Saturday, September 2nd, 2017

Arabella of Mars

by David D. Levine

Tor, Tom Doherty Associates, 2016. 350 pages.
Starred Review

It was a year ago now that my sister Becky recommended this book to me – and in fact I’d had it checked out to read – but then I became a Cybils judge and needed to focus on reading Young Adult Speculative Fiction. I’m not completely sure why this particular book is marketed to adults rather than young adults, since Arabella is 17 years old – but since it’s fiction for grown-ups, I had to put it aside – and just managed to read it before I start reading for the 2019 Newbery Award.

Like my sister told me, this book is simply good fun. The premise is that instead of seeing an apple fall, Isaac Newton watched a bubble rise from his bathtub – and discovered flight. In the 1810s world of the novel, space ships are very like sailing ships, navigating the atmosphere and currents between the planets for interplanetary travel. How this could actually work is rather murky to me – but the implications of this world are a lot of fun.

The book starts with Arabella, who has grown up on Mars, being trained, along with her brother, by her Martian nanny in hunting and fighting and strategic thinking. But alas! A small accident results in a bloody cut on her head, and all is revealed to her mother, who uses this to finally convince Arabella’s father that Mrs. Ashby and her three daughters should go home to England.

Not long after arriving in England, they receive the sad news of Arabella’s father’s death. Then when she is visiting her cousin Simon, she unwittingly gives the cousin the information that at this time the passage to Mars would be at its quickest – so he is going to go to Mars, win her brother’s trust, and kill him for the inheritance of the family plantation, which is entailed on the oldest male heir.

He and his wife lock Arabella in a closet, but she didn’t receive all that training from her Martian nanny for nothing. When she escapes, though, she reasons that she must find passage to Mars and get there before Simon so she can warn her brother. But how to book passage without money? That’s when Arabella decides to disguise herself as a boy, and she gets a position as captain’s boy – because of her skill in working with automata, a passion she shared with her father. The ship she serves on has a mechanical navigator, and she is trained on how it works.

And so her adventures begin. The voyage isn’t at all uneventful. There were times I forgot it was a spaceship, the descriptions were so like a seagoing vessel. She must learn the ropes (literally) and about navigation. Along the way they deal with attack by French corsairs and mutiny, and there are new challenges when they finally land.

Like I said, the science is very iffy, but the story is told with enough confidence, you don’t often notice. I’m skeptical of the automaton acquiring sentience, but the atmosphere and currents between the planets was merely interesting.

This story is a whole lot of fun, and the advantage to being so slow to getting around to reading it is that now I can pick up the sequel.

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Thick as Thieves, by Megan Whalen Turner

Monday, May 1st, 2017

Thick as Thieves

by Megan Whalen Turner

Greenwillow Books (HarperCollins), May 16, 2017. 339 pages.
Starred Review

Here’s how eagerly I’ve been looking forward to this book: First I reread three books in the Queen’s Thief series in the week before ALA Midwinter Meeting in January. (I couldn’t find my copy of the first book, The Thief. I am going to order myself a new copy.) I looked up the number of the HarperCollins booth at ALA, and on opening night of the exhibits, I went straight there, without passing Go. I asked for and received an advance reader copy of Thick as Thieves. I had my reading material for the rest of the conference!

There’s a note at the front of the advance reader copy from the author. She says, “If you’ve read any of the other Queen’s Thief books, there are characters here you might recognize and be happy to spend time with again. If you haven’t read any of my other books, you can start with this one if you like. Every book spoils some other book, just a little, so there are advantages and disadvantages no matter where you begin.”

On the back of the book, it says that Megan Whalen Turner is the “bestselling and award-winning author of four other stand-alone novels set in the world of the Queen’s Thief.” The “stand-alone” part is arguable. I think you’ll enjoy them more if you read at least the first three books in order.

However, they have a case about this book being stand-alone. I think I might have enjoyed it more if I hadn’t been so impatient for Eugenides (the Queen’s Thief) to show up and for me to find out what he was up to. (I knew he was up to more than met the eye.)

Anyway, this book is set in the Mede empire, focusing on Kamet, the slave of the Mede ambassador to Attolia, who was a part of the second book, The Queen of Attolia. Now they are back home, and Kamet is again close to great power. His master, whose affairs he manages, is the nephew of the Mede emperor, and brother of the emperor’s chosen heir.

As the book begins, Kamet is accosted in an alleyway by an Attolian, who tells Kamet to meet him at the docks after dark. The Attolian will escort Kamet to freedom.

Kamet pretends to go along with it, but he’s laughing inside. Here are some of the reasons why he is happy in his place:

As a slave in the emperor’s palace I had authority over all of my master’s other slaves and most of his free men. I had my own money in my master’s cashbox. I had a library of my own, a collection of texts in my alcove that I carefully packed into their own case whenever my master moved households. I not only could read and write, I could read and write in most of the significant languages of the empire. My master had paid good money for it to be so. Someday he meant to make a gift of me to his brother, and then, as the next emperor’s personal slave, I would be one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in all the empire. I wouldn’t have taken the Attolians’ offer even if I’d believed it was sincere – and I didn’t. They meant to slice my throat and toss me in a sewer, I was sure.

But that same day, something happens to change Kamet’s mind. A friend in the household informs him that their master has been poisoned in his room.

When a man is murdered, his slaves are tortured. If any confess, then all are executed whether they share in the guilt or not. No one will buy them and they can hardly be freed – what a temptation that would put before the enslaved population. In the case of a poisoning, where the administration of the poison is unclear, the slaves are put to death on principle. The Medes fear little in quite the way they fear their own slaves.

So Kamet lets the Attolian help him escape. Most of the book deals with their adventures trying to escape the Mede empire and get to Attolia. All the while, Kamet has not told the Attolian that his master is dead and he’s a wanted man. The Attolian thinks that the emperor’s elite guard are after them because an important slave has escaped. They must deal with pursuit, slavers, hunger, illness, and many other pitfalls along the way.

As with the other books in the series, Megan Whalen Turner has her characters telling each other myths about the gods. I enjoyed that this time, as tales from the Mede empire, they are in a completely different style from the tales told in the earlier books. Those resembled Greek myths, and these resemble Assyrian tales. As before, the tales told mirror situations the travelers face.

Now, I wanted the journey to finish a lot sooner than it did. I suspect that might not be as much of a problem for folks who aren’t already familiar with the series. Also, the Advance Reader Copy has blank pages that it says will be filled with maps. I think maps would really help me enjoy the story of the journey more, so I could see that the two are making progress. As it is, without a map it feels like the journey is going on and on, facing obstacle after obstacle. This is enough motivation for me to preorder the finished book, despite having this advance copy. (And advance copy isn’t enough for one of my very favorite series!)

In the big picture of the series, we know that the Mede empire is eventually going to attempt to annex the three kingdoms of the peninsula. In the previous books, the big picture story focused on getting those three kingdoms to stop fighting one another so they could deal with the Mede threat. In this book, we saw one small step in holding off that threat a bit longer.

The author says at the front that she’s not done with the world of the Queen’s Thief, and she’s definitely not done with the Queen’s Thief. I’m so glad! Of course, she spends so much time crafting her tales, it’s time to settle in for another long wait. Good thing the wait is always worth it!

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of My Lady Jane, by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

Saturday, October 8th, 2016

my_lady_jane_largeMy Lady Jane

by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

HarperTeen, 2016. 491 pages.
Starred Review

This is the first book I’m reading as a 2016 Cybils first-round panelist for Young Adult Speculative Fiction — and it bodes well that this whole reading experience is going to be tremendously fun.

But let me say right up front that while these are Blogger awards so I am allowed to talk about what books I like — please be aware that I am only one member of the judging panel, and I will write reviews before I’ve talked with any of the other judges. So only my opinion is expressed. On top of that, this is the first book I’ve read for the Cybils this year, so I can’t even compare it with the competition yet. I hope the competition will be tough! So I will simply express that I loved this book — but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be a Finalist.

That said, I did love this book! The premise is exceptionally fun. It’s alternate history, during a very turbulent time in England’s history — with shapeshifting thrown in.

Here’s how the authors begin the prologue:

You may think you know the story. It goes like this: once upon a time, there was a sixteen-year-old girl named Jane Grey, who was forced to marry a complete stranger (Lord Guildford or Gilford or Gifford-something-or-other), and shortly thereafter found herself ruler of a country. She was queen for nine days. Then she quite literally lost her head.

Yes, it’s a tragedy, if you consider the disengagement of one’s head from one’s body tragic. (We are merely narrators, and would hate to make assumptions as to what the reader would find tragic.)

We have a different tale to tell.

Pay attention. We’ve tweaked minor details. We’ve completely rearranged major details. Some names have been changed to protect the innocent (or not-so-innocent, or simply because we thought a name was terrible and we liked another name better). And we’ve added a touch of magic to keep things interesting. So really anything could happen.

This is how we think Jane’s story should have gone.

Instead of Edward dying of Consumption (or The Affliction), he’s dying because he’s being poisoned by his closest advisor. The part I like best though is that instead of conflict between Protestants and Catholics, there’s conflict between Verities and E?ians (“eth-ee-uhns”).

“The E?ians were blessed (or cursed, depending on your point of view) with the ability to switch between a human form and an animal one.” That form is fixed for any individual E?ian. King Henry VIII took a lion form and had a bad habit of eating people who brought him bad news.

But my favorite thing about this book is the character of Jane Grey. More than anything, she loves to read. Because of this, she has an encyclopedic knowledge of many different subjects. And she’s not conventional.

At the start of the book, as part of a plot to take over the throne of England, King Edward’s advisor, Lord Dudley, tells Edward he’s dying. They need to marry off Edward’s cousin Jane quickly so that she can produce an heir before he does.

So, in a few days, Jane is to be married to Lord Dudley’s son Gifford — and nobody bothers to tell Jane ahead of time that during the day, every day, Gifford is a horse.

We’ve got plots and counterplots and people changing into animals at inopportune moments. But there’s also romance and a whole lot of humor. If the sensibilities of the people involved seem a bit modern — well, the narrators make that fun.

I’ll go ahead and tell you that Jane does become Queen of England for nine days. But that’s about all that matches the history we know. What does happen is an entertaining adventure and tremendous fun.

The story is told from three perspectives — Jane, Gifford, and Edward. So I’m not sure if the three authors each took one perspective — they do sound pretty much alike. Though that’s fair because the voice is always that of the narrators. The narrators give things a modern twist throughout, with plenty of humor and perspective dashed across it all.

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage, by Sydney Padua

Tuesday, June 16th, 2015

lovelace_and_babbage_largeThe Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage*

*The (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer

by Sidney Padua

Pantheon Books, New York, 2015. 319 pages.
Starred Review

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a book quite like this. It’s based on a web comic. The comic is based on two actual historical geniuses, Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace. But Sidney Padua invents the existence of pocket universes, where Charles Babbage actually builds his Analytical Engine (In real life, he never built it, always coming up with a better idea before bringing an earlier idea to completion.), and Ada Lovelace actually lived long enough to help him program it.

This book describes their adventures in the pocket universes. Now, in our universe, computers actually got built in the age of electricity, using vacuum tubes and electric current. Babbage designed his Difference Engine and Analytical Engine to run on steam, so that’s what’s drawn here – a grand Difference Engine with cogs and gears and powered by steam.

Other historical figures of the period run through these pages, and some of the most fun to be found here are in the extensive footnotes, endnotes, and appendices. While reading about what never happened, you’ll learn all sorts of facts about what did actually happen. You’ll come to know Lovelace and Babbage, seeing them in action, using words they actually wrote in their real-life lifetimes.

Here’s how Sidney Padua describes beginning to write this comic:

It was in a pub somewhere in London in the spring of 2009 that I undertook to draw a very short comic for the web, to illustrate the very brief life of Ada Lovelace. This was suggested to me by my friend Suw, also in the pub, who was (and still is) the impresario of an annual women-in-technology virtual festival she had named after Lovelace, a historical figure of whom I think I was hazily aware.

As anybody else would do, I looked up “Ada Lovelace” on Wikipedia. There I found the strange tale of how, in the 1830s, an eccentric genius called Charles Babbage only just failed to invent the computer, and how the daughter of Lord Byron wrote imaginary programs for his imaginary computer. It was such an extraordinary story, so full of weird personalities and poetic flourishes that it hardly seemed true; but at the end of it the facts thudded back to dull reality. Lovelace died young. Babbage died a miserable old man. There never was a gigantic steam-powered computer. This seemed an awfully grim ending for my little comic. And so I threw in a couple of drawings at the end, imagining for them another, better, more thrilling comic-book universe to live on in.

She goes on to say, “Almost everybody had failed to realize that my alternate-universe ending was a joke.” And so she began writing these comics.

The result is quirky, full of facts, and a whole lot of fun. I also love the Victorian, over-the-top style used, especially for title pages and diagrams.

And, yes, I will be watching the webpage for more adventures.

And, okay, I’ll admit it. I brought this book to a Book Dating event. It’s like Speed Dating — only everyone brings a book, and you have something to talk about. I thought this book was a nice blend of fiction and nonfiction — and that anyone who thinks it’s cool will be someone I will be able to easily talk with. This turned out to be true.

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sydneypadua.com

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Fiction/lovelace_and_babbage.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?