Tag Archives: alternative history

Review of The Book of Esther, by Emily Barton

I received a copy of Emily Barton‘s The Book of Esther from Blogging for Books.

Description from Goodreads:
Eastern Europe, August 1942. The Khazar kaganate, an isolated nation of Turkic warrior Jews, lies between the Pontus Euxinus (the Black Sea) and the Khazar Sea (the Caspian). It also happens to lie between a belligerent nation to the west that the Khazars call Germania—and a city the rest of the world calls Stalingrad.

After years of Jewish refugees streaming across the border from Europa, fleeing the war, Germania launches its siege of Khazaria. Only Esther, the daughter of the nation’s chief policy adviser, sees the ominous implications of Germania’s disregard for Jewish lives. Only she realizes that this isn’t just another war but an existential threat. After witnessing the enemy warplanes’ first foray into sovereign Khazar territory, Esther knows she must fight for her country. But as the elder daughter in a traditional home, her urgent question is how.

Before daybreak one fateful morning, she embarks on a perilous journey across the open steppe. She seeks a fabled village of Kabbalists who may hold the key to her destiny: their rumored ability to change her into a man so that she may convince her entire nation to join in the fight for its very existence against an enemy like none Khazaria has ever faced before.

Review:
I had a strange experience with this book. When I was reading it I didn’t want to put it down. Once I’d put it down, I didn’t want to pick it up again. So, the whole thing was read by gorging on it and then wandering away to read something else, before gorging myself some more.

It isn’t that the book is bad. It’s not. But it’s heavy and there are a lot of Hebrew words that require repeatedly flipping to the glossary, which got annoying. The story is a good one though. It just only managed to hold my attention while I was actually holding it, if that makes sense.

Esther was a wonderful character and I enjoyed the way she learned and grew as the book progressed. There are a ton of interesting side characters too. I personally loved Gimmel, Chuluun and Shimon (it was great to see an arranged marriage that was obviously going to work well). But do prepared for a lot of named characters.

There is also the history to contend with. This is an alternative version of WWII, from a Jewish perspective. Really interesting. But it is steeped in Jewish history and ceremony and while I enjoyed it, I think those with a stronger understanding of it all will get more out of it than I did.

All in all, I found The Book of Esther to be something I’m glad to have read and experienced.

Review of The Greyfriar (Vampire Empire #1), by Clay & Susan Griffith

I borrowed a copy of Clay and Susan Griffith‘s The Greyfriar from my local library.

Description from Goodreads:
In the year 1870, a horrible plague of vampires swept over the northern regions of the world. It is now 2020 and a bloody reckoning is coming. Princess Adele is heir to the Empire of Equatoria, a remnant of the old tropical British Empire. When she becomes the target of a merciless vampire clan, her only protector is the Greyfriar, a mysterious hero who fights the vampires from deep within their territory. Their dangerous relationship plays out against an approaching war to the death between humankind and the vampire clans.

The first book in a trilogy of high adventure and alternate history. Combining rousing pulp action with steampunk style, the Vampire Empire series brings epic political themes to life within a story of heartbreaking romance, sacrifice, and heroism.

Review:
I’m going to call this an OK read. I didn’t love it, but I didn’t dislike it either. I liked that Adele was self assured and self-confident, but also willing to accept help. Plus, she never threw a strop and ran of to do anything TSTL. I can appreciate that. And I admit, I thought Gareth was just adorable. I liked the writing and it’s well edited. But I had one major personal niggle.

The whole premise of the plot hinges on a subtle supremacy of the human race. Gareth not only appreciated humanity in a way no other vampire does, he actively want to be human and is willing to risk his whole race for the desire. I’ll grant that the vampire culture seems to be in some decline in this book. But I am never comfortable with books that present two competing cultures and make one more morally desirable than the other. Especially when this is done subtly, such that the reader is gently nudged to see one race as superior to the other.

See, I’m uncomfortable with it in the same way I am uncomfortable with that last sentence when used just for humans, when one race is presented as superior to another. Nope, I’m out. I realize this isn’t necessarily something that was intended and it’s totally superimposing reality on fiction, but it’s something I’m almost always sketchy about.