Skip to main content

Posts about books (old posts, page 51)

Norse Mythology

Norse Mythology

Neil Gaiman

2017


A re-telling of some of the core Norse legends by a master of science fiction. Gaiman's drawn heavily on Norse mythology in his "Sandman" series, especially in Season of Mists. But he does a fantastic job of rendering the stories in prose too, with a carefully chosen selection and a voice that's perfectly pitched: not trying to be modern, but not being self-consciously archaic or imitative either. In many ways the only shame is that it's too little taken from such a large body of possible tales.

5/5. Finished 28 March 2018.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

The Templars: The Rise and Fall of God's Holy Warriors

The Templars: The Rise and Fall of God's Holy Warriors

Dan Jones

2017


A narrative history of the Order of the Poor Knights of the Temple (to give them their full name). In less than a century the Templars went from nothing, to the most powerful military and commercial order in Europe, and then back to nothing, being destroyed for their money.

That they could disappear so completely is, as Jones points out, one of the reasons why they've given rise to so much fanciful speculation in the eight centuries since: how could an order of warrior knights allow themselves to be rounded up and (in some cases) burned? Wouldn't they have fought, or at least gone underground? Jones makes a convincing case for the fact that the Western half of the Order were mainly farmers and administrators rather than knights per se, and may never have expected to be so thoroughly and ruthlessly persecuted as they in fact were. He supports his case by the fact that the Knights Hospitaller, a contemporary and equally powerful Order, were left unmolested largely because they had a secure military base on Rhodes from which they could have resisted attempts to suppress them (and indeed have survived as a sovereign nation recognised by international law ever since).

The truth is a lot more compelling than any pseudo-history, and illuminates the shifting alliances and power politics of thirteenth century Europe very clearly. It also shows how fragile the whole crusader expedition to the Holy Land (Outremer) was in reality, being constantly in need or reinforcement from a distance and at a constant disadvantage to the Muslim armies fighting closer to home, albeit often with the same degree of internal politics and variable levels of support.

4/5. Finished 25 March 2018.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

Venice: A Literary Guide for Travellers

Venice: A Literary Guide for Travellers

Marie-Jose Gransard

2016


A book full of anecdotes and charm, describing how a huge cast of characters have interacted with La Serenissima over the centuries. On the way, Gransard highlights the unique characteristics of Venice: its loose morals and easygoing charm, but also its mystery and romance, its associations with love and lust and death. Best read in conjunction with a visit, I think (as I read it), when one an follow in some character's footsteps to visit places perhaps not highlighted in the modern guidebooks.

4/5. Finished 03 March 2018.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)