Periodically I throw up a post that says, "What should I read, friends?" and you tell me. Although I've mostly been reading David Copperfield lately, I had a brief dalliance with Doomsday Book. Initially it was just going to be a quick peek at Doomsday Book -- I'd finished the day's allotment of David Copperfield and was in the mood for something different. It sucked me in completely, though, and I had to finish it before I could return to Victorian England. These are the things I want to remember:
- Willis creates a world in which everyone is irreplaceable -- where people are quirky and flawed and unmistakably themselves. Kivrin goes to the Middle Ages in search of historical data, but she finds a world full of actual people, who love and gripe and suffer and strive and die.
- No matter how far technology progresses, life is fragile, and shorter than we think. Sometimes all we can do is suffer alongside. Sometimes a willingness to be powerless but present is the only gift we can give. Sometimes it's enough.
- Every age has its church ladies, pushing the One Right Way while failing to recognize the many real needs around them. Both Imeyne and Mrs. Gaddson are blinded by their certainty.
- Love looks for good intentions. I want to remember Kivrin, with her unevenly hacked hair and her filthy blood-smeared clothes, clutching her broken ribs and saying, "He didn't mean to hurt me." I want to remember Roche, seeing God's goodness and provision -- not witchcraft or treachery -- in Kivrin's arrival.
- The future will never be what we think it is. Willis describes a 2055 with no cell phones, in which an administrator can just disappear for a month, unreachable. This makes me nostalgic for her imagined future.
I read Uprooted months ago, after somebody (Rachel?) recommended it in a comment, and I loved it. I'm not sure why I would have guessed that Naomi Novik was culturally Jewish and practically agnostic (perhaps because Temeraire seems so skeptical about the Holy Spirit), but that would have been my guess. I was surprised, then, that this book seemed so deeply Catholic. It wasn't just a good yarn (though it certainly was a good yarn); it was full of truth. These thoughts come from the notes I made to myself as I was reading:
- The thing you dread is not the thing you need to dread. Agnieszka spends her childhood in fear of something that will never happen, while failing to see the magnitude of the threat that surrounds her.
- I cannot condense this bit into a tidy bullet point, but the power of truth is woven through the story: the way that truth revealed brings freedom and strength, the painful difficult work of seeing truth clearly, the light and beauty that emerge when one invites truth to make itself known. I can't do justice to the chapter where Agnieszka invokes the power of truth to set her friend free; you should read it for yourself.
- Purification burns. There's another memorable scene in which Agnieszka is purged from the corruption of the Wood; I have spent ten minutes casting about for a way to describe it to you. You'll just have to read it, I'm telling you.
It reminded me a bit of The Magicians (the sheer difficulty of magic) and a bit of Speaker for the Dead (the mysterious trees), but I loved it in a way I did not love those books. It speaks to me of the importance of home -- of standing on your own two feet in a place you love, pushing back against evil, reclaiming it for good.