Sunday, February 17, 2013

2013 Reading, Books 16-18

16) The Accidental City, by Lawrence Powell.

This was research for one of my works-in-progress, which isn't yet contracted but I hope will be a first half of 2014 release. My book starts in the aftermath of the Battle of New Orleans, and my heroine is a fourth-generation native of the city, so this book on New Orleans' first century of existence was extremely useful research and reasonably interesting to boot. If nothing else, I learned a lot more about French and Spanish 18th century imperial concerns than I ever knew before, not to mention some ripple effects of events I already knew well--e.g. a big part of the French population of New Orleans originated not from the original 18th century settlement, but from early 19th century refugees from the Haitian Revolution. They'd gone to Cuba first and were welcome there until Napoleon invaded Spain and set his brother on the throne, at which point French nationals were persona non grata in Spanish colonies, so they fled to the culturally familiar but by then American-held refuge of New Orleans.

17) The Caves of Perigord, by Martin Walker

An unusual book, sort of a braided novel set in the present (well, really around 2002, when the book was published), in the spring of 1944, and 17,000 years ago. It opens with a 30-something British officer, the son of a WWII veteran, turning up in an art auction house with a small rock painting of a bull he found among his late father's effects. The ancient art specialist recognizes it as being of the style and on the same type of stone as the Lascaux cave paintings, but no known cave is missing such a painting. As the modern characters investigate the mystery, we go back in time to see how the bull was painted and how it came to be in the possession of a British war hero.

I enjoyed it, but the interwoven story lines had the strange effect of slowing my reading by making it easier to put the book down between chapters, somehow. Though at the 2/3 point I did skip forward just to see how the prehistoric plot line would come out (semi-spoiler: not as tragically as I feared, but not happily enough to please my romantic side, either), then going back to catch up the two more modern threads.

18) The British at the Gates, by Robin Reilly.

More research for my work-in-progress, a detailed study of the New Orleans campaign of the War of 1812 and a solid general overview of the war as a whole. I liked this book because it seemed more sober and grounded in reality than most sources I've read on the battle--mostly they run to very pro-American, very eager to lionize Andrew Jackson as a human being as well as a general (which, American that I am, I still tend to gag on because of his role in Indian removal and the Trail of Tears), and to portraying the British as a bunch of bumbling incompetent idiots. (Which doesn't make much sense, because then where would the glory be in defeating them?)

This book's more measured approach left me far more willing to acknowledge that Jackson managed the defense of the city brilliantly. As for the British...well, the soldiers didn't lack for courage, and there are a few times where with 20-20 hindsight, one can imagine them winning. But what it comes down to is there are only so many brilliant commanders around at any given time, and I'd say Britain and America had one apiece in 1815. America's was in New Orleans, while Britain's, fortunately, was right where he needed to be in Europe, since Waterloo was a hell of a lot more important for Britain to win.

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