Titans, pseudo-romans and Rasputin: books read this week

After reading Mary Shelley’s life in Romantic Outlaws I checked Percy Shelley’s PROMETHEUS UNBOUND out of the library. This was a sequel to the partially lost Greek drama Prometheus Bound though Shelley acknowledges he’s taking the theme, involving Prometheus’  freedom and its effect on the tyrant-god Zeus, in a different direction. Unfortunately the poem deals with less with that theme than Romantic paeans to the beauty of nature; while any one page of that was a joy to read, at 100-plus pages it palled on me.

I picked up the Y/A fantasy AN EMBER IN THE ASHES by Sabaa Tahir because I’m fascinated by the Roman Empire and this was supposedly set in an alt.Rome. I don’t find it very Roman other than the names and some ranks (centurion, augur) but it kept me reading nonetheless. One protagonist is Elias, an imperial warrior about to qualify as a Mask (a kind of ninja) only to be dragged into the struggle for imperial succession; the other is Laia, resident of s subjugated land and reluctant ally of the resistance in the hope they can help her free her brother. Need I say that their paths cross?

I could have done without all the sexual tension between Elias and his BFF Helene, but that’s just personal taste. I have a bigger problem with the amount of rape and rape threats; while I can buy Laia, who’s posing as a slave being on the receiving end of that shit (though as this review points out, it’s presented more as She’s So Beautiful than about power and dominance), there’s no reason to have Helene, a fellow Mask, treated that way (especially given women have apparently been Masks for centuries). No, “realism” doesn’t excuse it — underage male slaves would have been fair game in ancient Rome but we don’t see any male/male assault.

And I really hated the names of the various cultures — the Martial Empire, the Scholastic Empire, the Tribals living in the neighboring deserts. Those aren’t names, they’re classifications. But since I kept reading even when I was pressed for time, Tahir must have done something right.

RASPUTIN: The Road to the Winter Palace by Alex Grecian and Riley Rossmo is a boring retelling of the story of the sinister priest (if you want the facts, I highly recommend Radzinsky’s The Rasputin Files). I really could have done without making him a Child of Abuse, which is very much a cliche for villains these days.

Case in point, it’s also the origin of the Absorbing Man in Saladin Ahmed and Christian Ward’s BLACK BOLT: Hard Time. It’s good, and, surprisingly different in tone from Ahmed’s Miles Morales stories. Black Bolt’s evil brother Maximus has trapped him in an interplanetary prison and taken his form. Nobody’s coming to rescue him. His powers are gone. The Jailer is a parasite who feeds on suffering, to the point of killing  and resurrecting prisoners for more power. And Crusher Creel, AKA the Absorbing Man, is happy to show Black Bolt why he’s the toughest con on the cell block. Despite my reservation on Creel’s backstory, Ahmed’s writing is good; however the art is a murky mess.

#SFWApro. Portrait of Shelley writing his poem is by Joseph Severn, courtesy of wikimedia.

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