Posts Tagged ‘history’

readingYep a day late and a shilling short, as they say. But no, no missing shillings because today I have just finished something rare and wonderful.

I’m ploughing a hard furrow at the moment with a mule that’s on three legs and a swinger, and with Christmas coming up it’s enough to drive a body to drink. But I don’t drink so instead I mine the M/M pit for gems and take my mind of the situation by reading a lot.

This weeks gem is a softly glowing pearl of a book – Like Fire through Bone by E E Ottoman.

I’m a real history nerd and feel that some periods and places are unjustly neglected, so it was a HUGE treat to find this book set in something very much like the Eastern Roman Empire. Byzantium/Constantinople is never mentioned and the geography has been fiddled with a bit, but the world was familiar, lush, horrifying and complex. I loved that.

Then there are the characters. Firstly Vasilios, the MC, a castrato who was captured in war and mutilated. Rather than falling into despair he worked hard and has made himself indispensable to his master, a merchant whose health is failing. These eunuch bureaucrats, highly educated, highly motivated, cultured and competitive, were the driving force behind the Roman Empire, both east and west and the Ottoman Empire that followed, in government, th military, financial institutions, the church and right down to household level. Vasilios runs his master’s household, directs his business, disciplines the other servants and has more or less given up on doing anything other than serve others. He’s a sweet, gentle, intelligent man who is appreciated only as a valuable asset rather than a person in his own right. His one little self indulgence is a wistful crush on General Markos, confidant of the Emperor.

Then Vasilios begins to have horrifying dreams and realises that they have a bearing on a task that the General is trying to accomplish. This provides the excuse fr him to meet the General more often and the crush blossoms as he realises that the General too may be harbouring feelings for him. Markos is a tough guy but benign who has attained his rank through competence and loyalty rather than birth or connections. As such he’s a very good match for Vasilios.

Their gentle and careful courtship forms part of the story. Other themes are a dark paranormal tale concerning devils and murder and the utter vulnerability of slaves in a world where they have absolutely no rights and can be killed, discarded, used or brutalised at their owners whim.

I read this book almost at a sitting and enjoyed every word of it. Very highly recommended. If you want a standard romance structure you might be a little disappointed in the slightly ambiguous ending but for me it was perfect for Vasilios and an ending that is good for the character has to be better than one that panders to readers tastes doesn’t it? Get it, read it. I’m sure you’ll love it as much as I did.

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Oh good grief

I can generally put my hands on things if I need them. I’m also a bit anxious about old things and much inclined to wrap them in acid free tissue and keep them forever, to the detriment of the tidiness of the house. But I think this is the first time something has turned up that we didn’t even know we had.

Look what we just found in a shed.

Luckily it’s a nice dry shed and they were well wrapped up so the moth hadn’t got into them.

It’s a uniform edition of Shakespeare bound in marbled calf with marbled end papers and it’s got PICTURES.

The big surprise was the date.

So 215 years old! And – AND – I know where they came from.

“H Godwin, Bookseller, No. 19 Milsom Street, Bath” in that copy while others are at No. 24.

So I Googled him and found this:

It is estimated that by the turn of the nineteenth century there were at least ten circulating libraries in Bath. The most exclusive one was undoubtedly Marshall’s at 23, Milsom Street, which opened in 1787. Originally it was jointly owned by Samuel Jackson Pratt and James Marshall, but by 1793 Marshall was the sole proprietor. The list of his subscribers read like a Who’s Who:
two princes (the Prince of Wales and Frederick, Prince of Orange), five dukes, four duchesses, seven earls, fourteen countesses, many other nobles and forty-three knights. Professional customers were three admirals, four generals and many service officers down to twenty-six majors and seventy-one captains, and also ecclesiastics: one archbishop, six bishops and 114 clerics.
Phyllis May Hembry, The English spa, 1560-1815: a social history (1990, p. 150)
Marshall’s library flourished between 1793 and 1799 but the rise in the price of books -up to 100%- was a serious threat to the business in general. Marshall increased his rates by 25% but ultimately even that didn’t save him from being declared bankrupt in 1800 as the number of subscribers declined. His son joined him that year and together they managed to revive the library, stocking up to 25,000 books, until it was bought by Henry Godwin in 1808.

{From the Painted Signs and Mosaics Blog which is well worth an explore.}

Google Earth informs me that 19, Milsom Street is still there:

Now housing the local branch of Austin Reed. I don’t suppose the upper stories have changed substantially since Jane Austen’s day.

I’m scared to look in the rest of the shed.

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I can’t begin to describe how excited and apprehensive I am to hear that HM Pickle is up for sale – on Ebay no less! There’s no reserve and only 5 days left in the auction.

Of course it’s not the real one. This is an excellent replica of the 1799 top sail schooner, known at the time as a Bermuda sloop. The original Pickle was 73 feet long with a 20 foot beam, displaced 127 tons and was armed with 8 12 pounder carronades with a crew of approximately 40 to man the guns and trim the sails.

Pickle served in the French Revolutionary War, firstly in the Caribbean, fighting pirivateers, pirates and the French squadrons, then in the Channel and the Mediterranean. Pickle was the vessel chosen to carry news of the victory at Trafalgar, and the death of Nelson, back to England. During th battle itself, Pickle had hung back with the other small ships, darting in to rescue survivors from stricken vessels and carrying messages where safe to do so. While assisting a French vessel that had caught fire and exploded one of Pickle’s boats picked up a woman from the French ship. She was clinging to a floating oar and had been blown right out of her clothes. She described how she had had to fight off French sailors who had tied to take the oar for themselves. One of the Pickles gallantly took of his trousers and gave them to her to wear. It seems a bizarre story until you consider that the Navy wasn’t nearly as ‘stag’ as the history books lead us to believe. I suspect that there’s a really good story in this anecdote but I don’t think I’m the one to write it.

I have a mini Pickle at home, built over three long cold winters by my husband, and very fine she is too. The Cat loves to sleep on top of her case.

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