1610: A Sundial in a Grave (2003): Mary Gentle


I have a mixed relationship with the author Mary Gentle, having now read two of her books: Ilario, long before I started this blog, and Black Opera some years ago. 1610 has been sitting on my shelf for over a year and, in the course of a warm, sunny weekend, I decided to give it a go. A sexual assault in the first few chapters gave me pause, but I pressed on regardless and soon found myself in the midst of a very enjoyable swashbuckler, populated with spies, rogues, kings, mathematicians and cross-dressing swordsmen – and taking in the France of Marie de’ Medici, the England of James I and, unexpectedly, Japan in the years before the Sukoku Edict closed its borders. I should stress that this isn’t a fantasy, but a rollicking historical adventure with a few hints of the mystical: best described, perhaps, as The Three Musketeers with added esoterica.

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Black Opera (2012): Mary Gentle


Conrad Scalese is in trouble. It’s around the year 1830 and we meet him in Naples on the morning after he’s watched his new opera Il terrore di Parigi enjoy a stellar success at the Teatro Nuovo. Until just a few hours ago, security, fame and fortune as a librettist beckoned. But since he’s woken up everything has gone wrong. He has a crippling migraine. It turns out that the Teatro Nuovo has been struck by a freak blast of lightning and burned to the ground. People are blaming him for calling down the wrath of God. And the Inquisition are at the door. But all this is just the beginning.

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