LONDON, 1900: The Imperial Metropolis by Jonathan Schneer, focuses much more on the “imperial” side of the title than I’d anticipated: rather than an overview of the city, Schneer focuses on how the flow of colonial goods and soldiers embarking and disembarking for service overseas influenced the city, on efforts to remodel it on a grander scale (on the grounds London didn’t have the kind of Great Thoroughfare appropriate to an imperial capital) and how the financiers of the financial district and various Fleet Street journalists influenced what happened overseas. Schneer also devotes several chapters to the anti-imperial organizations among the Irish, black and Indian residents of the city, and their various successes and problems (a number of anti-Imperialists were as prone to anti-Semitism as more conventional Brits). Specialized, but good within its range. (Cover photo by Niels Moiler Luud, all rights to current holder)
THE FORBIDDEN LIBRARY by Django Wexler is a fun kickoff to a kids series in which an orphaned girl moving into her uncle’s Spooky Country House discovers she’s a “Reader” with the power to use certain books as portals or prisons—and is thereby cannon fodder or a useful tool for more powerful mages (this has a lot in common with Libriomancer and Inkheart) but not enough to bother me). This was entertaining but as it’s clearly set between 80 and 100 years ago, why do people call Alice “Ms”?
IN THE DEVIL’S GARDEN: A Sinful History of Forbidden Food by Stewart Lee Allen is a great topic ruined by sloppy fact-checking, starting with Allen’s declaration that the Seven Deadly Sins included “blasphemy” (no). I decided to skim before reading further and found exaggerated claims of Druidic cannibalism (at least judging by this article), a 12th-century historian identified as eight-century and some really crazy ideas about how the Holy Grail story is a metaphor for Celtic cannibalism (I know enough about the Grail myths to say everything Allen has to say about it appears wrong). So as I couldn’t believe anything else he was going to write, I stopped reading.
VARIETY’S COMPLETE SCIENCE FICTION REVIEWS was a collection I inter-library loaned for added research, and despite steering me to Project X (you wouldn’t think from the review that it wasn’t time travel) it proved a wise decision as this gave me capsule info for several foreign films (Hu-Man, Return of the Time Machine) that otherwise slipped past my sources. I will say I’m surprised at some of the films it doesn’t include—as this counts lots of Bond and Bond knockoffs as SF, how did it miss Dimension 5?—but still a worthwhile, if rather dry read.
AMAZING XMEN: The Quest for Nightcrawler by Jason Aaron and Ed McGuinness mostly reminds me why I stopped reading mutant books in the 1990s: constant membership reshuffles, big reveals that leave me cold, shocking twists that do the same, endless returns from the dead (and Nightcrawler’s supposed conflict over coming back loses a lot of punch as we never get to see him really enjoy heaven). The story does have some good character bits (“We’re in Hell. We fight them all.”) but a story which involves demon pirates raiding the afterlife should have been more entertaining—unfortunately it doesn’t help that Nightcrawler’s demon father Azazel is so generic (he could as easily have been the team’s old demonic adversary Belasco).
BATMAN: Zero Year—Secret City by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo is an origin retelling Snyder says he wanted to be the anti-Year One, full of flash and excitement where Miller’s tale was grim, street and gritty. This was only so-so for me, partly because I’m just old—I’ve read Batman’s origin many times, and while Snyder does it competently, I’ve been there and done that (which is not Snyder’s fault). Partly it was that the Red Hood feels like a knockoff of Heath Ledger’s Joker, the man who wants the world to burn, and he didn’t grab me. And while it’s a minor part of the story, having the Riddler be exactly the same sort of nihilist (answer my riddles or I burn the city!) undercuts whatever distinction the Red Hood did have. Plus I’m tired of the efforts to make all the New 52 villains more monstrous than ever before (as with The Joker, the Scarecrow, and the Mad Hatter)