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Night Circus

I didn’t intentionally set out to read a bunch of books on magic last year, but that’s what happened. We can blame Erin Morgenstern because it all started with her Night Circus, which was magically delicious and one of the best books I read all year.

Night Circus 2

 

Two ancient magicians pit their young pupils against each other in a strange and beautiful competition that takes place in a very special circus. The ‘competition’ wasn’t the fighting contest sort. In fact, now that I think about it, I’m not entirely sure what the point of the competition was. It had something to do with the creation and development of the circus.  Regardless, I was more enthralled by the characters and the scenery than the dumb competition. The performers were delightfully circus-y, of course, and the reveurs (i.e., the devoted followers of the circus) were also an entertaining set.  The circus’s scenery was so vividly rendered it almost felt like a painting. Good stuff.

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At Morgenstern’s recommendation,  I discovered V. E. Schwab and she kept me entertained for a good two months with her work. First came Vicious.

ViciousCollege students Victor and Eli are researching and provoking near-death experiences amongst themselves, which leads to them developing supernatural powers…and a rivalry. The comic-book style characters with special abilities reminded me a little of the T.V. show Heroes.  It wasn’t my usual reading fare, but it was smart, well-written and suspenseful enough that I wanted to read more by the author.

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I liked Schwab’s writing style well enough to plunge right into her Shades of Magic series.  It was awesome.  The trilogy centers around court magician, Kell, of Red London.  Kell is one of the last of the Antari, who are powerful spell casters able to travel between the parallel Londons: Red London, White London, and Grey London.  There’s also a Black London — the source of all magic existing in the other Londons, but the magic consumed that version of London and it was sealed off.  Back to Kell – he has one entirely blacked out eye – as Antari do – and he’s a smuggler, which gets him into big trouble. His smuggling eventually becomes a threat to all of the Londons, but you can’t be mad at him for that because he’s so dreamy! I might have fallen in love with him a little.

A Darker Shade of Magic

In the first book of the series, A Darker Shade of Magic, Kell meets Delilah Bard, otherwise known as Lila.  She is a bad-ass thief and to-be pirate lass from Grey London.   She is quite possibly one of my favorite characters ever.  She has her own names for the various Londons: Dull London, Creepy London, Kell London, and Dead London.  The interactions between Kell and Lila are worth the cover price.  They are adorable together. It’s hard to know who’s the hero and who is the side kick – they complement each other so well.

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A Gathering of Shadows

The next book in the series, A Gathering of Shadows, features all sorts of magicians who come together in Red London for a magical fighting sort of competition. Kell and Lila do all sorts of bad things. I’m not one for reading fight scenes, but they are well written, so I was all into them. There’s also Alucard, who is a awesome pirate, or ship captain, depending on how you want to think about it. He becomes Lila’s teacher and their interactions are a riot.

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A Conjuring of Light

The third book in the series, A Conjuring of Light, is about Black London.  Prince Rhy Maresh, Kell’s brother of sorts, plays a larger role in this story. There are all sorts of twists and turns, subplots, drama and intrigue. And magic. Lots of magic.   

Here are a couple of my favorite quotes about Delilah Bard:

“Lila smiled at that, one of those smiles that made Kell profoundly nervous.  The kind of smile usually followed by a weapon.”

“There were moments when Lila wondered how the hell she’d gotten here.  Which steps–and missteps–she’d taken.  A year ago she’d been a thief in another London.  A month ago she’d been a pirate sailing on the open seas.  A week ago she’d been a magician in the Essen Tasch. And now she was this.”

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I always wanted to run away and join the circus, so I had high hopes for The Book of Speculation after a quick scan of a few pages revealed all the right words: an old, mysterious book, a curse, circus performers, magic, tarot, and mermaids.

book of speculation

The title was intriguing too, so it surprised me how much I struggled to get through this one. I abandoned it twice to read other books, but I kept coming back to it thinking it had to get better. Basically, the plot revolves around a librarian, Simon, who tries to figure out why all the women in his family die tragically before the same thing happens to his sister. The biggest problem for me was that all the best characters who carried the story were dead and in the past while the characters in the present were too boring to hold my attention for extended periods.

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return of the witch

A couple years ago I went on a witch kick with Paula Brackston and read all her witchy work. Last year she released, The Return of the Witch, as a sequel to The Witches Daughter. The nefarious warlock Gideon somehow has managed to escape his imprisonment in the Summerlands.  Elizabeth returns to protect her student Teagan,  who has developed strong magic in her own right as a result of  having traveled the world to study with the masters. A handsome Timestepper, Erasmus, is enlisted to help find Gideon who has traveled back to the 17th century to wreak his havoc.  The flashbacks to Teagan’s training were a highlight for me, but it was Erasmus who steals the show in this one.

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Untitled

No one has really “read” the  The Voynich Manuscript in a very long time as it’s a one-of-a-kind medieval codex of mysterious origin written in an indecipherable script. However, I am including this one here because I think there is something magical about a book no one can read. To quote Erin Morgenstern,  “…magic is secret and secrets are magic, after all.”

I did read the commentary and history of the manuscript as detailed by Skinner, Prinke, and Zandbergen and I have pored over the drawings of plants, herbs, and their roots. I have pondered its depictions of women erupting from concentric sheathes, each displaying their unique stars while encircling a centralized goat that is always, always eating. These particular drawings are categorized by the “experts” as astronomical, astrological and cosmological.  Then there are the nude women bathing communally in green and blue lagoons, interconnected through a strange system of tubing. The author had quite a lot to write about this, apparently, but the pictures tell their own story as these bathing tubes evolve into individual systems that seem more like a method of transportation and communication. Rainbows erupt between them. Mermaids. I see mermaids and rainbows (f82v-f83r). We go back to the sky then, and return back to the earth.  So cool. I have to wonder if it was indeed authored by a man, as all the experts referenced in this collection of commentary seem to think. I have other ideas.

The world of academia is as weird as it is wonderful.  I’ve certainly had my share of interesting jobs over the years, but I’ve never been through a process remotely akin to what I’m currently experiencing.  This semester I’m up for mid-tenure review.  This basically means a group of colleagues will evaluate the work I’ve done in the past two and a half years. At this stage in the game, I must articulate my teaching philosophy, detail my professional development, and summarize my scholarly accomplishments in narrative form.   Then I fill a giant notebook with evidence supporting all the things I had to say about myself and I’ll set goals laying out all I wish to accomplish in the next two and a half years when I have to go through this whole process again.  At that point the folks I work with will decide if I they want me to stick around for the rest of my life or if I’m fired. 

Does all that sound weird to you?  It does to me.  But that’s pretty much how it all works.

As a result, I’ve spent a great deal of time lately sitting around contemplating the complicated task of teaching and the messiness of learning.  Quite honestly, I have had no great revelations.  Teaching still seems like the great three-ringed circus it was when I first started.  In this ring, we have a clown juggling individual students’ needs with the needs of the class and the needs of their clients who they will be serving in the future. Step right up to see the enchantress magically transforming information into knowledge. Witness the aerialist performing anxiety-provoking feats as she walks a tightrope stretched between turbulence and order.  Here come the acrobats alternating between collaboration and autonomy as they balance on horseback in an act combining strength, flexibility, and perseverance.

 Did I have a hand in creating this or am I simply just a part of the show?

Maybe a bit of both, who knows.  At least it will be interesting to see what happens next.

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