So I was a huge fan of the first two Tensorate novellas, but JY Yang’s The Descent of Monsters worked less well for me.
The main culprit is, I think, the structure. It’s told largely in reports and letters, and is mostly looking back at solving a mystery about what happened in a recent-ish event. But and so, having only a vague memory of the ending of the previous story (yes, I know I read it only a month ago), I could tell that this involved the same characters who were featuring in that story, and since it seemed to me like they had already solved the mystery being investigated here—that was the end of the second story, right?—I was distractedly trying to figure out how much of what I was getting was recap and how much was new.
But it turns out this is investigating a different aspect of that same mystery, and so a bunch of it was new, much more than I was thinking. Oops.
But then also because of the structure of the story, it wasn’t very tense or narratively propelled. “Something happened a while ago, and we’re trying to figure out what” is a calm, laidback story where all the tension has already been resolved. And the usual way to address that is to put the investigator into danger—which Yang does—but the investigator takes so little active action, and has so little meaningful interaction with the other characters we know, that their danger just didn’t have a really strong impact.
When I got to the end of this one, my general feeling was: “That’s it?” I know these are only novellas, but the previous two felt like short novels; this felt like a long short story. It’s not bad, and if you can actually remember what happened in the previous book before reading this one, you’ll avoid my confusion; but it feels like the prologue to a longer novel, or a light palate cleanser. I’m still looking forward to the next one, but maybe keep your expectations in check before reading this one.
Martha Wells’ Rogue Protocol is the third Murderbot novella, and is now available for reading. There’s a pretty good chance this tells you everything you need to know, but I guess I can go into a bit more detail.
Like the previous novellas in the series, it features Murderbot. As in those, Murderbot remains a great narrator. Also as in those, Murderbot gets into adventures. Unlike in the second story, ART is not a character, maybe my only disappointment here.
Beyond that… look, it’s a novella, there’s only so many words in the thing, I can’t say that much about it without comprehensively spoiling it. It’s a good story (though the second remains my favorite, thanks to ART) and it advances Murderbot’s larger story arc while being a satisfying self-contained story. Recommended.
So the eponymous protagonist of Walter Jon Williams’ Quillifer is the son of a butcher, a lawyer by training, and I’m fighting really hard not to describe him as “young, scrappy, and hungry,” but he pretty much is. Like Hamilton (or Miles Vorkosigan, for that matter), he’s one of those high-energy, smartest-person-in-the-room characters who excels at both getting into and out of trouble.
And there’s plenty of trouble to be gotten in here, because Quillifer is pretty much a straight picaresque; he careens from episode to episode in his efforts to gain wealth and power, and the world in which he’s careening is basically early modern Europe—you know: gunpowder, printing presses, galleons, but also monarchs and guilds—except that it is a fantasy, so it may well be that some of the gods and magic are real.
Quillifer is a fun character to hang around with, and his adventures—political, military, naval, and otherwise—make for an absorbing read. My biggest complaint with the book is that it is just a series of episodes. There’s no real larger arc to the story other than “here’s a bunch of stuff that happened to a guy.”
But it turns out that this is almost certainly because this isn’t the standalone book I thought it was; it’s intended to be the first in a multi-book series, so the full story arc will become visible over the course of the series. So I guess my real biggest complaint is that I accidentally started an unfinished fantasy series, sigh. I do think it ends satisfyingly, though—all the episodes are basically wrapped up, and a phase of his life is sort of over, so it’s not leaving you completely dangling until the next book is published.
Recommended for anyone who enjoys hyper-competent smartasses having fun adventures in early-modern fantasy Europe.
Becky Chambers’ Record of a Spaceborn Few is the third of what I guess they’re calling the “Wayfarers” series. It’s not a direct sequel to either of the other books (though it has some character links to the first, and events that happen there are referenced here).
It’s sort of a weird book, because structurally it doesn’t seem to work at all. It’s about a bunch of characters having very disparate stories, and while they do come together in some ways—it’s not just a half-dozen short stories all interleaved—their stories never really cohere into a tight plot. They’re all just kind of circling around each other, interacting without converging. And really, the story that they circle around isn’t particularly complex or interesting.
But and so, a thing I’ve said before is that I sometimes wish TV shows could be just the setup part, before it gets into the big action-packed plot, where it’s just a bunch of people going about their lives. And it’s not quite accurate to say that’s what Chambers is doing here…. but it’s not totally inaccurate, either. Because fundamentally, what the book is about isn’t the specific plot events, it’s not some central man vs. whatever conflict that gets raised up and resolved.
What it is, really, is a kind of meditation about what makes a good society, the nature of happiness, the tension between preservation and evolution, and what it means for a place to be home. And despite its unconventional structure, it actually does work—by coming at these themes from different angles and loosely-connected perspectives, it somehow ends up feeling tied together in an almost improbable way.
This isn’t the sequel I expected from Chambers, after reading her two previous books, but it’s good stuff. And now I’m even more curious about what her next book will be.
So I’ve read the last three books of Sarah Caudwell’s Hilary Tamar series, and found all of them a delight. The epistolary structure continues throughout (taking a detour into “telexes,” whatever those were—some kind of telegram, I assume—at one point), as do the murders. (As does, though I didn’t emphasize this when talking about the first one, the focus on the legal aspects of wills and trusts—Caudwell is definitely writing what she knows here.)
The writing remains droll, the characters charmingly arch, and the mysteries interesting. If I were looking for criticisms, I might note that the plot of the fourth is a bit loose, and that Caudwell has a tendency to make unpleasant people physically ugly and fat in a way that is, let’s charitably say, “old-fashioned.” But I’m not really looking for criticisms, because I enjoyed the heck out of these. If you like the first one, you’ll definitely want to read them all in a row, so clear out that much space on your reading calendar when you start.
Sarah Caudwell’s Thus Was Adonis Murdered is the first of her Hilary Tamar mysteries. I obviously haven’t read the rest of them yet, but this one at least is one of those arch British novels that you want to quote all the time—not Wodehouse pastiche, but the kind of prose that will appeal to people who like Wodehouse, I should think—which also happens to be an epistolary murder mystery.
The premise of the book (explained in the first few pages, so I’m not spoiling anything) is that there’s a group of friends, who are lawyers in London; one of their number has recently taken a vacation to Venice, and been arrested for murder, and they’re working to find the truth of the matter and prove her innocence.
The epistolary structure is clever, in allowing the build-up to the murder to be told after we already know the murder occurs: The news of her arrest comes across quickly on the wires, but the letters trickle in, building up to the events leading to the arrest. This also works well in allowing the characters to bounce off of each other, reading her letter and riffing on it, or airing their suspicions of who might be guilty.
The mystery itself is entirely credible, and seems to be largely fair—the reader has all the knowledge the lawyers do, and if there’s perhaps a deduction or two that seems a stretch, it can be forgiven as genre convention. (There was one point that I suspected well before it was revealed, but I didn’t know where it was going; that kind of partial guessing of the truth is probably where a mystery ideally wants its reader.)
The one weird thing to me is that if you had asked when the book was set, I would have said at first somewhere in the 1920s, not too long after the Great War. The characters would be libertines by the standards of the time (they’re very casual about their sex in any gender combination), but maybe not too far off for sophisticated cosmopolitan London. But then one of the characters is described as having been in WW2 when he was younger, such that it seems more likely that it’s actually taking place in the 1960s or something. (It occurs to me that it’s entirely possible exact dates are given in the book, and I just didn’t notice.)
But they don’t feel modern. Part of that, of course, is me thinking of Wodehouse; but another part is the letters. The telephone does come into play later in the book, but the idea of mailing around letters seems like something out a past more distant than merely the ‘60s. But probably this is just a case of the internet era making pre-internet communication seem more impossibly ancient than it was.
Anyway, though, that’s not the main point. The main point is, this is a ton of fun and a pure delight if you like your mysteries light-hearted and ironic.
Naomi Novik’s Spinning Silver is a sequel of sorts to Uprooted; though there’s no actual direct connection between them (apparently they’re not even set in the same world), they feel related.
Mostly this is because they’re in the same subgenre, of epic fantasy fairytales. Like Uprooted, this one starts with a girl living in a village, but here she’s a poor moneylender’s daughter. I don’t want to spoil where the story goes, but it involves dukes and kings, ice fae and demons, promises sworn and impossible tasks assigned. It’s exploring what it means to live on the margins of society (this isn’t our world, as such, but it’s enough so that the moneylenders are explicitly Jewish rather than some fantasy analog), what it means to be a ruler, and what it means to be a family, all familiar fairy tale themes.
The book is excellent. The characters are tropes given flesh and complexity; the story is familiar but new and unexpected; and the world captures the charm and danger of fairy tales. I’m actually a little annoyed right now, because having finished this book, all I want to do is read another book in this series, but there isn’t one. Hopefully Novik will remedy that quickly.
The Ballad of Black Tom is one of the best Lovecraft stories I’ve read, but when I went to read Victor LaValle’s The Changeling, I actually had no idea what it would be. I assumed it wasn’t more Lovecraftian horror, but so maybe some kind of fairytale thing?
And so it starts out as a very mundane slice-of-life kind of story, one that would be totally at home in the literary fiction aisles (where, it turns out, LaValle’s earlier books have been shelved; I had completely thought that Black Tom was his first publication, but apparently just the first one that I noticed). And as literary fiction, it’s really good. It’s sharply observed, wry, and peopled with believable characters. If LaValle were to write a book about people just going about their lives, it’d be a fun read.
But it turns out this isn’t that, because eventually that mundane starts getting mixed in with the mystical, and oh yeah, this is a fairytale thing. And it might not be Lovecraftian, but it is still horror.
I’m not really a horror reader—I read a bunch of it back in junior high when it was super-popular, to try to figure out why it was so popular, and I never actually understood the appeal. But I do get it here, because this book is intense. The every-day elements serve to ground the fantastic, to keep it from getting too wifty and supernatural; but also to intensify them, to make them feel that much more possible and real.
Excellent stuff, recommended for everyone who doesn’t mind some darkness in their fairy tale.
Monica Byrne’s The Girl In the Road is, fundamentally, one of those novels of the road, all about a journey both physical and (inevitably) spiritual and metaphorical and what-not as well. In fact, it’s actually two of those stories, told interweavingly, and with the relationship between them unclear for a while.
So Byrne, who is “an American able-bodied, middle-class, mostly straight cis white” woman, has written an essay arguing that people like her should write stories about… well, the protagonist of this story: a queer mentally-ill Indian woman (who is in a relationship with a trans woman). I don’t have any opinion worth noting about the ethics of that argument, but from the purely artistic side, I think this novel argues against her.
Because while I’m sure Byrne did a ton of research and tried to write from experience and ran it by sensitivity readers and what-not, the protagonist just seemed a bit… off. She read like… well, like she was someone with Byrne’s background, rather than the background she actually has in the story. (And no, this isn’t just my seeing what I expected. I actually assumed at first that Byrne was Indian despite her name, and only when the book was feeling a bit weird, I googled her, and found that essay.)
But I don’t know, it’s not like the story would be improved if the protagonist were a white girl from Massachusetts. And you could make a case that this is set in the future when India is a prosperous and dominant world power, so maybe an Indian woman of that time should feel more like a modern American. Ultimately, my biggest problem with the novel isn’t about that anyway—it is, simply, that it’s unpleasant to read a first-person travelogue when you super-hate the protagonist, who is basically a straight-up antihero, just doing a string of horrid things for the whole book.
Obviously lots of people love them a good antihero—antihero shit is a super-popular genre. And at least this one isn’t yet another angry white dude, so there’s that. But yeah, still not for me. If you like your protagonists unpleasant and unconvincing, you’ll probably enjoy this a lot more than I did.
So Steven Brust’s Vallista is the latest Vlad Taltos novel, a series which I have now been reading for substantially longer than this booklog’s existed, which is increasingly saying something. (Like, I re-read the first one 15 years ago, and thought then that it had been a good while since I read it initially.)
For a long time, this was one of my favorite series, and if you go back and look at the write-ups of each book in the series, you’ll see that come through. But lately, I’ve been getting disenchanted with puzzlebox fiction that sets up a big mystery and teases out reveals over time, because it’s hard not to notice that the ending rarely lives up to all the build-up. And surely that’s going to be doubly true for a series that I’ve been reading my entire adult life; hell, I’m not sure that Brust even has a big master plan that’ll make sense of all the obscure hints he’s been dropping for decades. (He is, after all, a huge admirer of Roger “make-it-up-as-you-go” Zelazny.)
So I didn’t read this right when it came out, and I went into it with medium-low expectations, figuring that it was going to be a by-the-numbers installment of a series that I used to love, but was now reading out of a sense of inertia and completionism.
The thing is, I was completely and delightfully wrong. What I keep forgetting is how much fun these novels can be. I laughed at the witty writing and kept wanting to share quotes from it. And while this is exactly the kind of puzzlebox that I normally hate—not only did it have some big, but slightly ambiguous, reveals about the overall series, the plot of this book is structured as a giant puzzle whose solution needs to be found—it somehow worked. I cared about the central mystery of the book, and I even cared about the larger series reveals. And it made me wonder if maybe Brust actually does have a plan, and the series won’t disappoint in the end.
It seems weird that I can be positively surprised by a series I’ve loved for decades, but I was anyway. Great stuff. If you haven’t read Brust, start in on Jhereg, and know that it stays good at least this far in.
Mary Robinette Kowal’s Ghost Talkers imagines a WW1 where spiritualism—mediums, seances, circles, all that—is real, and where the British are secretly gathering military intelligence from the recently dead. Which is going well and all, until one dead soldier reports treasonous murder, and now we’ve got ourselves a mystery/conspiracy novel.
So what this reminded me of was a Connie Willis novel, one of those farces like To Say Nothing of the Dog or especially, even though they’re different wars, Blackout. It’s not really a farce—it’s basically a straight suspense thriller—but the characters have the same kind of jocularity, and there’s the same madcap running all over chasing after clues.
And also, frustratingly, there’s the part of the book where if people would just relax, talk to someone else, and compare notes, they’d be able to short-circuit a whole bunch of unnecessary excitement. To her credit, Kowal motivates the lack of communication a lot better than Willis usually does—there’s a conspiracy, and without knowing who’s involved, it’s impossible to know who’s trustworthy and who’s not—but it’s still frustrating to read through, even if it does make sense in internal story logic.
Still, that’s not a huge complaint. This is a light, breezy read despite the nominal heaviness of a WW1 setting; recommended for airport reading or its equivalent.
So Rivers Solomon’s An Unkindness of Ghosts is a dystopian novel set on a generation ship. The dystopia is partly due to events—something happened to the ship at one point in the past that screwed up its functioning, and it hasn’t been quite right ever since—and partly intrinsic in the society that built it, which is deeply racist in a kind of 19th century way, with explicitly segregated decks and racialist science about the subhumanity of those on the lower decks.
The book is focused on the people living in the margins of the ship. The protagonist is a woman from the lower decks, brilliant, autistic, and working as an assistant to the Surgeon (who is part of the ruling families, but whose position in society isn’t that simple); in addition to the Surgeon, it also focuses on her quasi-sister, angry and erratic and dealing (not entirely successfully) with the abuse and trauma that have been heaped upon her.
As a generation ship novel, it’s heavy on the “generations” part, focusing on the mysteries surrounding the characters’ parents and ancestors. It actually reminds me a lot of these books that I read when I was young, the title of which I’ve long since forgotten, YA post-dystopian things where characters had to break the rules of their society to find out what was really going on (which, it turned out, was some aftereffect of nuclear war, omni-present in Cold War SF). The characters here do the same sort of thing, breaking the rules of their society to find out what’s really happening on the ship. But these aren’t the rules of a cool and distant priesthood, they’re the rules of oppressors whose cruelty is more explicitly visceral.
It’s well-written, the characters feel deeply real, and the story moves along at a good pace; and though it’s anything but a cheerful book, it’s not “grimdark” in the way that I find off-putting. Recommended, though maybe not for light vacation reading.
Reading descriptions of Annalee Newitz’s Autonomous raised a bunch of caution flags for me. Its protagonist is an anti-patent crusader who does open-source-type stuff, and Newitz is or has been a tech journalist and EFF policy analyst. So it’s not hard at all to imagine this being one of those ultra-tedious Doctorow-style essays masquerading as fiction.
But the good news is, it’s not that at all. Newitz is fundamentally writing a story about her characters and the particulars of their circumstances—not just the anti-patent crusader, but also a younger boy and a military robot. And her characters bounce up against each other and even come into conflict, so the book can’t be that simple fictionalized manifesto.
Without getting too spoilery, the title of this book is deeply apropos, because—from a bunch of different angles—it’s exploring what it means to be autonomous in relation to the self, to society, to friends, to one’s own history, to institutions. It’s one of those books that makes you think about the world we’re building and the world we might want to build instead.
Martha Well’s Artificial Condition is the second of her Murderbot novellas. As much as I loved the first one, I was kind of unsure as to whether a sequel would really work as well—it felt like maybe one of those works where everything comes together perfectly and trying to recapture the feel of it without getting stale might not work, you know?
But I shouldn’t have been concerned, because this is absolutely great. Murderbot remains a superb narrator (I mentioned in my last post that Oar from Ascending is one of my favorite protagonists; Murderbot is right up there), and ART is a great supporting character. And the situation in this book is very much not a reprise of the first story—things are moving forward for Murderbot, but without losing what makes the character appealing.
A fast-paced story, wonderful characters, a great narrative voice, and enough character development that it feels like more than just empty fun. I’m totally in for as much Murderbot as Wells wants to write at this point. Recommended for just about anyone.
So James Alan Gardner’s All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault is the first in a new series of novels from him (the back of the book has a promo for the second, due later this year). This is particularly noteworthy because his last series, the League of Peoples, ranged from good to excellent (Ascending has one of my favorite narrators ever), but also wrapped up over a decade ago. I honestly thought he was retired from writing, but apparently—and thankfully—not.
This is also a really enjoyable and promising start for a series. The premise sounds like it could be cheesy—vampires vs. superheroes!—but in fact it works pretty well. Because what Gardner is doing isn’t just setting up a geeky fan-service conflict, he’s actually built a world in which this makes sense, where the vampires and demons are the capitalist overlords, the CEOs and other one percenters; and the superheroes are (usually!) the champion of the everyperson.
But beyond the kind of political background, it’s also just a very personal story. Fundamentally, this is the story of Kim Lam discovering who they are and what they want their life to be, and that just happens to be a personal story that involves superheroes punching vampires.
And plus, Gardner writes with verve and energy, and this book moves propulsively forward with a tone that’s as light-hearted as the title would suggest. Really good stuff, recommended to anyone who doesn’t demand complete seriousness from their books at all times.
So as R.F. Kuang’s The Poppy War started out, I was really loving it. It was doing this kind of boarding school story where a scrappy kid in a bad situation works hard and gets into the big school, and now has to deal with a whole new world of high society that they know nothing about, dealing with the resentments of their rich classmates, etc. Like Harry Potter if Harry Potter were good. It’s a shape of story that I have a real fondness for, and it was done well.
But then, something like half of the way into the book, it took a turn into the grimdark. And to clarify what I mean by that phrase, it’s not about the events in the book (though those were often both grim and dark), it’s about the attitude of the characters. Once we get to the grimdark portion of the book, there’s almost never a non-sardonic smile, almost never a moment of non-mordant levity, almost never any interpersonal relationship that isn’t warped and twisted by self-loathing and violence.
And there’s nothing wrong with that, as such. Kuang seems to be doing something very intentional with the grimdark here. (From the ending, I’m pretty sure this is the start to a trilogy; it tells a complete story in itself, but there’s a lot of dangling ends.) But me personally, I super-hate grimdark. I kept reading this book, hoping that it would take another turn and go back to being the book I wanted it to be, but no such luck. I’m curious about where the series goes from here, but I suspect that it’s going to stay solidly in the grimdark, so will probably never read the sequels to find out, alas.
Recommended for people who are more grimdark-tolerant than me.
So JY Yang’s The Black Tides of Heaven and The Red Threads of Fortune are billed as “twin novellas” that can be read in any order, but they both are about the same main characters, and one of them happens chronologically 100% after the other one. So while I guess you could read the later book first, and then treat the other as a prequel, it makes waaaaay more sense to just say that Black Tides is book one, and Red Threads book two.
So these are apparently considered “silkpunk,” and I’m not sure I actually understand what the “punk” suffix means anymore, but they’re set in a fantasy Asian empire with magic-based tech, and the protagonists are a set of twins who seem to have been picked out by fate. There’s family drama, politics, romance (the characters involved have a reasonable variety of genders and sexualities), and straight-up action.
These are fast-reading, and not just because they’re short—I talk a lot about how much I like books that have that propulsive sense of momentum, and these have that in spades. (I had actually picked them out to read on an airplane, started the first one to see if they were really the appropriate tone for airplane reading, and then ended up plowing through them well before the trip. Oops.) But like the best such books, they’ve also got some depth to them: The characters feel real, the politics meaningful, the world seems to exist beyond the horizons of what the characters see.
Really fun books, strongly recommended to any fantasy fan, and I’m excited to see more of them.
Fred Anderson’s Crucible of War is a history of the Seven Years’ War, which you probably learned about in high school US history as “The French and Indian War.” So the book argues that this conflict was actually hugely important in shaping the course of American history, that the (spoilers) British victory over the French and subsequent domination of North America was at least as big a turning point as the American Revolution. And it makes a pretty good case for its view; it’s definitely hard not to think that this was severely under-covered in my high school US history courses.
But so also of course, this isn’t just American history. Fundamentally, this is a conflict between the French and British empires, encompassing complex European “balance of powers” bullshit (modern European history is an exhausting chronicle of soi-disant diplomatic geniuses blundering into stupid, bloody wars, apparently), Caribbean island invasions, attempts to control the India trade, in addition to the North American stuff. And the book does a good job giving an overview of those different theaters to provide the full context, though it stays at arm’s length from all of them; it’s definitely focused on North America.
What it also does a good job of doing is focusing on the politics that drove military decisions. Which means in a British context, Parliamentary factions and court politics; in an American context, relationships between colonial governors and the elected assemblies; and in an Indian context, the relationships between nations (particularly around the Iroquois League) and factions within them. One of the devilish things about history is the way that a particular policy might be terrible for a nation, but good for a particular faction whose leaders happen to be ascendant, and Anderson captures well the internal political logic of bad decisions.
Overall, this is a thorough and well-contextualized book that puts a lot of meat onto the bare bones of high-school history classes. Recommended for anyone interested in British colonial America.
When I read Chernow’s Hamilton biography, I remarked that “when I’ve read biographies of historical figures in the past, for college classes, they were always medieval or early modern figures, people whose lives have a lot of blank spots and whose personalities require a lot of guesswork based on relatively little evidence.” Which is a pretty spot-on description of Levi Roach’s Æthelred: The Unready.
Because here we are with a biography of a long-reigning king, and all we have is the thinnest of public records to hang it on. Like, we know he married twice, for instance, but we don’t even know what happened to his first wife—did she die? was she cast out in disfavor? when?—never mind anything personal at all. Even on matters of major policy, there’s not a whole lot there. Major court realignments are adduced from the order of signatures on monastic charters; significant policy shifts are visible in which monasteries get more land in those charters; guesses at the mindset of a kingdom under invasion are based on changes in coinage. A single extant poem detailing a particular battle becomes this enormously significant piece of evidence all out of proportion to what we really can know based on it (as Roach notes), just because we have so little.
But Roach takes this scanty data and manages to turn it into a compelling analysis of an important moment in English history, detailing the primary periods of Æthelred’s kingship—his regency as a child king; his reaction against his regents as he came into maturity; his repentance for that youthful reaction and re-embrace of those old influences; increasing crisis and a shift in advisors; and finally, the rising tide of Danish invasion and the conquest of England.
For the most part, this is a sober, analytical history rather than a narrative one (though at one point Roach does allow himself a bit of (well-sourced) dramatic license to imagine how a scene of the king’s repentance might have played out), so it’s not the kind of page-turner that, e.g. that Hamilton bio is; probably it’s not going to inspire any hit musicals. But it is clear, concise, and informative; recommended if this is the sort of thing you’re looking for.
Matthew Restall’s Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest is pretty much what the title suggests. It goes through a double-handful of the wrong (and often pernicious) nonsense beliefs that we learn, either in school or just kind of vaguely around, and notes the ways in which they’re not actually true, and explains what is… maybe not “true,” as such, but at least less wrong.
(Okay, that was a confusing sentence. This is one of those academic histories that has fully embraced epistemological nihilism and doesn’t believe that there is such a thing as historical truth, or that if it would be knowable if there were. So it explicitly disavows any claims to be giving its readers the actual truth, but it also pretty clearly thinks it’s useful to say that the myths it’s arguing against are just flat wrong.)
It’s a good book for what it is, and I think it overall explains the history well, and makes a good case for the falsity of the myths it’s addressing. But for me personally, it falls into that awkward category of histories that debunk things I don’t even know well enough to have the myth-version of.
Like, back in a college English history class, one of the books we used went really hard into the idea that some particular king wasn’t as evil as everybody thought, and it was a little weird to me, because I didn’t know a damn thing about the guy and had no reason to think he was evil in the first place. (Turns out that Shakespeare was very unkind to him, and that portrayal had become pop-culture canon for people who were less clueless than nineteen-year-old me.)
And same thing here. A lot of this book is focused on de-mythologizing Cortes in particular, and I didn’t even realize that Cortes was a particularly notable guy; he was just one of the post-Columbus randos that got glossed over really quickly in my high-school world history course during the whole “Age of Exploration” thing: Magellan, Pizarro, Cortes, de Soto, etc. He doesn’t even have a cool fountain of youth thing like Ponce de Leon, you know?
But apparently in real life, he’s a big deal, and now I know both a lot of the incorrect things that have been believed about him, as well as some things that are probably less wrong. So that’s cool.