What I Read: May

Dark Angels, Karleen Koen

Dark Angels is a historical romance novel set in the court of Charles II of England, who ruled during the late 17th Century. It stars a young woman, Alice Verney, who must navigate the treacherous, lecherous court in her attempts to foil a possible assassination plot and secure a marriage with a high-ranking nobleman.

The historical setting is what drew me to the book and I was not disappointed. I have a great weakness for the combination of romances and true-ish historical settings. The court of Charles II is a fertile place for intrigues and plots, and this book doesn’t disappoint. It does feel less dangerous than it could; I never had much fear for the survival of the protagonist (and as this is a prequel to a novel where she was old this is probably intentional) but neither did I doubt the survival of a historical figure who did not die by murder. I can’t say with certainty that Dark Angels is an accurate portrayal of life during these times, but it was an entertaining one.

Unfortunately, Alice is not a likeable protagonist. She is a selfish bully, full of herself and often thoughtless when dealing with her friends. She is smart and beautiful and knows it, lording it over her friends who are somewhat lacking in one or both of those traits. Alice’s annoying arrogance surely intentional, but it does grate some. She is a young person, who thinks she knows much more than she does, but the world, and the novel, still has surprises for her. This is about her growing out of her childish selfishness. But that does not make her any more likeable for the first two thirds or so. Also, several threads are left unresolved at the end of the novel. Maybe these are references to the first volume in this tale, but for just this book, they leave some unsatisfying conclusions.

Dark Angels is a decent read. Come for the history, tolerate the tepid romance. I can’t say I didn’t enjoy it, but neither am I rushing out to pick up the author’s other work

Robert E. Lee on Leadership,  H. W. Crocker III

I was gifted this brief biography a few years ago but did not get around reading it until now. While not objectionable bad, it does have some problems. The biggest of which is that it is framed as business leadership advice, giving it a very narrow audience. Lee’s leadership techniques are worth remembering, but it is all put as a way to get ahead at work.

Robert E. Lee is a figure worth remembering. He did lead an outnumbered, outgunned force to numerous victories over their larger, better-equipped foes. However, he did fight for the wrong side and there is no escaping that. The argument that the Civil War wasn’t just about slavery has merit, but the Civil War was absolutely about slavery. There were other factors of some importance, but the one thing that changed the struggle from Congressional arguing to all out war was slavery. Lee, though, was not necessarily for slavery. He was for Virginia. The Stated rights argument is one that rose to prominence after the war was won, but for Lee his decision not to lead the Union armies, a position he was offered, but to join the Confederacy was based on the position of Virginia and the fact that he thought of himself as a Virginian and not an American. He is a complex figure worthy of study and without out doubt a great man.

I guess my biggest problem with this book is that it is not the biography of Lee I want to read. Fortunately, it is short enough that I did not waste much time on it.

An Autumn War, Daniel Abraham

The third volume in the Long Price Quartet really ramps up the scope. The first two books were very small for fantasy. This was a strength of theirs. A Shadow in Summer and A Betrayal in Winter were about specific people, specific places at a specific time. Most fantasy involves events of world changing importance, of grand scope and unparalleled consequences. It is both satisfying and somewhat sad to see this series transition to something more like that.

Through the first half of An Autumn War there is the there is feeling of certain calamity. The word war is right there in the title, the reader knows that the potential war will happen. So the protagonists‘, Otah and Maati, struggles to both prevent the war for occurring and prepare for it if it comes are heartbreakingly futile. And while what he is doing is horrible, one can’t help but sympathize with Balasar Gice’s desire to see the andat, the harnessed magical spirits controlled by the poets of the Khaiem that give them the power to prevent wars, destroyed. The first two books have made it very clear that the society of the Khaiem is corrupt, possibly past the point of saving. It requires brother to kill brother to succeed their fathers; it molds it poets through cruelty. The Khaiem is clearly not a nice place and the world might be better off if it fell. However, it is hard to approve of Gice’s ruthless tactics. Maati, who is content to live in the system in place, is trying to find a way to use that to save them, while Otah is relying on more practical, if not more effective, means.

As it did in the first book, it all comes down to Maati, and he is unable to rise to meet the challenge. Maati is a good man; a decent, faithful and kind man. The times require a great man, but all the world has is Maati. There is a certain inevitability to his failure; he has failed at everything else in his life. Despite his failures, Maati is still the most relatable character in the series. He does not want to be a great man. He does not want importance. But he always seems to find himself in places that need a great man, situations that require a hero. And like always, he tries and fails to meet the needs of his world.

An Autumn War is a great piece of fantasy. Even with it’s more epic scope it is still more personal than most of the genre. This is definitely a series to check out.


One thought on “What I Read: May

  1. Actually, almost everything you have said about Lee is exaggerated, or wrong. No other person in US history has been so fortunate to have his vile nature completely covered up, and his attributes magnified.

    On many of the Lee myths, there is not even a kernel of truth. For example, the myth that his slaves loved him. Actually, his slaves detested him, and feared him, and with reason. Lee was NOT a “moderate” or “kind” slave owner. In fact, given his social status, he was one of the worst.

    Lee is often said to be an abolitionist, because one sentence in a letter to his wife said slavery was a “moral and political evil”. But the letter doesn’t stop there (and neither did Lee). Slavery was GOOD for the slave — it was a hardship on WHITES. Lee, in fact, thought himself something of a selfless slave owner, just torturing (yes torturing) his slaves per God’s instructions.

    Lee tortured girls as young as 13 and 14 years old. His own account books, hand written, are filled with his notations of certain girls, who had light skinned or white looking babies, and who had escaped. Lee was obsessed with getting them back, and kept his bounty hunters looking for them for months on end, increasing the bounty until it was 600% his normal bounty.

    Lee’s bounty hunters eventually found one girl, who Lee had personally kept track of in his notes. He had her bought to him, and immediately had her tied up, and tortured. He personally screamed at her DURING her torture.

    Here, a 50 year old man, was torturing (his first overseer refused to torture the girl, Lee found someone else that would) a young teenager, and screaming at her DURING her torture. What was he screaming?


    That is what he was screaming.

    Lee’s slaves hated him, for a REASON. See Elizabeth Pryors amazing book about Lee’s papers “Reading the Man”.

    WHile she clearly worships Lee, she still admits his torture of girls (she puts this down to “Lee’s lack of cross cultural communication skills”. She also idiotically claims the slaves deserved to be tortured, because “His slaves tested Lee immediately” when he got control of them. She offers not any scintilla of evidence that his slaves did anything wrong.

    Apparently, though Pryor avoids directly admitting this, Lee was regularly selling the babies born to the slave girls. He was doing SOMETHING with the female slave infants, because her account of the slaves show at one point, all the female children were gone. Where did they go?

    Lee could not sell the slaves themselves, due to terms of the will – but he tried over and over and over to sell them for quick cash. In fact, Pryor shows, his papers indicate he or his attorneys went to court three times DURING THE CIVIL WAR to get permission to break the willl. He was rebuffed all three times.

    Unable to sell the slaves, he rented them out, sending the slaves he had tortured to plantations known for cruel treatment of slaves. Since no on rented infants out — it’s a glaring question, what did Lee do with the female slaves infant?

    We know, from a picture and from Lee’s own account books, that there were white looking slave infants on his plantation. Lee had several light colored slave girls of child bearing age — who ended up somehow with babies so light colored, they “could pass for white” according to Lee.

    Pryor says bluntly that “Lee separated every family unit” but one. Separated family units?? What does THAT mean? Is Pryor using Orwellian double talk for the simple truth — Lee sold the babies, especially the white looking babies. That is my guess.

    Although it is not talked about much, even 150 years later, it was well known at the time that white looking slave females sold for good prices at auction, because they were bought by whore houses, where they were worked, often dying at a relatively young age. Did Lee put these light skinned slave girls, infants, up for sale at auction? Well, you tell me. He had them, and then later, he did not. Where did they go?

    If the infants had died, it would have been recorded, and Pryor could have easily said that. The fact that she bounced all around this is not proof he sold the babies. But he did something with them, and whatever he did, would be in his account books, which are thorough. So what did he do with those slave infants?

    Lee was an especially cruel slave owner given his status. Most slave owners of the “upper class” would try to keep slave mothers and children together. Lee made no such effort whatsoever.

    Lee’s famous letter to his wife, which said slavery was a moral evil, goes on to say that it’s beneficial to slaves, and that God ordained slavery in order to “instruct” the slaves, because otherwise they would be savages in Africa. Pain was “necessary” for their instruction as a race, Lee wrote. Lee was essentially telling his wife “It’s God’s will”.

    Lee said God might free the slaves — in 2000 years. God works very slow, he pointed out. It is evil, he said, for mankind to even try to free slaves. Only God can do that, and first He had to instruct them. Apparently Lee’s wife wanted to know why the slaves were complaining to her about his harsh treatment (which included torture). Lee was trying to mollify his wife.

    In fact, Lee actually stole much of that letter from an earlier letter by Daniel Webster. Few scholars have noticed this, but Webster wrote a passage that Lee paraphrased, almost word for word. Lee was apparently bending over backward to assure h is wife that this was God’s will.

    Lee’s wife had grown up with these slaves, she knew them from her, and their birth. They had been owned by her father. When Lee got hold of them, Lee was drastically more stern with them. We will never know what Lee’s wife said to Lee, but apparently his letter was a way to assure her that it was all God’s doing. He was just doing God’s will.

    Lee’s letter goes on to justify slavery as a “spiritual freedom” and in another letter to her, claims the abolitionist were “trying to destroy the American Church”. It was exceedingly common, of course, to justify slavery on the basis of the bible. (Even though there is nothing in the bible about whites enslaving blacks). People used this to justify it in their own mind, and its almost certain every discussion Lee ever had about slavery, he “played the God card”.

    Lee’s military genius has also been pumped up, though its hard to imagine it could be distorted as much as his supposedly abolitionist beliefs.

    Alan Nolan, author of “Lee Considered” said essentially that EVERYTHING we know about Lee, is at best suspect. We have to start over. Lee, and to a lesser extent, Davis, had to be idolized, had to made into the perfect men. Kind, against slavery, religious, brave. They had to be made into this, for the South to hold their head high. It’s human nature.

    The way many people judge Lee, is similar to the way many people judge their idea of God. Whatever Lee did, was brave, kind, honorable. If he tortured slave girls — well that was their fault, If he ran like a coward from Richmond, and then snuck off to surrender against orders, well, he was being honorable. If he ordered his men into the dumbest military move in US history, well he had his reasons.

    It’s almost universally believed that Lincoln offered Lee command of the Union Army before the war. Nonsense. Lee talked to Blair that day, and dissatisfied with his discussion, went to see Scott. Scott never asked to see Lee. Supposedly Scott asked to see Lee to offer him command. Well, Scott never asked to see Lee.

    And when Lee did go see Scott — because Lee wanted to — Lee would not commit to EITHER side. Scott told him to go home and talk to his family.

    A general Thomas was at this meeting, and reported on the meeting soon after the event. His report does not mention one word about Lee being offered anything, much less command of the Union Army. But almost every child born after 1900 is told Lee was offered command, and turned it down because “I can not raise my sword against my Virginia”.

    Lee was not even a full colonel until a week or two before that, and had never led men in battle. Was Lincoln going to give command of his army to a man who had never even BEEN in a battle (Lee had seen them from a distance only). Lincoln wanted Lee — and anyone else — on his side in Virginia, because of Lee’s famous name. Lee was NOT considered some military genius at the time. That distortion didn’t come till later.

    Essentially, Lee ended up destroying his army, by sending his men into absurd attacks. These early men were “true believers” and could not be replaced. They could impress others physically to fill the ranks, but after Gettysburg, the draftees were notorious for desertion, which eventually became epidemic.

    If anyone on earth should have known better that to send men on foot against well entrenched men, over open ground, it was Lee. But that is exactly what he did — even though he had ample time and even more advise from EVERYONE not to do it. Lee thought God was going to protect him and his men. He was wrong.

    Lee was NOT outnumbered at Gettysburg. For some reason (the same reason as the slave issue) everyone thinks Lee was vastly outnumbered at every battle. Nonsense. But that is so impressed on everyone, they don’t grasp that it was not always the case. The urge to see Lee is heroic crosses cultures, and views.

    Could Lee be considered a coward? A good case could be made for that, but it’s impossible to tell. Lee and Davis both ran from Richmond on the false RUMOR of a breech in the line. Davis was scorned by many in the South for this rapid departure — but Lee left first, with the army! Was Davis supposed to stay and fight on, with a few dozen men? If Davis was a coward for leaving Richmond to the enemy, Lee was too.

    Davis said that “all cruel men are cowards” and by that definition, Lee was a coward, because he was extremely cruel to slave girls who dared to run away.

    Regardless, Lee of myth is nothing like the Lee that really existed, that really had young girls (13 -14 is young) tortured, that sold infants, that used terror and religion to justify his greed and to get his prestige.

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