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What I read on my winter vacation

To say nothing of before and after said vacation.

Rivers of Gold, by Hugh Thomas, is a brief (sic) history of the Spanish conquest of the New World. Unfortunately it stops shortly after the conquest of Mexico, since it only covers the first thirty years of Spain's history in America, and takes 700 pages to get there. Paul Kennedy is right in describing this book as "...an old-fashioned, almost self-indulgent narrative, and thus rich in its descriptions of characters, events and landscapes." Personally, I thought Thomas spent far too much time on the domestic politics of Spain and the accession of Carlos V to the throne of the Holy Roman Empire, to say nothing of dozens of minor characters, but the book does give a quite detailed picture of how and why Spain rose from fractured obscurity to command a vast empire. Good, probably not worth buying if you already own Morison's European Discovery of America: The Southern Voyages. (Which, as a matter of fact, I do.)

Loyal readers will recall how I dissed Ringo & Kratman's Watch on the Rhine, a sidestory novel to Ringo's Legacy of the Alldenata trilogy earlier this year. Ringo's collaboration with Michael Z. Williamson on The Hero is a horse of a different color completely. This novel is set long after the events of Hell's Faire, several centuries in fact after the punitive war against the Darhel shown in the epilogue of Watch on the Rhine. Humanity is at war again, this time against the Blobs, and the story revolves around a Deep Recon Team tasked to scout a possible Blob base. The mission will be different this time, since the team has an extra member along: a Darhel telepath. Sure enough, things go off the rails after the team lands, and the team fractures lethally when it comes across an artifact of the Alldenata. Soon it's a one-on-one contest between the Darhel and the team's sociopathic sniper, and it would seem the advantage is definitely with the sniper since everybody knows Darhel are genetically hardwired against killing...but the Darhel has a few tricks up his sleeve. Very tense, suspenseful novel. Highly recommended.

In the same part of the Baen Books stable, we find Eric Flint's 1634: The Galileo Affair, the latest installment in the "Ring of Fire" series that began with 1632. The bulk of the action takes place in Venice, where the uptime Americans have sent a trade mission to cut some deals with the decadent city-state, but as usual with these novels there's also action to be found in Paris, where Cardinal Richelieu schemes to make sure the future belongs to France, and Rome, where Pope Urban tries to decide what is best for the Church in troubled times made even more difficult by the glimpse of what the Catholic Church of the late 20th century would become. Fascinating brain candy; if Flint has a track he's running this story down, he's doing a damn fine job of hiding the rails, unlike some other authors we've discussed here. Highly recommended and extremely hard to put down.

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