Here are some of the books I read, more or less recently, and would highly recommend.
Some awesome novels:
The Beautiful Ones, by Silvia Moreno Garcia
The blurb: “In a world of etiquette and polite masks, no one is who they seem to be. Antonina Beaulieu is in the glittering city of Loisail for her first Grand Season, where she will attend balls and mingle among high society. Under the tutelage of the beautiful but cold Valérie Beaulieu, she hopes to find a suitable husband. However, the haphazard manifestations of Nina’s telekinetic powers make her the subject of malicious gossip. — a sweeping fantasy of manners set in a world inspired by the Belle Époque.”
My take: An absolutely exquisite and magical book. By the end, I was turning the pages frantically to find out what would happen next. And Moreno-Garcia’s prose is a thing of beauty, every sentence polished and glistening, and the characters and the world is vividly drawn. On the surface this is the simple story of two women and one man, of love won, rejected, lost, regained, betrayed… but the real glory here is in the perfect execution of every detail. Moreno-Garcia gives the story and the characters time to breathe and move and change…and every facet of it is spellbinding.
Under the Pendulum Sun, by Jeannette Ng
The blurb: Victorian missionaries travel into the heart of the newly discovered lands of the Fae, in a stunningly different fantasy that mixes Crimson Peak with Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.
My take: What a strange, wonderful, dark, and beautiful book this is. Using a writing style that recalls classic writers like the Bronte sisters, Ng weaves together strands of literature, poetry, theology, philosophy, horror, and fairy tale (or rather, fae-tales) into a mesmerizing and beautifully complex world that echoes our own world in many ways, but also contains a vast depth and darkness beyond the known world.
Corpselight, by Angela Slatter
The blurb: “Sequel to VIGIL, this fast-paced urban fantasy is perfect for fans of Harry Dresden and Kinsey Malhone. Life in Brisbane is never simple for those who walk between the worlds. Verity’s all about protecting her city, but right now that’s mostly running surveillance and handling the less exciting cases for the Weyrd Council – after all, it’s hard to chase the bad guys through the streets of Brisbane when you’re really, really pregnant.”
My take: Like Vigil, this book is a blend of murder mystery, dark urban fantasy, and a wild, Weyrd mix of mythological and fairytale creatures – all done with a sense of humour and superbly crafted prose. In Corpselight, Verity is pulled deep into a strange and dangerous mystery, and the connections to her own life and family (past and present) are tied into the plot as well. It’s a fast-paced and highly original tale, with a terrific cast of characters that range from angels, sirens, “kinderfressers”, shape-shifters, and a whole lot more. (Part 3, Restoration, comes out later this year!)
Null States, by Malka Older
The blurb: “The future of democracy is about to implode. After the last controversial global election, the global infomocracy that has ensured thirty years of world peace is fraying at the edges. As the new Supermajority government struggles to establish its legitimacy, agents of Information across the globe strive to keep the peace and maintain the flows of data that feed the new world order.”
My take: Null States is even better than fantastic first instalment in the trilogy, Infomocracy. It’s smart, it moves at a thriller pace, and the characters come alive on every page. There’s international intrigue, a political murder mystery to solve, romance, even… so, yeah, this is a page-turner. I also love how this book introduces the “edges” of the Information-world – the Null States, that exist outside of Information’s data-sharing system. (Part 3, State Tectonics, comes out later this year.)
The Stone Sky, by N.K. Jemisin
The blurb: “THIS IS THE WAY THE WORLD ENDS… FOR THE LAST TIME.” (OK, there’s more to the blurb, but COME ON, this is enough.)
My take: I have only one thing to say about this book: if you want to read the best fantasy written today, or any day, you should read this trilogy and this amazing book.
Horizon, by Fran Wilde
The blurb: “A City of living Bone towers crumbles to the ground and danger surrounds. Kirit Densira has lost everything she loved the most―her mother, her home, and the skies above. Nat Brokenwings―once Kirit’s brother long before the rebellion tore them apart―is still trying to save his family in the face of catastrophe. They will need to band together once more to ensure not just own survival, but that of their entire community.”
My take: A fantastic conclusion to Fran Wilde’s ‘Bone Universe’ series, this book follows Kirit, Nat, Macal, and the others through the destruction of what they thought was their world, and into a new world…that might not be very hospitable. There’s amazing world-building, characters that stick with you, and prose that sings from the first page to the last. A really great read.
The Realms of God, by Michael Livingston
The blurb: “Through war and assassination, from Rome to the fabled Temple Mount of Jerusalem and on to the very gates of Heaven itself, the forces of good and evil will collide in a climactic battle that threatens the very fabric of Creation. The Realms of God is the thrilling conclusion to Michael Livingston’s historical fantasy trilogy that continues the story begun in The Shards of Heaven and The Gates of Hell.”
My take: This is a fabulous finale to Livingston’s “Shards” trilogy, and I tore through it in a couple of days. It’s an action-packed page-turner, moving at a swift pace from one ancient locale to another: Alexandria, Jerusalem, Petra, and the whole time, Livingston grounds the fantasy elements in fascinating real history. Livingston has a knack for creating great characters you care about, and I’m kind of hoping for more books in this series, just for the pleasure of visiting this world, and the people in it, again.
Ligatures, Sara Rich
The blurb: “Stanza Thompson knows how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but she can’t read the signs of the times. Not, at least, until the witching hour. Stanza is a young American scholar working in Belgium when her husband, Pierre, is killed in a tragic bicycle accident. Devastated by her soul mate’s death, she moves back to her family home in rural Kansas. In her five-year absence, Stanza’s homeland – and especially her hometown – has become darkly twisted, creating something dangerously inhospitable to outsiders.”
My take: This is a great slow-burn of a story, and Rich’s prose kept me hooked from the first page to the last. Witchcraft, Ozark history, and crimes and sins from the past bleed into the story, and as the tale gets darker, I found it increasingly difficult to put this book down. A dark, unsettling read with real literary merit
An Oath of Dogs, by Wendy N. Wagner
The blurb: Kate Standish has been on Huginn less than a week and she s already pretty sure her new company murdered her boss. But extractions corporations dominate the communities of the forest world, and few are willing to threaten their meal tickets to look too closely at corporate misbehaviour. The little town of mill workers and farmers is more worried about the threat of eco-terrorism and a series of attacks by the bizarre, sentient dogs of this planet, than a death most people would like to believe is an accident. When Standish connects a secret chemical test site to a nearly forgotten disaster in Huginn’s history, she reveals a conspiracy that threatens Standish and everyone she s come to care about.”
My take: This is a gripping read, blending science fiction and a murder mystery with questions of faith and biology, colonialism and space exploration. The story had me hooked from the beginning, and I loved the complex characters, the mysterious and intricately imagined world where the action takes place, and the very original way Wagner uses alien (and terrestrial) plant biology as a plot point in the story. I could barely put it down, reading the second half of it pretty much in one go.
Amatka, by Karin Tidbeck
The blurb: “A surreal and shockingly original debut novel set in a dystopian world shaped by language–literally. Vanja, a government worker, leaves her home city of Essre for the austere, wintry colony of Amatka on a research assignment. It takes some adjusting: people act differently in Amatka, and citizens are monitored for signs of subversion.”
My take: A deeply unsettling and also deeply moving book about a world where things and people only stay the same if they are repeatedly named. It’s difficult for me describe this book, but it has shades of Le Guin, and it has shades of Tove Jansson’s Moomin-books as well (strange as that may sound). I found the ending to be absolutely devastating.
Some terrific shorter fiction:
Hardened Hearts, stories by Somer Canon, Calvin Demmer, Theresa Braun, John Boden, Gwendolyn Kiste, Eddie Generous, Tom Deady, J.L. Knight, Scott Hallam, Madhvi Ramani, Robert Dean, Jennifer Williams, Leo X. Robertson, Laura Blackwell, Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi, Sarah L. Johnson, Meg Elison
The blurb: “17 stories of difficult love, broken hearts, lost hope, and discarded truths. Love brings pain, vulnerability, and demands of revenge. Hardened Hearts spills the sum of darkness and light concerning the measures of love...”
My take: This is a great collection of dark, twisted, disturbing stories about love, lust, and heartache. Some standouts for me:
- ‘It Breaks my Heart to Watch You Rot’ by Somer Canon, a story that reflects on what it’s like to watch old age consume someone you love…if you are yourself immortal.
- ‘What Is Love’ by Calvin Demmer, a story about powerful magic and love and obsession, has an ending that made me cringe (that’s a good thing in this case!).
- ’40 Ways to Leave Your Monster Lover’ by Gwendolyn Kiste is a real treat, an evocative and gripping tale of getting caught up with a lover who is definitely no good for you (and how to get out!).
- ‘Dog Tired’ by Eddie Generous is a cool, visceral horror take on werewolves – and I am always up for a good werewolf tale.
- ‘Learning To Love’ by Jennifer Williams is a terrific, twisting tale of hungry, painful love.
- ‘Porcelain Skin’ by Laura Blackwell is a fabulous tale about a box, friendship and love, and the regrets of things not said and done in time. It stands out because even though it’s not exactly a happy love story, it is a story that offers an ending that actually is kind of happy, if a little strange.
Pretty Marys All In A Row, by Gwendolyn Kiste
The blurb: You’ll find her on a lonely highway, hitchhiking at midnight. She calls herself Rhee, but everyone else knows her by another name: Resurrection Mary. And when she’s transported home each night to a decrepit mansion on a lane to nowhere, she’s not alone.
My take: This is a beautifully written ghost story with a twist (or two, or three… or more). While most ghost stories are told from the perspective of the living being haunted by the dead, Kiste’s novella is told from the point of view of a ghost: Rhee, who haunts a stretch of highway and delights (at least sometimes) in frightening those driving down that road. She lives in a strange world between the living world and the afterlife, a world she shares with her family of sisters – a fabulous collection of original ghost-characters.