At the time of writing, my reading’s been on the slow side, involving much rereading in order to refamiliarise myself with the works of Martha Wells and Kate Elliott. Books for review joined books for research in an ever-increasing teetering pile, leaving only a small side-order of fluff to balance the fibre in my literary diet. Since I don’t propose to inflict upon you, O courteous readers, any thoughts on Tim Ingolds and Gaston Bachelard, nor subject you to rewrites of reviews found around Tor.com already, that leaves us with a wee side platter of fluffy fun....
Karen Lord’s The Best of All Possible Worlds is an intensely personal, small-scale science fiction novel with literary sensibilities that takes place in the shadow of tragic events. Mixing both science fictional and fairy-tale sensibilities, it is ultimately unsuccessful in marrying the two but remains an interesting work nonetheless.
I finished Martha Wells’ City of Bones (one of her early novels that I’d managed to miss before) a little too late to write it up for the author-in-focus series. This novel, set in and around a city on the edges of a vast wasteland and involving ancient artefacts (it’s practically archaeology!), magic, and politics, didn’t hit as many of my narrative kinks as The Element of Fire or The Wheel of the Infinite, but it’s still an excellent, well-characterised, brilliantly-realised book that I recommend whole-heartedly.
I can’t recommend Evie Manieri’s Blood’s Pride with half so much heart, unfortunately. It’s of the species of epic fantasy—too many characters, not enough depth of field—that often causes me to slide off in a sulk. But considering the associations it brought to mind, I suspect fans of Jennifer Fallon and Trudi Canavan will find material here to enjoy.
Seanan McGuire catches a lot of heat for her implausible prolificity and engaged fanbase. I confess, I’m probably never going to understand the emotional responses she inspires—one way or the other—but I find Discount Armageddon and its sequel, Midnight Blue-Light Special, among the best of her work: light but willing to engage a range of emotions, and not taking themselves too seriously. In these books, McGuire’s sense of humour and character appeals to me most.
I’d abandoned her Toby Daye books after the second volume, some time ago, but recent pressure from unexpected sources—and yes, the fact that books three to five, An Artificial Knight, Late Eclipses, and One Salt Sea, came my way without the need for me to pay for them—prompted me to give them a second attempt. It turns out that reading Toby Daye as second-world fantasy that just happens to share some real-world placenames makes for a much more fun reading experience—and one that makes much more sense. As crunchy popcorn entertainment for a cold afternoon, the trials and misadventures of McGuire’s changeling protagonist seem hard to beat.
Things that make me particularly happy about this series: McGuire’s Toby Daye has an (estranged) adult child, and people die—but not pointless deaths.
I don’t recall where I first heard of Ankaret Wells’ Requite books. I believe Ian Sales (curator of SF Mistressworks and Daughters of Prometheus) mentioned them on Twitter. When I learned Wells’ Firebrand had made the Tiptree Honours list this year, it motivated me to seek out this self-published science-fiction duology, The Maker’s Mask and The Hawkwood War. It hits... well, entirely too many of my narrative kinks, although the opening is a bit abrupt and rocky and the latter half of the narrative begins to feel a little cramped with characters and incidents. Science fiction that starts out looking like fantasy! Queer characters! Good characterisation! People with senses of humour! Stakes! Pacing! Intrigue! Duels! It’s not perfect, but you know something? I would really love to see more science fiction with this kind of sensibility.
A final shout-out to Australian author Andrea K. Höst’s YA And All The Stars, for a really interesting take on the alien-invasion/first-contact story. And another for Canadian author Violette Malan’s unadventurous but entertaining fantasy Path of the Sun, latest novel to feature her pair of professional mercenaries.
What have you been reading lately, O Constant Readers? What do you recommend?
(As usual, please to keep the focus on works by and about women and/or queer folks.)