Independent Bookseller Picks

February Recommendations from Bakka Phoenix Books

Bakka Phoenix is Canada’s oldest speculative fiction bookstore. We’ve been
passionate about reading, discussing, and selling SF since 1972. And
producing writers, too: staff alumni include Cory Doctorow, Nalo Hopkinson, Tanya Huff, Robert J. Sawyer, and Michelle Sagara West.

We hold dozens of in-store readings and launches every year, and participate in almost as many off-site events. Now that we’ve settled into our new permanent home at 84 Harbord St. in downtown Toronto, we have the space in which to host a long-standing SF book club, along with writing classes, workshops, and general SF conversational goodness.

These are some of the books we’ve been talking about lately.

The Pattern Scars by Caitlin SweetThe Pattern Scars, Caitlin Sweet

This is a truly dark fantasy. But it’s a darkness of spirit and psyche—there are no vampires here. Nola is born into the lowest of low castes, and grows up as the seer in a brothel. Her gifts bring her to the attention of a very powerful and dangerous man, which sets her on a course of obsession, murder and treachery. Inventive, well-written and unique, The Pattern Scars examines how even the best of emotions can be twisted into something strangled and perilous. Not for the faint of heart.


The Serpent Sea by Martha WellsThe Serpent Sea, Martha Wells

Wells’ Cloud Roads was one of my top picks for 2011; this, the sequel, will likely hit my list of 2012 favourites. Serpent Sea takes up just days after the events of Cloud Roads. The Raksura have travelled far, and defeated the monstrous Fell, in order to claim their anscestral home in a mountain tree. But when the court arrives, they discover someone has stolen the seed at the heart of the tree. Moon, Jade, Stone, Chime and several other Raksura set out to search for the missing seed. Of course, nothing is simple, and they make new discoveries, new enemies, and new allies as their once-simple objective gets broader and broader. I love Wells’ ability to write believable characters, and the way her prose sounds contemporary without sounding modern.


Redemption in Indigo by Karen LordRedemption in Indigo, Karen Lord

Lord’s first book is short but rich, and very satisfying. Fleeing her mortifying husband, Paama is gifted by the djambi—the Undying Ones—which allows her to see and change the currents of possiblility in the world. But the Undying Onces never give a gift without strings, and the original owner wants it back. Funny, moving, and thought-provoking, this book is a small jewel.




The Quantum Thief, Hannu Rajaniemi

Jean le Flambeur is suffering from a serious case of amnesia, which would be troublesome even if he weren’t in prison. He knows he’s a thief, but has no memory of the heist that landed him in jail, and when he’s broken out, the first thing he does is follow a very faint trail of memory—a memory that hel left for himself, where no one could ferret it out. This is a caper book, but backward; it’s bursting at the seams with fabulous ideas, and it’s ultimately very human—in a post-mortal universe that tips a hat to Zelazny’s Lords of Light.

The Floating Islands, Rachel Neumeier

Orphaned Trei joins his mother’s family on the Flying Islands, and there discovers his purpose in life: to be comes of the kajurahi, the men who fly with magical wings. He also finds his cousin, whose own destiny is more powerful, and dangerous, than she’d ever imagined. I can say the book is about identity, grief, flight, magic, and cooking. I can tell you that it’s gorgeously written, and emotionally true. I can say that it’s absolutely wonderful…but none of that does the book justice.


A Monster Calls, Patrick Ness (inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd)

When a monster comes to Conor at midnight, it’s not the monster he was expecting. This monster is wild, and dangerous, and it wants something terrifying from Conor: the truth. The book is beautifully written, and also physically gorgeous, with powerful illustrations by Jim Kay. It’s also heartbreakingly moving, in a way that is almost more about surgery than sorrow. Sometimes you have to hurt to heal. When I read his Chaos Walking series, I thought Ness was brilliant; now I think he’s an utter genius.


The Legend of Eli Monpress, Rachel Aaron

In a world where everything has an animating spirit, one can work magic in several ways. One can be A) a Spiritualist, who contracts with and protects spirits, or B) a bad wizard, who enslaves spirits, or C) Eli Monpress, who’s so darn charming that the spirits help him when he asks. It’s a strange and rare talent which Eli uses mostly to increase the bounty on his own larcenous head. But “thief” is not the same as “villian,” and there’s a great deal more to Eli than even he knows. Legend is a handsome bind-up of the first three of Eli’s adventures: The Spirit Thief; The Spirit Rebellion; The Spirit Eater.


Above, Leah Bobet

Matthew is the Story Keeper of Safe, the underground community in which he lives. But when old enemies destroy their haven, Matthew and his friends flee in terror out into Above. Now Matthew and his friends must learn to navigate the dangers of both the strange, sunlit city and their own pasts. A dense and fabulous tale that is as much about story and memory as it is about adventure, Above is a remarkable debut novel. (NB: Above is due in Canada March 1st; sadly, the U.S. release date isn’t until April).


And this last one is more wishful thinking than an actual recommendation:

Whispers Under Ground, Ben Aaronovitch

Whispers was originally slated for a March 2012 release. Unfortunately, it’s been postponed until the end of May. But I wanted to give author Ben Aaronovitch a shout-out for creating one of the most original and compulsively readable characters we’ve ever come across. Midnight Riot (Rivers of London in the U.K.) and Moon Over Soho, the first two books featuring London police constable and budding magician Peter Grant, were astonishingly good reads. If you haven’t yet, treat yourself to Aaronovitch’s pitch-perfect dialogue and killer endings. Then you, too, can be eagerly awaiting the release of Whispers Under Ground.

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