This was supposed to be a post about Canadian author Karina Sumner-Smith’s debut novel Radiant. Between reading Radiant and settling down to write about it, though, I chanced to read two more books I’d really quite like to talk about: another debut, Genevieve Cogman’s The Invisible Library, and S.L. Huang’s second independently-published novel, Half Life.
Come for one! Stay for three!
Radiant came out late last year, from Talos (an imprint of the same company that now owns Night Shade Books). It doesn’t seem to have prompted much discussion, despite being an interesting novel and one that seems as though it might cross over quite well with the Young Adult field. The protagonist is a young woman, the prickly, self-contained Xhea, who’s both an outcast and an outlier in her society. She doesn’t have the kind of magic that would let her live in one of the floating Towers that house most of the better-off, and she sees—and can affect—ghosts. When a grieving father comes to her with a ghost who isn’t quite the normal run of ghosts—who isn’t, in fact, even quite properly dead—Xhea finds herself caught between power struggles that would ordinarily be pretty far above her paygrade.
She also discovers that she has magic of her own. Magic that’s rather different to the magic of the Towers, but enough to make her a desirable commodity in her own right.
Xhea spends much of the book alone, and the character with whom she interacts most is Shai, a ghost. It’s absolutely necessary for her to have a strong voice to carry the book, and Radiant doesn’t disappoint here. (It disappoints me a little that Sumner-Smith never explains where the food comes from in her odd post-apocalyptic/magic society, but I do have a tendency to get hung up on logistics.) Xhea is compelling and believable, all touchy sharp edges and lonely stubborn independence. And I can’t wait to find out what all the shit she blew up at the end of Radiant means for her future – so I guess I’m going to be checking out the sequel, Defiant, when it comes out this year.
Genevieve Cogman’s The Invisible Library came out from Tor UK this January, and as far as I know is only available from the UK for the foreseeable future. Which is a shame for you America types,* because it’s a whole damn lot of fun. Irene works for an interdimensional library, the Invisible Library of the title, retrieving books from various different alternate dimensions. Her job is quite similar to espionage, really, in that it frequently involves boring undercover assignments and then the occasional ones where everything blows up in her face. Her latest assignment shows every evidence of blowing up in her face. She’s undercover in a high-magic steampunkesque alternate world where the forces of chaos have a large presence in the form of Fae creatures, her handsome junior assistant Kai is keeping secrets of his own, she’s just run into this world’s version of Sherlock Holmes, her work rival is also competing for the prize, and oh, yes, one of very few people to ever betray the Invisible Library may be present and about to murder her horribly.
*Although turnabout is only fair play, after all.
Irene is not having a good week. But it makes for rather a gloriously fast and fun book: a demented and extravagant romp that throws out red herrings, things going BOOM, and snark with equal abandon. I’m seriously looking forward to the sequel, The MaskedCity.
Which brings us to S.L. Huang’s Half Life, sequel to Zero Sum Game. Half Life is the better book, demonstrating a much firmer grasp of narrative and character, but like Zero Sum Game it’s… well, difficult to categorise, really. It’s fun, definitely, and riffing off superhero stories—albeit with a protagonist who is rather lower-impact than most superheroes happen to be (her superpower is mathematics, and she’s a recovering not-quite-sociopath), and filled with snark. The plot here revolves around corporate espionage, Turing test emulation research, and ANDROIDS, as well as the California mob trying to kill the protagonist and her friends. It’s fast, it’s fun, it’s great light entertainment, and I want to read the next one.
What are you guys reading lately?