This week, I want to tell you—yet again!—about some excellent books I’ve been reading. Because I’m not at Nine Worlds, or going to Worldcon—or any other con for that matter—which means I have plenty of time to catch up on my reading.
(That last is a lie. There is NEVER ENOUGH TIME.)
Ariah by BR Sanders is a minor astonishment. It came to my attention when Foz Meadows was shouting its praises across the internet. Although I find myself less enthusiastic than Foz about its merits (it would scarcely, after all, be possible to be more enthusiastic), nonetheless I do consider it a very enjoyable novel, with much to recommend it. It’s the story of the eponymous Ariah, a young elf born in the oppressive Qin empire, and his journey into adulthood, self-discovery, and self-acceptance. It’s a very quiet, personal story, though the backdrop is an epic fantasy world: Ariah’s choices don’t impinge on politics or the rise and fall of nations. It’s just about him and his friends and lovers. And the ending marks the first time I’ve seen a polyamorous queer Happily Ever After, I think.
Although some stylistic elements didn’t sit well with me, and I think it could be a structurally tighter book, Ariah is good—and Sanders shows significant promise as a writer to watch. I look forward to seeing what they do next.
I remember Laura Bickle fondly for Detroit-set urban fantasy Embers and Sparks. Dark Alchemy is the first of her work to cross my attention since, and it is an odd, engaging novel set in rural Wyoming. Geologist Petra Dee has moved to the town of Temperance after an accident on an oil-rig that claimed the life of a friend, an accident for which she holds herself responsible. Temperance was allegedly founded by an alchemist, and it’s where her father disappeared, many years ago. Petra encounters men who turn into crows, an alchemist who operates the local meth lab, dead bodies that are crystalising and warped, and assorted other weirdnesses as she attempts to negotiate her new neighbourhood. Dark Alchemy puts me rather in mind of Deborah Coates’s debut trilogy (Wide Open, Deep Down, and Strange Country), in how it uses the fantastical—how it veers close to a horror sensibility without ever crossing over into horror—while rejecting the standard formulae that have come to define urban fantasy as a marketing category. It’s an entertaining novel, and one worth a look.
Stephanie Saulter’s Regeneration is a novel I enjoyed very much. It’s the concluding volume to her Revolutions trilogy (which began with Gemsigns and continued in Binary), and like its predecessors, it’s about community, and change, and maybe a little bit about redemption. Over a decade has passed since the events of Gemsigns, and the genetically-modified “gems,” now legally equal citizens, have been enjoying substantial successes. Now a gem company employing revolutionary new technology is poised to take over the energy supply market for London and environs—in the face of substantial political and economic opposition. Now, too, Zavka Klist has been released from prison to house arrest, and is very interested in finding the clone child she created during Binary.
A brief description of Regeneration’s plot—sabotage, political machinations, kidnapping—would make it sound like a thriller. But Saulter’s focus remains resolutely on community, even on family, and how people face and adapt to changes in the world. It’s a very engaging book, the close of a very engaging trilogy, and I think Saulter’s done something pretty special. If you haven’t tried this trilogy yet? Now’s a very opportune time. I definitely recommend it.
Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette’s An Apprentice to Elves is also the conclusion to a trilogy—a long-awaited one, at that. It follows A Companion to Wolves and The Tempering of Men, taking place some years after the conclusion of the latter. Isolfr’s daughter, Alfgyfa, is now sixteen and an apprentice smith with Tin, a matriarch of the alfar. And the Rheans, who appeared on the shores of Iskryne in The Tempering of Men, have finally decided to invade in truth.
This is a truly excellent novel, part coming-of-age, part epic struggle, part journey to mediate between different ways of life. I think it’s absolutely brilliant—though I might be biased: this is all MY CRACK—and well worth waiting for. Read it! READ THEM ALL!
What are you folks reading this week?