There are always so many interesting things to read…
It seems like everyone has been talking about Sarah Gailey’s River of Teeth, the novella set in an alternate history of the United States of America involving hippos. For me, this caper story was an entertaining read, but a little ragged around its edges.
A misfit group of criminals and mercenaries is hired to remove all feral hippos from the swamp that was formed by damming the Mississippi. A vicious character controls the riverboats that make money in the swamp of the Mississippi, and one—perhaps more than one—of the protagonist group of misfits has history with him. People are fed to hippos. Things blow up. There is a pregnant assassin and a nonbinary explosives expert. Gailey’s writing is vivid and her characterisation alive, but River of Teeth feels as though half of what might give it thematic weight and heft, the transitions between its chapters choppy, the action more sketched than shown: this is a novella that wants either to be a novelette or a novel, and I’m not sure which I’d prefer.
Or I could just be cranky that I didn’t get enough caper for my tastes.
Nicky Drayden’s The Prey of Gods is an interesting debut. Part science fiction, part fantasy, it situates itself in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Its cast involves one teenage boy in love with his best (male) friend, one sort-of demigoddess who wants to rule the world and who feeds on pain and suffering, one child demigoddess whose township tries to lynch her and who (mostly not on purpose) kills them all trying to protect herself, one pop diva with serious issues, one pretty effective mayor who wants to be a performer and whose mother is a bit on the smothering-controlling side of things (but with a magical twist to the controlling element), and one robot/robot collective that’s gained sentience and has a split of opinion on whether or not humans should be preserved or exterminated. Its climax includes giant robots fighting giant genetically-modified animals as part of a battle in which godly powers are involved. It is sometimes chaotic and often confusing and at times on crack, and I really enjoyed it. Recommended, if any of this sounds like anything you like!
I’m a bit late in reading False Hearts by Laura Lam—it came out last year, and another novel set in the same continuity, Shattered Minds, is due out this summer. This is a twisty near-future science fictional thriller set in San Francisco and involving criminal cartels, mind-altering substances, and cults.
Taema and Tila are twin sisters, born as conjoined twins. They spent their early lives in a cult that rejected any technology dating from after 1967, but escaped in their teens, when their shared heart was failing. Separated, they now live different lives. When Tila is arrested for murder—an almost unheard-of crime in this near-future San Francisco—the police convince Taema to impersonate her in order to gather information that will bring down a criminal cartel that has become dangerously powerful and influential. Not incidentally, from Taema’s point of view, this also stands a chance at proving Tila’s innocence—or at least getting her a pardon.
Lam adroitly balances two different perspectives. Tila, under arrest, recounts the sisters’ early lives with the cult. Taema narrates the contemporary story. Their different perspectives and different stories are deftly interleaved, and Lam weaves past and present together to tell a tight, tense and pacey thriller—but also to tell a story about trust and truth, lies and betrayal, sisterhood and sibling bonds. The relationship between Tila and Taema is at False Hearts’ core, and though Taema has the lion’s share of the narrative, enough space is given to Tila that we can see her outside of the filter of her sister’s perceptions of her.
False Hearts is a compelling and accomplished novel, and I really want to see what else Lam does in this setting.
These are the novels I’ve been reading lately. (No matter how fast I read, the to-be-read mountain never quite manages to shrink, though: people keep writing books that sound really interesting.) What’s holding your attention this month?
Liz Bourke is a cranky queer person who reads books. She holds a Ph.D in Classics from Trinity College, Dublin. Find her at her blog, where she’s been known to talk about even more books thanks to her Patreon supporters. Or find her at her Twitter. She supports the work of the Irish Refugee Council and the Abortion Rights Campaign.