I would never have heard about Abra Staffin-Wiebe’s The Unkindness of Ravens if Marissa Lingen hadn’t mentioned it on her blog. That would’ve been a shame: The Unkindness of Ravens is a lovely novella, and a compelling one.
The story sets itself in a land where eight lineages or Houses are under the protection of eight different gods, each with a different (animal) aspect. Those not part of the Houses, not accepted under the gods’ protection, are the “Scorned,” part of a caste of untouchable people, contact with whom creates ritual pollution for members of the Houses.
When the oba, the country’s ruler, dies, their children (one in each separate house) contest the right to succeed to the rulership—or accept exile. Anari is one of those children, now come to adulthood. Born of House Crow, he doesn’t have a mark of the Crow god’s favor, and he doesn’t want to contest the rulership. But when the oba dies, someone tries to poison Anari before he can safely accept exile. While trying to stay alive until he can accept exile in the respectable fashion, Anari finds himself somewhere he would never have expected—hiding among the Scorned, and in possession of a favor from the Crow god. This shocking change of circumstance puts him in a position where he has the opportunity to change his society, if he can find in himself the open-mindedness and the will to take it. And, perhaps, end a war.
Staffin-Wiebe has an excellent touch with character. Anari’s relationship with his near-brother Kaylin of the House of the Raven is complex and fraught, but also believably intimate and full of affection. Anari’s struggle with his own prejudices once he’s confronted with the Scorned is compelling, as is his arc of growth. In terms of world-building, Staffin-Wiebe’s created a world full of magic, with tangible gods and tangible scents, sounds, details. It’s a fascinating story, and I really hope to read more set in this world soon.
I encountered Ellen Goodlett’s Rule because of Twitter, which—for all its flaws—is still one of the main ways I hear about books by people of whom I haven’t otherwise heard. Rule is Goodlett’s debut novel, the story of three young women who find themselves catapulted into prominence by the choices of a dying king whose heir was recently murdered.
Kolonya is the center of the kingdom, ruling over several “Reaches” which are integrated to greater or lesser degrees into the political elite. Akeylah is from the Eastern Reach, where she’s suffered at the hands of an abusive father to the point where she’s tried to use forbidden magic to kill him before he killed her. Forbidden magic that leaves a mark. It doesn’t seem to have worked. Terrified that she’ll be found out, her fear only mounts when she’s summoned to the capital to see the king. Zofi, on the other hand, is a Traveller. She’d be happy to spend her whole life travelling with her band—and she’d do anything to protect them. In fact, she’s already killed for them: killed a prince. When royal soldiers arrive with orders to take her to the capital, she assumes it’s for arrest and execution. Ren, meanwhile, has lived in the capital her whole life, as a maid to nobility. She, too, has a secret: she’s guilty of treason that led to the deaths of thousands. When she’s summoned to the king, she too believes it will end in her death.
But the king hasn’t summoned them to have them put to death. Instead, he announces that they’re his illegitimate daughters—and that one of them will be his heir.
But someone knows the girls’ secrets. Someone’s blackmailing them with their crimes. If any of them are going to survive, they’re going to have to work together—if they can trust each other at all.
Also, Akeylah has conceived a passion for the king’s much-younger foreign wife. A passion that seems to be returned. So there are even more secrets to fear.
Goodlett has interesting magic and fascinating characters—and solid worldbuilding. There are, alas, some holes in the plot large enough to drive a Mars Rover through, but still, I found it a lot of fun, and I’ll look out for the next book in the duology.
Liz Bourke is a cranky queer person who reads books. She holds a Ph.D in Classics from Trinity College, Dublin. Her first book, Sleeping With Monsters, a collection of reviews and criticism, was published in 2017 by Aqueduct Press. It was a finalist for the 2018 Locus Awards and was nominated for a Hugo Award in Best Related Work. 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, the Transgender Equality Network Ireland, and the Abortion Rights Campaign.