The watchword for this week’s column is fun. Because that’s what the novels I want to tell you about today have to offer.
The Mortal Word is Genevieve Cogman’s fifth novel, and the latest in her delightfully fun and pleasing Invisible Library series. Irene Winters is an agent of the world-spanning Library, which collects rare books to better link the multiverse together and to stabilise it in the face of the competing forces of chaos and order, represented by the Fae and the dragons. By “collect,” the Library means beg, borrow, buy or steal when it comes to books—frequently steal.
Irene’s good at acquiring books for the Library. She’s also been at the centre of several world-shaking events, and had been looking forward to a period of relative peace and quiet—and spending time with her now-lover, her former apprentice, dragon prince Kai Strongrock. But peace and quiet is rarely Irene’s fate. She’s summoned to a secret peace summit between the dragons and the Fae, a summit whose security the Library has undertaken to guarantee. That security is looking pretty shaky right now, because a senior dragon has been murdered. It’s up to Irene and her friend, famous detective Peregrine Vale, to plumb the depths of this version of Paris, with its anarchists, competing—and manipulative, and potentially bloody—Fae factions, and angry dragons. But no sooner do they arrive on the scene than they discover that the murder victim might have had proof of treachery by one or more Librarians. And one of Irene’s bosses—a supervisory Librarian—is acting suspicious.
This is an explosive, tense, and witty novel, full of exciting incidents, cranky dragons, treacherous Fae, and political consequences. It’s enormously fun, and balances humour and action very well. I really hope that Cogman continues to write novels in this vein.
M.C.A. Hogarth’s Girl on Fire is another very fun novel, albeit a novel in a rather different vein. Rather than an action-adventure romp, it’s a coming-of-age story in the style popularised by (among others) Mercedes Lackey: a young and rather sheltered woman discovers that a much larger, more cosmopolitan world has been lurking just beyond the borders of her experience, and that her parents—that her controlling mother—has been deliberately hiding it and all its possibilities from her for her whole life.
Set in Hogarth’s Pelted science-fiction-with-telepathy universe, Girl on Fire is the story of Sediryl—much younger here than she is in the other Pelted books where she appears—and her first encounter with the Alliance. Sediryl is an Eldritch, from a species that lives hundreds of years longer than most of the Alliance’s other inhabitants, and whose home planet is protected by a treaty that mandates secrecy in all things. Her home planet is also aggressively conservative and practically medieval in its customs and technology. Her first steps into the wider universe are filled with wonder at its technological and social marvels—and also puzzlement: Why don’t her people share in these advantages?
It’s a little more complicated that just reaching out and asking.
Sediryl’s growth into adulthood sees her form relationships that her home culture doesn’t sanction, and sees her face consequences—especially where her family’s concerned—for going her own way. It’s a story about spreading one’s wings: a quiet story, almost domestic in its concerns (Sediryl’s big ambition is to study agriculture and help feed more people, which is unusual for science fiction), but one that has deep veins of kindness at its roots. I enjoyed it, and I’ll be looking out for more stories set in this continuity—and especially more stories featuring this character.
What are you guys reading lately?
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.