I’m a sucker for stories in which gods are real and meddle in the lives of humans, for better or worse. (I was beside myself in the latest Megan Whalen Turner book, The Return of the Thief, when a lightning bolt answered Eugenides’ wrath and smote a certain enemy in his campaign tent.) Thinking about gods, and casting my eyes about me for books I’ve recently loved, it struck me that a good number of them involved lost, missing, and forgotten gods, and I seized on this theme because it’s also a vague but major hint about my own secret book that I’ve been writing for the past two years! All of these are recent favorites, and most happen to be pretty new, or else newly available in the US and UK.
The Absolute Book by Elizabeth Knox
This book is a sprawling, gorgeous, intimate, epic mash-up of myths, and an “arcane thriller,” by one of my favorite authors, and is newly available in the US and UK. Powerfully grounded in real-world questions of grief and the soul, it’s also a literary portal fantasy that will take you to Purgatory, the gates of Hell, the world of the Sidhe, and even as far as New Zealand (where Knox is from). When Taryn is a teenager, her sister is murdered by a would-be rapist who doesn’t go through with it, and the lenience of his sentence drives her to arrange for more appropriate justice—thus damning herself, as she discovers some years later. Now a successful author, Taryn attracts strange attention for her book about library fires, is possessed by a demon searching for a lost scroll box, and rescued by a strange young man who wears a golden claw glove on a cord around his neck. The subsequent story is big, and involves several of the most iconic archetypes of the Western imagination, but not as you’ve ever seen them before. I’ll leave you to discover who the lost god is here. I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise.
Odin’s Child by Siri Pettersen
The Raven Rings trilogy, from Norwegian author Siri Pettersen, has been wildly popular across Europe for a few years now, and I’m so glad it’s finally in English. I loved it deeply from the first to the last word, and was instantly and thoroughly immersed. The story of Hirka “the tailless girl,” it’s set in a Norse-inspired world called Ym, in which all people have tails—except for Hirka, a young girl on the cusp of womanhood, whose time has come to participate in “the Rite.” It’s an annual ritual in which all ymlings display their ability to manipulate the natural energy of their world. Unthinkably, Hirka’s never been able to do it, and as the Rite approaches, her father drops a major bombshell that upends everything she thought she knew about herself, leaving her orphaned, alone in the world, and afraid she might be the abomination everybody believes she is: a child of Odin, not from this world. Add in Rime, the blue-blooded warrior boy who was her childhood rival; Urd, a truly vile villain; and—oh yes, the theme!—the Seer, a living god who is only ever seen by the ruling council, and you’ve got the makings of a terrific tale. Books two and three come out in English this fall and winter, and I can’t wait.
Deeplight by Frances Hardinge
The gods of Deeplight are not the sort of gods you’d wish to be real. They were, though, once. Huge, monstrous sea creatures (bizarre as only Hardinge can do bizarre—so beautifully, wondrously strange), they tormented the island chain called the Myriad, causing mayhem in their violent clashes to the death. Until they all killed each other, that is: every last one, leaving the waters becalmed. Now smugglers trade in their disembodied parts, and when fifteen-year-old street kid Hark gets caught in one of his best friend Jelt’s mad money-making schemes, he ends up indentured to a scientist doing her own illicit work with their remains. Hark’s loyalty to the undeserving Jelt is heartbreaking, and derails his life yet further when, nearly dying in another mad scheme, the pair come into possession of a piece of godware whose sinister power endangers not just their own lives but the entire Myriad. If you haven’t read Hardinge before, get ready for stunning prose, a truly wild imagination, and a ton of heart. Her powers are astonishing.
The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix
Garth Nix has been a favorite author of mine since I rediscovered books for teens as an adult, searching for my writing niche. His Sabriel series was formative for me. This one’s very different, set in 1980s London, and is a huge amount of fun. Susan Arkshaw has but barely moved to the city for art school when, trying to find out about the father she never knew, she falls afoul of the country’s unruly supernatural element. Rescued by Merlin, a gorgeous young man who’s as apt to dress in women’s clothes as men’s, she gets a crash course in the Old World, and in the booksellers who run interference between it and the modern one. (Why booksellers? Well, because they have to make a living, don’t they?) Merlin is one of the left-handed booksellers, his sister Vivien one of the right. Their skill sets are different but their mission is the same: keep the Old World denizens from causing trouble. But with Susan around, that proves impossible, so they set out to learn who’s after her and why. And yes, it involves a lost god or two.
Noragami by Adachitoka
This was one of the first manga series I fell in love with, late to the game, five or six years ago. I recently watched the anime and picked the series back up, and it’s fabulous: the story of Yato, an unknown god whose dream is to have a shrine of his own so that he won’t have to worry about obsolescence, since gods’ continued existence depends on being remembered. He’s trying to make his name by doing odd jobs—which is a far cry from his bloody past as a god of calamity. The worldbuilding, based loosely on the Japanese pantheon, is extraordinary, with gods binding the spirits of the dead into their service as “regalia,” such as weapons with which they fight phantoms to protect the “near shore,” or human world. The story focuses on Yato’s relationship with his regalia and a human girl whose soul keeps slipping out of her body, and is both hilarious and heartfelt. The art is absolutely gorgeous too, and I was very sorry to learn that one of the two creators (Adachitoka is a portmanteau for two mangaka) has been ill, resulting in the series’s long pause. It looks like it’s back now, with issue #23 scheduled for this summer.
Laini Taylor is the New York Times bestselling author of the Printz Honor Book Strange the Dreamer and its sequel, Muse of Nightmares. Taylor is also the author of the global sensation the Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy and the companion novella Night of Cake & Puppets. Taylor’s other works include the Dreamdark books: Blackbringer and Silksinger, and the National Book Award finalist Lips Touch: Three Times. She lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband, illustrator Jim Di Bartolo, and their daughter, Clementine.