The Tuesday List: Winter of our Discontent

Winter is here! Sort of.  Mostly.  Snow has hit the ground and stuck in the Northeast U.S., so I’m calling it.  Here, then, are a few books that are set in winter, or remind me of winter in some way.

And don’t worry, there’s no GRRMartin in sight.

  1. The Farseer Trilogy, by Robin Hobb

Though the Six Duchies get seasons just like (I suppose) mid-to-northern Europe does, it always seems to be winter when Fitz is running around, killing raiders and whatnot, so this series always makes me think of winter.  It’s a good read, too, for people who like pseudo-medieval-Europe and epic fantasy.

2. Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel


This novel begins on a snowy night at the beginning of winter in Toronto, when one man gasps his last on stage during a production of King Lear, and then civilization slowly collapses.  I remember well the vivid imagery of a young man pushing a shopping cart full of groceries through the slushy streets, hoping against hope to make it to his disabled brother’s high-rise apartment and somehow wait out the apocalypse.

3.  All the Windwracked Stars (Edda of Burdens book 1), by Elizabeth Bear


This is the series I think of when I think of Norse mythology adaptations.  Ragnarok, snow and ice wrapped all around, and the Valkyries fighting for the light and their world.  Only one Valkyrie survives, along with a two-headed deer, the valraven, steed of the Valkyrie.  Millenia later, the fight takes new form in a world changed to almost unrecognizabilityfor Muire, the last Valkyrie.  But have others survived?  Where are the Gods of the north?  And what is she to do now?

4. Razorhurst, by Justine Larbalestier


This  novel doesn’t take place during winter (as far as I can remember), or maybe it’s bright spring when the sun is shining but there’s still a coldness to the air.  Or maybe it’s the bleakness of the characters, the chilling fact that Kelpie can see ghosts and can’t help it, can’t get away from them, even as they beg her to avenge their deaths.  Or it might be the feeling of chill dampness that comes from Kelpie’s brief and mournful memories of growing up in Frog Hollow, before she found work and places to stay away from the horrible gully.  Despite the chills this novels brings, or perhaps because of them, it’s a stellar read and a great story of two girls sticking together to fight the gangs that have turned their neighborhood into a war zone.

5. Cold Magic (Spiritwalker trilogy book 1), by Kate Elliott


Like many quality fantasy novels, Cold Magic begins in the winter with Cat, bound to marry a cold mage, one who can not only harness the power of ice, but who strips the heat from rooms kills fires with his very presence.  He is coldly arrogant, Cat hates him on sight, but must stay with him to protect her family.  What seems like the start of a cliched romance turns into anything but.

The House of Shattered Wings, by Aliette de Bodard

the aftermath of a world war fought by fallen angels and other magical beings, Paris
is a place of gangs, Houses, and the lonely dead.  Though every House leader has made dark choices in order to
protect themselves and their dependents, is all darkness created equal?  Or is there something worse at work in
the foundations of the system, eating away until everything is ready to fall?

has no choice in coming to House Silverspires, founded by Morningstar, greatest
of those who fell from Heaven, but he can see the darkness eating away at its
roots, even before stories of mysterious deaths begin to filter in.  Can Selene, who has taking on
leadership of the house since Morningstar left, keep the other Houses at bay
long enough to root out the problem? 
Phillippe tries not to care, but can’t deny the connections he’s made in
the House, can’t deny the humanity he tried to forget, so many years ago.

The House of Shattered Wings follows the
gothic tradition of dark secrets buried, coming to the surface to haunt those
within, but with a twist.  Instead
of the claustrophobia of a country house, she has all of Paris in which to wind
her mystery, a Paris wrecked by magic and civil war between powerful
Houses.  Her alternative history,
though full of embellishments, seeks a deeper truth in its representation of
the colonialism and wars of empire Europe participated in.  The novel’s pace, while not frenetic,
never stops, pulling the reader along on the points of view of Phillippe and
members of House Silverspires, none of whom fully trust each other, but who
want the mysterious deaths to stop.

who enjoy gothic fiction full of dark secrets are encouraged to explore de
Bodard’s novel, part of a larger series. 
Readers looking for creative world building in an alternate history
setting will surely enjoy The House of
Shattered Wings
.  This novel is
a brooding look at history and religion that is guaranteed to intrigue.

Certain Dark Things, Silvia Moreno-Garcia

is a street kid in Mexico City, the last bastion of vampire-free Mexico, and
indeed most of the Americas.  But
Domingo is more worried about finding enough recyclable trash in the landfill
to sell to the rag-and-bone man, to get money for food every day.  So why does he say hi to a young woman
one day on the subway, and why does he go home with her just because she
asks?  Domingo’s life is about to
get a lot more complicated.

Nachzehrers, Necros, Tlahuihpochtli—all are on the move, looking to carve out
new kingdoms for themselves in countries that, if not friendly to vampires, at
least are not outright hostile. 
Sometimes, vampires and humans get caught in the middle of the
fighting.  Ana, a cop who cut her
teeth dealing with vampires in other Mexican cities, has come to Mexico City to
settle down into a more subdued life. 
Atl, part of the ancient Mexican Tlahuihpochtli, ran to Mexico City to
escape a war between her kind and the Necros.  But her headlong run stirs up old hatreds—and creatures—long
thought dead. 

narrative prose is simple, clean, using multiple character viewpoints to tell a
story about radically different world than the one we know.  Her use of world vampire myths to build
this world is subtle, yet effective; she uses one of the oldest tricks in the
book to alienate the reader and build tension that holds the
attention—providing hints of a deeper world of doubt and unknowns that is far
more disturbing than a book of openly described horrors.  It is what the reader doesn’t know, can
only imagine, that builds the horror elements in this novel. 

of vampire stories will enjoy how the novel incorporates world vampire lore
with well-known vampire and horror tropes.  Those who like to read near-future or alternate history
science fiction and fantasy will find themselves pulled into this world full of
monsters who are so like humans and yet much more.  Anyone looking for a well-crafted story that escapes the
familiar U.S. settings and characters should check out this Central
America-centric novel about universal themes.

Monstrous Little Voices: New Tales from Shakespeare’s World, edited by Jonathan Oliver & David Moore

world is a tempting place to fall into, but for an author, it can be perilous
indeed.  Writing a story set in
Shakespeare’s world or time requires more than just a good imagination, or a
love of his work.  But it is
possible, as the authors in the new collection Monstrous Little Voices have proven.  In it, five different stories based on five of Shakespeare’s
best-known plays come together in a tangible world spun from the very fiber of
his words.  Each story proceeds
naturally from the one before it, gaining momentum until the very end—somehow
fittingly, from Twelfth Night.

Meadows’ “Coral Bones” manages flashback and world-hopping with finesse to give
us another side of Miranda, daughter of Prospero, and her relationship with
Ariel.  “The Course of True Love,”
by Kate Heartfield, while taking place in the kingdom of Orsino and Viola,
spins the tale of an old witch and friend of Sycorax, the mother of Caliban,
who meets a strange fairy in a garden where no garden ought to be.  In Emma Newman’s “The Unkindest Cut,”
Prospero has returned to Milan after the death of his daughter Miranda, and is
confronted in his tower by a young woman following the urgings of her mother
and another seer who have foretold her marriage to a young man, a marriage that
will unite the warring Medici family. 

Milan we move back to the coast of Illyria and, along with the Aragonese
princes, Rosalind, Parolles, and the philosopher Jacques, come face to face
with the revenant of the dreaded Scottish warrior Macbeth, in Adrian
Tchaikovsky’s “Even in the Cannon’s Mouth.”  Finally, Jonathan Barnes’ “On the Twelfth Night” imagines a
world without Shakespeare, imagines worlds upon worlds in which every decision
led to a different life, a different Will Shakespeare, and tells that tale from
the position of Anne Shakespeare. 

treatment of characters in all of these stories is poetic and sensitive to
their histories, imagining what might have been or who they would have become
in the aftermath of the dramas that first brought them into our lives as
readers and audiences.  As the John
Lavagnino writes in the afterword, Shakepeare didn’t write all of these plays
as if they were one world, but his use of source material, the way he combines
his influence and imagination, leaves room for worlds of creativity and
connection.  This is a collection that
any lover of Shakespeare, Elizabethan drama, or alternate-history fantasy must
check out.

Radiance, by Catherynne M. Valente

a party, sweetheart, and everyone’s invited.  On every planet in the sky humanity teems—watching silent
films, drinking drinks with fancy names, and living off the fruits of nine
planets plus all their moons in the art-deco alternate world Valente has
created, where humanity shot itself to the stars before even the 20th
century came splashing onto the calendar. 
And through it all, all the people on all the worlds are united by
film.  In the world of Percival
Unck, you can be famous not just on one planet, but on all of them.

Radiance is a story of stories.  Percival Unck’s daughter, Severin,
disappeared in the 1950’s on a shoot on Venus, only no one knows what happened
or how.  Through found footage, old
classified reports, and diaries, the novel attempts to recreate Severin’s life,
parallel to Percival’s attempt to give his only daughter a good ending.  If he could just tell the right story,
she might be able to rest—somewhere—knowing how much he loved her.  And Percival might be able to rest,

novel is both a beautiful homage to a medium that has shaped the stories we
tell ourselves as a culture and people, and a nod to the classic science fiction
stories that first went to the moon and beyond.  Radiance proves
that not all stories have to be real, true, or even believable to have
meaning.  Switching seamlessly
between character points of view and storytelling style, Valente immerses the
reader in the tumultuous and trendy world of inter-planetary colonies, strange
creatures native to the furthest planets in the solar system, and the stories
that unite them all—from the stars of the silver screen to the serialized radio
broadcasts that eventually catch up even to all planets, even if they go behind
the sun for 70-odd years.

nostalgic for the open-ended feeling of early space travel science fiction will
find themselves enthralled by the way Radiance
dances in the light of all the imaginative stories that have come before
it.  Those looking for a novel that
is less run-of-the-mill than your average science fiction will love Valente’s
talent for telling a complicated and multi-faceted story.  Anyone who has ever dreamed of going to
the stars, or becoming a star, should check out Radiance.

The Spiritwalker Trilogy, by Kate Elliott

authors take the idea of alternative history quite as seriously as Kate
Elliott.  Cat Barahal, the story’s
protagonist and narrator, hails from a Phoenician family who live in a city in
the southern part of what most people would recognize as England.  An England with no English Channel to
separate it from the rest of Europe, and one which never became an empire.  It’s the nineteenth century and Rome as
we know it never happened.  Dragons
walk the earth, spirit creatures cross over into the physical realm, and
powerful mages wield cold magic in a spiraling war against those who would push
forward into a more technology-heavy age. 
Oh, and what story would be complete without a revolution?

While the Spiritwalker
books require a willingness to commit to an unfamiliar story that more casual
readers might lack, the wit and life that Elliott breathes into it are well
worth the effort.  Cat and her
cousin Bee are the drivers of their respective stories, and Elliott reveals
their personalities and motivations in a way that really allows the reader to
know them, and that makes the novels in this series progress naturally.  Cat’s position as narrator is
well-written, as Elliott allows her to be both a character within the story she
weaves, as well as a story-teller character in the greater whole. 

If fantasy is defined as a
way of looking back to history and using it to reflect on who we are today, The
Spiritwalker trilogy certainly fits that definition.  Elliott has chosen to write a story of Europe that
encompasses all the myriad ways it is diverse and dynamic, rather than writing
the typically whitewashed version of pseudo-European medieval or Victorian

Anyone looking for
adventure in an alt-history fantasy setting should definitely pick this series
up.  Readers who like an
understanding of religion and spirituality to go beyond mere tradition and
doctrine will enjoy how the story moves through both the physical and spirit
worlds.  And of course, for those
looking for a story that features young women having their own adventures, this
series is a definite must-read.