The Tuesday List: PotterNoMore

Yes, that’s right, I am not really a big fan (or much of a fan at all) of Harry Potter.  This is not to say that it’s poorly written, and not perfectly capable of being beloved by millions, it’s just not my thing.  So this is an attempt at a list of magical schools, or worlds, or people, etc, that are great alternatives to Harry Potter and the general magical Rowling world.

Disclaimer, these books are written for adults, with possible ya crossover interest, so adjust expectations accordingly.

  1. Roses and Rot, by Kat Howard

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Probably I’ve put this in a Tuesday List before, but whatever.  It’s magical, it’s a school, it’s got really interesting characters with a whole bunch of motivations, and just as much creepiness as you want to read into it.  Also Kat Howard is a really excellent writer with a new novel out (An Unkindness of Magicians), and some very compelling short fiction including “Translatio Corporis” and “The Green Knight’s Wife.”

2. The Beautiful Ones, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

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This is a fantasy of manners novel in which magical abilities are something that can help and hinder, and that really play off gender and class structures in a way that is just as interesting as the unfolding drama of the story itself.  A young woman grows up with both an interest in science and telekinetic abilities, neither of which conform to the expectations of her family, which is for her to go to the city, come out, meet an eligible man, and marry.  But when the demons of the past, in the form of a telekinetic magician and former lover of her imperious aunt come to town, everything changes and Antonina must learn to trust herself.

3. Los Nefilim (trilogy), by T. Frohock

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Comprising three novellas (In Midnight’s Silence, Without Light or Guide, The Second Death), Los Nefilim has one of the most interesting magic systems I’ve ever encountered.  The two magical races who inhabit the world are the Nefilim–angels– and Daimons, who have been at odds since the beginning of existence.  Music and light are how they make magic, and Diago Alvarez is a gifted musician who wants none of the war between the two races.  The only problem is, in 1930s Spain, war is brewing in both the human and magical worlds, and Diago may be the only one who can do anything about it.

4. Finishing School, (4-book series), by Gail Carriger

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What’s better than a school set in a magical world?  A school set in a magical world with steampunk.  This series also takes itself (and the fate of the world) a lot less seriously, while really spinning the alternate victorian thing.  And it’s still got its basic dose of colonizer, majority white except in cases where it’s really “warranted” logic down, so you won’t miss that if you read this instead of Harry Potter.

I jest.  But not really.  I loved the jokes about clothing and food and manners, but holy god you’ve really got to have a good gag reflex to set anything in Victorian England (and the empire) these days.

5. Spiritwalker (trilogy), by Kate Elliott

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Hey, I had to get my Kate Elliott endorsement in there somewhere, didn’t I?  So this a series in which a young woman discovers a birthright that she never could have expected, and also has to deal with the  usual societal expectations, and also a war, and also it’s an alt-history in which the countries and empires we expect to see by the Victorian period never exist, because the Roman Empire didn’t fall out quite the way we remember it, and also there are elemental magics and magical families and it’s a pre-industrial revolution gaslamp fantasy setting somewhere along the lines of His Dark Materials and yet completely unique at the same time.  A lot of fun, with a great narrative voice and a really good jumping off point for someone who wants to get into fantasy but doesn’t know what they like yet.

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September Library Checkouts

I felt like a read a fair amount this month, but my library checkouts were relatively low.  I also read some ARCs, and try to throw in some stuff off the “purchased” pile.  Here’s what I (can remember that I) checked out.

 

The Reluctant Queen, by Sara Beth Durst

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The Strange Case of the Alchemists’s Daughter, by Theodora Goss

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Prudence, by Gail Carriger (overdrive audiobook)

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An Ember in the Ashes, by Sabaa Tahir (overdrive audiobook)

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The Tuesday List: Our Fanged Foes (or Friends)

Wee, it’s another edition of The Tuesday List, this time featuring books about vampires.  They’re not all spooky, or literary, or alt-worldy, but they’re all enjoyable.  Maybe you’ll find your next Halloween read, or maybe just your next obsession.

  1. The Quick, by Lauren Owen

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This novel had a serious Dickensian feel, a cramped, dark, dirty London inhabited by criminals, urchins, and the occasional mysterious other.  The quick refer to the living, fodder for the undead, who occupy a much greater circle of society than the uninitiated could ever imagine.

2. The Historian

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A Dracula story for the modern age?  Perhaps.  But the quest, the obsession of the historian predates modernity, and it is one woman’s harrowing journey into the past through old letters and documents, that brings this story to light.  A good tale, for those used to the smell of dust and old books.

3. Certain Dark Things

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A post-apocalyptic vampire novel, you ask?  Well, yes, in a matter of speaking.  But the apocalypse has happened to the vampires, not because of them, and this is the tale of one particular Aztec vampire just trying to make her way in a Mexico City hostile to her kind, avoid being murdered by a rival vampire species, and maybe meet a nice boy who can be her food source and companion for a while.

4. Prudence

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Irreverence leads in the fashion-conscious and nibbly bits-obsessed novels of Gail Carriger, and Prudence, her latest foray into the alternate steampunk universe of dirigibles, vampires, and shapeshifters, is no different.  This is a romp if there ever was one, this time through Bombay and the forests of India, on a quest for tea and justice for all the supernaturals in Queen Victoria’s empire.

5. Sunshine

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I needed one more book to make a nice round five, and thought to myself, self, you could pick one by a dude that you’ve read, or you could take a heartfelt recommendation from people you trust.  So I went with Sunshine, which was loved by both Ana and Renay at Fangirl Happy Hour.  You can listen to their discussion of it here.

August 2017 Library Checkouts

It’s September, and another month of reading has faded into the past.  Here’s what I checked out from my local library system in August.  I also read a few ARCs, or at least started a few, and maybe I’ll get around to talking about them.

I checked out and listened to all four books in Gail Carriger’s Finishing School series through my library system’s Overdrive service.  They were fun and irreverent, and I’d definitely listen to at least four more of them!

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I also finished up Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce series (for the second time), also on Overdrive, and am avidly looking forward to the next book in the series.

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As far as the read word, I checked out (and finished) Noumenon, by Marina J. Lostetter, The Fifth Season, by N.K. Jemisin, Upgraded, a short fiction collection edited by Neil Clarke, and The Queen of Blood, by Sarah Beth Durst.  That novel certainly takes the cake for most fascinating fantasy world that I’d never want to live in!

Etiquette & Espionage, by Gail Carriger

Being the first of the Finishing School series, Etiquette & Espionage is an irreverent take on the concept of the finishing school of the 19th century at which, it was believed, a young woman could learn everything she needed to know about getting a husband and then being a proper lady and wife.  And then Carriger adds werewolves, vampires, steampunk, and assassination.

Told from the point of view of Sophronia Angelina Teminick, the tale begins with an unfortunate climb up a dumbwaiter, a characteristic antic of the young protagonist, who is a trial to her parents, a menace to the mechanics who serve in the household, and an annoyance to her siblings.  In a last-ditch effort to make her acceptable in society, Sophoronia’s mother begs Madame Geraldine to accept her into Madame Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality and, miraculously, Madame Geraldine accepts.  And it’s all downhill–or rather, up in the air–from there.

Other than the characters being younger than I expected–most about 14–I wouldn’t have classified this novel as anything other than fantasy–fantasy of manners, steampunk, etc–but after finishing it I found out that it was classified as YA.  Carriger’s worldbuilding, which relies on aspects of the ridiculous to establish a world both vastly different than our own, and yet hardly different at all, interrogates particular tropes in fiction as well as the ways in which patriarchal society affected women in the Victorian period and beyond, in a way that is anything other than immature.  I was particularly struck by the ways in which Carriger used fashionable dress itself as a weapon, and how feminine attire has devolved, even as it has become more superficially ‘useful’ to making women generally defenseless, not-dangerous, because there is nowhere to hide anything that might be used as a weapon.

On the whole I found Etiquette & Espionage to be a fine example of what Renay, over at Ladybusiness, describes as the main point of steampunk, which is to break up the cultural norms that rule society and allow for subversion of the assumptions upon which the real-world model is built.  It makes excellent use of the fantasy of manners subgenre, showing the reverse side of what politeness and proper behavior is all about.

The only complaint I might make is the novel’s treatment of gender from within.  It is all well and good to depict a society in which appearance is everything, but there were times when Sophronia as narrator expressed harmful stereotypes about gender presentation and body size, without those descriptions later being fully exposed as such.  Sophronia is later seen getting to know those people who had earlier described as deviating from the desired norm, but those characters do not always get full agency, or Sophronia is not always forced to reckon with how her assumptions about them might have been harmful.  Had Sophronia been shown to be a more fallible, less reliable narrator, her descriptions of people might be more easily subverted in a way that aligns with the otherwise feminist nature of the novel.