The Book of Phoenix, by Nnedi Okorafor

The
future and the past collide in The Book
of Phoenix
, a prologue to Okorafor’s Who
Fears Death
, as an old man finds a cave full of old computers out in the
desert and stumbles upon a story from the distant past—and the future.  Our future, that is.  When that old man begins to listen to
the story of Phoenix, we come face to face with the present taken to its
logical extreme.  With aliens,
wings, and a bit of magical realism, the reader is taken on a turbulent ride
through the life of Phoenix Okore.

The Book of Phoenix, unlike many future
dystopia novels, lives purely in a fantasy realm of its own making, like a
world in which matter is not subject to the usual forces of gravity.  Okorafor writes a brand of fantasy that
builds on Western African and other folklores, using the validity of those
beliefs and magics to interrogate the commonly held assumptions most American
whites make every day about those they other in order to define their own
identities.  Okorafor’s use of
estrangement is an affective tool in building a narrative that relies on the
‘found footage’ trope to tell a story of the world’s apocalypse.  Her rare blend of escapism and bleak
futurism provide a compelling story that keeps the reader hooked.

The
novel uses first-person narration to tell how Phoenix was born in a corporate
research tower, a created human with strange powers that the people who made
her hope to use as a weapon, most likely against the colonized peoples they are
already oppressing.  The use of
first-person often relies on exposition, which may have the effect of pushing
readers out of the future world that Phoenix lives in, and stretching the
suspension of disbelief at the wonders achieved even by those least qualified
to be stewards for the world.  Having
Phoenix tell her own story, though, is important to the narrative, and helps to
portray Phoenix as both powerful and fallible, able to achieve impossible
things while also a victim of her own strong emotions and the ignorance of her
own history in which she has been raised.

Readers
interested in dystopia that remembers the rest of the world—not just North
America or Europe—will enjoy traveling with Phoenix as she seeks asylum and
acceptance across continents and oceans. 
Those who like their fantasy to stray more towards magical realism or
the supernatural will enjoy Okorafor’s use of myth and folklore to build a
world in which nearly anything is possible.  Readers looking for a novel that is part of a connected
world of stories should check out The
Book of Phoenix
and its sister novel Who
Fears Death,
with a further stop at Kabu
Kabu
, Okorafor’s collection of short stories which was published between
the two.

The Spiritwalker Trilogy, by Kate Elliott

Few
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
fantasy.  

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.

In Midnight’s Silence, by T. Frohock

Something
awful has happened.  Diago Alvarez
had thought all he had to worry about were the amorous advances of his sullen
piano pupil’s mother, but something has come back from his past, not just to
haunt him but to destroy him.  In a
fast-paced start to her three-part series Los Nefilim, Frohock takes her readers
to the mouth of hell and back in In
Midnight’s Silence.

Frohock
is no stranger to the strange, and In
Midnight’s Silence
is delightfully eerie while also being poignant and
soulful.  It’s no wonder, really,
as her characters are the children of angels and masters of music and
song.  This is Diago’s story,
hinted at in her short Hisses and Wings,
brought to life in vivid color and motion.  The characters practically step off the page, and Frohock’s
narrative style will have readers gasping and delighting right along with them
at every turn. 

The
world of Los Nefilim is ours… with a twist.  Throughout history, humanity has thought it was in control
of events, while in fact everything has been carefully shaped by the angels and
daimons who have been alive, reborn again and again, since time
immemorial.  Encompassing many
aspects of ancient religion and culture, In
Midnight’s Silence
hints that perhaps the first rebellion of the angels is
not over—that perhaps our human conceptions of gods and angels is but a
fragment of the whole picture. 

Anyone
interested in Spanish history particularly the early 20th century,
will appreciate the authenticity of the narrative, while those who enjoy an
alternate take on ideas of Judeo-Christian divinity and history will likewise
like the hints of a deeper past that crop up throughout the novella.  Concepts of family, of hidden pasts,
and the notion of redemption drive this story; while the action is
well-narrated, it is the connections between characters that will pull the
reader in and keep them there.