The Tuesday List: New Beginnings

The coming of the new year is a time of new beginnings for a lot of people, as those of us who believe in them make resolutions and hope for positive change in the year to come.  Plenty of novels begin with a new beginning, but they’re not always as positive or pleasant as we might imagine for ourselves.  Here’s a brief list of novels featuring new beginnings in some way or another.

  1. The Stars Are Legion, by Kameron Hurley

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Amnesia is its own beginning, especially when it happens over and over.  For Zan, finding the source of her lost memories may be just the start of a new world for herself and everyone in her small corner of the universe.  Along the way the reader is served up a hero’s journey of planetary proportions and plenty of gore an intrigue, as one would expect in a KH novel.

2. The Reader, by Traci Chee

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Stories are an integral part of Sefia’s world, reading itself is a skill long lost to time and empire.  But somehow a book has survived, and Sefia, on the run from the same people who pursued her parents and killed her father, is learning to read the book one slow letter at a time.  Will finally understanding the past set her free, and allow her to move forward into a future of her own making?

3. Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel

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Apocalypse is a special kind of beginning, and Station Eleven is one of the best executed post apocalyptic novels I’ve encountered.  It’s not just about learning to live without electricity or government, but the ways in which everything old can become new again, including art.

4. The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison

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Sometimes a new beginning is an empire getting a new face, like when a kingdom of elves finds itself with a half-goblin emperor on its throne, after nearly the entire royal family was killed in a dirigible accident.  Being an outsider can sometimes be an asset, but it can also be a liability, and Maya has very little room to make mistakes.

5. Earthrise (Her Instruments #1), by MCA Hogarth

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The advent of interstellar travel didn’t do a Star Trek and get rid of capitalism, and for Reese Eddings, raised on the all-woman Mars colony, the getting beat down by fate and a series of bad trades can’t blunt her obstinate desire to explore and see everything the universe has to offer.  But eventually the money runs out, and she has to consider going home to ask her mother for help.  Until a mysterious benefactor comes through with an offer that seems to good to be true, and Reese just might get a break, after all.

The Tuesday List: Bodies of Law

Woo! With new year’s came a new job for me, so in honor of yesterday being my first day as a research librarian at a major law firm in my area, here’s a list of books/series in which law/lawyers play a strong role.

  1. The Engineer Trilogy, by K.J. Parker

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I admit, I found Parker (and his books) a lot more interesting before I found out it was in fact just some dude who already was relatively successful in publishing.  Nevertheless, this is one of the few series that has merited multiple reads, and even knowing the twist at the end it’s fascinating to watch the ways that anarchy and order war with each other, and within the characters, to create this perfect storm of a war between two otherwise indifferent opponents.

2. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K. Dick

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Before it was a strangely cult classic film, this novel was a somewhat understated meditation on what it meant to be alive, and how civilization would go about legally defining life when artificially created humanoid beings not only existed, but were created as slaves to humans.

3. Reamde, by Neal Stephenson

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This tome of a speculative fiction novel deals with the ramifications of legal borders and boundaries in the digital age.  Two story worlds exist side by side: the video game world in which mules play according to a set of rules in order to earn and smuggle money out of a pay to play MMORPG along the lines of World of Warcraft, and the world of kidnapped young woman, ostensibly at the wrong place at the wrong time, who ends up flown around the world and back again, never knowing if she’ll get out alive, or even find out why it all happened to begin with.

4. The Golem and the Jinni, by Helene Wecker

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This is another story which happens because one man transgresses the religious laws of his people for his own gain, and creates a being who should never have become real.  It’s a story of emigration and coming of age, as well as one of found friendship despite cultural borders.

5. The Just City (Thessaly #1), by Jo Walton

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Plato’s Republic was a legal treatise modeled on the constitution of a human body, with the well-being of the well-run city-state being its allegorical goal.  So what happens when the actual Greek gods go back in time, pulling philosophers and cultural influencers out of their worlds just before their times of death, and try to actual create Plato’s imagined city?  Part time travel novel, part philosophical exercise, part celebrity fiction, The Just City plots a rough course through history and the motivations of humanity from all points.

The Tuesday List: Time for a Change

This list is about regime change in sff.  Not rebels running around torching things, or dreaming of a better day, but fiction that actually deals with what happens when the ruling order forcibly changes.  It was a hard list to compile, because most people want aspirational stories, not hard truths, even authors, it seems.

  1. Crossroads (trilogy), by Kate Elliott

Elliott is one of the best world builders in fantasy, and Crossroads does  not disappoint.  These novels deal with not only the clash of worlds, but what it means when a foreign army marches into another nation and forcibly changes the way things are done, with only the brutal efficiency that can be managed by religious zeal and desperate fear.  And also there are giant eagles.

2. Robopocalypse, by Daniel H. Wilson

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In this case, the humans start out on top, until some computers achieve ascendancy and decide the humans are too dangerous to keep around.  This is the story of the survivors of the original blow out, and how they adapt to a world where every machine is a potential murderer.

3. Ancillary Sword (Imperial Radch #2), by Ann Leckie

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In the fallout of Breq’s mission to kill Anaander Mianaai for her role in the destruction of Breq’s ship Justice of Toren, Breq must travel to a distant system where possible rebellion brews.  A sort of peace may now exist, but ripples of Mianaai’s duplicity are sparking all sorts of problems across Radch space and Breq must find the problems and quell them–in her own, not necessarily imperial, ways–before the empire falls apart.

4. The House of Shattered Wings, by Aliette de Bodard

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Selene is doing her best to hold House Silverspires together after the mysterious disappearance of Morningstar, the most powerful of all the angels who fell from Heaven, but despite her best efforts, things are falling apart.  A series of mysterious deaths and magical failures make Silverspires ripe for plucking by the likes of House Hawthorn or even houses not controlled by Fallen.  This is the aftermath of regime change in one house, but the loss of Morningstar may mean the loss of ascendancy for all Fallen in Paris if the mystery is not solved.

5. Cloudbound(Bone Universe #2), by Fran Wilde

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In this second of a trilogy, Kirit and Nat must contend with the consequences of their actions from Updraft, in which they revealed how the Spire and its Singers have been hiding the truth of the city from its inhabitants.  Although these secrets may have provided some safety and kept order–important for a populace who lives in the sky and for whom any large-scale disruption to trade could prove disastrous–it may also have led to the imminent collapse of the city structure and understanding of the city’s history.  Kirit and Nat are not welcomed as heroes, but looked upon with suspicion, forced out of the society they’d hoped to save, existing on the edges of the city and down in the damp cloudbound layers from which citizens usually never returned.

The Tuesday List: Tiny Steps

Today is the day!  We leave for our trip to Glasgow and Inverness, a trip we’ve been planning for over a year.  So in honor of our big trip, I’m making a list of stories featuring tiny steps with big effects.  This could be transformations, or parallels steps, or anything that seems small but has big consequences.  So here goes!

1. The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe, by Kij Johnson

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This little novella published by Tor is a Lovecraftian retelling, in which the main character must figure out how to follow a young student at her school from their own world–with monsters of all sorts and a fixed number of star– into the real world of cars and cell phones and baristas.  And all she has to do is step through the right doorway.

2. The Wanderers, by Meg Howrey

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The true space age is upon us, but before we can blast off for Mars, we have to do the test run.  In a seventeen month long experiment Helen and her two crew partners will simulate every possible aspect of leaving the surface of the earth, making the journey, landing, staying for a few weeks, and then leaving to come back to earth.  In this fascinating thought experiment, Howrey creates real conditions for what three people who barely know each other would go through on the longest space journey humans have taken so far.  And all without leaving the dust of Idaho.

3. Hammers on Bone, by Cassandra Khaw

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This novella isn’t about stepping through a doorway, or simulating a long journey, but about stepping into another being.  John Persons is a tentacled alien god-being who has assumed the body of an actual human, and is a private eye in seedy London, tasked with taking down the sinister step-father of a latchkey kid with a little too much savvy for a boy his age.  Chaos, of course, ensues.

4. The Girl from Everywhere, by Heidi Heilig

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Nix is a scholar, a historian, a sailor… and a time traveler.  All she needs is a map, and she can go anywhere in the time it was created.  Swept up by her father’s quest to get back to her mother, when Nix was just a baby, she steps from one world into another, sometimes even into fantasies, with a change of wind and sail.

5. Kabu Kabu, by Nnedi Okorafor

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This book of short stories has the best prologue I’ve ever encountered for a collection.  A young woman, running late for the airport, takes the most unexpected cab to the airport, but instead of dropping her off at the terminal, it takes her directly to her destination–her family’s home in Nigeria where she’s expected for a wedding.  And then the reader is treated to a series of short stroies that represent some of the best of Okorafor’s writing, even among her novels.  These stories have presence, the characters stick with you, and they are both speculative and nostalgic in a way only someone who has really been there can manage.

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

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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

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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

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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

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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 Tuesday List: Who Needs a Sequel?

I apologize, but I’m afraid this is going to be a male-heavy list this week.  But then again, maybe there’s a reason for that.  Anyway, I present you with some books I read, that were part of series, but which I never felt compelled to read, or didn’t finish, the next book.

  1. Blindsight, by Peter Watts

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This book was something about investigating an alien species, and there was a pseudo-vampire on board, brought for his super-human physical abilities.  The aliens were more than they bargained for.  Maybe some of the crew got home safe?  Anyway, it wasn’t bad, just not compelling beyond the one reading.

2. Robopocalypse, by Daniel H. Wilson

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You know, the premise and actual plot of this novel were pretty good, but I tried starting the next book in the series (both on audiobook, btw), Robogenesis, and I just couldn’t get into it.  I guess it was just decent as a standalone.  I would like to seek him out in future though, as he’s of Native American descent and has some interesting ideas.

 

3. The Queen of the Tearling, by Erika Johansen

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There are slow burns, and then there are novels with a hodge-podge of things happening, but really no idea what they want to actually be.  This was one of the second.  Some brutality, a princess who’s “not like all the other girls,” and brief mention of a not so pseudo-medieval past in which ebooks and sundry other technology were in use.  Boring.

4. A Court of Thorns and Roses, by Sarah J. Maas

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Alright, I admit I read a SJM book.  But in my defense, I didn’t know who she was, and there was an ARC just sitting on a shelf at my local indie, so I gave it a try.  Writing was pretty bland, and the faery story felt more like author insertion that actual plotting.  But now I know what I’m missing so, uh, I feel good about that, right?

5. The Summoner, by Gail Z. Martin

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Also picked this up as an ARC a long, long time ago.  It, and stories like it, actually inspired a novel I started working on for NaNo this year, the first time I tried it, in response to stories that feature the noble protagonist, wrongfully accused/deposed, who must venture into the wilderness, overcome superficial challenges, and for whom the plot basically builds a step-by-step to his goal.  Boring.

The Tuesday List: Generation Ships

This is one of my favorite sub-genres of science fiction.  The generation ship, usually huge, designed to house a colony, a society, of people for hundreds of years, often part of a pilgrimage or evacuation.  Here are a few of my faves.

  1. Jacob’s Ladder (3-book series), by Elizabeth Bear

This series is feudalism meets genetic engineering.  The exalted, angels, have been genetically modified to pilot the ship, and over the generations have become the ruling class.  The unmodified are peasants, but not without their own knowledge of the huge ship that contains rivers, forests, and futuristic technology spaces.  Will the two factions reach agreement?  Will they find a new planet, and if they do, will they be able to live peacefully?

2. Revelation Space (3-book series), by Alastair Reynolds

I’ve written about this series before, and as I’ve said it was not only my first real introduction to the generation ship, but also to modern hard science fiction.  This series deals with modified humans, kilometer-long ships with their own AI, and an alien species that once wiped out the universe and threatens to do it again if a few scientists and adventurers can’t figure out the historical clues they keep running into.

3. Noumenon, by Marina J. Lostetter

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A generation ship full of clones whisks through dilated space towards a strange star cluster, there to gather research about it and then return within 300 years.  And by the time they get back to earth, more than 1000 years will have passed, and will there even be anyone there to remember or care about this scientific mission?

4. An Unkindness of Ghosts, by Rivers Solomon

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Humans board the great ship Matilda to escape a dying planet, but after a hundred years racial divisions have sprung up and what was once a utopic vision has turned into the enslaved and their nominal masters.  Aster must discover the secrets to the energy drains that continue to threaten lives among the lowerdecks, and in doing so, can she foment a revolution that will bring justice to the enslaved?

5. The Stars Are Legion, by Kameron Hurley

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Generation ships with bonus: generation planets! They’re ships, with both bio and non-biological technology, and they’re the size of planets, and they contain layers and tiers of different cultures, all the way to the center where the giant garbage collectors live, waiting for any waste to come down the chute for recycling.  Zan, cursed with perpetual amnesia, wakes over and over to her lover, a secret plan she can’t remember, and knowledge that she has a mission.  She must get inside another planet, but she doesn’t know how, or why.

The Tuesday List: Not So Medieval

Hurrah, it’s Tuesday again.  This week I’ve got some great SFF that’s alternative world without being based on the usual pseudo-medieval template that so many stories seem to rely on.  Take a look, and let me know what non-medieval fantasy you enjoy!

  1. The Obelisk Gate, by N.K. Jemisin

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The same could be said of The Fifth Season, the first in the Broken Earth series, as well, however The Obelisk Gate is where the world building really picks up, for me.  This series is a breath of fresh air, when it comes to imagining civilizations, using a form of proto-communism in which, when Season law is declared, every citizen of a community has a specific role, determined by their particular physical and intellectual traits, that is meant to help the community survive the deadly season caused by earthquakes and other tectonic miseries, which are so common on this unsteady continent called the Stillness.  Also the writing is, as always, amazing, and everyone needs to read this series.

2. The Bone Universe (series), by Fran Wilde

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Imagine a city in the sky, consisting of bone towers rising ever above the clouds, and people who move between the towers on wings made of silk.  Then imagine an ancient lore, passed down for generations in song, because the weight of books is dangerous and ephemeral.  Again, this is a story in which community is incredibly important, and is so interesting because of the conflicts that arise when tradition and change collide.

3. The Black Tides of Heaven (novella), by J.Y.  Yang

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Part of a duology, this novella imagines a world that, first of all, is reminiscent more of ancient Chinese or Southeast Asian civilizations and, second of all, is full of a magic called the Slack, which is used to perform many of the technological feats we take for granted today, but differently.  Also, it’s a world in which gender is both fluid and self-determined; people in the Tensorate choose their gender, when they want to, and then have it confirmed by society, rather than the other way around.  The characters and their motivations are compelling, a familiar story of children rebelling against a tyrant parent, but explored in new ways.

4. Binti, by Nnedi Okorafor

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Though not explicitly stated, Binti comes from a tribal, semi-desert civilization which is reminiscent of some western African settings.  Of course, this is a future earth, and so it’s just as easy to imagine a post singularity future in which people of African descent are the dominant civilizations as it is people of North American or European descent.  That said, Binti comes from a world of space-farers, people who regularly travel across the galaxy and further for trade, education, and leisure.  Binti is leaving her homeland to go to Oomza University, an entire planet set up for education.  She deals with tribal beliefs that have to do with belonging and leaving, as well as the prejudices of outsiders, and then the added conflict of an alien species attempting to hijack her space ship.  It’s a great beginning to a novella trilogy and entirely refreshing in its world building and point of view.

5. Eternal Sky (trilogy), by Elizabeth Bear

I talk about Elizabeth Bear a fair amount; she’s one of my favorite writers.  This trilogy is both well-written and encompasses a world that, while having many of the same features as more familiar pseudo-medieval settings, is instead based on a Eurasian steppe/Middle East empire civilization.  It holds a particularly close place in my reading heart because it reminds me so much of the year I lived in Astana, Kazakhstan, surrounded by artwork that could practically have sprung from imagery in these novels.  It’s about a young man whose uncle attempts to wrest his birthright from him, and a princess-turned-wizard, who come together in unlikely circumstances to save the world.  Also there are horse, and a species of Cheetah people, and giant eagles.  Every novel needs giant eagles.

Maybe I’ll do a Tuesday List of giant eagle books next.

Happy reading!

The Tuesday List: Imperialism, Boo

So this week is that favorite of holidays in the  U.S., Thanksgiving.  I say favorite because, of course, it’s predicated on the successful colonization of the North American Continent by mainly Puritan immigrants from the U.K., and therefore kind of a shitty thing to be celebrating.  Nevertheless, it persists.

In response, I’m going to try to put together a Tuesday List of books in which colonialism and imperialism are critically examined and generally come out the worse for it.  So here goes:

  1. Dominion of the Fallen books – House of Shattered Wings, House of Binding Thorns, by Aliette de Bodard

 

The setting is Paris after a magical war that all but shatters the city, and one of the main characters is a young man brought to France from Vietnam, a victim of former French colonization of Southeast Asia.  Cultures clash in these two books, between the fallen angels of the European religious landscape and the dragons of Southeast Asia and beyond.  These books deal with many topics, from intrigue and trust, to pain and resilience, to the ways in which humans use and exploit each other.

2. Sorcerer to the Crown, by Zen Cho

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Cho’s debut novel deals not only with imperialism, but with race-based slavery, as Zacharias is a former African slave, freed by his mentor when his magical abilities are revealed and held up as a superior example of his race.  On the other hand, Prunella Gentleman is the daughter of a woman of color most likely from Southeast Asia or the Pacific islands, and a white man from Europe.  Prunella’s journey deals with finding her history, while Zacharias’ is about dealing with the past that put him where he is and the present racism that keeps him from doing his job.

3. Imperial Radch series, by Ann Leckie

 

In a far future universe in which humans have solved long distance space travel and invented artificial intelligence, an empire exists whose sole purpose is to concur as many human systems as it can and bring justice, propriety, and benefit to all.  Of course, to do this the Radch must assimilate, force natives to change and accept the rule of a government far away, and above all defend its interests everywhere.  Though there are some benefits to being part of the Radch, such as an end to poverty, the loss of familiar traditions and beliefs, as well as the ways in which newly conquered systems are exploited, are at the heart of the trilogy, and among the motivations for Breq, a former ancillary in a human body who must learn to function now that she is no longer part of the massive AI of her ship.

4. A Stranger in Olondria, by Sofia Samatar

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Samatar’s debut novel deals with the conflicting vicissitudes of imperialism, beginning with the story of Jevick, son of a rich pepper merchant on the Tea Islands.  Jevick’s life, by colonial standards, is good, as he has access to wealth and learning, as long as he plays by rules laid out long before he was born.  But when Jevick desires to move beyond the small scope of his home islands, he learns that all the education and goodwill in the world can’t protect him from xenophobia and exploitation by powerful forces on the Olondrian mainland.  Jevick must learn to see through the glamour of knowledge and power and make his own decisions.

5. The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison

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My favorite part of this novel is the steampunk workers’ revolt, where Maia, the half-goblin child of the dead emperor, finds out that the reason he ascended the throne was because a group of engineers tried to blow up the entire royal family and Maia just happened not to be on the air ship.  This novel is a well-written fantasy of manners about an outsider, half-goblin half-elf, trying to learn how to be the ruler of an empire of elves.  There’s plenty more going on, though, to make you want it to be part of a series.

 

 

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.