Book Review: Akata Witch, Nnedi Okorafor

Book Review: Akata WitchNnedi Okorafor

Akata Witch, Nnedi Okorafor

Fantasy: Akata WitchNnedi Okorafor

 

“My name is Sunny Nwazue and I confuse people.”

 

That may be one of the best lines I’ll ever read introducing a character. Sunny is many things. An American girl growing up in Nigeria, the daughter of two Igbo parents. An albino. And as she discovers early in the book, a Leopard Person–also known as a witch. Akata Witch is Sunny’s story, how she learned she had magical abilities, how she was embraced by a world she never knew existed, and how she found her place in that world with the help of some friends.

 

I am reminded of the Doctor Who episode “The Doctor’s Wife,” when the Doctor tries to explain that they have entered a place that is not in their universe but it is like a soap bubble on the edge of a larger bubble except it is nothing like that but if it helps you to think of it like that then it is exactly like that.

 

My fear in writing my introduction is that it may sound like Akata Witch is similar to another series of books about a young magic worker who did not know about his abilities and was embraced by a world he never knew about and how he found his place in that world with the help of some friends. I suppose if HP were an albino American-Igbo girl who continued to attend school with ordinary students then it would be exactly like that…which is to say that it is extremely unfair to compare the two and I really don’t want to do that. Nnedi Okorafor has made some magic with Akata Witch, and it stands on its own quite well. She has won the Locus, Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards for her fiction, and the sequel to this novel won this year’s award for Best Young Adult Book which was presented at the Hugo ceremony.

 

Akata Witch could not have been written by someone unfamiliar with Nigeria. Whether the descriptions are of the feel of the air on skin, the sound of insects, the taste of the food, the smell of dust and smoke, Okorafor engages all of the reader’s senses in her book. Sunny’s albino skin is described by her school bullies as being the color of sour milk. The book simply delights on multiple levels.

 

Okorafor is one of the leading voices of Africanfuturism, a growing genre of stories that features African voices telling African stories set in the future. This genre is long overdue. Africa gave birth to us all, and now is giving birth to some exciting literature that demands attention. Okorafor has a voice that is both African and American, born in Cincinnati and teaching in Chicago, but spending a lot of time in Nigeria as well. The blend of cultures, mixed with her intelligence and experience and scholarship, helps her create unique books which put extraordinary characters into extravagantly described worlds.

 

Akata Witch features a young woman finding herself. African and American, “black” and albino, magical but living in an ordinary home and attending an ordinary school, Sunny Nwazue is a special protagonist. I loved this book, and I am excited to read the sequel.

Akata Witch, Nnedi Okorafor

Book Review: Akata WitchNnedi Okorafor

Book Review: Children of Blood and Bone, Tomi Adeyemi

Book Review: Children of Blood and BoneTomi Adeyemi

Children of Blood and Bone, Tomi Adeyemi

Fantasy: Children of Blood and BoneTomi Adeyemi

Zelie’s mother was killed because she had magic. Many people were killed during The Raid, when magic disappeared from the world and those who once had used it were targeted by the king. Since that fateful night all those years ago, the magic was gone. Zelie had the white hair that indicated magical potential, but no magic could be found in the world. Then, a princess touches her with a mysterious scroll, and Zelie begins to find the power in herself that her mother once employed. The magic may be gone from Zelie’s world, but that is only because Tomi Adeyemi has put it into her amazing novel Children of Blood and Bone and has thus brought it into ours.

 

It’s easy sometimes to reduce stories to tropes. Hero’s journey? Check. Love story? Check. Misunderstood princess? Check. Young and untrained people discovering how to use magic? Check. And, sure, fine, those familiar themes are present in this novel. What sets a novel apart, though, is when it makes familiar ground new and exciting and different.

 

Here again, the easy and cheap thing to do is grab the obvious differences: Africa, not Europe or America. But this book is not different only because it is set in a part of the world that is underrepresented in published fantasy literature. This book is different because it is really, really good. The world building is amazing. The characters are real and flawed and heroic and common and everything you want in a character. Some of the scenes take your breath away. There is magic in this book, and it is not from the spells or the mystical powers or the artifacts. The magic is in the writing and the creativity and the depth of the story. The bookChildren of Blood and Bone may hide on the YA shelves of your local library, but it is a very mature story that should appeal to all ages. I could not put it down.

 

Two of the three main characters are female, but this is not a “girl’s” book (or a “boy’s” book–if there are such things). This is a good book. Will girls and women be thrilled to see the heroics come from a “her”? I hope so, but boys (and men) will also love to see the strength of these characters. As a reader, I also loved watching the growth and change in the characters through the course of the book. None of the three main characters is perfect, all are flawed, and all of them are different by the end than they were in the beginning. And although the next novel is perfectly set up, I have no idea what direction the characters will take in the next part of the story. I just know I am very eager to find out.

Children of Blood and Bone, Tomi Adeyemi

Book Review: Children of Blood and BoneTomi Adeyemi

Book Review: Sparrow Hill Road, Seanan McGuire

Book Review: Sparrow Hill RoadBook 1 Ghost Roads Series, Seanan McGuire

Sparrow Hill Road, Seanan McGuire

Fantasy Short Story Collection: Sparrow Hill RoadBook 1 Ghost Roads Series, Seanan McGuire

Rose Marshall wants to avoid being killed. Again. She was killed once already, in 1952, run off of Sparrow Hill Road in Michigan, and since has wandered the roads as a “hitcher,” a ghost who hitchhikes along the roads trying to save people. But the man who killed her, Bobby Cross, wants her soul, and he is still chasing her. Dying once stunk, but being killed again would really ruin her day.

 

Rose is known by many names. The “girl in the diner.” “The girl in the green dress.” “The phantom prom date.” And there are many legends surrounding her. It is said that she saves drivers by leading them to avoid accidents. It is said that she kills drivers by leading them to accidents. Rescuer? Harbinger of doom? Killer? Give a ghost a break!

 

The rules of the road for hitchers are important. If a hitcher is given a coat, jacket, or some other outerwear, she can regain corporeal form until midnight that day. If food or drink is given to the hitcher, she can enjoy it. Rose is particularly fond of cheeseburgers and malted milkshakes. However, if the road compels her to go somewhere to try to help someone, she must obey. Sometimes she is able to save them–help them avoid an accident, send them along a different route, distract them until the danger has passed. Sometimes she is able to save their spirits, guiding them to their final destination, helping them avoid Bobby Cross and other dangers in the spirit world. The rumors of her harming people are untrue, but she does have the habit of being there at the end for a lot of people. That’s one way rumors can start.

 

Seanan McGuire books are very personal to me. She, along with a few other authors, wrote some wonderful books that meant a lot to me in a very difficult time. Although Sparrow Hill Road is from 2014, it is new to me…and yet in many ways it is not new. It is vintage McGuire. Humor and horror mixed together. Wry, ironic, dry, yet with compassion and tenderness. McGuire loves her characters, even when she kills them. She even loves the dead ones. McGuire can make you laugh while you still have tears in your eyes from the previous paragraph. Her writing is fun and funny. And sometimes furious. And sometimes shocking. And always, always, delightful.

 

Sparrow Hill Road is more a series of connected short stories than a novel with a single overarching plot. It jumps back and forth in time, telling stories of Rose’s dealings with humans in the daylight and with spirits in the twilight. We read of Rose’s last days alive, how she meets friends Tommy and Emma, various battles with Bobby Cross, and the fates of her niece and her boyfriend (the boy who was supposed to take her to prom on the night she died). These stories are not in chronological order; ghosts don’t quite do linear time the way the living do.

 

Sparrow Hill Road is set along the American highway system, which may make it exotic to readers from other countries–and makes it a quintessentially American ghost story to those of us who grew up taking our family vacations and conducting business by way of these routes connecting the continent. Although we seldom see hitchhikers on those highways today, it is fun to think that some of them may be looking for a ride, a jacket, and a burger. That is NOT a recommendation to pick one up, though. Unless she is wearing a green prom dress from the 1950s, it is not worth taking that chance.

Sparrow Hill Road, Seanan McGuire

Book Review: Sparrow Hill Road, Seanan McGuire

Book Review: Midnight Riot, Rivers of London Book 1, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Midnight RiotRivers of London Book 1, Ben Aaronovitch

Midnight Riot, Ben Aaronovitvh

Urban Fantasy: Midnight RiotRivers of London Book 1, Ben Aaronovitch

Sometimes we get asked, “How do you pick the books to read/review?” A lot of times it is from other readers and reviewers. Often it is books nominated for different awards. If we like one book by an author, we will seek out others by that same writer. A couple have been from requests by the author herself, or meeting the author at an event. We try to have a strong local angle: local authors and authors coming to local events deserve as much of our support as we can provide. Sometimes, though, it’s as simple as our son coming up to us, shoving a book into our hands, and saying, “You will like this. Read it!” This is how we encountered the gem Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch. If you like urban fantasy with a strong dose of humor and sarcasm, especially with a British touch, then I would love to do the same thing to you: take the book, shove it into your hands, and say, “read this!”

 

Midnight Riot has been described as Harry Potter grows up and joins the fuzz. Not quite sure that captures the book, but it’s not bad. Peter Grant is a beat cop ready to move forward with his career. His hopes for something exciting are dashed, though, when he is assigned to the most boring, dead end position available to cops. Basically, it’s where cops are put so they can’t mess things up for themselves or other cops. Before he starts this new beat, though, he interviews a witness to a strange murder.

 

The witness is a ghost.

 

Not many people can see ghosts, let alone interview them. Not many of those people are cops. This brings him to the attention of Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, who is in charge of a very small unit within the Metropolitan Police Department (better known to Americans as “Scotland Yard”). Actually, the unit has only one human in it, until Nightingale reroutes Grant’s career and makes it a two human department. Nightingale’s department is charged with making sure the paranormal keep the queen’s peace. Sometimes that means brokering a peace deal between the king and queen of the Thames and their offspring. Sometimes that means taking violent action with permanent effect against a pair of vampires who have taken up residence in a house. And sometimes it means chasing down a revenant–a ghost–who has started a new afterlife career as a serial killer.

 

Peter Grant is a delightful protagonist. He is mixed race, with a scientific mind but easily distracted, eager to find the intersection between science and the supernatural. He is an eager apprentice to Nightingale, learning magic and the paranormal denizens of London as he works to solve the mystery behind the one-spirit crime wave haunting his city.

 

Aaronovitch shows us a gritty and dark London that lives parallel to the city experienced by most people. It is a London with vampires and water spirits, evil ghosts and a dedicated few humans who can see the larger world hidden behind the facade of normalcy. From Midnight Riot he has gone on to write several more (and continues to add to the adventures of Peter Grant). I am looking forward to reading those ongoing adventures–assuming my son allows me to borrow the books once he is done with them.

Midnight Riot, Ben Aaronovitvh

Book Review: Midnight RiotRivers of London Book 1, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: The Changeling, Victor LaValle

Book Review: The Changeling, Victor LaValle

The Changeling, Victor LaValle

Fantasy: The Changeling, Victor LaValle

Apollo West grew up in New York City wondering why his father had left him and his mother. He vowed that he would be the kind of father who would never leave his child alone. When he met Emma, it seemed perfect. Apollo was a rare book dealer, Emma was a librarian. They fell in love, and baby Brian came along. Everything seemed to be perfect…until Emma started getting texts that erased themselves. Pictures of Brian, taken from some stranger’s camera. Apollo began to worry: his amazing wife seemed to be losing her mind. Soon, she began claiming that the baby in their house was not actually Brian but was someone–something–else. And then one night, everything changed. The Changeling is a beautiful book that sucks you in and grabs hold of you with both hands.

 

Victor LaValle creates two amazing characters in Apollo and Emma. Apollo is a devoted father and husband, committed to his baby and his wife. Despite not having a male role model, he tries very hard to be the kind of father that his son would look up to and to be the kind of husband that his wife deserves. Emma is a bibliophile, committed to libraries because her childhood librarian was committed to her. She loves children, especially her baby, and she loves her husband. But when she starts seeing things that no one else can see, it marks the beginning of the end. She cannot love this thing that has replaced her baby. Or has it? Apollo just sees their baby, Brian. Has Emma gone crazy, or is she the only one who is sane?

 

The Changeling starts firmly in the real world. Set in New York City, other than the title and the location on the “Best Fantasy Novel of the Year” lists, there is nothing in the early part of the book to indicate it is anything other than a story of a family falling apart. As the book progresses, though, we see that the “normal” part of New York City is a patina disguising a much darker fantastic reality. Apollo begins to realize that nothing is quite what it seems. Witches and darker beings share the city with regular people, and the tragedy that destroyed his family is not unique. It is not even particularly unusual.

 

LaValle’s characters confront a number of challenges, and not all of them are of the supernatural kind. Apollo West is a young black man in a field dominated by older white men. Racism is a daily reality in his life. Later in the book he is confronted by police for walking through a white neighborhood. They were called because he did not look like he belonged there. Apollo and Emma are not poor, but money is a constant struggle. Apollo’s best friend suffers from PTSD after military service. Apollo wrestles with nightmares about his missing father and tries hard, maybe too hard, to live up to his ideal standard of fatherhood. Some of the greatest challenges faced by the characters in The Changeling come from living regular lives in New York City and not just from supernatural forces that they cannot control.

 

The Changeling won the World Fantasy Best Novel Award, along with several other awards and “best of the year” selections. Victor LaValle has spun a story that shows the dangers of a real world can be intimidating, the dangers of a supernatural world can be overwhelming, but the power of love can overcome almost anything.

The Changeling, Victor LaValle

Book Review: The Changeling, Victor LaValle

Book Review: Heroine’s Journey, Sarah Kuhn

Book Review: Heroine’s JourneySarah Kuhn

Heroine’s Journey, Sarah Kuhn

Book Review: Heroine’s JourneySarah Kuhn

Book 3 of the Heroine Complex series

 

Bea Tanaka is not just the little sister of superheroine Evie Tanaka. She has super powers of her own: the ability to project emotions onto others and the ability to channel intense anger into a “sonic scream” (or “canary cry,” depending on your taste in comics) which can totally destroy most demon-possessed objects that are attacking. So it’s way past time for Aveda Jupiter and Evie to promote her to full-fledged superheroine and stop treating her like a child. In fact, she has put together a posterboard presentation to convince them of this very thing. To make the point even more compelling, she has used glitter. Lots. Of. Glitter. She even has her own superheroine costume, complete with cape. They totally have to promote her!

 

Heroine’s Journey is the third book of the Heroine Complex series. Like the first two, it is smart, breezy, and snarky. Told in the first person, this time by the aforementioned Bea Tanaka, it follows the ongoing story of our Asian-American superheroines as they protect San Francisco from the threats posed by demons crossing over through portals from another dimension. Bea is now 22, working part-time at a bookstore and hanging out with best friends Leah and Sam. She still lives at the house which serves as HQ for the superheroines Aveda and Evie, but tensions are high between the sisters. Bea knows she is ready to step up. Evie is not so sure. Then, on the same day, two things happen. Demons attack, and Bea is able to step in and make a difference.

 

And, Evie and Bea’s dad returns after 10 years away with virtually no contact.

 

Kuhn really does an amazing job of balancing humor and pathos. Bea’s feelings for her father and her late mother are powerful. Her longing and sorrow drive the character to make some questionable decisions, including hurting people who love her. But Kuhn also shows Bea is usually self-aware, knowing that she is making poor decisions and (usually) able to pull herself back from the brink. She is passionate and proud and simultaneously vulnerable and scared.

 

The characters are the reason to read these books. The plots are cute and funny: demonically possessed rocks and spider-rides from carnivals and killer pens attacking and porcelain unicorns coming to life. (Can anything really surpass the killer demon-possessed cupcakes from the first book in the series? That may be unbeatable.) But Kuhn’s magic is in her characters. I literally cried during one scene near the end when Bea and Evie are having a heart-to-heart. Kuhn writes characters that are truly super. Not just in their fantastic abilities: telekinesis, fire, hair-tentacles, empathic projection, etc. They are super in their feelings, their relationships, their passion, their sexuality, their friendships.

 

Balancing feelings for sisters and lovers and friends and mothers and fathers and enemies is hard in real life. It is seldom done effectively in literature. Kuhn’s characters are transcendent in the power of their emotions. Kuhn is not afraid of conflict or lust or even confusion. Emotions don’t have to make sense. They don’t have to follow a logical progression. Humans, especially those in their early 20s, are allowed to have strong and confusing and sometimes paradoxical reactions to other people. They can and do make mistakes and hurt people and manage to apologize and change and heal those wounds. Seeing it happen on the page makes you really care about these characters.

 

If the Heroine Complex stories are finished, then Heroine’s Journey is an outstanding conclusion. It did not feel like a conclusion, though, and I hope it is not. I feel like there are more stories from these characters, and Sarah Kuhn is the perfect storyteller for them. Read them for the fun, read them for the feels, but read them knowing that in the end you will care more than you thought you would going in.

 

See our reviews of the other stories in this trilogy, Heroine Complex and Heroine Worship.

Heroine’s Journey, Sarah Kuhn

Book Review: Heroine’s JourneySarah Kuhn

Book Review: The City of Brass, S.A. Chakraborty

Book Review: The City of BrassS.A. Chakraborty

Fantasy: The City of BrassS.A. Chakraborty

The City of Brass is as lush a story as you will find in modern fantasy. S.A. Chakraborty has somehow managed to create a world that is as magical as Arabian Nights with characters that relate to a very modern mindset. The result is beautiful, rich, and promises much more to come.

 

This debut novel was nominated for both a Locus Award and a World Fantasy Award, and has been recognized by several journals as one of the best books of the year. Filled with characters that are both heroic and flawed, the story follows the lives of two characters who live very different lives. Nahri is a thief and con artist who does not believe in magic. She lives by her wits in Cairo, convincing people that she can heal them in exchange for money. Oddly enough, though she does not believe in magic, she actually can heal people. She can also understand any language she hears. Those two talents come together unexpectedly and horribly when she tries to heal a girl possessed by an ifrit, and finds that she can understand the demon inside the child. This leads to a harrowing confrontation, where she is unexpectedly saved by the appearance of a djinn. He takes her on a long and dangerous journey to the city of Daevebad, where they hope to find answers to the questions raised by her extraordinary talents and her lack of memory.

 

Ali is a prince in Daevebad, torn between his love for his family–especially his older brother, who will someday become king–and his pity for the oppressed in his city. When he tries to help the people of his city, he is unwittingly betraying his father, the king. But when he fulfills his duties to the crown, it often comes at the expense of the most vulnerable within the city. These tensions are not eased by the arrival of the mysterious Nahri and her ancient companion, a historic enemy to the throne returning at perhaps the worst possible time.

 

Chakraborty does a masterful job of creating a world that is filled with terror and wonder, danger and delight. Her descriptions of the desert are compelling and real. The heat and dryness, the contrast with places of oasis, the vast distances (even by air carpet) that separate city from city, all carry echoes of other stories set in the desert yet are uniquely her own. The confrontations with the ifrit are terrifying, truly the stuff of nightmares. You can almost taste the dust of Cairo, feel the heat of the desert, and hear the bazaar of Daevebad. I almost felt like wiping the blood off the desk after reading a fight scene between two of the characters. Love and betrayal and kindness and cruelty are the coin of this realm, and Chakraborty’s characters spend all they have and more to reach their goals.

 

Chakraborty also rejects the temptation to answer every question, leaving much to address in the sequels to come. She lets her characters face temptation and fail. Nahri is human–or is she? Ali is loyal to the crown–or is he? Is Nahri’s rescuer a hero or a monster–or could he be both? These are among the questions that are asked, then answered, then have the answers revealed as inadequate. Without revealing too much, I will say that the characters we meet and think we know at the beginning of the book are very different by the time we reach the end of this story–and I cannot wait until the next book comes out in January. (I have already requested it from our local library, so hopefully I am first on their list when it arrives!)

 

Despite occasional scenes of violence, this is a beautiful adult fantasy that would capture the imagination of younger readers as well. Nahri is as well-crafted a heroine as you are likely to find. Ali is the warrior/scholar that many young men might dream of being. Though neither character is as good–or bad–as they may seem at any given point of the story, both are intriguing and unique and delightful and infuriating and so well written. If you like great stories, if you like beautiful settings, if you like fascinating characters, and if you like really good novels, The City of Brass deserves a place on your shelf.

Book Review: The City of BrassS.A. Chakraborty

Book Review: Heroine Worship, Sarah Kuhn

Book Review: Heroine WorshipSarah Kuhn

Fantasy: Heroine WorshipSarah Kuhn

Superheroines of color must represent. And Aveda Jupiter does. Having realized that she was more than a bit of a diva in Heroine Complex, she is determined to be new. Different. She is, after all, super. She can do this! She can be the superheroine that San Francisco needs. She can be the friend that her buddy and superheroine bff Evie Tanaka needs. She can move beyond her diva ways and be the person she wants to be. All she needs is for some demonic attack to come so that the new Aveda Jupiter can display her new character. That, and for her mother to leave her alone!

 

Sarah Kuhn has written a delightful sequel to her book Heroine Complex. Heroine Worship changes the narrator from Evie Tanaka to her best friend Aveda Jupiter, aka Annie Chang. Annie and Evie became inseparable in kindergarten, where they were the only two Asians in the class. Now superpowered adults, they are trying to figure out their new relationship where they are equals and partners in the business of saving the world. Annie/Aveda had been the center of the superheroine world with Evie as her faithful assistant. When Evie’s powers blossomed, a new relationship was needed–and Aveda needed to chill out. But she can do this. She’s super. She’s Asian. She’s in control.

 

I am not Asian American, but I married into that culture more than 30 years ago. Kuhn somehow manages to find every single stereotype of Asian Americans and weave them into her books while skewering them, mocking them, and deflating them. Annie/Aveda is a success–but the wrong kind of success. She is not a doctor, like her cousin Sophie, so she is a disappointment to her parents, especially her mother. (Or is she?) She is not quiet or demure or shy or retiring. She is flashy and flamboyant and likes clothes and enjoys the spotlight. I have been told by other white people that Asians were a lot of things–things that I knew from my own experience as the husband of an Asian American were ridiculous. Now, in print, an Asian American author is taking those same stereotypes and demonstrating how hilarious they are.

 

Good for her!!!!!!

 

Fortunately for Aveda, if not for San Francisco, there is need for superpowered assistance. And, fortunately for the mission of becoming the best friend possible, Evie gets engaged and asks Aveda to be her maid of honor. How Aveda handles the responsibilities of friendship, leadership, and kicking demonic ass makes for a delightful novel and makes this reviewer eager to see how his new favorite Asian superheroines continue to represent in the third of the series. Heroine Worship is a terrific, funny story that does not take itself too seriously, but for the reader is seriously fun!

Book Review: Heroine WorshipSarah Kuhn

Book Review: The Brightest Fell, October Daye series #11, Seanan McGuire

Book Review: The Brightest Fell: October Daye series #11, Seanan McGuire

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Urban Fantasy: The Brightest Fell: October Daye series #11, Seanan McGuire

October Daye is part human and part fae. A “changeling,” she constantly lives with one foot in the mortal world and one foot in the fae kingdoms. After years of trying to balance between these worlds, she finally sees hope. Her love, Tybalt, King of the Cats, plans to marry her. Her friends are near and safe. She even gets to attend her own bachelorette party. Everything looks amazing, until her oldest and possibly deadliest enemy resurfaces: her mother.

 

The request itself is not unusual for a private detective: find a missing daughter. But August has been missing for more than 100 years. And Amandine does not simply ask. She demands. And to make sure October follows through, Amandine kidnaps Tybalt and Jazz, another friend of October. What follows is a dangerous journey through fae and mortal lands looking for someone who may not be alive, relying on an old enemy to provide assistance, and facing challenges that force October to confront questions about who and what she is, and just where she belongs.

 

Seanan McGuire is one of the hottest writers in science fiction and fantasy. She is a 2018 Hugo finalist for another series she writes, Incryptid. She also writes under the name of Mira Grant, and has had multiple works nominated for the major awards in science fiction and fantasy under that name as well. She won the John W. Campbell award for best new author in 2010, won both the Hugo and Nebula awards in 2013 for her novella Every Heart a Doorway, and also in 2013 became the first person ever to appear 5 times on the same Hugo ballot. Despite her amazing output–or maybe because of it–her writing is crisp, exciting, and full of characters that are deep and surprising.

 

McGuire’s characters leap fully-formed off the page. They are passionate, infuriating, terrifying, tender, brave and cowardly. They are gay and lesbian and straight. They are human and inhuman. They are like anyone you might meet and unlike anyone you will ever know. October Daye is probably her best known character at this point, and in every book she grows and matures and becomes something new and something more. Some writers might lose their edge after 11 books. If possible, McGuire seems to be just hitting her stride.

 

McGuire’s plots also challenge. No one escapes a Seanan McGuire novel unharmed–especially her protagonists. She demands a lot from her characters, and she is not afraid to kill even major characters to tell the story.  (Fortunately, she usually doesn’t kill all of them. Well, except in Rolling in the Deep. Spoiler alert: it gets ugly.) The Brightest Fell has sacrifice and redemption, and in a major twist on an ageless theme, in this case one precludes the other. Normally sacrifice consecrates redemption. Seanan McGuire just doesn’t do normal.

 

You might be able to jump into the series with The Brightest Fell. McGuire is able to backfill the story without getting pedantic. But you will be rewarded by going back to the beginning and catching up. October Daye grows as a character throughout the series. And it is fair to say that Seanan McGuire grows as a writer through the series. Reading as a character matures and as a writer hones her craft can be a very rewarding experience, and the October Daye series is a delightful way to watch both happen.

0756409497

Book Review: The Brightest Fell, October Daye series #11, Seanan McGuire

Book Review: European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman, Theodora Goss

Book Review: European Travel for the Monstrous GentlewomanTheodora Goss

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Fantasy: European Travel for the Monstrous GentlewomanTheodora Goss

The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter was one of 2017’s most delightful novels. On the shortlist for the 2018 World Fantasy Award for best novel, Theodora Goss’s tale successfully turned Victorian horror fiction into a celebration of feminism and the triumph of individuals over their circumstances. Its 2018 sequel, European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman, expands on that success and takes the members of the Athena Club on an adventure through Victorian Era Europe that highlights both the power of Goss’s writing and the absolute magic she weaves with her characters.

 

The main protagonist of both books is Mary Jekyll. The daughter of Dr. Jekyll, Mary is both intelligent and practical. Almost penniless after her mother’s death, she finds herself meeting and befriending an unlikely group of women who end up living with her and helping each other make ends meet and confront the horrors of their own creation. There is Catherine Moreau, a panther transformed into a human woman on the island of Dr. Moreau. Justine Frankenstein, created by Dr. Frankenstein to be the bride of his first creation, is a painter who has greater physical strength than any man. Beatrice Rappaccini was slowly exposed to toxins throughout her young life until she became poisonous to everyone else–including her would-be lover who died. And Diana Hyde, Mary’s half-sister, the daughter of her father’s evil alter-ego, Mr. Hyde. These women come together in the Alchemist’s Daughter, aided by the inimitable Mrs. Poole (Mary’s housekeeper) and by the famous detectives Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson. Together they solve the murders of several women in London, discovering that some of their supposedly dead creators are actually still alive and practicing new experiments.

 

In European Travel, Mary’s former governess reaches out to her for assistance. She has heard of the Athena Club and enlists their aid in helping Lucinda Van Helsing, who has been imprisoned in an asylum in Vienna. So begins the new adventures of the women, sending them from London to Vienna and then on to Budapest. During their travels they meet other characters we recognize from other works: among them Irene Adler, Sigmund Freud, and Count Dracula. Goss enjoys defying expectations. Heroes/Heroines and villains get new interpretations, and often the true monsters are the most human. The result is surprising, satisfying, and heartwarming.

 

The stories are ostensibly told by Catherine Moreau, but she has help. Goss brings in other voices through interruptions to the narrative, indented to set them apart. Other characters will comment on the immediate passage (“I was not thinking that!”) or offer a differing opinion or aside about another character (“I should have kicked Diana”). These serve well as comic relief and giving us backstory on the characters that don’t fit neatly into the direct story. There are also several “ads” for the first book (“Only two shillings”) which usually bring objections from Mary (“I don’t think people want to read ads”). Although they are occasionally distracting, usually these interruptions bring a smile and add warmth to the story of these women drawn together by personal trauma and who find in each other mutual support.

 

I suspect this book might challenge some readers who like their Victorian heroes to be, well, heroes. This book is by a woman and is about women. Men do show up. Usually they are villains. Sometimes they are allies. But the book is not about them. Mary and her friends are quite able to handle themselves, whether facing vampires, spies, or former tormentors. If you have a problem with that…well, you have a problem. The good news, though, is that if you have a problem, the Athena Club has some awesome women who can come to your assistance.

 

European Travel is a long book–706 pages long! But Goss uses the length to tell a great story in great depth. At the end of the book I almost felt it was too short. I hated to see the story end. The good news, though, is the book sets up another sequel. The Athena Club has more adventures to come, more romps through 1890s Europe, and more monsters who are human (and humans who are monsters) to encounter. Given that the villain in the next book is already revealed to be Dr. Moriarty, it promises to be one that might challenge the most monstrous of gentlewomen.

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Book Review: European Travel for the Monstrous GentlewomanTheodora Goss