Oof. Rough couple of weeks. My brain is full of snot and I am experiencing severe guilt over not updating here, even though I have been reading (I have! I swear!). But I am feeling deeply ineloquent, especially because the book I want to review is an elegant, delightful, rip-roaring adventure involving multiple universes and daring acts of bibliophilic theft.
So in lieu of a coherent essay review, here are five reasons why you should immediately obtain a copy of Genevieve Cogman’s The Invisible Library.
On to the next Read Harder challenge! It will probably not shock you to learn that I was a big fan of comic books and related media as a teenager. Suffice it to say that my brother and I collected Marvel Comics trading cards.* But I hadn’t read an actual comic book in a long time when I decided to tackle task #6: read an all-ages comic.
Squirrel Girl was originally introduced as a joke in a one-off Iron Man comic. She’s young mutant with ridiculous powers–the proportional strength and speed of a squirrel, plus the ability to talk to squirrels–who nonetheless managed to help take down Dr. Doom. She’s appeared as comic relief in some other Marvel adventures. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is her solo debut. Since I wasn’t particularly in the mood for angsty superheroes this seemed right up my alley. I was not disappointed.
Patricia Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles is one of my favorite comfort reads. I discovered this YA quartet in middle school and read and re-read it obsessively. I loved the fractured fairy tale humor, the engaging protagonists, and especially the physicality of its system of magic–I could imagine how it would feel to use magic in Wrede’s world. I’ve enjoyed other Wrede books tremendously, especially the Mairelon the Magician books and Sorcery and Cecelia (co-written with Caroline Stevermer), but none quite lived up to the Enchanted Forest Chronicles for me. I think it’s always hard to replicate the experience of encountering just the right book at just the right time.
All of that brings me to Wrede’s Frontier Magic trilogy: Thirteenth Child, Beyond the Great Barrier, and The Far West. These YA charmers are quick reads and contain some truly marvelous worldbuilding in an alternate-universe version of the nineteenth-century United States. But I finished the trilogy a bit disappointed by the pacing and characterization, two things that Wrede usually excels at.
So this year’s Hugo award nominations are out, and apparently they’re a wee bit controversial. (Long story short: there was a concerted effort to nominate works on a particular list. The list was compiled by folks who think last year’s Hugos
nominated too many women and people of color ignored “real” sci-fi and fantasy in favor of weird literary stuff that no one really likes.)
I’m bummed that the Hugos are so immersed in drama this year, largely because it makes me sad when certain groups interpret the celebration of diverse, challenging, and imaginative works of SFF as a direct attack on them personally. But I’m also sad because the Best Novel nominations happen to include one of the best books I’ve read in the past several years: Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor.
Maia is the fourth son of the Emperor of the Elflands, arguably the most powerful man in his world. However, Maia has never been a pampered royal child. Maia’s mother Chenelo was a goblin princess whom the Emperor was forced to marry for political reasons, and Maia and Chenelo were exiled from the Utheileneise Court long ago. After Chenelo’s death Maia’s care was signed over to a disgraced courtier named Setheris, who despised his half-goblin charge and made sure Maia knew it.
Then one night news comes from the Emperor’s court. Maia’s father and three elder brothers have died in an airship crash, and Maia is now the Emperor.
Like most devoted readers of fantasy, I was stunned and saddened to learn that Terry Pratchett passed away last week at the age of 66. Pratchett always seemed to be one of those authors who would be just as delightful in person as he was through the pages of his books. To quote many other Pratchett fans, how could you not admire someone who wore this t-shirt to conventions? (See right.)
Others have already written much more eloquently than I could about Pratchett’s extraordinary literary output, the incisive wit of his writing, and the way he used the mad Discworld to make our own world seem equally ridiculous and magical in turn. But I spent much of last week re-reading Discworld favorites and looking up favorite Pratchett quotes, and I couldn’t resist sharing some of them here in celebration of an author whose voice I already miss.
First, I would like to say that I am omitting the cover image from this review on purpose. I put this cover and this cover on my blog, but I draw the line at this one. I have SOME pride.
Nevada Baylor* is a private investigator running her family’s detective agency following the death of her father. Nevada has a handy magical ability: she can sense when people are lying. In a world where other people can use their magic to levitate, throw heavy objects, or light things on fire, however, Nevada knows her limits. She sticks to cases that won’t get her killed — at least, she tries to. But at the beginning of the book Nevada is strong-armed into tracking down Adam Pierce, a powerful magic user with a penchant for burning things to the ground when he doesn’t get his way. In order to accomplish this task, Nevada reluctantly allies herself with Connor “Mad” Rogan, a former soldier and reputed war criminal who wants to find Pierce for his own reasons.
Few action-adventure protagonists are harder to pull off than the Everygal heroine — the average, relatable, usually-slightly-klutzy woman who somehow finds herself in the middle of scary or world-shattering events. You know the type. She’s just a normal girl who happens to stumble into an apocalypse every once in a while — and fortunately the hot supernatural guys who are lusting after her are there to bail her out. Everygal klutziness/incompetence usually has me grinding my teeth in exasperation and wishing Everygal would turn the book over to the much-more-interesting supporting cast. I don’t need all of my books to feature ass-kicking main characters, but if it’s an action-adventure novel I have to believe that the protagonist is someone who could and should be in dangerous situations.*
Which is why I love Mackenna Fraser, the main character in Lisa Shearin’s The Grendel Affair. Mac works for an organization called Supernatural Protection and Investigations, or SPI for short. SPI’s mission is keeping the existence of supernatural forces and monsters off the radar of the average citizen (think a less authoritarian version of the Men in Black). Most of Mac’s colleagues have backgrounds in law enforcement and can discharge a staggering variety of weapons.