Have Book, Will Read #30

It’s been perfect autumn weather here in Connecticut: crisp temperatures, bright leaves, blue skies. (And the occasional soft rainy day, too!) Autumn marks the return of cozy blankets and warm cups of tea, of snuggling up to the dog to read a good tale. Here are some of my favorites from the past months…

Recent Reads: Gods, godlings, immortals.

Kelly Robson’s latest novella High Times in the Low Parliament is an absolute delight, and so beautifully written that every page is a gift. And 10/10 for amazing world-building! Robson’s England is a female-centric (as in, men do not exist at all) psychedelic wonderland, where magic and the mundane coexist side-by-side and fairy folk are considered minor deities, almost god-like in their reach.

Pitched by the author as ‘A lesbian stoner buddy comedy with fairies — about Brexit!’, this is a light-hearted romp through a version of 18th-century England. Flirtatious scribe Lana Baker is sent to work at the low Parliament, where delegates are trying to avoid a hung vote. Failure will bring a devastating flood and a return to endless war, unless Lana and her new friends, the grumpy fairy Bugbite and the enchanting delegate Eloquentia, can work together to save humanity. The perfect book for when you need something bright, happy, and just a little ridiculous — in the best sort of way!

While we’re on the subject of divinity and floodwater, I’ve just finished No Gods for Drowning by Hailey Piper, a recent release. There’s nothing lighthearted about the grim world Piper presents to us, awash in blood, violence, and the promise of death. The old gods have fled the land of Aeg, and the monsters they had kept at bay for centuries now threaten to drown the city-states and hunt down mankind. The different threads become hopelessly entangled: a ritual serial killer seeking to bring back a god to save the land; a detective duo racing to catch the killer while the city of Valentine falls apart around them; and an evacuation officer blessed by the divine. But can they solve an ancient mystery that holds the key to the gods themselves before the sea takes them all?

Part dark fantasy, part detective noir, Piper serves up a wonderful cast of characters who fit together like jagged, broken jigsaw pieces and yet somehow manage to complete each other perfectly. The worldbuilding is really interesting, too, with religion as the frame for a rich tapestry that incorporates culture, legislation, and the judiciary in a way that make a terrible sort of sense in this world the author has woven. Piper’s gods are vicious and primal beings, blood-drenched and alien, and the humans that revere them are almost as savage in their beliefs as the deities themselves. A dark but gripping read.

Nona the Ninth is the third installment in the fabulous Locked Tomb space-fantasy series by Tamsyn Muir. Overflowing with in-jokes for readers and flashes of contemporary memes and pop culture, Nona may be the funniest book in the series — quite the accomplishment as it’s set in a world that manages to be both pre- and post-apocalyptic at the same time and is the literal epitome of a dumpster fire. However, this is Muir’s talent: to deliver immensely joyful scenes and dialogue against what is, quite frankly, an absolutely horrifying backdrop.

Nona brings us familiar names and faces — Camilla, Palamedes, Pyrrha — and the enigma that is Nona herself. Nona woke up six months ago with a fractured mind and a stranger’s body, navigating a city that is falling apart with child-like wonder. Blood of Eden want Nona to be their ultimate weapon. Nona would rather go to school, hang out with her friends, pet dogs, and spend time with her completely dysfunctional family who she loves beyond all reason. Nona is a brilliant character; a main point-of-view who has no idea what’s going on, when everyone else (including the reader!) knows more than she does. It’s a great addition to the series, and I think my favorite so far.

My last pick for this month is The Old Guard graphic novel series. I watched the movie adaptation and really enjoyed it, so I figured it was time to check out the source material. There are three volumes currently out. The first, Opening Fire, covers pretty much the entire movie (I was pleased to see how closely the script keeps to the graphic novel!), and introduces the characters and world. The second, Force Multiplied, continues the story, and the third, Tales Through Time, is what it says on the tin: a compilation of one-shots from each of the characters’ pasts.

The premise of The Old Guard is that every few hundred years or so, a new warrior is cursed with immortality upon death. There’s no scientific or spiritual explanation. It’s not transferrable, it’s not predictable. Drawn to each other, these immortal soldiers form a family of sorts, plying their trade sometimes for money, sometimes for a cause. But in the 21stcentury, staying off the radar is increasingly difficult, and some fates are indeed worse than death. The worldbuilding is very good throughout this series, but the cast of characters is the winner here, with some absolutely stunning creations. These are not superheroes. They’re very much morally grey. We’re constantly reminded that, despite being virtually unkillable, they are still human, and fallible. (I love them all.) And the series allows for some interesting discussion on the effects of immortality. I thoroughly enjoyed the books, and I’m looking forward to the second movie adaptation!

Now Reading: An end to a dream?

I’ve loved Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle since I first found The Raven Boys, many years ago. Greywaren is the final book in the sequel trilogy, following the Lynch boys in the months after Ronan graduates from high school and delving deeper into Dreamer lore. 

I think my favorite thing in the Dreamer Trilogy has been the chance to get to know Declan, the oldest Lynch brother. In the original series, we only meet Declan through the eyes of his brother and his friends, but in this trilogy, he’s allowed to blossom. Ronan was always my favorite character in The Raven Cycle, but now, in the sequels, Declan definitely brings stiff competition. I’m only a couple of chapters in, but already stuck in ‘last book dilemma’: I need to read! But also, I’m already mourning the end of the dream…

To Read: Quests and mysteries.

I have two books sitting in my to-read pile. The first is Nettle & Bone by T. Kingfisher, aka Ursula Vernon. This sounds like the best sort of fairytale: a younger daughter sets off on a quest to save her sister and rid the kingdom of an abusive ruler, facing impossible tasks with a motley crew of adventurers (including a demon chicken!). Or, according to the publisher’s website: “This isn’t the kind of fairytale where the princess marries a prince. It’s the one where she kills him.”

The other one I have waiting for me is Mur Lafferty’s Station Eternity, the first of a brand-new series called The Midsolar Murders. Take the classic murder mystery format. Set it loose on a space station. Voilà! Mallory Viridian just can’t seem to stop getting involved in murder cases, even in space. Now she’s stuck in the middle of an extraterrestrial whodunit, and she has to solve the crime before the list of victims grows… I do love a good murder mystery, and I can’t wait to get started on this one!

Here’s to lots of good books ahead to get us through the last months of 2022! Happy reading!

Let Me Like You: Writing Great Characters

Where’s the spark?

As any epic fantasy fan knows, there are currently two big fantasy franchise prequel shows on screen. The first is, of course, The Rings of Power, set thousands of years before the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings take place. The second, for fans of a darker brand of fantasy, is House of the Dragon, set some two hundred years or so before Game of Thrones.

With the shows airing side-by-side, this is a perfect opportunity to look at how the two productions have handled character creation within the scope of epic fantasy.

There is an ever-present debate in writing about what is more important: plot or character. You’ll hear terms like ‘character-driven’ or ‘plot-heavy’, but ultimately the divide comes down to whether a writer (and reader) prefers a focus on character or plot. I’d argue that well-written characters can easily carry a weaker plot but that, however fabulous your plot is, you still have to create characters that interest readers. You still need that spark of connection that drives the need to read, to discover, to embrace.

And here is where the two shows, for me, part ways. Whatever the plot weaknesses, or the Tolkien-lore-related discrepancies, The Rings of Power has something crucial going for it: characters I’m invested in and want to follow to the end. Fierce, socially inept Galadriel; stoic and honorable Arondir; a young Isildur, desperate to find his path. Yes, I want more of the awkward bromance between besties Elrond and Durin. I want more of Halbrand teetering between duty and denial. I want all the Bronwyn content, please!

House of the Dragon, on the other hand, is failing miserably on the character front. Now, I love myself a morally gray character, a scoundrel, a snarky yet lovable baddie. I don’t need characters to be likeable, in a hero, light-side-of-the-Force sense of the word. But I do need to like them. I need to be able to root for them, or at least want to follow their arc, even while screaming, “NO! You absolute dumpster fire of a human, don’t DO that!” But HotD has exactly zero characters that I like, and this, for me, is a huge problem.

The original TV show (and books) had great characters that I really, truly loved. Arya Stark. Jon Snow. Tyrion Lannister. Brienne of Tarth. Grey Worm. The list goes on. Not every character I enjoyed was a good person, or was good all the time. But I liked them, and I wanted to see where their stories would end. The prequel show, however, is sorely lacking in interesting characters. I dislike them all so thoroughly, and find them all so boring in their awfulness, that I’ve pretty much given up on the show at this point. (Of course, the production isn’t helped by the decision to time skip every few episodes, bringing in new actors to play aged-up versions of characters and adding to the disconnect.)

Last year I took an online writing course with YA author Maggie Stiefvater, known for her rich characters. There was a lot of emphasis on spending time with your cast before even writing one single word, and after watching the trainwreck that is House of the Dragon, I can see where she’s coming from. I’ve always considered my own work more plot than character driven, but even so it’s always been clear to me that if you care about your cast, if you write characters people can care about (yes, even if they’re evil), then at least half the job is done: to light that spark and give readers a story they can connect to.

Over the Hill: Older Characters in Fantasy and Sci Fi

One of my favorite reads last year was The House in the Cerulean Sea, by TJ Klune. Besides the delicious plot and characters, one of the things I liked best about it was that it gave us a forty-year-old protagonist, caught up in a reckoning of what he’s done with his life, where he wants to go from there, and how to deal with his expanding waistline — all that great stuff we start to think about when we hit our forties and fifties.

It’s not that often that speculative fiction has older main characters, at least, not in books with singular or few points of view. When there are bigger ensemble casts, with multiple points of view, this is far more common. Think Tyrion Lannister in A Song of Ice and Fire, or Chrisjen Avasarala from The Expanse. Or the screen adaptation of Good Omens, which chose actors in their fifties for the roles of Crowley and Aziraphale. I love all of these characters, but in a larger cast their age becomes diluted, more of a balance for younger characters and less of a leading voice.

There are certainly books out there that check this particular box of allowing older characters to take center stage. One that comes to mind is the fantastic City of Blades (Divine Cities #2) by Robert Jackson Bennett, with General Turyin Mulaghesh. She’s a foul-mouthed and one-armed badass on the verge of retirement, and she’s everything I didn’t know I wanted in a fantasy protagonist. Another great entry in this category is the novella Burning Roses, by SL Huang. In this retelling of the myths of Red Riding Hood and Hou Yi the Archer, the main characters, who thought their days of adventure were in the past, must come out of retirement and join forces to battle evil once again. But the truth is, sci fi and fantasy — particularly fantasy — tends to focus on younger characters, at most in their thirties (and that’s often pushing it!).

If it’s rare to see older main characters, it’s even harder to find stories where they are allowed to be the main romantic protagonists. This is where, once again, The House in the Cerulean Sea shines. Another that does older romance beautifully — and was probably my absolute favorite book of 2021 — is Light from Uncommon Stars, by Ryka Aoki. This gentle love story between a former violin prodigy who made a deal with the devil and an alien space captain hiding out on Earth in a donut shop warmed me all the way down to my toes. It’s wonderful to see books out there that remember that romance isn’t just for youth.

There will always be an interest in coming-of-age stories, and tales that deal with young adults seeking their place in the world. However, I like to think there’s just as much space for books about the challenges and regrets that come with age and experience. Characters that are not so much ‘over the hill’ as seeing the world from the heights of hard-earned perspective. Hopefully, the success of books like the ones I’ve mentioned here, as well as TV shows such as Our Flag Means Death (yes, I know it’s not exactly fantasy, but middle-aged pirates! In love!!), will remind us that we can put people over forty in the spotlight and let them thrive.

Have Book, Will Read #29

Spring is quickly turning into a Connecticut summer and, once the pollen count settles, I’m looking forward to lazy weekends spent with a book in the hammock. For now, I’m hiding my allergies away inside, and what better way to escape prime sneezing season than to get lost in a story?

Recent Reads: All the magic! (Science is magic too, right?)

I managed to grab John Scalzi’s new offering, The Kaiju Preservation Society, almost as soon as it hit my library’s shelves (I was second on the hold list). I love Scalzi’s clean prose and easy worldbuilding—his work always feels so effortless, and all I need to do as a reader is let go and enjoy the ride. This standalone novel was just the book I was looking for: well-paced, quirky, and a heck of a lot of fun.

Stuck as a food service app driver after getting fired from his corporate job during the Covid-19 pandemic, a lucky delivery connects Jamie Gray to an old college acquaintance who offers him a well-paying job in an ‘animal rights’ organization. The first catch? A ton of non-disclosures to sign. The second? The ‘animals’ are massive dinosaur-like creatures known as kaiju that live in an alternate dimension. And it turns out they really do need protecting—from human poachers who could put both the kaiju and our Earth at risk. The Kaiju Preservation Society is a top read, and one I thoroughly recommend.

The graphic novel Magical Boy (Volume 1) by The Kao riffs on the magical girl genre made popular by manga and anime. Teenager Max is already dealing with coming out as a trans guy and trying to navigate the pitfalls of high school. Then, just to complicate matters, he finds out that all those childhood stories of magic his mother liked to tell are real: he really is the last in a long line of Magical Girls tasked with protecting humanity from the dark forces of evil. Now, with support from a loyal group of friends, Max must accept and learn to use his powers, come out at school, get his parents to accept his gender, and become the world’s first Magical Boy. All in your average school week!

Originally a webcomic, and published as a graphic novel in 2022, Magical Boy hits all the right notes. It’s the perfect mix of sweet, sassy, and heartfelt, with darker topics such as transphobia, homophobia, and bullying handled perfectly, keeping the story light but not trivializing these issues. The main character, Max, is lovely, and this first volume slowly collects a delightful ensemble cast that promises the best sort of chaos for the upcoming conclusion in Volume 2.

I’ve been a fan of The Tarot Sequence series by KD Edwards since I found his work last year. Set in New Atlantis, which just so happens to be located on the island of Nantucket off the coast of Massachusetts, this urban fantasy has everything you want from the genre: awesome magic, secrets and lies, a wide range of supernatural creatures, and a corrupt and ancient society that coexists uneasily with the human world. The characters are wonderful, and this has quickly become one of my favorites series ever. (As a bonus, the author has a series of free novelettes and short stories available on his website to add extra color to the world.)

The Hourglass Throne is the third installment, closing off the first trilogy in what is pitched as a nine-book arc. This time, Rune Saint John is up against an ancient power that threatens all of New Atlantis. But he’s not alone; this is book three, after all, and Rune’s found family has grown. It’s not just him and Brand anymore—Rune has people who care about him now, if he can only learn to let others shoulder some of the responsibility! I have so much love for every one of Rune’s peculiar little crew, and to see him, Brand, and Addam grow into true leaders (and parents!) has been wonderful.

Now Reading: In space… Space… Space…

When I first heard that Charlie Jane Anders was dipping her toes in YA with the Unstoppable space opera trilogy, I said ‘sign me up’. The first book, Victories Greater Than Death, was just the right mix of breathless and breathtaking, with plenty of sweet and quiet moments to temper the action. I’m currently reading the sequel, Dreams Bigger Than Heartbreak, and so far, it’s living up to the first installment. This time, we’ve moved away from Tina to embrace two alternating points of view: Rachael and Elza. It’s always a gamble switching POV in a series, but so far it’s definitely paid off. I love them both so much, and we still get plenty of Tina’s voice via the text messages and emails sent to Rachael and Elza. Two thumbs up for this endearing space saga.

To Read: *does the robot* *trips and falls on face in the middle of the dancefloor*

The Murderbot Diaries series by Martha Wells should need no introduction. Spanning novellas, a novel, and short stories, the series has won numerous awards and accolades and a huge fanbase, too. I’ve had the first three novellas sitting in my Kindle for a while, and I feel like I’m finally ready to jump into the tale of the former Security Unit AI who gains independence, which it primarily uses to watch soap operas. Book 1, All Systems Red, here I come!

I hope you’ve all got some great books lined up, ready to enjoy in the warm weather (or to snuggle inside with, for those of you in the southern hemisphere). Happy reading!

A Winding Thread: Green Magic

Another month, another book post. This time, it’s a brand-new blog segment which will occasionally (when the mood strikes me) visit books that connect by a winding thread of theme, setting, character, or vibes. Today I’m looking at green magic with a trio of stories that draw on nature: Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh, The Green Man’s Heir by Juliet E. McKenna, and The Silver Nutmeg by Palmer Brown.

Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh was published in 2019 and is the first in the Greenhollow Duology. It won the World Fantasy Award for best novella, and it’s easy to see why. Part fairytale and part romance, this is a story of old magic, forgotten gods, and new love. 

Tobias Finch is a giant of a man more tree than human. He lives in the woods with his cat and guards the land from supernatural perils. But he can’t protect the locals from the darkest of all dangers, one anchored in the passing centuries. And then a new owner comes to Greenhollow Hall. Henry Silver is handsome, determined, and brimming with unwise curiosity. Before long, Tobias finds himself drawn into Silver’s orbit. But here, too, there is danger, as the younger man’s presence drags buried secrets into the open and forces Tobias to face his own past, lost to time.

Despite the dark undertones that emerge every now and again, Silver in the Wood is a sweet and tender tale. Time is often slow and syrupy, and the words beat to the tempo of tree sap and green growth. Tobias himself is a gentle soul — tall and broad, with long wild hair, but at the same time patient and kind. Borrowing from myths of the Green Man, he’s every inch the magical guardian archetype, living among the trees with only the local population of dryads for company until he allows Henry to slip in through the cracks. This is the perfect hammock read for a spring day, and long after done, the magic of its pages lingers on.

Published in 2018 and a finalist in the British Fantasy Awards, The Green Man’s Heir is the first in Juliet E. McKenna’s ongoing Green Man urban fantasy series. I say ‘urban fantasy’, but it would be more correct to say rural fantasy since the story is set for the most part in the Peak District in England. The choice of setting moves the usual supernatural concerns for this genre from the big city bustle into nature, where the designs and desires of mythical creatures are literally as deep-rooted as the ancient land itself.

Here, too, we have the guardian figure, in the shape of Daniel Mackmain, born to a human man and a dryad, a spirit of the trees. Daniel’s greenblood gives him his tall, strong stature and his ability to see the otherworldly, but here the similarities between him and Tobias end. Tobias is seen by many as intimidating simply because he is large and taciturn, but is soft and kindly. Daniel with his short-cropped hair and quick temper is a lot more thuggish, often having to hold back his anger at those around him (and just as often, failing). He also lacks an anchor — Tobias is bound to the wood he lives in, lost in time but centered in place, while Daniel is lost and clearly searching for meaning. He moves around the country restlessly from job to job, his only tenuous ballast a connection to trees and wood.

Enter the Green Man. In this version, he is a magical guardian spirit who requires an agent in our contemporary world who he can act through. Daniel is the perfect man for the job, already in synch with the mythical world and sharing the Green Man’s affinity for the wilderness. There’s a killer in the woods, and soon Daniel is up to his neck in a murder investigation with supernatural undertones, treading a thin line between doing the Green Man’s work and being arrested as a suspect himself.

Despite the parallels — the woodlands as both character and setting, the use of the Green Man myth, the physical similarities between Tobias and Dan, and the inclusion of nature spirits such as dryads as an integral part of the story — this is a very different beast. Part crime thriller, part supernatural mystery, part deep dive into local history and mythology, it’s a fast-paced, intense, and often dark read, one to save for the comforting embrace of a blanket, a mug of tea, and your favorite chair. (And maybe stay away from trees!)

The Silver Nutmeg by Palmer Brown is the outlier here. It’s a children’s book, for a start, and an old one at that. First published in 1956, my own copy was printed in the UK in 1957. It was bought second hand at a school book sale when I was maybe seven or eight, and it enchanted me for years. The binding is cracked, the book is water stained from when I decided it would be a good idea to keep it in a box in my ‘secret tree perch’ (yes, I was that sort of child), and lots of the delicate illustrations by the author were colored in by the previous owner. But I never could bear to part with it, and so it sits on the shelf next to my Narnia books (new, the originals literally fell apart) and my well-loved copy of E. Nesbit’s The Enchanted Castle.

This is the sequel to Brown’s first book, which I have never read. I always figured The Silver Nutmeg landed in my lap by an act of serendipitous book magic, this strange and quirky tale that had me so smitten as a child, and I never went searching for anything else by the author. It tells the story of Anna Lavinia, who makes her way over the field and into the woods and all the way through the dew pond to the upside-down land where Toby — another Tobias — lives. This Tobias isn’t a Green Man; in fact, among his own people he’s a rather ordinary little boy. But he does fulfill the role of guide and guardian of magic for Anna Lavinia, with magic being the strange rules, physics, and culture of the land through the pond.

There are other connections to the theme of green magic. Nature plays a big part in this story, as facilitator and conduit for the power that allows Anna Lavinia through to Toby’s world. From the start, the author’s descriptions of plants and scents weaves a unique backdrop that quickly sinks under our skin, offering an unlikely mixture of fauna and flora that marks this as a place apart, somehow here and not at the same time. And the different sources of water — the dew pond, the spring, the well — have their own parts to play. Once through the pond and into the other side, we reach Toby’s home, in a dim, cool valley lit by the indirect sun that filters through the still-water places that connect both worlds.

A book this old is not without its flaws, of course. There is a recurring use of harmful period-typical stereotypes regarding the Roma people. And the gender roles are dated, despite Anna Lavinia’s father declaring that a girl must grow up to have a point of view. But it is still charming, peppered with quirky drawings by the author as well as original songs and poems that manage to feel both strange and familiar all at once. This is definitely a book for warm summer afternoons in the park or garden, and on rereading it I understood what drove me as a child to keep it in a box up a tree, as if by treating it as a windfall treasure, nature might reward me with my very own portal to lands beyond.

Perhaps if I were to pick a single thread that unites these three very different stories, it would be oak trees. The oak, of course, is a powerful druidic symbol of pre-Christian magic in the British Isles, and it plays an important role in these books. An oak serves as Tobias Finch’s anchor to life and to the forest; oak trees and their wood symbolize safety for Daniel Mackmain, and a connection to the Green Man; and an ancient grove of oak trees both embraces and feeds the dew pond that is Anna Lavinia’s portal to adventure, with an acorn playing the part of herald between Anna Lavinia in one world, and Toby in the other. And since oaks are a keystone species found in many parts of the globe, what better symbol for a bit of literary green magic?

“At once slow deep green rolled over him. He took a breath, and another, smelling old rotting leaves and healthy growth and autumn light. He felt almost as though he could have planted his feet and become a tree himself, a strong oak reaching up to the sky, brother of the old oak who ruled the wood.” 

Silver in the Wood, Emily Tesh

Have Book, Will Read #28

2022 started off with lots of Reading Energy and I’m actually surprised at how much I’ve gotten through in the past month and a half. Two months, if you count the very end of 2021… It’s been a frosty, frozen winter, and I was more than happy to shut out the cold with a blanket, a cup of tea or two, and a good story. Here are some of my top books from these past couple of months.

Recent Reads: marvelously magical…

I took Jo Zebedee’s The Wildest Hunt on a short post-Christmas break all the way up in frozen Lake George, and it was the perfect location for this haunting tale of otherworldly peril. I love Jo’s writing style, which to me is the perfect mixture of breathtaking action, practical storytelling, and beautiful setting.

The Wildest Hunt takes us to the heart of Donegal in northwest Ireland, where a commission for an on-location painting promises the perfect Christmas holiday for a psychic artist and her boyfriend. Then a dangerous winter storm closes in around the picturesque but remote cottage, and the couple are forced to flee. But worse than the storm are the creatures that hunt within it. A thrilling story for fans of dark contemporary fantasy!

I read Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth last year, but I needed time to get my head around the ending. Part of me wasn’t sure I even wanted to read the next book in Muir’s genre-bending space necromancers series, but I’m really glad I finally did! Harrow the Ninth is a mind-break of a complex tale, twisting in and around and up and down; a book so thoroughly confounding (in the best sort of way) that my daughter made themselves a Reddit account just to be able to discuss theories! (Spoilers for Gideon next, but not too many…)

Harrow, the second in the Locked Tomb series, picks up just after the frantic events that mark the end of Gideon. Newly made lyctor Harrowhark Nonagesimus finds herself on board the Emperor’s warship, sworn to take her place beside him in his centuries-old war. The story time-skips back and forth across the universe, landing Harrow among new allies who may just turn out to be enemies, with a sword she cannot control, and the fear that just keeps on giving: has her mind finally shattered?

I’d seen book chatter about A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske, and had it on my to-read list long before it came out last November. When I finally got hold of it, I devoured it in one long sitting. (Seriously. My family just sort of got on with life and let me be. They know me too well!) If you’re a fan of delicious Edwardian drama with healthy dollops of romance and magic, then this is the book for you. And, luckily, the sequel comes out this November.

When an administrative error appoints Robin Blyth, the young and harried baronet of an impoverished country seat, as the civil liaison to a secret magical society, things begin to go wrong from the very start. Facing new enemies, a deep-rooted plot, and a deadly curse, Robin’s only hope lies in the hands of his magical counterpart, academic bureaucrat Edwin, who may have hidden depths under his prickly exterior.

T.J. Klune’s The House in the Cerulean Sea was one of my top books of 2021, so I was pretty excited to read his latest, Under the Whispering Door. The story follows Wallace Price from his own funeral and through the in-between time that’s supposed to soften the transition between life and the great beyond. He’s placed under care of ‘ferryman’ Hugo, who runs a teashop. In coming to terms with his death, Wallace has the chance to find himself again — the self he’s somehow lost along the years. And if romance is brewing among the tealeaves? Well, that just might land Wallace and Hugo in a spot of hot water…

I took a while to warm up to Wallace and the book as a whole, but it grew on me gradually, and by the end I never wanted it to end. Now, I realize the genius in it: Wallace doesn’t particularly like himself, either. He has constricted himself into a box he’s built, year by year, and he no longer resembles who he used to be. As Wallace slowly lets go of his crafted persona, and reconnects with himself, we discover Wallace, too, and slowly fall in love with the character. 

Additionally, the book deals beautifully with saying farewell and was an incredibly cathartic read. I cried so much at the end, but good crying. It turns out that, after two years of Covid and more than that since I’ve seen my family in Brazil, what I really needed right now was a gentle, thoughtful, kind book about death in all its forms and nuances. 

Now Reading: that healing magic…

I tore through Witchmark, the first book in C.L Polk’s Kingston Cycle, in just under a day. Luckily, the next two books in the trilogy are out and ready for reading. I’m currently at the start of the second, Stormsong, and have the third, Soulstar, all ready to go once I’m done with that one.

This series is an absolute treat! Set in a fantasy world based on an Edwardian England, shadowed by a war with a neighboring country, the first book introduces us to Miles Singer, a runaway noble and mage who has followed the calling of his healing magic to work as a doctor. Miles’ world is one of hidden magic that runs the country, concentrated in the hands of a select group of powerful families, and of shameful secrets that could see the downfall of everything society takes for granted. I’m really looking forward to seeing where the plot is heading, after the breathtaking whirlwind that was the first in the trilogy.

To Read

Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey sounds like the sort of unmissable romp custom made for my enjoyment. The story of Esther, who stows herself away in a Librarian’s book wagon to escape an arranged marriage, is set in a near-future American Southwest which, according to the publisher “is full of bandits, fascists, and queer librarian spies on horseback trying to do the right thing.” Yes, please!

Everything goes on hold in our house when a new Incryptid novel is released, and March brings the latest installment of Seanan McGuire’s fabulous urban fantasy world. This will be the first time we get a novel from the point of view of Alice Price — aka Verity, Alex, and Annie’s underworld-exploring, de-aged, ferociously competent hellion of a grandmother. In Spelunking Through Hell, Alice makes a final desperate pan-dimensional attempt to find the husband she lost fifty years before in an incident with the entity known simply as the crossroads, and I, for one, cannot wait to get started.

I hope you all have some good books on your own to-read lists. Here’s to warmer days ahead, and to springtime reading outside in the sunshine!