Around here, it’s been all spring showers, slowly warming temps, and beasties big and small getting active again, including black bear sightings in the neighborhood. I’m more than ready to say goodbye to winter, and trade cozying up in blankets for reading outside on the deck. But before the cold fades entirely, here are a few of my favorites from the past months. I hope you have as devilishly a good time with your spring reads as I seem to have had with my winter ones!
Recent Reads: Hell, yeah!
I kicked off 2023 with Hell Followed With Us by Andrew Joseph White, a book I confess I picked up simply for the amazing cover art but then found intriguing enough to buy. This YA horror novel follows trans boy Benji, on the run from the violent cult who raised him and infected him with a bioweapon designed to finish the work they started when they unleashed Armageddon upon a climate-ravaged world.
Poetically beautiful and furiously visceral in equal measure, White’s debut paints a chilling picture of a future where religious extremism allies with dubious science to force one group’s radical agenda on others, to the point of virtually obliterating humankind. The use of religious rhetoric is ruthlessly effective at driving home the justification used by the cult for genocide, and acts as a counterpart for the sweetness and acceptance of Benji’s new queer found family. Trigger warnings for body horror—forced body transformation is a huge part of the plot, so if you’re squeamish, this isn’t one for you.
To carry on the hell theme, here’s Hell Bent, book 2 in Leigh Bardugo’s Alex Stern series. The first book, Ninth House, blew me away, with its twisted tale of secret magical societies at Yale University and the darkness woven into the very walls of the elite educational institution. In the sequel, the protagonist, Galaxy ‘Alex’ Stern, has one goal: to break her mentor Daniel Arlington out of hell, where he landed in the first novel. At the same time, she must keep up her grades, assume Darlington’s responsibilities in Lethe House, and keep her superiors from finding out she is breaking every rule out there to save the Virgil to her Dante.
This is a series that puts the dark in academia. Murder, mayhem, intrigue, and endless amounts of magic, often of extremely dubious morality. If any of that sounds good to you, then this is the series you need. Those familiar with Bardugo’s young adult fantasy work (especially the Shadow and Bone series and the Six of Crows duology, which are currently on Netflix in a fantastic adaptation) may find themselves at odds with the vicious modern world of this adult fantasy series; this is an entirely different beast and excellent in its own right.
For a change of pace, I turned to a recent graphic novel release. Constantine: Distorted Illusions, by Kami Garcia and Isaac Goodhart, is a really fun approach to the curmudgeonly and world-weary DC Comics character. A warlock, occult detective, and occasional con man, the foul-mouthed Hellblazer John Constantine is known for his cynicism and ruthless cunning. In this version, however, we are given the absolute gift that is a young, untrained, 18-year-old John, all too ready to give established magical society the middle finger and to dive into reckless spellcasting for the sheer unbridled punk rock pleasure of it.
In Distorted Illusions, Constantine is in the USA, supposedly on a gap year to study with a powerful magician. Instead, he becomes the lead singer of his best friend’s punk band. But when the band starts to dabble in stolen magic in order to create memorable performances, a spell gets out of hand, and they accidentally summon something that’s way beyond their control. This graphic novel is a blast, and teen Constantine is surprisingly endearing and a joy to read.
The Wicked Bargain by Gabe Cole Novoa lends a touch of sweetness to my devilish theme. This YA historical fantasy is Novoa’s debut, and a very nice one indeed. Set in early 19th century Caribbean against a background of unrest and discontent toward Spanish colonialism, this graceful pirate tale explores themes of gender identity and family, as well as dipping into the seldom explored waters of Latine pirate history. And the magic is delightful!
The story begins on Mar León de la Rosa’s sixteenth birthday when el Diablo pays a visit to their father’s pirate ship. Mar discovers that, to save their life at birth, their father made a deal with the devil. And now, the deal is up. But when the storm that was supposed to drag the entire crew down to a watery death fails to kill Mar, el Diablo offers a new deal: Mar’s soul for the release of their father’s. Now Mar has a month to learn to control their magic and figure out a way to save their father without giving themself up in his place. It seems like an impossible task, but with their new allies—Bas, the son of a rival pirate, and Dami, a demonio with a secret agenda—Mar may just stand a chance to trick el Diablo.
Now Reading: In the wild…
I’m only a couple of chapters into Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries by Heather Fawcett, and already finding it delightful. Set at the very start of the 1900s, the tale follows gruff and socially awkward Cambridge professor Emily Wilde into the far-flung north of a fictional Nordic island nation as she researches the elusive Hidden Ones, the final chapter missing in her epic project: the first ever encyclopedia of fairy lore. Written as Emily’s field journal, the acerbic narrative style is fabulous and I’m very much enjoying Emily’s no-nonsense opinions on everything from the locals to the weather.
To Read: Return to New Atlantis!
I’m a huge fan of the Tarot Sequence series by KD Edwards. The Eidolon is the first novella in a spin-off series that follows the younger characters from his novels. Edwards’ world of New Atlantis is so rich, and his characters are just so wonderful! I treated myself to a special Rainbow Crate edition with gorgeous interior art and a reversible dust cover, and it was absolutely worth every penny… The only reason I haven’t devoured it yet is that I had about a million library books on hold so I have to get through those first! 😉
Here’s to warm days and many, many good books ahead. Happy reading!