Something to Read...
So, you might have a voucher from a kind friend for Christmas, have a few days off and be wanting something to read or just stocking up on reading material for the new year... if so, I have some suggestions for you.
1. A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness, Headline, Sep 2011
It might seem strange recommending a book or series of books from 2011, but the reason they are in my mind is that the second television season starts on January 8th in the UK, so this might be a good time to consider reading the books. Of course opinions are divided as to whether it is better to read the books before or after a film or tv series.
This is a contemporary, urban fantasy set in a familiar world, but with the addition of Witches, Vampires and Demons. Very much a novel of relationships and character development rather than fast pace action. Having said that there is an underlying plot, lives under threat, politics and manoeuvring.
I really love that the protagonist is an adult, Diana Bishop, is a Witch, but one who rejects her powers. Her world changes when she meets a Vampire and the inevitable romance takes place. Like many other novels there is an age difference with the ancient Vampire, but Diana is not the befuddled teenager or recently become an adult. She is a professional who meets Matthew on equal ground in both power and with the confidence of an adult.
The first TV series covered the first novel and the second series is expected to the the plot of the second, Shadow of Night, starting with a, literal, step back in time.
I enjoyed the first series and books, so looking forward to seeing what the second series brings.
2. The City We Became by N.K. Jemsin, Orbit, March 2020
I have never been to New York, but reading this book I felt it was such a love affair with a city that I could almost use it to navigate by. This novel shows a view of the city through a lens of science fiction, but one that feels gritty and real, loved, but also flawed.
I picked up this book, to just read a few pages before bed... You would think I had learned by now, needless to say I did not sleep much that night.
Jemsin has won multiple awards for her writing including three Hugos, so if you have not read any of her work you really should and this is an excellent standalone novel if you did not want to take on a whole series of books or preferred a real world setting.
It is clear from the writing, also confirmed by the notes at the end of the novel, how much research went into this work and the respect that is shown for other people’s culture and beliefs. The novel has a diverse cast, but that does not feel forced, but more a reflection of the reality of New York. If you want diverse writing then this is an excellent example, but not just because of the authors identity, but because of the ethos that pervades their writing.
The novel is based on the premise that a city can become alive and manifest as or in a person. But this manifestation is not without objection and not everyone want the city to come to life in this way.
An excellent, fast paced read, that should not be missed.
3. Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow, Orbit, May 2020
I felt like a lot of people were talking about this book on social media, maybe that’s a reflection of my own twitter bubble, but once I read it I realised why. This is a book that very much lives up to its hype.
It’s a book which maintains a really quality of wonder and discovery, even when the characters and going though difficult or horrid situations. The faith that January, a young girl growing up with an adopted guardian while her father travels the world on her guardians business, continues to hold that there is something better, something worthwhile out in the world. The interspersing of January’s tale with her reading of a mysterious journal gives the story an unreal quality while still grounding it in the character’s reality.
The story has a timeless quality, we are not entirely sure when or in what world the story is set, but it still manages to highlight issues of class, wealth and race that are very much of our own world. The novel uses the mechanism of Doors, as per the title, portals to other worlds and realities.
4. Maker's Curse by Trudi Canavan, Orbit, May 2020
Maker's Curse is the fourth and final instalment of the Millennium’s Rule series, so if you haven’t read the earlier novels you really need to do so before you start this one.
This novel is set in multiple fantasy worlds, with some individuals have the ability to move between them and taking others with them. As per her other books, the world building for this series is incredibly detailed and well set out. The magic users are rare and restricted by the amount of magic that they can access from the environment around them. Magic is produced by creativity, both mundane and magical, which I think is a beautiful concept.
The protagonist, Rielle, despite having abilities the reader does not is a character that is easy to empathise with, which helps to pull us into the story.
Overall it is an imaginative feast of ideas and characters.
5. Fearless by Allen Stroud, Flame Tree Press, September 2020
I am showing complete bias by including Fearless in this list! But I hope you will forgive me, or at least scroll past if it upsets you.
Fearless is a space opera set in the search and rescue spaceship the Khidr with a crew of 25 people under their captain Shann.
It is, arguably a contemporary take on the genre and has been described as hard science fiction and military fiction in addition to its label of space opera.
6. The Dark Archive by Genevieve Cogman, Pan Macmillan, November 2020
The Dark Archive is book seven in the Invisible Library series; these can be read as standalone books, but are better read from the start.
I was sent book six, The Secret Chapter, to review and as soon as I finished it I went online and bought the preceding five. Who says sending books to bloggers doesn’t result in book sales?
These books follow the adventures of Irene, professional spy, book thief, diplomat and Librarian. She visits different worlds and realities through portals in connected libraries on missions for the Library who employs her, mostly unexplained missions to obtain specific books by any means necessary, but she finds herself as the linchpin of a historic and important treaty between factions with a long history of aggression.
These books are just so much fun, Irene gets herself into such impossible situations, usually trying to help someone else or for other good reasons, and then has to figure out a way to get out. Despite the fantasy elements and impossibility of her situations it is easy to relate to Irene and have empathy for her situations. The books go at a good pace and keep you gripped throughout.
7. Blackthorn Winter by Liz Williams, Newcon Press, December 2020
Blackthorn Winter is the sequel to Comet Weather and Williams has said that it is intended to be a four book series each loosely themed around the seasons.
This is contemporary fantasy, which perhaps would be appreciated by those who love books by Mary Stewart or Cecelia Aherne rather than those who only love Swords and Sorcery type fantasy.
The books focus around the four Fallow sisters and their frequently absent mother. They inhabit a world like ours, but with ghosts, anthropomorphic representations of stars and other heavenly bodies, and nature based magic all around them.
These are beautiful books that go at a gentle pace, but with enough action to keep you wanting to know what happens next.
The next few book are ones that are being published in 2021, but are available to pre-order now and I am really looking forward to them, so I hope you will consider them.
8. Bear Head by Adrian Tchaikovsky, Head of Zeus, January 2021
I don’t think it’s a secret that I love Tchaikovsky’s work, in fact if this was a top ten from 2020 I would have to include The Doors of Eden as one of my favourites. I didn’t want to include two books from the same author, so my choosing this book instead of that one tells you how excited I am about it!
Bear Head is the sequel to Dogs of War, but I believe it can be read as a standalone. Tchaikovsky has a real talent of writing not humans, so they are both “other” and yet so relatable. Dogs of War was a real emotional roller coaster set in a science fiction future. Creatures who are a blend of artifice intelligence, robotics and animal biology are used by contractors to fight wars in remote areas of the world. Of course remote means not America and not Europe, it’s probably not considered remote for those who actually live there.
Rex, with his dog based biology, was the protagonist of the first book, but he as accompanied by a team of other animal based individuals. This new book centres on Honey, with bear based biology. I can’t wait to read this next novel.
9. Siri, Who am I? by Sam Tschida, Quirk, January 2021
I was not sure I would I would like this book from it’s blurb, I’m not a millennial, I don’t do selfies, I use social media, but I don’t live my life there... but this book is a celebration of being a genuine person rather than just an image, having relationships rather than being an influencer. I might not be the target audience, but the strength of the protagonist was enough to keep me interested.
Mia awakes in hospital with a head wound and amnesia and has to use social media and information on her phone to piece together the facts of her life.
Arguably this is “mainstream fiction” rather than my usual fantasy or science fiction, but it was a lovely read so I thought I would include it anyway.
10. A Desolation Called Peace by Arcady Martine, Tor, March 2021
Alright, I confess that I haven’t read this one, nor have I read the previous volume A Memory Called Empire. However, the feedback from other bloggers, including Allen’s review for this blog means that this has to be a hotly anticipated sequel.
I mean, the first novel won the Hugo for Best Novel in 2020, as well as being nominated for the Nebula, Locus and shortlisted for the Arthur C. Clarke Award.
The novel is science fiction, space opera with the world building informed by Martine’s post doctoral history studies. So, both novels are on my to be read list and could be on yours also.
11. Another Time, Another Place by Jodi Taylor, Headline, April 2021
I haven’t managed to get my hands on a copy of this yet, but I absolutely love this series, so I am looking forward to getting it.
Another Time, Another Place is the twelfth book in the Chronicles of St Mary’s series. They can be read as standalone novels or together as a series for the more interesting read.
The protagonist of the books is Max, a historian who works for the academic institution of St Mary’s jumping back in time to investigate historic events, while trying not to influence them. Things pretty much always go wrong in some way, often with humorous results, but sometimes with devastating consequences. The only part of the narrative that jars for me is how often the Institution closes their doors to Max and cast her out to the uncaring world without references, home or support of any kind, at least twice (in the eleven books) while she was pregnant. If I were Max I would have walked away the first time they let her down, instead of returning for them to do it again. This novel starts with Max having been sacked again.
Having said that the character Max is interesting and easy to empathise with, so I definitely want to know how she reacts to this latest set back.
I hope you can find something in this list to suit your tastes as I absolutely recommend them all. Happy Reading!