The Dream-Quest of Vellit Boe by Kij Johnson

51eCqp7J8OLBook – When Vellitt Boe settled down as a professor of mathematics at the Women’s College of Ulthar, she thought that her wandering days were over. In her youth she’d traveled the Six Kingdoms of the dream world and even met dreamers from the waking world. And now she is forced into traveling again, when her student Clarie Jurat, a daughter of one of the College’s Trustees, runs off with a dreamer, putting the future of the college – and perhaps much more – at risk.

If the title sounds at all familiar, it’s because this novella is a kind of inversion of H.P. Lovecraft‘s “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath,” in which a dreamer from our world travels the mysterious and dangerous realms of the dreamlands – and these are the same dreamlands, from the gugs and ghouls of the under-realms to the mad and unpredictable gods. You don’t need to know that to enjoy this story, though; Vellitt Boe stands comfortably on her own two feet without the need to stand on anyone else’s shoulders.

This is a tremendous amount of questing in a very small package; if you like epic fantasy novels like those of Tad Williams, Robert Jordan, or J.R.R. Tolkien, but you don’t have time for another thousand-page tome, The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe packs a whole world’s worth of strange beauty into fewer than 200 pages.

The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater

Cover_ravenboys_300Book Series – Richard Gansy III is the scion of a privileged Virginia family, the prep school princeling golden boy with the impossible, magic dream.  Ronan Lynch is rage and sharp edges under a thin veneer of skin, sneering at the world through the window of a muscle car.  Adam Parrish is the impostor in their midst, hiding his accent and his bruises as he works three after-school jobs to pay his own tuition.  And Noah Czerney is… around, usually, if you don’t think about him too hard.

They are the Raven Boys, high school students at prestigious Aglionby Academy, and local girl Blue Sergeant–a passionate activist growing up in a house full of psychic women–hates them all on principle.  Until she meets them, anyway.  Until she gets to know them.  Until she is drawn with them into an impossibly high-stakes mythic quest that will transform them from five teenagers into an unbreakable brotherhood, wielding ancient and unimaginable powers, facing down curses and demons and kings.

I read the first book in the series, The Raven Boys, a little more than a year ago.  While I did find the characterization exceptionally well done, I was ultimately neither disappointed nor inspired.  But I’m so glad that I picked the series up again when the fourth and final book arrived in April (Book 2: The Dream Thieves; Book 3: Blue Lily, Lily Blue; Book 4: The Raven King), because book two hits the ground running and doesn’t let go.  By its later chapters, The Raven Cycle became a reminder for me of what really good fiction feels like: its magical ability to transform the world and make the reader genuinely believe and care about its characters and plot, its potential to be fresh and original and at the same time seem like a story you’ve always known.  I devoured the last book in a day, and feel both bereft and energized now that it’s done.

TL;DR: If you like fantasy fiction even a little, read these books.  And if you like audiobooks even a little, try them that way, because we offer the whole series through both Overdrive and Hoopla, and narrator Will Patton knocks it out of the park.

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

fifth seasonBook – The world is coming to an end but Essun’s world ended three days ago, when she came home to find that her husband had beaten their three-year-old son to death when he discovered the boy was an orogene, one who has a supernatural power over the shaking of the earth. An orogene girl is picked up by a Guardian to be taken somewhere she can learn to use her powers, rather than be lynched by her community. Syenite, a young trained orogene, travels to a coastal city to fulfill more than one assignment given to her by her mysterious handlers. These three stories converge in fascinating and unexpected ways through N.K. Jemisin’s new series debut, The Fifth Season.

Some people might be put off by Essun’s part of the story, which is told in second person, the narrator speaking to “you” who is also Essun. I’ve definitely read poorly done second-person stories, but this is not one of them: in Jemisin’s careful hands, these sections are full of raw, immediate emotion. After a couple of pages I forgot about the pronouns and fell into Essun’s life and world completely.

This is a rough book, to be sure. All of the main characters are of a despised magic-using minority, and Jemisin writes painfully well about the bigotry and oppression they suffer. But they’re all strong, powerful, compelling characters, and to watch them refuse to be cowed by the experience is wonderful. It also features some of the best fantasy worldbuilding I’ve ever seen, with a fully-developed world with thousands of years of history so very different from our own but so believable as well. Jemisin’s already racked up a number of awards for her Dreamblood and Inheritance series, and she’s bound to pick up some more for this one.