Book – In a lilac wood lives a unicorn who has heard a rumor that she is the last of her kind. Although unicorns are solitary creatures, she does not like the thought of being the last, so she sets off on a quest to find the rest of them. Along the way she meets a witch running a questionable carnival, a slightly (but not entirely) inept magician, a band of outlaws and their long-suffering cook, and (of course) a prince.
Reading The Last Unicorn is like reading your favorite fairy tale for the first time. It’s a tremendously deep, rich fantasy story that is nothing at all like Tolkien, but contains all of those things that made you like fantasy stories when you were small – talking animals, wizards, an evil king, true love, and, of course, unicorns. When I was a kid, I wore out the local video store’s VHS copy of the movie, which is not only gorgeously animated but is a remarkably faithful adaptation. (The singing, well, the less said about Mia Farrow’s duet with Jeff Bridges, the better.) This is the book I always turn to when I want to feel good about the world.
Book – Cat Winters weaves a tale to delight readers with her latest novel, The Cure For Dreaming. Without even taking a peek into the pages of this book, the cover art alone sparked my curiosity immediately. The dust jacket depicts a woman laying on her back, levitating above a chair, with spiraling rings overlaying the image. Quite hypnotizing, you might say. A perfect scene to preview the story that lies within.
The setting is Oregon; the time is 1900. Olivia Mead is an independent and strong-willed young woman, fighting the patriarchy as a suffragist, much to her father’s dismay. He would rather have a quiet, submissive daughter, someone to be seen and not heard. But it seems Olivia’s rebellious streak will not be tamed…until hypnotist Henri Reverie comes to town and starts stirring things up. Detecting an opportunity, Olivia’s father hires the young illusionist to prevent his daughter from speaking her mind, to suppress her fight for women’s rights.
Much to Olivia’s surprise, Henri has actually given her the ability to see people for what they truly are, yet without the ability to speak a word of her visions as she begins to see people manifested as good or evil. Overwhelmed by the nightmarish sights around her, Olivia is more determined than ever to make her words known.
Cat Winters blends history with fantasy, entwining feminism and mystifying illusion to create a story that will charm readers of all ages.
Book – 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.
Book – Imagine if you could taste someone’s emotions when you bite into a piece of cake, fresh from the oven. Maybe you’d taste your mother’s happiness at the success of a new recipe, or the local baker’s despair of his broken marriage. Would it be a gift? Or a curse?
Aimee Bender’s explores this whimsical idea in her novel The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake. On her ninth birthday, Rose Edelstein is shocked to discover she has a taste for feelings after biting into a slice of cake baked by her mother. In that first bite, her world is shattered when Rose tastes her mother’s sadness and anguish. Her new-found “gift” sends her reeling from the impact of knowing too much about people’s hidden secrets. There is no escape from the emotions that assault her. In this magical coming of age novel, Bender weaves a sorrowful, yet hopeful tale of a young girl caught up in the sentiments of others, trying to find herself among them.
I thought this was a wonderful read, a simple yet fantastical story that is actually quite relatable. While the element of magic may not be found in our own lives, every family has its hidden secrets, the things we try to bury within ourselves. This novel allows us to consider what might happen if those secrets were revealed, as well as realize the burden they hold over us.
Book – When you are the only student at the Academy with one ability, life can be kind of hard. When you also are the one who poisoned the hero of Sitia, regardless of the circumstances, life is even harder. This is what Opal Cowen deals with day after day. Now she has been summoned to help the Stormdancer clan and her unique abilities are exactly what they need. But is she ready to go out and deal with intrigue beyond her personal boundaries?
Maria Snyder has opened a phenomenal new chapter in Sitia and Ixia’s history with Storm Glass. She has continued where she left off in her Study Series and brought a new flavor to a familiar world. Opal is an endearing character who has a very hard time believing in her magical ability. I enjoyed watching her take her life experiences as a glassblower and applying it to the Stormdancer clans’ issues and come out ahead. With this continuation of the Study Series, Maria V. Snyder gives us new magic and new people and delights us once again with her storytelling and world building.
Book – The Thorn of Dentonhill by Marshall Ryan Maresca is the first in a new series, and what a series!
As a magic student at the University of Maradaine, Veranix Calbert should be busy enough. However his past won’t allow him to only study, go to class and gallivant like the other students. Shrouded in secrecy, his mission is to avenge his parents and shut down the drug trade found in the city. When he starts to needle and annoy the drug lord Fenmere, he is christened “The Thorn” and a city finds a possible hero. But can he handle the pressures and the danger?
A fantastic cross of Arrow, Batman, and Harry Potter, this story brings us to the seedy streets, the rarefied towers of academia, and the secret societies of mages all working in the city of Maradaine. I picked this book up on a whim and am very glad I did so. It does read a bit on the young adult side, but that adds to its charm. There’s no smut in a book that could’ve gone that route. Instead the author depends on a fast-moving story and characters that are well-thought out and written.
Book – Emily Ruff, sixteen-year-old street hustler, is recruited by mysterious besuited operatives into an elite Virginia boarding school with an unusual mission. A decade later, unremarkable Wil Parke is kidnapped in a Portland airport by a man who, contrary to all appearances, claims to be saving Wil’s life. And somewhere in-between and on the other side of the world, the two will meet at the center of an unprecedented cataclysm that will destroy the entire town of Broken Hill, Australia–an event caused by nothing more or less than one very deadly word.
Lexicon is not quite science fiction, not quite fantasy, but will appeal to fans of both. The story centers around the Poets, an organization that uses neuro-linguistic programming–technology which the text itself admits is indistinguishable from magic words–to hack the human brain and control the behavior of others. The fast-paced, exhilarating plot is rounded out with just the right amount of romance. The villain is suitably loathsome, the heroes are stalwart and clever, but all of the characters are believable and well-rounded, with faults to match their virtues. While fans of dystopian novels with gutsy heroines will love Emily, the worldbuilding in Lexicon is pleasingly distinct from the increasingly overdone post-apocalyptic genre. In fact, much of the fascination of the story lies in just how believable it can be. Overall, Lexicon is a deeply satisfying, ready-for-the-big-screen thriller.
Book – What do Sokrates, the god Apollo, a nineteenth-century spinster, Marcus Tullius Cicero, a ninth-century Libyan slave, Giovanni Mirandola, and an array of twenty-first century robots have in common? They’re all inhabitants of The Just City, Plato’s thought experiment made manifest. Oh, and less than half of them are there of their own free will.
After being spurned by Daphne, Apollo decides to spend some time as a human in an attempt to understand “volition and equal significance,” and his sister Athene suggests that the best place to do so would be in her city. She’s creating Plato’s Republic and filling it with people who prayed to her and wished to live there. Like any utopia, the problems start piling up quickly. Plato thought you could build a civilization starting with ten-year-old children, so they buy more than ten thousand of them out of slavery, even though some of the Masters of the City worry that buying from slavers will make their city unjust before it even begins. Their hard labor is done by robots brought by Athene out of the future, but when Sokrates strikes up a conversation with one it begins to look as though the City has been relying on slavery after all. And of course everyone comes with the flaws of their own histories as well, because Plato was wrong, and a ten-year-old child is not a blank slate.
Fair warning: this book is in large part about consent, and there are several scenes depicting consent and its absence in sexual contexts. But it’s a careful, detailed exploration, tying together many different ideas about free will, virtue, and good intentions. Anyone who’s ever wished for a life dedicated to the pursuit of excellence should find this book fascinating.
Graphic Novel – Agatha Clay is a favorite student of Professor Beetle, the Spark (or Mad Scientist) who runs Beetleburg on behalf of the Baron Klaus Wolfenbach. Agatha is pretty sure she’s no Spark herself – until the day Professor Beetle is accidentally killed when he throws a bomb at the Baron’s son Gilgamesh. Agatha’s life is thrown into chaos when she’s held captive on the Baron’s airship Castle Wolfenbach, a hostage against the good behavior of Moloch von Zinzer, who everyone but Gil believes is the Spark behind the devices Agatha has been building in her sleep. And then there’s the infectious Slaver Wasps, the odd behavior of the Jägermonsters, Gilgamesh’s inconvenient crush, and the bossy and imperious Emperor of All Cats…
Girl Genius is a long-running webcomic, also available in print volumes, whose tagline is “Adventure, Romance, MAD SCIENCE!” And there’s certainly plenty of all three. Agatha is the best kind of adventure hero – she always runs toward the sound of gunfire. She’s smarter and more capable than she thinks she is, but she gains confidence as the series goes on. My favorite characters, though, are the Jägermonsters, half-human monsters with ridiculous German accents who like fighting, pretty girls, and hats. (“You know how dose plans alvays end. The dirigible is in flames, everybody’s dead, an’ you’ve lost your hat.”) It’s a never-ending series of wacky fun, not to be taken too seriously at all. The Library owns the first ten volumes in print – start with Agatha Heterodyne and the Beetleburg Clank.
Book – To her friends and classmates Karou appears to be an ordinary foreign exchange student studying art in the timeless city of Prague. She has typical relationship troubles and is dealing with the disappointment of a cheating ex-boyfriend. However, it becomes apparent how extraordinary she is when she fends off the continued advances of her ‘ex’ armed only with wishes.Then she is summoned on a clandestine mission of….tooth collecting? Karou’s true identity is a mystery hidden even from herself, until she meets a winged echo from her past.
This book was listed among the YALSA top ten best fiction titles for young adults in 2012. The audiobook was nominated for several Audie Awards, and the movie rights have been sold to Universal Pictures. Daughter of Smoke and Bone is the first in a fast paced trilogy that takes on a much darker tone with the second book Days of Blood and Starlight. Taylor is thoughtful about the impacts of war on her characters and the worlds she has created. This world-building trilogy might appeal to fans of Greek mythology and stories about angels such as Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments Series.