The Just City by Jo Walton

just cityBook – 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.

 

Girl Genius by Phil & Kaja Foglio

girl geniusGraphic 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.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

daughterBook – 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.

Gates of Thread and Stone by Lori M. Lee

gates of threadBook – Gates of Thread and Stone is the first book in a series by Lori M. Lee.

Kai is different, she lives with Reev, her ‘brother’ that has kept her safe and alive in a world that is littered with dangerous people and ideas. In this world only one person is allowed magic. So Kai has to hide her ability to twist the threads of time. With Reev’s help, this hasn’t been a problem, until people start going missing and Reev is one of them. Now desperate to find him she has to trust the shopkeeper’s son, Avan, and a slew of people that do not have her best interests at heart.

I don’t often do this, but I gave this book a 5-star rating on Amazon and Goodreads. This was a fantastic balance of dystopia, magic, brutality, romance, and familial strife. I loved this book and am even more excited that I can share it with my teen daughter. There is romance in the book, but it doesn’t tip into what I feel is inappropriate for my young daughter to be reading about. The first in a planned trilogy, Gates of Thread and Stone is a must read.

Majestrum by Matthew Hughes

majestrumBook – Henghis Hapthorn is a creature of logic. He uses his skills and talents to solve puzzles for the elite of the Archonate, the vast empire of human colonies spread throughout known space. Recently, though, he’s suffered a few setbacks. A dangerous encounter with a rogue magician – rare in this age of science and reason – has transformed Hapthorn’s computer assistant into an animal familiar, which now needs to sleep and eat, and has developed a personality of its own. Worse, the intuitive part of his mind has become its own person, and Hapthorn finds himself having increasingly bitter disagreements with himself. And now the Archon himself has hired Hapthorn to investigate a mystery that goes back to the origins of the Archonate, deep within the last age of magic, which may cause the foundations of the world to turn, leaving Hapthorn’s valued logic entirely useless.

Hughes’s prose is elaborate and ornate, making this relatively short book a somewhat denser read than I was planning on, but I loved it anyway. Hapthorn is a Sherlock Holmes type, but with problems Holmes never had (Watson never passed out in the middle of the action, or refused to work without regular deliveries of exotic fruit). The mystery is well-constructed, but the real joy is in exploring the universe Hughes has created, one based on science but where magic is real and increasingly important in the most important events of the universe.

Son of No One by Sherrilyn Kenyon

son ofBook – Cadegan has been cursed into living in a realm without color or hope because of one bad judgement. His entire life has been nothing but trying to do the right thing in spite of the circumstances around him. When he wakes up one day and finds a spot of color in his realm that doesn’t belong, he is given a chance to taste life again, but is it just more cruelty or a real chance at redemption?

Poor Jo, never quite fits in anywhere. Her family is nuts. Jo shades more towards sane, but not far enough to get by in the ‘real’ world outside of her family. Trying to earn a living she falls through the looking glass, literally, into a colorless world inhabited by demons and a strange knight that she really should be scared of….

While I still loved this book I felt that it was much more flippant and soft than her usual books. I usually need a few tissues while reading about the Darkhunters and their crew, this time I only needed one. I don’t know if I didn’t get as into the book emotionally, if I was just tired as I read, or if the characters didn’t resonate quite as well with me as Zarek, Acheron, or even Julian. Whatever it was…I still enjoyed the book and have purchased it, cheapskate that I am that’s a real endorsement.

 

Hogfather by Terry Pratchett

hogfatherBook – Every year on December 32nd, the Hogfather climbs into his sleigh pulled by four wild boars to delivers pork products to all the good girls and boys (and sacks of bloody bones to the bad ones). At least, every year before this one. This year the Hogfather is missing in action, and it’s up to Death to make sure the holiday goes forward as planned – and Death’s granddaughter, Susan, to find out what’s happened to the real Hogfather.

Hogfather is the 20th in Terry Pratchett’s sprawling and renowned Discworld series, a collection of novels all set on the fantastical world in the shape of a disc which travels through space on the back of four elephants on the back of a turtle, a place where magic works and the laws of nature are somewhat more literal than they are in our own. You don’t have to have read any of the earlier novels to enjoy this one; in fact, Hogfather is one of the earliest novels I recommend, as I think the series is better in its later incarnations. (The newest novel, Raising Steam, is #40.)

Pratchett’s books all have an edge of satire to them, and this one bites just a little bit: it’s full of holiday spirit, but it also skewers the consumerism of the holiday and the sanitized nature of modern stories based on old myths. There’s also a rather fantastic TV adaptation of Hogfather, which is in my regular holiday movie rotation.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clark

strangeBook – Mr Norrell is a practicing English magician. He actually does magic, which is considered beyond strange by all of his colleagues, who focus on research and analysis. And he is about to make a name for himself when Jonathan Strange appears. Jonathan Strange is also a practicing magician, and what’s more, he is young and handsome and a part of Society, which is not really something Mr Norrell can manage. Of course they will study together, and of course they will be rivals.

This is not a book for everyone. It’s long. There are rambling, divergent footnotes. It combines Regency romance sensibilities with war narratives and an approach to magic that’s based more on medieval English folklore than on The Lord of the Rings. There’s a tonal shift three-quarters of the way through that reminds me of nothing so much as Jane Austen writing the adventures of Richard Sharpe. And if you’re like me, that makes this book perfect. This is one of those books I would like to recommend to everyone, even though I know there are so many reasons why many people would not like it. I just love it so much, I would like to be able to share that love with everyone. Do you have any books you feel that way about?

Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

zooBook – Zinzi December finds things. It’s her Talent, the mildly useful side effect that comes along with her Sloth, a physical manifestation of her guilt over her brother’s death that also renders her unfit for work in polite society. She only finds lost things, not lost people, but when her latest client is murdered, she has to take on a missing persons case. Songweza, half of the twin teen pop sensation of the moment, has disappeared, and her manager needs her back before the new record drops.

I had a fantastic time with this book. A South African urban fantasy with a heist plot, it was very different from Beukes’s outstanding serial-killer thriller The Shining Girls, but just as excellent. This feels like it should be a movie, the better to show off the contrast between Zinzi’s lower-class lifestyle and the glitzy pop music glamor of her employer’s world. I also really liked the way Beukes recast the animal companion trope – they’re a little bit like the daemons of Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy with a grittier edge. Anyone who’s a fan of Jim Butcher or Seanan McGuire should enjoy Zoo City.

Some Enchanted Eclair by Bailey Cates

some enchantedBook- Katie Lightfoot is a baker with a twist, she’s recently found out that she’s a lightwitch. What exactly that is, she’s not sure and is slowly figuring out. In this installment, Hollywood has taken over Savannah’s historic district. From her boyfriend Declan on security, to her friend Bianca as an extra, Katie’s whole group is involved while she’s happy to keep out and run her bakery. A fired caterer, a fixer, and an enterprising spirit pull her into the production and a dead body keeps her there.

The fourth in the series, Some Enchanted Eclair, is a fun romp through a deep-Southern community. I enjoyed revisiting the characters from earlier books and look forward to seeing exactly what a lightwitch is and how it impacts Katie’s life. Not only that, but the twist near the middle that shakes things up a bit is fodder for many more stories! If you’re looking for a fun, light read this as well as the earlier books in the series will surely delight.