The Curse of Jacob Tracy by Holly Messinger

51uTzSLdKwL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Book – Trace sees spirits. They’re kind of everywhere, but he doesn’t dare tell anyone he knows about what he can see, because every time he does they wind up dead. Even his partner Boz doesn’t know – until they’re hired by a rich old English lady to retrieve some property for her, and it turns out that she doesn’t need Trace’s skills as a trapper and guide so much as for what he can see that so few others can.

This is a terrifically fun Weird West story, with all the trappings – cowboys, werewolves, ghosts and sorcerers. Messinger does a good job with the diversity of the West, too: Boz is black, and the ghosts of Chinese rail-workers play a role in Trace’s difficulties. The overall plot isn’t too unique (and it’s clearly set up as the beginning of an ongoing series), but the unique twist on monsters and magicians, as well as Boz and Trace’s relationship, make for compelling reading. I’m interested to see where this series goes from here.

Smoke by Dan Vyleta

51hNZ0nGxXL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_Book – Imagine that every time you do something wrong – tell a lie, steal something, think an uncharitable thought – everyone can see it, in the form of a little puff of smoke that comes up from your body. It leaves soot on your clothes, your pillowcases, your furniture. You must be perfectly good at all times, or clean everything constantly, or both. And if not – everyone will know.

That’s the world of Smoke, a tremendous new literary fantasy by Dan Vyleta. In Victorian England, the aristocracy are trained from childhood to never Smoke, to repress all their baser instincts to demonstrate their inherent superiority over the lower classes. But what if it doesn’t really work that way? What if Smoke isn’t sin, but something else? Thomas and Charlie, two boys at an elite boarding school in the countryside, begin to question what they’ve been told after a trip to Smoke-filled London, and before long their whole world is unraveling.

I loved this book and its incredible explorations of good and evil, sin and repression. In addition to telling the story of Smoke, it’s also full of all the things that make Victorian novels great – family secrets, corrupt leaders, criminals with a heart of gold, murder, disguise, horse chases, and romance.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

uprootedBook – Agnieszka grew up next to the dark enchanted wood, in the shadow of the Dragon’s tower. The Dragon is a wizard, not a fire-breathing lizard; he doesn’t eat the girls he takes, but he does take one every ten years or so, and she never comes home again. At least, not for very long. Everybody knows that he always takes the best, the cleverest, the most beautiful, the most talented girl, so they’re shocked when he picks Agnieszka instead.

But unlike the other girls, Agnieska’s been picked for a reason – she has the talent to become a wizard herself, and by the king’s law, she must be trained. (No matter how much she hates it.) And then, as  war threatens and the enchanted wood begins to overflow its borders, spilling monsters and poison out into the surrounding lands, she has to learn, if she wants to save her home and everyone she loves from a terrible end.

I absolutely adored this book, and I resented everything that made me put it down until I could finish it. While it has a lot in common with fairy tales, it’s also a deep, complex story full of very human people who make the wrong decisions for the right reasons (and sometimes the right decisions for the wrong reasons), and how they face the consequences of their actions. Fans of Novik’s His Majesty’s Dragon series and Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor will love this, too. It also has a Hungarian flavor that would go very well with Steven Brust’s Dragaera series.

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley

indexBook – When I started reading this book, I didn’t know much about it, other than that it had a glow-in-the-dark octopus on the cover. And really, what else do you need to know? The octopus, fortunately, is a character (although he doesn’t glow in the dark) – Katsu, a mechanical octopus made by the titular watchmaker, Mori, a Japanese nobleman who has moved to England to practice the art of making tiny things out of even tinier gears. We meet him through Thaniel Steepleton, a telegraphist recently recruited by Scotland Yard, who is being used by his superiors to investigate Mori as a suspect behind a high-profile bombing.

This is fantasy only by the thinnest hair, and steampunk only because of the prominence of Mori’s fantastic clockwork creations (and their proximity to Japantown’s fireworks shops). The plot circles around the investigation of the bombing, but Thaniel and Mori’s relationship is the real core of the book, growing slowly through mistrust and uncertainty into a deep, heartfelt connection. I was a little iffy about it for the first few chapters; by the end, I was entirely in love.

The Rook by Daniel O’Malley

rookBookThe body you are wearing used to be mine. So begins the letter Myfanwy Thomas is holding when she awakes in a London park surrounded by bodies all wearing latex gloves. With no recollection of who she is, Myfanwy must follow the instructions her former self left behind to discover her identity and track down the agents who want to destroy her. She soon learns that she is a Rook, a high-ranking member of a secret organization that battles the many supernatural forces at work in Britain. She also discovers that she possesses a rare, potentially deadly supernatural ability of her own.

The single most important thing in a book written in the first person is that the reader likes the main character, preferably right away. Fortunately, I liked Myfanwy within about a page and a half. She has an entirely reasonable reaction to waking up surrounded by dead bodies without knowing who she is: she checks herself into the most expensive hotel she can find and panics. And then she thinks, I have got to figure out what is going on. And she does.

Myfanwy is that rare character who strikes a perfect balance between perfectly normal and exceptionally capable. The way she handles her job as supernatural administrator is hilarious – lots of “um, sure, okay, let’s move the meeting with my colleague’s second body up by half an hour.” If I have a complaint, it’s that the mystery behind the whole plot of the book is a little slight. There are so many characters coming and going that when the traitor was finally revealed, it took me a few minutes to remember who he was.

This reminded me delightfully of China Miéville’s Kraken and Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim series; readers looking for more deeply weird urban fantasy will like those as well. The sequel, Stiletto, is due out in June.

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

indexBook-  Thursday Next is a SpecOps (Special Operations) agent in an alternate universe Britain where literature is at the center of people’s lives, dodos are not extinct, and the Crimean War is ongoing. The story revolves around Thursday’s attempt to capture wanted criminal Acheron Hades, who just happens to be her former English professor. Acheron, the third most wanted criminal in the world (if you don’t know the first two, you don’t want to know), has found a way to enter the world of books and starts holding various book characters for ransom. Thursday must find a way to follow him and rescue Jane Eyre before Bronte’s masterpiece is ruined.

This book is enormous fun, but if it has a flaw, it’s that it tries to go in too many directions at once. Various diverse subplots include Thursday’s reconnecting with her former fiance, fighting vampires, and her father’s excursions through time. Never fear, though:  this book begins an ongoing series where most of these plot threads get resolved and more elements introduced along the way. We own the first book in audio and paper copies, and the rest of the series in paper copies, here at the library. The Eyre Affair will appeal to fans of other British authors specializing in the zany and fantastical, such as Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett.

Luke Skywalker Can’t Read and Other Geeky Truths by Ryan Britt

518llbMNNIL._SY344_Book – Never mind The Force Awakens and its record-busting box-office numbers.  If geek has really become chic, as popular wisdom would have us believe, then there is no surer sign of the fact than the existence of Luke Skywalker Can’t Read and Other Geeky Truths.  Hold your head high and read it with pride, fellow liberated nerds of Warrenville, in the sure and certain knowledge, as author Ryan Britt puts it, that the geek has inherited the earth.

In a series of humorous essays, each just the right length for a bite-sized lunchtime or before-bed treat, Britt shares his love of all things geek, from space operas to hobbits to superheroes.  As a devotee of genre fiction in all its types and kinds–an unabashed geek, in short–I found a great deal of enjoyment in the familiarity of Britt’s experiences and fannish devotions (I love Jeremy Brett’s Holmes too, Mr. Britt, and I was right there with you on the weekly dose of delicious-but-depressing Battlestar blues!).  Even if your speculative fiction experience begins and ends with Star Wars or The Hunger Games or Harry Potter, however, I think there’s a lot of interest to be found here.  Some of the most fascinating essays to me were those that covered ground I wasn’t so familiar with, like “Wearing Dracula’s Pants”, about the history of vampire stories in print and on-screen.  Other essays focus on Sherlock Holmes, Doctor Who, Star Trek, Back to the Future, Tolkien, movie music, and, yes, Star Wars, among many other things.  It’s a playful, cheeky, joyous celebration of how and why we love the stories that have become our century’s particular mythology, and a massively fun ride from the first page to the last.

Renovation by Lane Robins

renovationBook – Sometimes a psychic gift can feel more like a psychic curse. Ever since a near-death experience in his teens, JK Lassiter has been able to read the memories of the people or places that he touches with his hands, sometimes so viscerally that the memories cause him psychotic episodes. Because of this, his parents shut him away from the world. When the book begins, however, JK’s brother has been recently freed JK from their well-intended imprisonment and has helped him land a construction job flipping houses. His first house is in a close-knit neighborhood of Dallas, Texas, where the prior owners have skipped town under mysterious circumstances. Though JK gets a seriously bad vibe from the house, he is determined to see the job through and grab his chance at a normal life. Despite having to wear gloves and keep some distance from people, JK tries to fit in, flirting with the sexy man next door, Nick Collier, and making friends in the neighborhood.

Things turn sour, though, when his desire for the truth and psychic abilities reveal bodies, animal and human, in the backyard of the house. Each of his new friends and neighbors, he begins to discover, has ample motive for the crime. To discover the culprit and to clear Nick and his friends, JK tries to harness his psychic ability that has to this point caused him only anguish.

Renovation will appeal to fans of both romances and mysteries, especially fans of closed-room mysteries. I found that the culprit was fairly easy to suss out early on, but watching JK figure it out was still a pleasure. This one feels like the start of a series, so if you liked it, keep your eyes out for another one.

The Immortals Series by Tamora Pierce

immortalsBook – Meet Daine, a girl with an unusual gift that allows her to communicate with animals.  With only her beloved pony, Daine finds a new life as the animal handler of the Queen’s Riders, working with the knight Alanna.  However, it soon becomes clear that Daine’s gift is more than unusual; it’s magic.  With the help of a mage called Numair, Daine learns to harness the power she possesses.  As her magic reveals its true nature, Daine embarks on a crusade with her newfound friends to protect the city of Tortall from the attacks of  immortal creatures set on destruction.  The series order: 1- Wild Magic, 2-Wolf Speaker, 3-Emperor Mage and 4-The Realms of the Gods.

I first read Wild Magic as a teen, initially attracted by the human-animal communication aspect of the story, but there is so much more to love.  Dragons and other magical creatures, mystery, and fantasy all come together to create this captivating novel. The best part is that Daine’s story continues for four books (no need to feel rushed in your reading!).  This series was everything I wanted it to be.  Which, for me at least, is a pretty big deal.

Tamora Pierce has written a bunch of other novels within the same universe as The Immortals Series, appropriately dubbed the Tortall Universe.  Each mini-series follows a different character; if you liked Daine, try following Alanna, Kel, Aly, or Beka in his/her own adventure. Check out more tales from your favorite characters of the Tortall Universe at Goodreads.com.

 

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

Book – What if everything we know about science were wrong, just a side-effect of a particularly orderly-minded god who is just the last in a long line of forces controlling the universe? And what would happen then if that god were dethroned? That’s the central premise of The Library at Mount Char, one of the most original fantasy novels I’ve read in years, but it’s not the central focus. The focus of the book is on Carolyn, one of several orphans who were raised and trained in the mysterious, convoluted Library, who is now fighting for her life and her independence after her father – the orderly force holding the universe together – has been murdered.

Part fantasy, part thriller, part – well, I don’t know what it is, but it’s a fascinating, fast-paced story. There’s time travel, so some things don’t make a lot of sense to start with, but Carolyn’s narration is so confident that it’s easy to trust her. It is a very violent book, with several scenes of graphic torture, which I’m not usually sensitive about, but the first thing I told people about it when they asked was, “It’s so violent!” It’s got a great payoff, though – and although it doesn’t need a sequel, I’d love to read one anyway.